New Hoffa Theory: Labor Kingpin Strangled, Not Shot, Assassination A Detroit Job Only


On the heels of last month’s news that the intended megawatt Robert DeNiro-Martin Scorsese mob film, The Irishman, focusing on the disappearance and murder of legendary labor union leader and mob associate Jimmy Hoffa, is a full-on “go,” for 2016, word has now leaked to Gangster Report of a quite-plausible new theory regarding the fiery Hoffa’s infamous kidnapping and killing which occurred 40 years ago last July. Hoffa was born in Indiana and moved to Detroit as a young boy, where he soon began his meteoric ascent up the ranks of the Teamsters, a truckers and cartage-haulers union. He went missing in the summer of 1975. Neither his body, nor his remains have never been unearthed.

According to multiple sources with intimidate knowledge of the Detroit underworld, the Hoffa hit was handled exclusively by the Detroit Italian mafia, with no help from New York’s Genovese crime family, as has long been reported, and Hoffa himself was strangled to death by a four-person death squad consisting of Vito (Billy Jack) Giacalone, Peter (Bozzi) Vitale, Raffaele (Jimmy Q) Quasarano and Salvatore (Swinging Sammy) Serra – all deceased –, not shot as always commonly believed.

“Everybody has gotten it all wrong all these years, this was a garroting job and solely a Detroit rodeo, no guns, no Genovese Family,” said one Detroit mob insider finally coming forth with what he knows. “The Detroit Outfit could kill with the best of them, we’re talking pro’s pros, one-of-a-kind hitters. And this went down in our territory, Hoffa was our guy, he belonged to us. New York always deferred to Detroit in those situations. Why would anyone go out of town to get this job done? That doesn’t make any sense.”

The Detroit mafia held a seat on the American mob’s National Commission (de-facto board of directors for organized crime in the U.S. existing from 1931 into the 1990s) and very few wiseguys from Michigan have ever been nailed on murder charges. The spunky and outspoken former Teamsters president was in the midst of trying to win his office back following a prison term for fraud, bribery and jury tampering when he vanished from a suburban Detroit restaurant parking lot on July 30, 1975 after feuding with his one-time allies in the mafia.

The blockbuster actor-director duo of Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese announced back in 2008 that they intended on adapting author Charles Brandt’s book, “I Heard You Paint Houses” about Hoffa and his relationship with union goon Frank (The Irishman) Sheeran, a Delaware Teamsters boss and right-hand man to Northeast Pennsylvania mob boss Russell Buffalino, into a major motion picture. DeNiro will portray Sheeran. The movie is set to co-star a Hall of Fame gangster-flick lineup of a cast, expected to be highlighted by Al Pacino, Joe Pesce and Harvey Keitel.

The new theory, put forth by more than one Michigan underworld insider, presents a fresh angle on the Hoffa hit. Conventional wisdom has always held that Hoffa was shot to death, not garroted. In Brandt’s 2004 book, Sheeran made a near-deathbed confession of his direct participation in the iconic and still-unsolved Hoffa slaying, claiming he fired the fatal shots into the back of his close friend’s head in a house in Northwest Detroit, flanked by members of the Genovese syndicate’s New Jersey faction. Sheeran’s assertions were investigated and subsequently dismissed by the Detroit FBI office. Today, the Hoffa murder file remains open and a priority of federal investigators.

the afternoon he disappeared Hoffa was on his way to a sitdown with Detroit mafia street boss Anthony (Tony Jack) Giacalone and New Jersey-stationed Genovese Family capo and east coast Teamster powerbroker, Anthony (Tony Pro) Provenzano at the Machus Red Fox Restaurant in Bloomfield Township, Michigan. The sitdown, in Hoffa’s mind, had been arranged by Giacalone to settle a beef between himself and Provenzano, simmering since the two former friends and fellow union powers were serving time together in a Pennsylvania federal prison year earlier. In reality, it was a setup.

Tony Jack was Hoffa’s liaison to organized crime in the Detroit area and was related to Tony Pro via marriage. Both Giacalone and Provenzano failed to show up for the sitdown, instead establishing solid alibis at their respective headquarters, Tony Jack glad-handing his way through the Southfield Athletic Club in Metro Detroit and Tony Pro playing a game of gin rummy with his crew at his Teamsters Local 560 clubhouse in Union City, New Jersey.

