Apr 24, 2013 12:42 PM by NBC News
(WKYC) It's been 25 years, but Lou Gentile still wonders what he really found inside the walls of Wexler's Tavern in Cleveland, Ohio's Old Brooklyn neighborhood.
Could the remains of Jimmy Hoffa be buried at the bar?
In 1988, while he and his business partner were stringing electrical cable behind the walls to the basement, they made a startling discovery: Seven football-sized packages, neatly wrapped in red butcher paper.
"I took the flashlight and shined it down on the first package that he [my partner] had cut open, and there was a hand," recalled Gentile. "In another one, there was part of a spinal column."
"I'm thinking, wow. These are human bones. And then all the history of the tavern came flooding back, that there was a connection with Jimmy Hoffa, and the people who were around the tavern at the time," he said.
Could the bones be that of the Teamster leader who disappeared in 1975? Hoffa's body has never been found and the mystery has led to several futile digs, including one as recently as September 2012 in a Detroit-area backyard.
Gentile's imagination went wild.
"I'm thinking, if these are Hoffa's bones, we're going to be rich!" recalled Gentile, excited about the discovery.
He says he called Cleveland Police and two officers arrived at the tavern.
They were not as impressed with the find, says Gentile.
He claims one officer pointed out that if tests revealed that the bones were human bones, the tavern would become a crime scene. Walls would be torn down. The tavern would lose thousands dollars' worth of renovations.
Gentile says he was deflated.
He recalled the officer advising him, "Get whatever else is up there in the wall out, and sweep all of that stuff out, and throw it away."
So Gentile disposed of the bones in the trash. Asked whether he was worried about whether he was disrupting a crime scene, Gentile says he was acting on the advice of police. Also, he says, at the time no one knew for certain that the bones were human.
He believes both of the officers have since passed away.
Gentile never publicly shared his story until now, after the current tavern owner decided to cut into the old wall to see if there were any other bones left.
Last month, while cutting a panel out of the wall, owner Doug Graziano says something fell out of the wall: An old matchbook from the Palm Desert Lodge in California.
"I did a search on the Internet and ironically it [the hotel website] said, 'The house that Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters built.' Unbelievable!"
So now, Graziano plans to further tear down the wall Wednesday morning, hoping to find more bones that might be left behind.
He knows that skeptics might scoff at the notion of Hoffa's remains being buried at the tavern. He denies that it's all a publicity stunt.
But Graziano is determined to find out if his tavern holds the secrets to Hoffa's disappearance.
A tavern in Old Brooklyn, of all places.
"In Old Brooklyn. Amazing," he said.
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