Italian sauce and Jimmy Hoffa's secret


The Machus Red Fox restaurant, where Jimmy Hoffa vanished in July 1975, has closed.

The sign still stands over the parking lot from which the former Teamsters president was believed to have been abducted and later murdered by the Mafia. But the endearingly vulgar establishment in Detroit's swanky northern suburb of Bloomfield Hills is no more - shut down after its owner refused to renew the lease.

Now only a bakery remains, tucked away at the back. The Hoffa case might never have been. No plaque or faded FBI missing-person poster, nor even any graffiti to remind you of the most celebrated unsolved mysteries in recent US history

Or perhaps, unsolved until now - which brings us to the really sensational crime news in these parts. Last Friday, the Detroit papers were running classic "hold-the-front-page" banner headlines.

"FBI: MOB BUSTED," one screamed in three-inch type, before elaborating in more measured vein: "Alleged Mafia Boss Jack Tocco, 16 Leaders Indicted by Grand Jury For Extortion, Obstruction of Justice. 'We've driven a stake through the heart of Cosa Nostra,' say Feds." And if even half the charges stick, the Feds will have done precisely that.

The nationwide crackdown on the Mafia that has led to the indictment or conviction of organised crime bosses in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Cleveland has now reached Detroit, threatening the godfathers of the motor city with jail for the rest of their lives. Unless of course, they choose to talk. And no one among the 17 has more to tell than Anthony "Tony Jack" Giacalone.

Of the unprepossessing collection of jowly old men who were led into court for arraignment last week, Anthony Giacalone, now 77, may be one of the nastiest. For many years he was the Detroit family's chief "enforcer"' who made sure its orders were carried out.

But his real claim to fame lies elsewhere. He visited Jimmy Hoffa at his home two weeks before his disappearance, and was the man Hoffa told acquaintances he was going to meet at the Red Fox.

Some say Hoffa is entombed in the concrete masonry of a highway interchange in Pennsylvania, others that he was buried in a New Jersey landfill, or that his corpse was rendered for grease in a Mafia-owned factory. The FBI says the Hoffa case remains open. Now, just possibly, Giacalone will close it.

Even so you wonder, where does art end and life begin ? Assuming the indictments are only a quarter true, Tocco, Giacalone and the rest are an unlovely bunch of hoods. But in private life, they could have been taken straight out of Hollywood central casting.

Take Tocco, now 69 and long a resident of the wealthy suburb of Grosse Pointe Park. His criminal record consists of a $25 misdemeanour fine 30 years ago, for attending an illegal cockfight. Neighbours have described him as "kind and generous, a great guy", who would give them tomatoes and zucchini from his garden.

Tocco's underboss Anthony Zerilli, son of one of the men who founded the Detroit Mafia when it smuggled booze across the river from Canada in prohibition times, lives in a farmhouse with a trampoline and swing set outside the back door. His wife once cried when he was acquitted on extortion charges, and he tells acquaintances: "We are people just like everyone else."

As for "Tony Jack", he reputedly loves flowers and keeps "the most beautiful lawn in the neighbourhood". His brother Vito's wife insists that her husband, also indicted last week, is merely a "retired fruit-seller". She told the newspaper: "I'm waiting for him to come home and explain it all."

If it sounds reassuring, in an odd way it is. Don't bother us and we won't bother you, is the Mafia's social contract - almost a friendship treaty in this age of random violence. And who takes Cosa Nostra very seriously these days? Not the average citizen, who is far more alarmed by the crack cocaine business, drive-by shootings and the gang wars which made Detroit a byword for urban mayhem in the 1970s and 1980s.

Tocco and his colleagues, by contrast, seem to have preferred old-fashioned pursuits like illegal betting, protection rackets, loan-sharking, and the odd investment in Las Vegas. Cautious and discreet even by Mafia standards, the Detroit organisation has avoided the bloody internal feuds which helped bring down John Gotti in New York. Here the factions didn't shoot each other, they married into each other.

For the time being, Tocco and his colleagues are out on bail of up to $200,000 each -"just like paying a parking ticket", one said as he left the courthouse last week.

Probably, if they are put away for good, modern Detroit will hardly notice. Except, of course, for those still intrigued by how, and at whose hand, Jimmy Hoffa met his end.

Rupert Cornwell

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk