A Poconos author is getting some national attention for his research that shows the reputed crime boss from Kingston, Russell Bufalino, ordered the execution of labor leader Jimmy Hoffa in 1975.
The PBS series History Detectives Special Investigations interviewed Matt Birkbeck, a former reporter for the The Morning Call newspaper in Allentown, during an episode on what happened to the leader of the Teamsters transportation workers union.
The episode “Who Killed Jimmy Hoffa?” documents the incidents surrounding Hoffa’s disappearance, set to air July 22, details Hoffa’s intertwined connection with the Italian mafia in the 1950s and 60s, and explains that — while laborers seeking better workplace treatment saw Hoffa as an inspiration, and officials were threatened by him — the mob had found a fiery front man with access to huge stores of cash: the Teamsters pension fund.
The program’s co-host Kaiama Glover interviews Birkbeck near the end of the episode when they sit inside the restaurant Villa Foglia in Exeter.
Birkbeck explains a relationship between Hoffa and Bufalino that began to sour when Hoffa was pardoned of a misuse-of-funds conviction and departed prison as a man with a vengeance to regain his throne, which had been succeeded by a fellow named Frank Fitzsimmons.
Many believe the mob saw Hoffa as a loose cannon and a liability after President Richard Nixon pardoned him in 1971. The Italian mafia was making millions building casinos in Las Vegas with Teamsters pension money. A disenfranchised, raging Hoffa became a liability, the show explains.
In 2003, attorney Charles Brandt published a book “I Heard You Paint Houses,” the confession of a dying Frank Sheeran that Bufalino gave the order to take out Hoffa.
It’s widely believed Sheeran was a hit man for the mob, one who worked for Bufalino. But he also spent a lot of time with Hoffa, and Hoffa trusted him. In videos before his death, a withered old Sheeran says he believed Hoffa was a good man.
FBI investigators cast a great deal of skepticism on Sheeran’s confession, though they had always considered Bufalino suspect, the PBS producers said.
It was Birkbeck’s book that added one more strain of credibility to Sheeran’s story and strengthened Bufalino’s motive for ordering the hit, PBS spokeswoman Kelsey Wallace said.
“There really wasn’t much information out there on Bufalino, hence his nickname, ‘The Quiet Don,’” Wallace said. “We had asked some journalists and retired FBI agents about Bufalino, but it didn’t yield much.”
The producers ultimately found Birkbeck after they stumbled across a pre-release announcement for “The Quiet Don” on Amazon.com.
During the interview, Birkbeck explains one thing flipped the switch, a Time Magazine article that named the reclusive crime lord as part of a CIA investigation.
It was at that moment Bufalino began to clean house, and when Birkbeck believes he ordered the hit.
Hoffa’s remains still have not been found.