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Why Are We Still Looking for Jimmy Hoffa?

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One of America's most intriguing cold cases heated up this week when a tip from a retired mobster sent FBI and Michigan law enforcement officials wielding shovels and bulldozers to a suburban Detroit field in search of decades-old remains. Two days and no bones later, the only thing unearthed was the fact that the country is still fascinated by the disappearance and alleged murder of former Teamsters president James Riddle “Jimmy” Hoffa nearly 38 years ago.

In American pop culture, a good whodunit is irresistible—and as such, exploring the unsolved mystery of what happened to the notoriously corrupt labor leader with mob ties has become practically a national pastime. Almost four decades, hundreds of FBI agents, zero convictions, dozens of theories, books, one Oscar-nominated film, countless jokes (“Yo momma's so fat, she rolled over and they found Jimmy Hoffa”), and a whole lot of digging later, the as-yet fruitless search for the labor leader's remains has become the stuff of legend.

But why do we keep searching? On Monday, Oakland County, Michigan Sheriff Michael Bouchard said he would like to provide closure for the Hoffa family. "It's long overdue," he said. "It’s been one of those open wounds for a long time." After the FBI called off its investigation on Wednesday, spokesman Simon Shaykhet gave another reason. "It remains an open investigation," he said. "As long as cases remain open, the FBI remains committed to the pursuit of justice."

According to Frankie Bailey, associate professor at the University at Albany's School of Criminal Justice, "[The FBI] isn't obliged to follow up every alleged lead, but if the agency has information from a credible source, it may well feel obliged to try to finally close the case," she told MSN News. "And one would think that after all these years, the FBI would like to solve this mystery. It would be a triumph to finally find Jimmy Hoffa."

During the past four decades, a number of plausible stories have come to light as to who killed this real-life Mr. Boddy, where it happened, and with what sort of weapon. Here are five popular leads that have been investigated since Hoffa's disappearance in 1975.

The Purple Gang. In the field. With the shovel.

This is the most recent lead, provided by former mafia captain and now octogenarian Anthony Zerilli this year. Zerilli, son of reputed Detroit-based Purple Gang leader Joseph Zerilli, told the FBI that Hoffa was clubbed with a shovel and buried under a concrete slab in a field on what was then his cousin's land in Bloomfield Township, Michigan. After two days of excavation, law enforcement officials said they were unable to find anything.

Tony the Greek. Under Giants Stadium. With the Gun.

In 1989, Donald Frankos (a.k.a. Tony the Greek) got the nation's attention when he told Playboy magazine that Hoffa was buried beneath Giants Stadium after a mafia hit squad (of which Frankos claimed to be a part) shot him, dismembered him, froze him, shipped him to Jersey and buried him near the western end zone in East Rutherford—fondly dubbed the “Jimmy Hoffa Memorial End Zone.” The FBI found no evidence that any of Frankos' claims were true, and no remains were unearthed when Giants Stadium was torn down in 2010. Jimmy Hoffa, however, is nonetheless jokingly referred to as the biggest fan of New York football, having “attended” every game since 1975.   

The Hitman. In the Swamp. With the Meat Grinder.

In 1982, Charles Allen—who described himself as a former hitman for the mafia—told members of Congress that Hoffa was murdered on the orders of mob boss Anthony Provenzano, ground up into little bitty pieces, and shipped to Florida, where the remains were tossed into a swamp.

The Irishman. In the house. With the paint.

Frank “the Irishman” Sheeran, a former Teamsters official and friend of Jimmy Hoffa, confessed on his deathbed to killing his old pal on mafia orders (in addition to claiming involvement in the JFK assassination). Law enforcement officials found some blood in the house in which Sheeran claimed to have murdered Hoffa, but it was not Hoffa's blood, and there hasn’t been enough evidence unearthed yet to support the confession. Sheeran said Hoffa had used him as muscle during his Teamsters days to intimidate and assassinate uncooperative union members and rivals. He confessed all this to author Charles Brandt in 2003, who wrote a book about it called I Heard You Paint Houses. That was supposedly the first thing Hoffa ever said to Sheeran, which is code for “I hear you're a contract killer. (And that when you shoot people in the head blood splatters everywhere like paint.)”    

The Iceman. In the car. With the hunting knife.

Richard Kuklinski, another self-described mob hitman, confessed on his deathbed in 2006 to killing Hoffa. And another author, Philip Carlo, catalogued the misadventures in mafia murder in a book called, Iceman: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer. Kuklinski said he was paid $40,000 to nab Hoffa from the restaurant parking lot, after which he claims he punched Hoffa’s lights out and stabbed him in the head with a hunting knife. Then, he drove the body to New Jersey and left the car in a scrap metal yard. Which, according to Kuklinski, probably means the body of Jimmy Hoffa could actually be in the body of your car.

