OAKLAND TOWNSHIP, Mich. — FBI agents in suburban Detroit widened their search of an overgrown field on Tuesday for the remains of former Teamsters union boss Jimmy Hoffa, who disappeared nearly 38 years ago and is thought to have been murdered by mobsters.
FBI agents have been digging for Hoffa’s remains since Monday when a backhoe was driven onto the field in Oakland County, about 20 miles north of the Machus Red Fox restaurant where Hoffa was last seen alive.
The search resumed at 8 a.m. EDT on Tuesday and FBI officials said it had been widened but gave no further details. An FBI spokesman said the search would continue at least until the end of the day.
After a tip by reputed mobster Anthony Zerilli, the FBI brought in forensic anthropologists from Michigan State University and a dog from Michigan state police to help search a half-acre of the site, according to a person close to the investigation who asked not to be identified.
Curious bystanders gathered on Tuesday near the field, which was blocked off by Oakland County sheriff deputies, and peered through wavy grass and trees to see agents digging and the backhoe at work.
The search for Hoffa, who was 62 when he disappeared in 1975, has spawned many theories about his final resting place, ranging from under an end zone in Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, to the General Motors Co headquarters in downtown Detroit and the Everglades in Florida.
In Michigan, law enforcement officials decided to comb the lot after Zerilli, 85, told the FBI that Hoffa was buried there. Zerilli’s attorney, David Chasnick, told reporters the FBI spoke to his client over the past seven or eight months and the agency believes “100 percent” Hoffa is buried there.
“This was a guy who was intimately involved with some of the players who would be well informed as to where the body would be placed,” Chasnick said.
According to a 21-page manuscript that Zerilli wrote and is selling online, Hoffa was dragged out of a car, bound and gagged, hit with a shovel and buried alive under a cement slab in a barn on the property.
FBI officials had no comment on Zerilli’s assertions.
Hoffa, the father of current Teamsters President James Hoffa, led the union from 1957 to 1971 and was imprisoned for fraud and jury tampering in his final years. He was released in late 1971, when President Richard Nixon commuted his sentence.
Authorities have long thought Hoffa was ordered killed by organized crime figures to prevent him from regaining control of the Teamsters.
Investigators have checked thousands of leads over the years. In September 2012, police took a soil sample from behind a private home in Roseville, Michigan, after receiving a tip he might be buried there.
At the Oakland field on Tuesday, Terry Moore of nearby Shelby Township came to watch the activity. While he didn’t expect Hoffa’s remains to be found in the latest search, he wanted to see for himself. “This is sort of history,” the 60-year-old said.
This has been a notable week for followers of organized crime. In Boston, James ‘Whitey’ Bulger is standing trial on accusations he committed or ordered 19 murders while running Boston’s Winter Hill Gang in the 1970s and ’80s.
And in New York, the FBI on Tuesday searched the former home of late mobster Jimmy Burke, the suspected mastermind of the 1978 Lufthansa cargo heist that netted almost $6 million.
A source familiar with that search, which also involved digging, said the FBI was looking for human remains inside the house. Burke, also known as “Jimmy the Gent,” died in prison in 1996 while he was serving time for the murder of a drug dealer.
Actor Robert De Niro played a character inspired by Burke in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 hit movie “Goodfellas,” which featured the famed robbery at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Jack Nicholson played Hoffa in 1992′s “Hoffa.”