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Confessions of a Guerrilla Writer:
Adventures in the Jungles of Crime, Politics, and Publishing
By Dan E. Moldea
Copyright © 2013 by Dan E. Moldea
The man promised to deliver Jimmy Hoffa’s dead body to me, gift-wrapped in a 55-gallon drum.
Yet, while sitting alone in my black 2007 Jeep Liberty at our prearranged meeting place in the rear parking lot of a Mobil station just off an empty country road in Hartland Township about an hour northwest of Detroit, all that went through my mind was how many federal, state, and local laws I was about to violate if this actually happened. However, regardless of the consequences, if Hoffa’s remains were really offered to me, I was going to accept them.
It was the hot and sunny late afternoon of August 20, 2009—thirty-four years after the ex-Teamsters boss disappeared on July 30, 1975. A young freelance writer back then, I had started my investigations of Hoffa and Teamsters eight months before he vanished. Hoffa’s still-unsolved murder had been my obsession ever since, even after the 1978 publication of my book, The Hoffa Wars.
Knowing the Hoffa case as well as any journalist, I recognized the good leads from the bad and had received dozens over the years. But the stunning detail that a Michigan man—“AH,” as I called him—provided in the summer of 2009 had really grabbed me. Inasmuch as AH, a convicted scam artist, was simultaneously cooperating with the FBI and had nothing to gain by conning me, I decided to play out this drama, primarily because he had once worked for former Detroit Teamster leader Rolland McMaster, a top suspect in Hoffa’s disappearance. Aside from Hoffa, McMaster, who had died in October 2007, was the principal character of my 1978 book. I had spent years investigating him and openly alleged that he had played a role in the disposal of Hoffa’s body.
In May 2006, the FBI had launched a well-publicized search for Hoffa’s body at a farm in Wixom, Michigan, excavating a portion of the property, destroying and then rebuilding a large barn in the process. In July 1975, that farm was owned by McMaster.
Although the FBI did not find Hoffa, the New York Times quoted an FBI spokesperson who “was convinced that Mr. Hoffa's body had been buried on the farm, and there was ‘no indication that it has been moved.’"
During my 2009 adventure, AH admitted to me that he was trying to plea-bargain his way out of state criminal charges that were pending against him, hoping that his information about Hoffa could help get him out of trouble. With McMaster now dead, AH said that he no longer feared for his safety and had agreed to talk.
When the FBI special agent with whom AH was cooperating asked me what I thought, I replied with some amusement but a considerable amount of curiosity that AH’s cooperation with the bureau made him semi-believable, even though I still viewed his story as a million-to-one shot.
Lying to me was one thing, but lying to the FBI was something else.
AH recalled that he had worked as McMaster’s driver in July and August 1975 and was instructed to pick him up at a local restaurant—the Wheat & Rye on Middlebelt Road, just south of I-94—a few days after Hoffa disappeared. Also along for the ride were two other alleged co-conspirators, whom he named. Both were other top suspects in the murder, named by the FBI.
Continuing his story, AH explained that he took the three men to another McMaster farm just off U.S. 23 in Fenton—about twelve miles from the site of the 2006 excavation—where he saw a 55-gallon drum on a paneled pickup truck just outside the barn. Inside this barn was a backhoe which had already been used to dig a hole. He added that McMaster had said with some exasperation, “This is the last goddamn time we’re moving this son of a bitch.”
AH told me that, as a reward for his role in Hoffa’s disappearance, McMaster received a hidden interest in a Las Vegas hotel/casino.
From the outset, I often repeated to AH that I would not engage in any illegal activities, including the act of criminal trespass. However, my interest piqued when AH drew a floor plan of the barn where he claimed Hoffa’s body was buried and actually placed a circle at what he insisted was the specific location of Hoffa’s grave.
He wasn’t talking about a major excavation. Instead, he was saying that he knew the exact spot for a simple dig within a nine-square-foot area. In addition, he said that he was acquainted with the farm’s caretaker who would give him permission to enter the property.
AH even allowed me to repeat anything he said to the FBI agent, adding that he never saw Hoffa’s body—only the 55-gallon drum which the conspirators used as his coffin. The barn and the surrounding farm, AH said, was now owned by McMaster’s brother-in-law, Stanton Barr, who had served as McMaster’s alibi on the day Hoffa vanished.
Pat Clawson of Flint, a trusted friend and a licensed private investigator, had volunteered to watch my back since this drama began nearly two weeks earlier. During the interim, I had tolerated the con man’s constant abuse, rejecting no fewer than three shakedown attempts and shrugging off his numerous threats to have me killed. Further, I had caught him in numerous contradictions and even flat-out lies.
