No sign of remains in new Detroit-area search for Jimmy Hoffa's body
The Associated Press
Published Friday, September 28, 2012 10:34AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, September 28, 2012 9:24PM EDT
ROSEVILLE, Mich. -- Jimmy Hoffa is presumed dead, cocooned in mystery and innuendo and missing for the past 37 years. Patricia Szpunar just hopes that if the former Teamsters boss' remains do turn up, they're not in her backyard.
Over the years, authorities have dug up a Michigan horse farm, looked under a swimming pool and pulled up floorboards in their quest for Hoffa.
The latest search led police, droves of local and national reporters and dozens of curious onlookers to Szpunar's brick ranch-style home in Roseville.
"I'm looking forward to everybody going home," she told The Associated Press on Friday from her front porch. Szpunar has lived at the house since 1988.
Minutes earlier, a small mob of people scooted by, following closely behind police who were carrying tubes of soil samples taken from two 6-foot holes drilled through the concrete floor of her backyard shed.
Police in the mostly working- and middle-class community north of Detroit recently received a tip from a man who claimed he saw someone buried there about 35 years ago and that the body possibly belonged to Hoffa.
The crowd buzzed Friday, muffled a bit by the periodic whir of the drill. Szpunar cautiously peeked at the activity from the security of her partially enclosed rear deck.
"It's not excitement for me," she lamented. "This has turned my life upside down. My son can't even come out and cut the grass."
She may receive a respite this weekend. The samples taken Friday are expected to be tested Monday by forensic anthropologists at Michigan State University for traces of human decomposition. Wet soil and clay were found, but there was no visible sign of human remains, Roseville Police Chief James Berlin said.
A negative test Monday means police likely will rip down the yellow tape roping off the entrance to Szpunar's yard -- Nothing to see here.
But if decomposition is found, authorities will dig up the driveway, whether it's Hoffa beneath it or not, according to Berlin.
"I don't believe it's Mr. Hoffa. I don't know what it is," Berlin said. "It's still a crime scene until we get verification from the anthropologist that there are no human remains present."
"We received credible information that a crime may have occurred. We're not doing anything we wouldn't have done on any other case. That shed did not exist at the time this allegedly occurred. The prior outbuilding that was there did not have a concrete floor."
The city of Roseville would pay for her driveway if it's ripped up, Szpunar said.
A recent radar test revealed a shift in the soil, which also prompted Friday's drilling. Berlin said the house may have been owned in the 1970s by a gambler with ties to organized crime.
Hoffa was an acquaintance of mobsters and adversary to federal officials. He spent time in prison for jury tampering. He was last seen July 30, 1975, outside a restaurant in Oakland County, more than 30 miles to the west.
The day he disappeared, Hoffa was supposed to meet with a New Jersey Teamsters boss and a Detroit mafia captain.
He was declared legally dead in 1982. Previous tips led police to excavate soil in 2006 at a horse farm northwest of Detroit, rip up floorboards at a Detroit home in 2004 and search beneath a backyard pool a few hours north of the city in 2003.
There were even rumours that Hoffa's remains were ground up and tossed into a Florida swamp, entombed beneath Giants Stadium in New Jersey or obliterated in a mob-owned fat-rendering plant.
Police detectives appeared two weeks ago and said they may need to search her yard for a dead body, Szpunar said.
"I laughed at them," she said. "I looked at them and said, 'What? Do you think Jimmy Hoffa is buried in my backyard?' ... They just looked at me, and asked why I said Jimmy Hoffa."
On Wednesday, Szpunar discovered through media reports that Hoffa was precisely the reason authorities were interested. A police officer has been posted outside ever since.
"To think that for 24 years, we may have been walking or driving over a dead body ... Can you even imagine?" she said.
She acknowledged the attention has been like winning the lottery, in reverse.
"Believe me, if this is even a sampling of what it's like to win the lottery, no thanks. I don't need money that bad."