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CNN LIVE TODAY

Where is Jimmy Hoffa?

Aired July 17, 2003 - 10:11   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: It's been nearly three decades since Jimmy Hoffa vanished, and the search for answers in the case goes on. Police in Hampton Township, Michigan yesterday spent some six hours digging around a backyard swimming pool. They were looking for evidence in Hoffa's disappearance, but they didn't find anything there.
Authorities were acting on an informant's tip, and they say that they are disappointed that they came up empty, but they did feel obligated to follow through on this tip. Why? Well, we'll have to find out.

The Jimmy Hoffa case remains one of the most talked about unsolved cases in history, and despite years of searching, Hoffa's body has never been found and no one has been charged in his death.

And joining us to talk about this new hunt for evidence is David Ashenfelter from the "Detroit Free Press."

David, you wrote about this search by police, digging up I guess some ground underneath an above-ground pool somewhere around Detroit. Tell us about that. And why were they there?

DAVID ASHENFELTER, "DETROIT FREE PRESS": Well, basically they got a tip from a prison inmate, a fellow that's serving a life prison sentence for killing his landlady in Saginaw. And apparently NBC "Dateline" was somehow involved in this, and they got a tip that he knew something about Hoffa's disappearance. And apparently to build his credibility, he told them -- he told both "Dateline" and authorities in Oakland County that there was a man buried under this house that he used to live in out in Essexville.

Police went out there, found a body in the crawl space, and that added to his credibility. He then said that there was a briefcase that had items in it that were used in Hoffa's disappearance. And they went out yesterday to take a look and did not find what they were looking for.

HARRIS: Did he say what was in that briefcase?

ASHENFELTER: Well, he said, there's a syringe in the briefcase, and the police wanted it. Apparently it was going to be used to either drug -- or was used to drug or poison Hoffa. And police were hoping to get some DNA evidence off of it.

There were also some playing cards in the briefcase that apparently the killers had played cards in a recreation vehicle on their way up north to dispose of his body.

HARRIS: So, this informant, did he actually own this home, he owned this property?

ASHENFELTER: Yes. Well, actually I think he rented it back in the '70s before he went -- and this was before he went to prison. He had ended up moving to Saginaw, and then killed his landlady in a kidnap extortion plot and went to prison.

HARRIS: Nice guy. Yes, nice guy. Well, did he offer any explanation as to why the briefcase might have been there? Does he know who may have taken it?

ASHENFELTER: Well, that we don't know, because the authorities haven't -- the people here in Oakland County have not identified who the convict is. We know that it's a guy named Richard Powell. They're basically regrouping today and figuring out, well, OK, did he get the location wrong? Is it someplace else? It's been 25 years since he'd walked that property. Is he even telling the truth? This is a guy that told the "National Enquirer" in 1998 that he was in on the disappearance of Hoffa.

HARRIS: Well, if this guy, if he was willing to talk about it to the "National Enquirer" some time ago, why did he wait so long? Why did he until now, almost 30 years later now, to talk to the police about this?

ASHENFELTER: Well, we're still piecing it together. It looks like this guy might be a media manipulator and a law enforcement manipulator. Any of us who have been in the business any amount of time know that we get -- every time I write a Hoffa story, I get phone calls from somebody who knows where Jimmy Hoffa is buried. And sometimes they're inmates, and they want you to come out and talk to them and they give you convincing information. And usually they tell to us to look under a freeway, under a building where there's a lot of concrete.

In this case, it was simply an above-ground swimming pool. So, the sheriff's department and the Bloomfield Township police department felt that this guy had enough credibility that they had to go out and look. If they had found evidence solving the Hoffa case, they'd be heroes. But now, it looks like, well, maybe they were used by a manipulative inmate. But they've got to check these things.

HARRIS: All right, and they have to check these things out, no doubt. But do they now have any other new idea or a new clue that might lead them to where they believe he may be buried? Did this guy say anything about where Hoffa might be buried? I know he was talking about the briefcase in this case.

ASHENFELTER: Well, he told...

HARRIS: But did he know about the body?

ASHENFELTER: He told the "National Enquirer" that he was dumped in a river somewhere up in northern Michigan. But, you know, it's hard to know. There have been so many reports on where Jimmy Hoffa -- where his body was disposed of. You know, he's been reported under buildings, freeway overpasses, and just all kinds of places.

HARRIS: Meadowland Stadium, I've heard that one through the years as well.

ASHENFELTER: Yes.

HARRIS: Well, the search goes on. All right, we sure appreciate it. David Ashenfelter, thank you very much.

ASHENFELTER: Thank you.

HARRIS: And a nice piece of writing there. Good luck to you. Take care.

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