But he wasn’t asking me to do anything, except to receive Hoffa’s body.
There was one major complication. AH also alleged that he had possession of tape-recorded conversations among the actual co-conspirators in the Hoffa murder—before and after the killing. And, of course, I wanted them.
When he finally gave the half-dozen cassette tapes to me, they were sealed in plastic and inserted in a black-vinyl pouch. That was when the threats began. He warned that if I opened the plastic before receiving Hoffa’s body, I would be killed.
Upon receiving the tapes and for my own legal protection, I filled out a standard chain-of-custody form, noting the transfer—even though I could see through the plastic that no fewer than three of the tapes appeared to be pre-recorded country-western music cassettes.
When AH threatened me the first time, I trembled—even though I have been threatened on numerous occasions during my career. After that, I was nothing more than amused with his bluster. Once again, all he had to do was be right about one thing. And all I had to do was keep my motel room for another day or two.
When he demanded money from me, I told him that the sky was the limit if he delivered Hoffa’s body, and I would help him get everything he ever wanted. Even though I remained completely skeptical throughout, I did fantasize about my own reward and how I could parlay this exclusive story into a matter for history, as well as my own personal vindication after years of frustrating investigation of the Hoffa case.
AH told me that he and his team would bring a ground-radar detector and the backhoe on a flatbed trailer to the farm. He said that the entire operation would take about two hours. Meantime, I was instructed to wait for delivery at the Mobil station, which was just a few hundred yards away from the farm.
AH gave me the rules for the dig, scheduled for 5:00 P.M. on Thursday, August 20, saying:
2. He said that my associate, Pat Clawson, could not go near the flatbed. If he did, he would be shot. However, as AH and his men worked in the barn, Clawson would be permitted to videotape the unfolding events from a position across the street from the farm.
3. AH said that he would give me the videotape his own team would make of the dig inside the barn before they pulled away from the Mobil station.
4. After I finished photographing the barrel and its contents, he said he planned to take everything to an officer with the Michigan State Police, a woman named Robin, with whom he appeared to have some connection.
5. He added that I could call anyone I want after they pulled away. I told him that my first call would be to the FBI special agent assigned to this case.
After eating a late lunch, I went to the Mobil station where Clawson and I had agreed to meet at 4:30. While I waited for Clawson who was a few minutes late, I filled my tank with gas and bought a couple of bottles of spring water and a small bag of Fritos at an adjoining mini-mart. Then, I drove my car to the back of the station and into a large parking lot as AH had directed.
At 4:45, my cell phone rang. It was AH who asked me if I was at the Mobil station. I replied that I was. AH said that he and his men were running a half hour behind schedule, adding that they would be coming from the west. They would arrive at 5:30. He further said that he and his men had already placed some equipment at the farm, adding that everyone who lived and worked there was gone for the afternoon.
Within minutes after ending my call with AH, Clawson drove into the gas station and parked next to me. When he climbed out of his car, I told him that I had just heard from AH who said that he and his team were en route.
At that point, we didn’t know what to believe. But we did know that something was about to happen.
Even though he remained as skeptical and I, Clawson had photocopied a section of Michigan law, which discussed unauthorized excavations for dead bodies that included stiff penalties for the principals as well as their accomplices. He suggested that we call a local law-enforcement agency and make them generally aware of what we were doing.
Agreeing to talk about that option, I got into Clawson’s car, and we drove to the farm.
When we arrived, we saw two horses running free in a pasture. And we clearly saw an older, silver-haired man wearing a blue shirt in the barn. I assumed that this was either the farm’s owner or its caretaker. However, AH had just told me a few minutes earlier that no one would be on the property.
As Clawson scouted for his best position to set up his video camera across the road from the farm, I suddenly feared that we had been set up. I suspected that a trap had been set for me when I returned to the Mobil station alone which would result in the theft of my car—or that I would be jumped and beaten.
With the two of us still deciding to move forward, Clawson dropped me off at the gas station. Then he returned to his surveillance location.
At or about 5:15 P.M., a Livingston County sheriff’s car pulled into the parking lot and stopped next to my car.
I said to myself, “This can’t be for me.”
The deputy sheriff, Pete Hairston, stepped out of his car and asked me for some identification. Without saying a word, I pulled out my wallet and gave him my Washington, D.C., driver’s license.
I then believed that Clawson had gone ahead and called the county sheriff’s office and tipped them off as to what was happening.
