'The Irishman' is a fictionalized true crime story about the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, a mystery that still hasn't been solved

Detroit Free Press/Contributor/Getty ImagesJimmy Hoffa’s disappearance is still a mystery.
  • Long-time International Brotherhood of Teamsters boss, James “Jimmy” Hoffa, went missing in 1975.
  • While theories surrounding his disappearance are still circulating today, the case has been described as one of America’s greatest unsolved mysteries.
  • Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, among many other legendary actors, is a fictionalized account of Hoffa’s disappearance from the point of view of Mafia hitman Frank Sheeran.
  • The film is based on a book by ‎Charles Brandt, “I Heard You Paint Houses,” which details interviews and confessions that Sheeran once reportedly made to Brandt before he died.
  • Scorsese and De Niro have both said the film isn’t necessarily a true representation of Sheeran – rather it’s about a character they built together based on Sheeran.
  • “The Irishman” is nominated for 10 Academy Awards this year including best picture.
  • Here’s what we know so far about the real-life Jimmy Hoffa and the ongoing investigation into his disappearance.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

James “Jimmy” Hoffa was last seen on July 30, 1975, at the Machus Red Fox Restaurant near Bloomfield Township, Michigan, just 25 miles from Detroit. The next day, he was reported as a missing person. Seven years later, in 1982, he was declared “presumed dead.”

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty ImagesMachus Red Fox Restaurant is pictured above.

Source: Encyclopædia Britannica, History

Jimmy was a long-time leader of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, “North America’s strongest and most diverse labour union,” according to the organisation itself.

Al Fenn/Contributor/Getty ImagesHoffa leads a union meeting in 1957.

Source: International Brotherhood of Teamsters

While the union has been known for supporting truckers across America …

Hank Walker/Contributor/Getty ImagesHoffa leaning out of a truck in 1959.

Source: History

… it also became known for its ties to organised crime and the Mafia specifically.

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty ImagesHoffa (centre) with attorney William Bufalino (left) and friend Chuck O’Brien (right).

Source: History, The New York Times

The mob ties and mysterious disappearance of Hoffa are the basis of the Martin Scorsese-directed Netflix film “The Irishman.”

NetflixAl Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa in ‘The Irishman.’

Source: Netflix

The story is an adaptation of the book “I Heard You Paint Houses” — Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran’s account of his involvement with the Mafia, the Bufalino crime family, and Hoffa’s death.

NetflixRobert De Niro as Frank Sheeran in ‘The Irishman.’

Source: Netflix, Esquire

Although Sheeran claims to have shot his long-time friend, Hoffa, on orders from the Bufalino family, he’s reportedly one of 14 people who’ve taken responsibility for Hoffa’s disappearance over the years.


Source: Newsweek, Esquire

The film depicts Sheeran as the last surviving member of his mafia generation. It tells the story of his involvement, and his relationship with Hoffa, from his own point of view, which is why historians and critics are sceptical of how accurate this portrayed confession really is.

NetflixRobert De Niro as Frank Sheeran in ‘The Irishman.’

Source: Esquire, Newsweek, USA Today

While the confession and description of how Sheeran killed Hoffa and what he did with Hoffa’s body is skepticized to this day, the reason why Hoffa was targeted in the first place is not, and it goes back to the election of John F. Kennedy into the White House.

Hank Walker/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: USA Today

Hoffa served as the Teamsters president from 1957 through 1967. During that time, JFK was elected President of the United States. The president appointed his brother, Robert Kennedy, Attorney General.

Historical/Contributor/Getty ImagesRobert Kennedy (left) and John F. Kennedy (right) in 1957.

Source: History, Biography, JFK Library, Washington Post

Robert and Hoffa had a long-standing and well-documented feud. Kennedy’s then-new position as Attorney General allowed the two to face-off even more intensely than before.

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty ImagesKennedy (left) and Hoffa (right) in 1968.

Source: Washington Post

Although Bobby was no longer Attorney General following the assassination of his brother, Hoffa was still facing other charges and trials, particularly in Nashville.

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty ImagesRobert Kennedy in 1957.

Source: Tennessean, Washington Post

Eventually, Hoffa was sentenced to 13 years in prison under multiple convictions including jury tampering, fraud, and racketeering.

Underwood Archives/Contributor/Getty ImagesHoffa is put in handcuffs during one of several arrests.

Source: History, Biography

Hoffa was sent to Lewisburg Federal Prison in Pennsylvania.

Underwood Archives/Contributor/Getty ImagesHoffa at Lewisburg Federal Prison.

Source: Biography, USA Today

While he was in prison, Hoffa’s vice president Frank “Fitz” Fitzsimmons stepped in.

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty ImagesFrank Fitzsimmons (left) and Hoffa (right).

Source: Biography, USA Today

Hoffa was released from prison after almost five years on probation granted by the Nixon Administration. The administration changed his sentence from 13 years to 6 and a half years, and Hoffa would serve the then-remaining year and a half under probation.

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty ImagesHoffa leaving federal prison in 1971.

Source: The New York Times

“The Irishman” emphasises that Hoffa wanted to relax with his wife when he left Lewisburg, but not that he became known as a prison reform activist as well.

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty ImagesHoffa talks Nixon and prison reform at a 1971 press conference.

Source: The Harvard Crimson, The New York Times, Getty Images

The part of his post-prison life the film focuses on — and the part arguably most important to his disappearance — is that he wanted to reclaim his place on top of the Teamsters union. But, in Hoffa’s absence, mobsters reportedly had formed a successful relationship with Fitz that they didn’t want to change.

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty ImagesFrank Fitzsimmons testifying before Senate Investigations Subcommittee in 1977.

Source: USA Today, The Harvard Crimson

It’s believed by historians that Mafia members wanted to continue working with Fitz. The theory continues on to say that Hoffa had too much information on the Mafia and its involvement with the Teamsters, and they wanted him dead so he couldn’t reveal what he knew.

Walt Disney Television Photo Archives/Contributor/Getty ImagesHoffa at his home in 1974.

Source: USA Today, USA Today

When police started to investigate Hoffa’s disappearance, they found his car at the restaurant where he reportedly had a lunch planned with Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano of New Jersey and Anthony “Tony Jack” Giacalone of Detroit.

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty ImagesBloomfield Township Police looking at Hoffa’s car.

Source: Encyclopædia Britannica, History, USA Today

“The Irishman” has been reviewed as “great filmmaking, but bad history,” by author Dan Moldea who has been researching Hoffa for more than four decades. Other historians and critics say the same.

NetflixDe Niro (left), Pacino (centre), and Ray Romano (right) in ‘The Irishman.’

Source: USA Today

As a loose reiteration of Sheeran’s account of what happened, the film hints at the cremation of Hoffa’s body. However, historians like Moldea think it’s possible that his body was shoved into a waste drum and buried in a New Jersey Landfill.

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: USA Today, USA Today

No one really knows what happened to Jimmy, and some people including members of Hoffa’s family and investigative reporter Scott Burnstein think we never will.

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty ImagesHoffa with his wife, Jo, and their two children.

Source: USA Today

But with the resurgence of the story and persistence of investigators, other people including Moldea are hopeful that the truth will come out soon.

Bill Pugliano/Stringer/Getty ImagesPolice are still investigating and receiving tips.

Source: USA Today, USA Today

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