Hoffa was last seen getting into what authorities feel certain was Giacalone son, Joseph (Joey Jack) Giacalone’s maroon-colored Mercury Marquis with three unidentified men in the parking lot of the Red Fox, just minutes away from Tony Jack hobnobbing at the trendy health club owned by Giacalone crew member Leonard (Little Lenny) Schultz. Joey Giacalone isn’t suspected of being a participant in the conspiracy to kill Hoffa. Schultz was a Jewish organized crime associate and labor consultant also scheduled to be at the lunch meeting at the Red Fox (instead, he spent the afternoon with Tony Jack at the Southfield AC).

Per the sources proffering the new theory, the three men scooping Hoffa in the Red Fox parking lot were Billy Giacalone, Tony Jack’s baby brother, fellow capo and future underboss, Bozzi Vitale, the Godfather of Greektown for the Motor City’s Italian mob and Jimmy Q, the syndicate’s primary narcotics lieutenant. All three were reputed seasoned killers and friendly with Hoffa from their dealings with him dating back decades and according to these sources shepherded him from the Red Fox to a residence two miles north owned by another veteran wiseguy named Carlo Licata, a house sitting on a hill at 680 W. Long Lake Road and somewhere Hoffa was told he was being driven to meet Schultz, Tony Jack and Tony Pro.

The Licata house aka "The House on The Hill"
The Licata house aka “The House on The Hill”

Licata, the son of Los Angeles mafia boss Nick Licata, who had passed away from cancer in the months prior, and the brother-in-law to the Detroit mob’s then-acting boss Giacomo (Black Jack) Tocco, wasn’t at home that afternoon, instructed “to gather his wife and kids and get lost,” per the sources. Sammy Serra, nephew to then long-reigning don and Michigan mafia founding-father, Joseph (Joe Uno) Zerilli, these sources say, was and waited for Hoffa to

walk in the door of the Licata house through the entrance from the garage and when he did Serra jumped from out of the shadows and strangled him to death with an electrical cord. Serra has been dead since 1984.

“Billy Jack, Jimmy Q and Bozzi brought him to the slaughter at the house on the hill, that’s what we called Carlo Licata’s house, and Sammy Serra put him down, strangled him to death within seconds of Jimmy entering the door leading from the garage,” the inside source said. “He didn’t’ have his gun, he had his guard down, he didn’t stand a chance. Sammy was built like a tractor trailer, strong as an ox, even then in his 60s. We heard Billy held Jimmy’s legs at the end, he didn’t go quietly.”

Over the past decade, the Licata house has emerged as a possible kill spot in the Hoffa case. The Licata house theory was first made public in 2006 by a group of retired FBI agents who worked the case in the 1980s and 90s and jointly went to the media once they left the Bureau.

The leafy estate resting on the side of a two-lane street in ritzy Bloomfield Township was known by the FBI as a location that mob sitdowns occurred and a meeting place Hoffa and the Giacalone brothers had rendezvoused several occasions before. Licata himself died under suspicious circumstances at the residence on the six-year anniversary of the Hoffa hit, on the afternoon of July 30, 1981 (officially ruled a suicide, Licata was shot twice in the chest and died laying face up, the weapon several feet away from him on top of a dresser with no fingerprints on it).

The new theorists claim after Hoffa was garroted to death by brawny Swinging Sammy Serra, nicknamed for his skill using a baseball bat as an enforcement tool in his early days in the Motor City underworld as one of his uncle, Joe Zerilli’s chief strong arms, Hoffa’s body was placed into the trunk of Joey Giacalone’s Mercury and transported for disposal at Central Sanitation in nearby Hamtramck, Michigan. Joey Jack was a 24-year old aspiring wiseguy in his dad’s crew at the time. Central Sanitation was a garbage collection and incineration company co-owned by Pete Vitale and Jimmy Quasarano, best friends and gangland running buddies for years, that burned to the ground in 1978 in what some authorities believe was an arson-related fire designed to eliminate any further trace of Hoffa’s remains. Hoffa for all intents and purposes had provided a “dummy” Teamsters local for the pair to run as a front to traffic narcotics, per federal informant files from the 1960s.

