When the Lawyer Met the Hitman

The Lawyer and the Hitman, Part 3

By Daphne Freise

David and I continue our conversation about Konigsberg and he reflects on the fate of some other notorious mafia affiliates. I know that Sally Bugs was killed in a mob hit in 1978, several years after Jimmy Hoffa disappeared. It was believed that he had flipped to become an informant for the FBI in exchange for immunity in the 1961 murder of Anthony Castellito, a candidate for a Teamster office. His cooperation identified Kayo Konigsberg as the killer, and Tony Pro, Castellito’s adversary, as the captain who ordered the hit. They were not convicted of the killing until 1978.

DiGilio, Sally Bugs, Tony Pro, Castellito. Their names and storylines zig-zag through my mind as I try to keep them paired and connected correctly, like trying to memorize flashcards for an exam. But now, David excitedly volunteers to tell me what really happened to Jimmy Hoffa, one of the biggest mysteries in American crime history!

He prepares the story with an honorable caveat—he makes it clear that what he is about to share with me is not a secret that he has held for decades—it won’t be a bombshell dropped on  Hoffa’s loved ones. Statements have been given, the families involved—Hoffa’s and the families of those implicated—are aware, so what he is about to tell me does not present a breach of legality or ethics. The minutiae of the case have been kept muddled all these years as a consequence of mafia power and lore, and the absence of evidence.

“You can quote me on it,” David insists. “I’ve told this story to the FBI, so they know exactly what the truth is. What happened? So, I’m going to tell you who killed Jimmy Hoffa and how they killed him.”

I can hear some shuffling noises as he speaks. He’s getting more comfortable as he settles in to tell his story. I think he’s enjoying talking about these crazy old times, but he again assures me of his freedom to speak on the matter and confidence in his facts.

“This is already known. I was interviewed by Eric Shawn over at Fox News about a month ago about this. The FBI knows. I was interviewed about six times about it. I know these facts to be true because, personal knowledge. I represented Hoffa and I represented the man who killed Tony Provenzano and Salvatore Bruguglio.”

“So, what happened was when Hoffa got into power, he did so through the auspices of Tony Provenzano, who was the mob intercessor with the Teamsters. And when Hoffa got convicted, the mob sent Tony Provenzano up to talk to him to tell him, ‘Listen, go to jail, keep your mouth shut. Keep your fingers out of the Teamster union and never come back. And if you do all of that, we will pay you a million dollars for your pension for the rest of your life while you’re in jail. And after you get out. We don’t want to hear from you again.’ And Hoffa agreed.”

“And he got his million dollar a year pension for the eight years or so that he was in. And as he started to end his term, his son, Jimmy Hoffa, Jr. started running for president of the Teamster union through some locals in Detroit, I think, and it was one in Chicago that he also started. In any case, he started running for president of the Teamsters union. So, the mob sent Tony Pro to try to talk him out of that and to tell him that he’d better keep his word. And Tony brought with him, Salvatore Bruguglio, who was a mob killer that had been sent over from the Brooklyn mob over to Hudson County to help Tony.”

“So, Tony flew up, they picked up Hoffa, and they brought him to this restaurant to have lunch to talk about this thing. And during the lunch, Tony told him that—I know this is true because Tony told me this and he told my dad this—he told me what happened,” David emphasizes. “He told Hoffa just what I told you—that he had made a promise to the to keep his fingers out of the affairs of the union and that Fitzsimmons and the union wanted him to keep his promises. Stop the son from running for the presidency.” (Frank Fitzsimmons replaced Hoffa as General President of the Teamsters when Hoffa went to prison.)

“Hoffa was always very rough and outspoken. I mean, the best way to describe him was that on his desk—he had a six-foot marble black panther. That was his personality. Just like that, he could leap at you in a second,” and as David continues his story, I recall Al Pacino’s furious portrayal of the noted union leader in “The Irishman”. “Hoffa looked at Provenzano and told him to go fuck himself, according to Tony. So that didn’t go well,” David says, chuckling at the understatement.

“Although they laughed, and nothing happened,” he continues, notably contradicting most reports that none of the parties ever showed up at a restaurant that day. “So, they left. They went into the car to drop Hoffa off back where they picked him up but instead when he got into the back seat, Bruguglio shot him in the head and they put them in the trunk of the car. And then they drove about 45 minutes or so, to a place where they take cars. And they smelt them, you know, they crush them, and they smelt them. It was a car place that did just that. They did not drive him to New Jersey in a truck, they didn’t put them in a barrel, they didn’t do anything. They just took him in the car to a place where they smelt cars, about 45 minutes from where they shot him. And they smelted him.  They crushed the car and they incinerated him. And they’ll never find his remains because he’s now, he was incorporated in some kind of metal. I mean, he’s driving around in some trucks somewhere.”

“Oh, my God,” I said, with gross inadequacy, but it is the most cerebral reaction that I could summon.