As the deputy began to question me about what I was doing in Michigan, another squad car pulled up. This one was from the Michigan State Police. A woman officer, Trooper Karla Aguzzi, climbed out of her car and approached the deputy and me.
Hairston again asked me what I was doing in their state.
I replied that I was visiting friends.
“Where do they live?”
“What’s their address?”
“I don’t know their address. I just have directions on how to get there.”
“What are their names?”
“Look,” I said, “what’s this all about?”
“We received a call that a person driving a 2007 black Jeep Liberty with D.C. tags was parked in this lot and behaving suspiciously.”
“Suspiciously?” I laughed. “I’m a customer. I bought gas and made a purchase in the mini-mart. I have the receipts in my pocket.”
Trooper Aguzzi asked me if I would empty my pockets.
I took off my sleeveless, multi-pocketed, dark-gray photographer’s vest and handed it to her.
The deputy also asked if he could search my car. I told him that, if he told me what this was about, I would probably have no objection.
The trooper put my vest on the hood of the deputy’s car and examined its contents, which included my spiral-bound “Reporter’s Note Book.”
The deputy asked me to identify my friends in Flint.
When I asked why this was necessary, he repeated his question with what appeared to be restrained anger.
“I’m here visiting a friend of mine who used to live in Washington, Pat Clawson, who now lives in Flint.”
“And who are you waiting for here?”
“I’m waiting for Pat.”
“Where is he now?”
“Like I said, I’m waiting for him.”
After going through my pockets, the trooper returned to the deputy and me. The deputy then left us and went to his car where he immediately started talking on his radio and punching in information on his dashboard computer.
With both police cars pointed at me, I assumed that I was being filmed by their dashboard cameras.
While the deputy continued to check me out in his squad car, I leaned back against the front of my car while the trooper kept her distance from me. When I stood up and took a step forward, she put her right hand on the service revolver in her holster and barked, “Step back, sir!”
She didn’t pull her gun, but, at that point, I knew that this was something very serious. I was certain that if I didn’t step back—which I did immediately—she would have drawn her weapon.
Shortly after that, a third police officer arrived, Trooper Rich Chaffee, also of the Michigan State Police.
Upon his arrival and with the return of Deputy Hairston, Trooper Aguzzi got in her car and drove away.
Chaffee then, quite literally, got in my face and demanded to know what I was doing there.
At that point, I told him that I was a journalist who was working on a story.
He asked me, “What story?”
“Do I have to say?”
Hairston told me, “We received a call out of Detroit that a man in a black Jeep with D.C. tags was carrying a load of cocaine, along with a large amount of cash.”
As he said that, a fourth police car pulled up. The officer in this car stepped out, along with his large drug-sniffing dog.
My heart almost fell into my stomach—now knowing that I had been totally set up but in a different way than I had earlier suspected.
Hairston continued, “May we search your car?”
At that point, my mind focused on the black-vinyl pouch that con-man AH had given me with the sealed tapes inside. Standing by my word, I still had not opened it, but I now suspected that the package contained illegal drugs, and that I was about to be busted.
Hairston growled, “Do you have any guns or drugs in your car?
I replied that I did not.
“Once again, sir, may we search your car?”
Believing that I would be arrested as soon as the pouch was discovered, I asked to speak with an attorney.
Hairston replied, “You said before that you had no problem if we searched your car.”
“Sir, I’m a good guy. I’m not a bad guy. I’m a journalist who’s working on a story. Pat Clawson is a licensed private investigator who is helping me with that story. I was standing here waiting for him.”
Upon hearing that I wanted an attorney, Trooper Chaffee pulled Deputy Hairston off to the side out of my earshot. They had a brief conversation.
When he returned to me, Chaffee demanded again, “What’s the story?”
“I’m working on the Hoffa case,” I explained. “I’m a crime reporter and an author who published a book about Jimmy Hoffa. Pat and I expected to meet with a source who said he had some information. There are a number of people in Detroit who know that I’m here, conducting this investigation, including the FBI and the local news media.”
“Who’s your source?” Chaffee asked.
“I’m not naming him—even though I now think he’s the one who just set me up.”
Then, not even waiting for a confrontation, I said, “There is one thing in the car that’s not mine. The source I was to meet here gave me a sealed package of what I believed contained tape recordings and demanded that I not open the package until I received his permission.
I added that I had executed a chain-of-custody form when I received the package, as well as taken photographs of the tapes, sealed in plastic, before they were placed in the black-vinyl pouch.
Chaffee asked me where the pouch was. I told him that it was in my briefcase in the backseat of my car.