There are many more theories about what happened to Hoffa, including the possibility that he was disintegrated in a fat-rendering plant, or buried under a horse farm, a suburban driveway or beneath General Motors HQ in Detroit. What we do know for sure is that the search for the truth continues on.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Love Scratching Furniture?
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Allergy suffering aside, cat ownership has proven health benefits. A feline friend can aid in the grieving process, reduce anxiety, and offer companionship.

The con in the cat column? They have no reservations about turning your furniture into shredded pleather. No matter how expensive your living room set, these furry troublemakers will treat it with the respect accorded to a college futon. Do cats do this out of some kind of spite? Are they conspiring with Raymour & Flanigan to get you to keep updating home decor?

Neither. According to cat behaviorists, cats gravitate toward scratching furniture mostly because that love seat is in a really conspicuous area [PDF]. As a result, cats want to send a message to any other animal that may happen by: namely, that this plush seating belongs to the cat who marked it. Scratching provides both visual evidence (claw marks) as well as a scent marker. Cat paws have scent glands that can leave smells that are detectable to other cats and animals.

But it’s not just territorial: Cats also scratch to remove sloughed-off nail tips, allowing fresh nail growth to occur. And they can work out their knotted back muscles—cramped from sleeping 16 hours a day, no doubt—by kneading the soft foam of a sectional.

If you want to dissuade your cat from such behavior, purchasing a scratching post is a good start. Make sure it’s non-carpeted—their nails can get caught on the fibers—and tall enough to allow for a good stretch. Most importantly, put it near furniture so cats can mark their hangout in high-traffic areas. A good post might be a little more expensive, but will likely result in fewer trips to Ethan Allen.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Who Was Chuck Taylor?
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From Betty Crocker to Tommy Bahama, plenty of popular labels are "named" after fake people. But one product with a bona fide backstory to its moniker is Converse's Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers. The durable gym shoes are beloved by everyone from jocks to hipsters. But who's the man behind the cursive signature on the trademark circular ankle patch?

As journalist Abraham Aamidor recounted in his 2006 book Chuck Taylor, All Star: The True Story of the Man behind the Most Famous Athletic Shoe in History, Chuck Taylor was a former pro basketball player-turned-Converse salesman whose personal brand and tireless salesmanship were instrumental to the shoes' success.

Charles Hollis Taylor was born on July 24, 1901, and raised in southern Indiana. Basketball—the brand-new sport invented by James Naismith in 1891—was beginning to take the Hoosier State by storm. Taylor joined his high school team, the Columbus High School Bull Dogs, and was named captain.

After graduation, instead of heading off to college, Taylor launched his semi-pro career playing basketball with the Columbus Commercials. He’d go on to play for a handful of other teams across the Midwest, including the the Akron Firestone Non-Skids in Ohio, before finally moving to Chicago in 1922 to work as a sales representative for the Converse Rubber Shoe Co. (The company's name was eventually shortened to Converse, Inc.)

Founded in Malden, Massachusetts, in 1908 as a rubber shoe manufacturer, Converse first began producing canvas shoes in 1915, since there wasn't a year-round market for galoshes. They introduced their All-Star canvas sports shoes two years later, in 1917. It’s unclear whether Chuck was initially recruited to also play ball for Converse (by 1926, the brand was sponsoring a traveling team) or if he was simply employed to work in sales. However, we do know that he quickly proved himself to be indispensable to the company.

Taylor listened carefully to customer feedback, and passed on suggestions for shoe improvements—including more padding under the ball of the foot, a different rubber compound in the sole to avoid scuffs, and a patch to protect the ankle—to his regional office. He also relied on his basketball skills to impress prospective clients, hosting free Chuck Taylor basketball clinics around the country to teach high school and college players his signature moves on the court.

In addition to his myriad other job duties, Taylor played for and managed the All-Stars, a traveling team sponsored by Converse to promote their new All Star shoes, and launched and helped publish the Converse Basketball Yearbook, which covered the game of basketball on an annual basis.

After leaving the All-Stars, Taylor continued to publicize his shoe—and own personal brand—by hobnobbing with customers at small-town sporting goods stores and making “special appearances” at local basketball games. There, he’d be included in the starting lineup of a local team during a pivotal game.

Taylor’s star grew so bright that in 1932, Converse added his signature to the ankle patch of the All Star shoes. From that point on, they were known as Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Still, Taylor—who reportedly took shameless advantage of his expense account and earned a good salary—is believed to have never received royalties for the use of his name.

In 1969, Taylor was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The same year, he died from a heart attack on June 23, at the age of 67. Around this time, athletic shoes manufactured by companies like Adidas and Nike began replacing Converse on the court, and soon both Taylor and his namesake kicks were beloved by a different sort of customer.

Still, even though Taylor's star has faded over the decades, fans of his shoe continue to carry on his legacy: Today, Converse sells more than 270,000 pairs of Chuck Taylors a day, 365 days a year, to retro-loving customers who can't get enough of the athlete's looping cursive signature.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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