“So, he’s ready to go. He’s, he’s been smelted, they will never find his remains!”

“And Tony told you this?” I wanted to be sure that I understood.

“Tony Provenzano,” David confirmed.

 “He told you that. Wow. And that was in Detroit.”  

 “Yeah, that’s what happened. Well, that’s where it happened. Tony told it to me in his office,” he said.  “He told it to my father—he told us both. I was his, you know, I tried his criminal cases for him and represented all of these guys. And they’re all dead, so, relief. All of the people involved are dead. There are no other witnesses, and nobody that could be com-promised by me telling the story that would otherwise—well, it really wasn’t even attorney client privilege. I wasn’t representing him in any case that involved this, but he did tell it to me and my father. My dad asked him what happened to Jimmy, and he told him. I was there.”

I can’t believe that I am sitting here on the phone with someone who can witness to that time. The Hoffa case and the mob’s stranglehold on the Northeastern corridor had ripple effects throughout the entire country for decades. In the days looking forward to this call, I considered bringing it up, and a part of me wanted to boldly take full advantage of the opportunity to broach the subject with David. But another voice warned that asking about Hoffa would be overstepping a line, and I imagined being fearful of unfamiliar cars suddenly appearing on my street.

I attempted to insert some levity and confessed, “Well, this was definitely on my list of questions, but I really didn’t know if I would be so bold as to ask you if you actually knew!”

“No, that’s it,” David said, “and you can use it if you’re writing a book—go right ahead. Make money on it! Here’s what happened to Jimmy Hoffa! Okay? It’s the truth!”

“I believe you! I believe that you clearly have street cred!” We both laughed at that understatement. 

David continued, “No, that’s what happened—and I know that’s what happened to him, and besides which I have to tell you, all of these other ridiculous stories don’t make sense. You wouldn’t kill somebody, and in order to get a trophy award with the Mafia, which is their theory, they brought him back to bury him in Tony Pro’s yard so he could prove he did it,” he said, throwing cold water on the popular version that has floated around for forty-five years.

“I mean, that’s just pure nonsense. No one would ever do that. And second, why would anybody take a chance to drive him across interstate lines and put him in a truck for them where he could be found? They didn’t want to do that. They wanted to cover it. They didn’t want anybody to know who did it. Period. For some, oh, yeah, bragging rights. It was pretty obvious who must have done it, but who didn’t do it was not proven either,” he leveled.

“Yeah, everything I’ve learned shows that they get rid of the evidence extremely quickly, just right away,” I said, my head sickened with accounts of dismemberments and deep-water disposals. Dad’s sober mafia story-telling demeanor rang in my mind. There were many times that he caught himself oversharing what was appropriate for my child’s mind. He wanted to wizen his daughters to the dangers of the world, but sometimes he would stop mid-sentence. I would look up at him as he searched for a softened conclusion, one that would avoid seeding little girls’ nightmares.

“Yeah, that’s exactly what they did, and by the way, Fox News will be ultimately running a story proving that this is what happened. They’re in the process. So, if you want to get out there, you want to get out there reasonably soon,” David urges.

The thought of date-stamping a story before a major media outlet such as Fox is tempting, even if I would not have a sizeable audience or impact.

“Wow! Well, now I don’t know if I’ll be able to do that!”

David chuckled again and agreed, “Probably not. So, that’s it. I don’t know what else I can tell you, Honey, but if you want to call me anytime, feel free. I’d be happy to help you. If you have any other questions you’re not imposing. I love remembering some of these days. It’s fun talking about it. Honestly, it’s not an imposition at all. I love helping people and if I can help you, I’ll be more than happy to help you.”

I thank him again for taking the time to talk and we hang up.

I spend the next few minutes looking at the bulletin board that is on the wall above my desk. It is covered with photographs that I’ve taken on my work travels over the last 26 years.

One is of a white plaster stairway cutting through buttery yellow villas in Athens and another has me posing at the Acropolis. Between them, my husband and me celebrate an anniversary in Times Square after a Broadway show. There is a picture of the sunlit sand and turquoise waters of a Caribbean island, me smiling in front of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, and my girlfriend and me hamming it up in a London theater, dressed for the theme of the show that night. Three adorable Turkish Muslim children, dressed in the prescribed simple white garments for one of my Haj flights to Saudi Arabia, smile sweetly as they hold the cups of water that I just filled for them.

I have walked in the footsteps of history all over the world, but today my fascination congeals at a little white desk in the corner of my home. When he was still living, Dad would have trembled at the thought of reconnecting with any fixture from those years involving Kayo Konigsberg. As his condition deteriorated and he fretted about dangers long past, I frequently had to remind him that the threat was over, that we lived through it.

“And it’s quite a story, Dad. And you know how we love a good story.”

His face slowly morphed from angst to ease and opened into an inspired smile.

“Yeah,” he’d agree with a slight chuckle. “Yeah, we sure do.”

Copyright © 2020 Daphne Freise. All rights reserved.