When I started to move towards the back door of my Jeep, Chaffee stepped in front of me and told me to get back. He then opened the door, and I pointed to my black Zero Halliburton briefcase on the floor behind the passenger’s seat.
Chaffee grabbed the briefcase and opened it.
He pulled out the pouch and placed it on the hood of Hairston’s squad car. He then opened the pouch and slid out the six tapes sealed in plastic.
Meantime, the dog sniffed around the exterior of my car, as well as my briefcase and the black-vinyl pouch. The dog had no reaction.
While that was going on, Trooper Aguzzi returned to the scene, along with Pat Clawson who had also been detained as he sat in his car by the farm. Clawson was driving his own car and pulled in after Aguzzi.
All I could say to the deputy was, “Pat’s wife if going to kill me for getting him involved. He has nothing to do with this. He was just here, helping me.”
As I started to walk towards Pat, Aguzzi instructed me to stay put and not speak with him. She asked me who the source was that I was supposed to meet.
I replied that I would not name him, repeating that I now believed that he was the one who had set us up.
She responded that Clawson had already named the source.
When I still refused to name him, she gave me his correct name.
I replied, “Let my silence be my answer.”
“I have a case against [AH] in Genesee County next month,” she said, now smiling. “He’s one of the biggest con men in the state. . . . Mr. Clawson said that you were waiting to meet with him for information about the Hoffa case.”
“Are you Robin?” I asked her.
“Robin who?” She replied.
“Are you Robin from the Michigan State Police?”
“I know Robin. How do you know her?”
“The source dropped her name. She was supposed to be the law-enforcement official who was going to receive the information we learned here about the Hoffa case.”
With that exchange, the tense situation was completely diffused. Trooper Aguzzi walked to the other officers and spoke with them.
After that, all four of the officers came over and shook my hand, saying that they had received information that something illegal was happening, and that they had to check it out.
“I understand completely,” I replied with considerable relief. “But I would really like to get to the bottom of how this happened.”
None of them seem to know anything more than a call was received, giving the dispatcher descriptions of my car and me.
While I was talking to Clawson—who said he saw my situation unfold through binoculars before Trooper Aguzzi detained him—a fifth police car entered the parking lot.
The driver was Detective Sergeant Scott Wright of the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office. He walked over to me and shook my hand, apologizing for any inconvenience this had caused me.
“Well, I should probably thank you for making this story a little more interesting. . . . Clearly, I’m not going to be getting Jimmy Hoffa’s dead body today.”
Sergeant Wright laughed as Trooper Aguzzi asked him what had initiated this situation.
Wright replied, “We received a call from a confidential source. I can’t tell you who it was.”
Aguzzi then motioned to Wright, and the two of them stepped away to talk privately.
When Aguzzi returned—without actually naming AH as the confidential informant—she speculated that he might have pulled this stunt in a cynical effort to curry favor with the Genesee County prosecutor in his upcoming criminal case. In other words, AH wanted to show that he was cooperating with the law-enforcement community by helping to entrap someone he had falsely portrayed as a corrupt journalist.
Before we left the scene, I took pictures of all the officers next to a Michigan State Police squad car. Also, Pat took photographs of me with them. In the money shot, Aguzzi had my hands behind my back and was pretending to handcuff me.
All of us exchanged business cards. Also, I had two copies of The Hoffa Wars in my car, and I gave them to Deputy Hairston and Trooper Aguzzi, signing each, “Thank you for scaring the hell out of me. Best wishes, Dan.”
All in all, I had been detained and questioned for about an hour.
I drove onto the freeway and headed back east—with Clawson following me to Interstate-75, making sure that I wasn’t followed.
Five days later, the story of my recent adventure by reporter Paul Egan made the front page of the Detroit News—above the masthead. Mercifully, the article did not include the final scene behind the Mobil station.
In part, the story stated:
Another ex-con, Donovan Wells, got an early release from a federal hospital prison after he came forward with the information that FBI agents used to get a warrant to tear down a barn and dig at a Milford Township horse farm in 2006.
Moldea said he believes Wells was telling the truth and said [AH's] story was compelling because he described what he witnessed as a "reburial," presumably after Hoffa was buried in Milford Township and subsequently dug up. Moldea said [AH] and his attorney were cooperating with federal investigators and said officials appeared to be taking him seriously.
[AH] gave Moldea permission to approach the FBI with [AH's] claims that he witnessed Hoffa's burial. . . .
Later, Moldea said he completely lost faith in [AH].
search for Jimmy Hoffa continues.
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