Bozzi Vitale & Jimmy Quasrano, circa 1978
Bozzi Vitale (L) & Jimmy Quasrano (R), circa 1978

Hoffa dined with Zerilli, the aging don’s protégés, the Giacalone brothers, Vitale, Quasarano and Vitale’s older brother, Paul (The Pope) Vitale in a backroom at Larco’s, a mobbed-up Italian Restaurant in Northwest Detroit three days before the labor boss was killed, according to FBI surveillance logs. Zerilli, one of the most revered mafia dons in American history, died of natural causes in late 1977, passing the reins of the crime family he led for 41 years to Black Jack Tocco, another nephew of his, who would lead the syndicate for the following four decades. Jack Tocco, the man the FBI thinks was in charge of arranging the details of the Hoffa slaying alongside the Giacalones, passed away from heart failure in July 2014.

In the year before he died, Tocco’s name surfaced in the media regarding his possible involvement in the Hoffa hit when farm property he owned in 1975 was searched by the FBI for any sign of Hoffa’s body based on a fruitless tip provided by Tocco’s first cousin and former underboss Anthony (Tony Z) Zerilli –Joe Uno’s son – who died back in March and was in prison at the time of Hoffa’s murder. Tony Z helped usher the fireplug of a labor chief from a street-level organizer in Detroit to the presidency of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the largest labor union in the world, and fell out with Tocco in the years after their dual busts in the Operation Gametax case of the 1990s.

In Zerilli’s tale of events involving the Hoffa snatching and execution (one he insisted was told to him in confidence by Tony Giacalone), he points to Hoffa being kidnapped by Bozzi Vitale, Jimmy Quasarano and current reputed Detroit mob consigliere Anthony (Tony Pal) Palazzolo, Vitale’s then-driver and bodyguard, from the Red Fox parking lot and bludgeoned to death by Palazzolo once they arrived at Tocco’s farm in rural Oakland Township, Michigan. Vitale and Quasarano were convicted together of shaking down a Wisconsin cheese company in 1981. They were observed by FBI agents visiting Genovese crime family higher-ups in New York City in the days after Hoffa showed up missing in Detroit.

The Vitale brothers assumed control as twin capos of Detroit’s Greektown neighborhood in the late 1950s upon the sudden heart attack suffered by Pietro (Machine Gun Pete) Corrado, the area’s overlord since Prohibition. The Vitale’s headquarters, the Corrado-owned Grecian Gardens restaurant, rested in the heart of Greektown on Monroe Street. Greektown is downtown Detroit’s main entertainment district. Marrying off both his daughters to sons of Machine Gun Pete Corrado, Paul Vitale died in 1988. Pete Vitale died in 1998.

Born in Pennsylvania and raised in Sicily, the always perfectly-coiffed Jimmy Quasarano was aide-de-camp to Joe Zerilli’s consigliere, Giovanni (Papa John) Priziola, maintaining direct responsibility for Priziola’s vast-spanning international drug networks, as well as helping look after the syndicate’s interests in the pro boxing industry. The son-in-law of Sicilian Godfather Vittorio (Don Vito) Vitale, Jimmy Q (sometimes called “Jimmy the Goon” for his brutish ways as a mafia up-and-comer) replaced Priziola as the crime family’s consigliere in the 1970s and lived into his 90s. He died in 2002 at the ripe old age of 92, still active in an advisory capacity to Detroit mob brass until the very end of his life.

The Giacalonr bros w/ their sisters, circa 1992
The Giacalonr bros w/ their sisters, circa 1992

Tony Giacalone, a prime suspect in literally dozens of mob hits, would go on to be convicted of tax evasion and extortion in the forthcoming years following the Hoffa case going cold. He died of kidney failure in 2001. His brother, the equally-deadly Billy Giacalone endured three more federal racketeering convictions in his career in the mafia in the aftermath of the Hoffa ordeal and before he died of natural causes in 2012 as Jack Tocco’s second-in-command.

The Giacalone brothers were seen meeting with Hoffa at his Lake Orion, Michigan lakeside home the afternoon after they all had dinner with Joe Zerilli, Jimmy Q and the Vitales at Larco’s, three days before Hoffa was last seen alive. Billy Jack’s son, Jack (Jackie the Kid) Giacalone, is alleged to have succeeded Jack Tocco as Godfather of the Detroit mafia last year in the months before Tocco succumbed to his bad ticker.

Tony Provenzano, who was Tony Jack’s wife’s “uncle” (actually a cousin), died of cancer behind bars in 1988, having been convicted of a non-Hoffa related gangland homicide 10 years prior. Little Lenny Schultz, Tony Jack and Hoffa’s go-between for Teamster affairs, died at 95 in 2013. Schultz was revealed an FBI informant during a subsequent drug narcotics-trafficking case.