DETROIT — For more than four decades, Chuckie O’Brien has been known as a key suspect in Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance. Now, the author of a new book, "In Hoffa's Shadow," says the feds were planning to clear O’Brien. He also says the feds know who’s responsible for one of the most notorious crimes in American history, but they’re not revealing any names.
Author Jack Goldsmith has a unique connection to the case: He’s Chuckie O’Brien’s stepson.
It’s one of the most famous unsolved crimes in American history: What happened to legendary Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa?
This is the part of the story we all know: On July 30, 1975, Hoffa disappeared from the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Hoffa thought he was going for a reconciliation meeting with two mob bosses, New Jersey Teamsters official Tony Provenzano and Detroit mafia captain Tony Giacalone. Hoffa was never seen again.
The man who immediately came under suspicion was Chuckie O’Brien. O’Brien was a Teamsters official and he was so close to Hoffa, O’Brien’s family once lived with the iconic labor organizer. O’Brien has often been referred to as Hoffa’s foster son or protégé.
“The conventional wisdom was that he picked up Hoffa from the parking lot of the Machus Red fox restaurant in Bloomfield Hills and drove him to his death,” Goldsmith told WXYZ.
“We were extremely close when I was a teenager. He was a great father despite the Hoffa disappearance maelstrom,” Goldsmith said.
Goldsmith said he became estranged from O’Brien during college. But years later, they reconciled, and Goldsmith said he wanted to get to truth of what happened that day in 1975.
Goldsmith spent the last seven years researching the Hoffa case, interviewing O’Brien, the original FBI agents on the case and agents who later worked the file through the 1990s and later.
“There were good reasons for the FBI to suspect (O’Brien). He had recently had a break with Hoffa, he was in the vicinity of the Machus Red Fox the morning of the disappearance, and the afternoon of the disappearance,” Goldsmith said.
O’Brien had also borrowed a car belonging to Tony Giacalone’s son that day. Nine days later, a hair that was believed to belong to Hoffa was found in that car.
But here’s the part of the story you don’t know: Despite extensive media coverage about that hair, Goldsmith writes, the FBI agents on the case doubt the validity of that evidence.
Goldsmith said agents also told him it was physically impossible for O’Brien to have been with Hoffa when he vanished.
“The last known time, when Hoffa was thought to be alive, did not leave enough time, given the other things we know about Chuckie's whereabouts,” the Harvard professor said.
After he was publicly deemed a suspect in 1975, and after a brief prison stint for labor law violations, O’Brien never trusted the government.
But Goldsmith said in 2013, at the FBI’s request, O’Brien agreed to be interviewed in exchange for a letter from the U.S. Attorney’s office exonerating him.
“We learned afterwards the FBI completely believed him,” Goldsmith said.
O’Brien’s attorney for the 2013 meeting also confirms that to WXYZ. But the letter never came.
Two months later, the feds started a new high-profile dig in Oakland Township, Michigan. It was the third large-scale Hoffa dig in a decade.
The agents did not find Hoffa’s body. Goldsmith believes it’s possible the embarrassment from that dig prompted the U.S. Attorney and FBI top leadership at the time to not follow through on the letter clearing O’Brien.
“They just didn’t want to take the political heat, admitting they had basically accused the wrong person — or let linger the accusations against Chuckie for 40 years,” Goldsmith said.
Goldsmith tells WXYZ the feds have believed for two decades that it wasn’t O’Brien who picked Hoffa up that day in 1975; it was Vito Giacalone, Anthony Giacalone’s brother. And Goldsmith said the feds believe someone else actually killed Hoffa, but they don’t have enough to prove it.
“That person I learned was a low-level member of the Detroit family in the 1970s who rose to prominence and is no longer alive. Beyond that I’m not going to say anything else,” he said.
Even though Goldsmith and the feds won’t publicly release the name, he does write a lot about some other key things Chuckie O’Brien revealed to him decades after this crime.
WXYZ reached out to the U.S. Attorney’s office and Detroit FBI about the letter of exoneration. So far, they are not commenting, since the Hoffa case officially remains open.
“In Hoffa’s Shadow” will be released September 24, 2019.