One of the more unusual scenes in The Irishman on Netflix shows Jimmy Hoffa’s foster son, Chuckie O’Brien, talking with Frank Sheeran and a mobster named “Sally Bugs” about a fish in his car. (Be forewarned that there are spoilers for the Netflix movie in this article.)
It turns out that the fish story is true. Or, at least, that’s the story that Chuckie O’Brien (played by Jesse Plemons in the movie) gave the FBI. It was a story that cast some suspicion his way when Hoffa disappeared in 1975 because it involved fish fluid in his car and a car wash. Hoffa’s body has never been found.
Chuckie was one of 12 suspects named in what is called the “Hoffex” memo. Authored by the lead FBI case agent in 1976, it says this of O’Brien: “Charles L. ‘Chuckie’ O’Brien, age 41, was raised by the Hoffa family and brought into the Teamsters by JRH (James Riddle Hoffa) and supported by him.” The memo says he referred to mobster Tony Giacalone as “Uncle Tony” but was a “known liar.” Giacalone is one of two mobsters whom Hoffa told his family he was supposed to meet for lunch that day; neither showed. The other was Tony “Tony Pro” Provenzano, with whom Hoffa had a long-standing feud dating to their time in prison together.
The fish story in The Irishman features a real-life mobster named Sally “Bugs” Briguglio (Salvatore Briguglio) quizzing Chuckie relentlessly on the fish. He says he needs to be able to get the story straight if asked.
O’Brien denied that Hoffa was in the Mercury Marquist Brougham that he had borrowed that day from Giacalone’s son. However, forensic evidence later said otherwise; in 2001, an article by UPI reported that FBI scientists discovered that a strand of hair in a car Chuckie drove the day Hoffa vanished had matched Hoffa’s DNA. The testing had not been available at the time of the Hoffex memo.
Here’s what the memo says about the real Chuckie’s story to the FBI, including the fish.
In Real Life, the Fish in Chuckie’s Car Was a 40-Pound Salmon
Ocala.com reports that Hoffa had taken Chuckie and his mother in when Chuckie was a child, and he viewed Hoffa “as a father figure.” He has been questioned about a dozen times about Hoffa’s disappearance by the FBI, the article reports. He has always denied having anything to do with Hoffa’s disappearance.
The Hoffex memo says that Charles Lenton Joseph O’Brien was investigated after Hoffa died by the FBI. Authorities focused on his activities before and after Hoffa’s disappearance, his relationship with Tony Giacalone, and his use of and access to Joey Giacalone’s 1975 Mercury. The FBI interviewed O’Brien twice in August 1975.
“I loved this man more than anything. My thought has always been that this could be solved,” O’Brien told UPI.
In his FBI interview at the time, O’Brien told authorities that he spent the day running errands. He claimed he borrowed the Giacalone car because the union station wagon was not available. He took a 40-pound salmon sent by a friend in Seattle to a residence where a woman helped him cut it up. He claimed he got pink watery fluid from the box on his white sport shirt. The fluid also leaked in the car, so he went and got a car wash. He then went to an athletic club.
By Frank Sheeran’s account as told to author Charles Brandt, O’Brien drove Hoffa to a house where Sheeran ambushed him and shot the union boss in the head. However, Sheeran didn’t think O’Brien knew what was about to happen and said in the book, “I always felt sorry for Chuckie O’Brien in this whole thing, and I still do.” Some people don’t believe Sheeran’s tale.
But, UPI reported, no one at the club or car wash recognized O’Brien when they were shown a picture. Both of Hoffa’s biological children told UPI they think O’Brien’s actions were suspicious.
The Hoffex memo says that Chuckie said he put the package with the fish “on the left rear floor area propping it against the seat. After dropping off Giacalone, he took the fish to the Holmes residence…Mrs. Violet Holmes assisted him in cutting up the fish.”
Sally Bugs is also listed as a suspect in the Hoffex Memo, and there are those who think he killed Jimmy Hoffa, not Frank Sheeran. A Slate article that debunks Sheeran’s story says the Hoffa killer was likely Briguglio, working at the direction of Tony Pro Provenzano (with higher mobsters probably ultimately giving the order), whose feud with Sheeran is shown in the Netflix movie.
The Hoffex memo lists him as Salvatore “Sal” Briguglio, age 45, “trusted associate of ‘Tony Pro,’ reported by Newark source to be involved in actual disappearance of JRH.”
Another person who claimed to know who killed Jimmy Hoffa was an FBI informant named Ralph Picardo, a convicted murderer who was a driver for Tony Pro Provenzano, according to Crime and Investigations. In the 1970s, he revealed that Anthony Giacalone, a Detroit mobster, had invited Hoffa to the restaurant meeting.
He claimed that Hoffa was then driven to the death house by Thomas Andretta, Salvatore Briguglio and his brother Gabriel, and he said that Sheeran was there. He claimed that Russell Bufalino ordered the hit and had told Provenzano to carry it out, although Provenzano was not the triggerman. He too farmed it out.
According to Fox News, Picardo told the FBI that Stephen Andretta had given him details of the murder, saying that Hoffa was placed in a 55-gallon drum that was loaded onto a Gateway Transportation Truck and then buried, although where was not stated.
Picardo believed that Salvatore Briguglio was the triggerman, but he was an associate of Provenzano, according to Fox News. Briguglio would later meet a bloody end of his own in a gangland ambush outside a Little Italy restaurant.
Vince Wade, the reporter who broke the story of Hoffa’s disappearance, wrote in a 2019 article in the Daily Beast that he doesn’t believe the Sheeran story about killing Hoffa is true.
According to Wade, Hoffa was urged by mob figures to “attend a peace meeting with Provenzano to clear the air” and told his wife that’s who he was meeting the afternoon he vanished. The “broker” of that meeting, according to Wade, was Giacalone, a mob enforcer from Detroit. Both men had alibis. It was documented that Hoffa’s foster son Chuckie O’Brien was driving his car.
Wade reported that police think Hoffa was driven by O’Brien to the murder site but didn’t kill him. Hoffa’s hair and scent were found in the car.
In 1975, mob informant Picardo said that “trusted associates of Provenzano” killed Hoffa. According to Wade, Bufalino was the most likely high-level mobster to have ordered the hit. He reports that Salvatore Briguglio, a trusted Provenzano man, was believed to be the Hoffa killer. The Hoffa case agent for the FBI told Wade that Sheeran was interviewed, and Hoffa had called him the day before he disappeared, but that the agent has “no indication he (Sheeran) was there.”
Chuckie is now living in Florida, retired from the Teamsters, and battling health problems.
His stepson Jack Goldsmith has written extensively about his quest to find answers in the case. He wrote in the Atlantic that “Chuckie had known Hoffa since he was a boy, loved him like a father, and was his closest aide in the 1950s and ‘60s.”
He said that Chuckie and Hoffa had a falling out in 1974 and a “slew of circumstantial evidence connected Chuckie to the disappearance.” The investigation ruined his life.
Goldsmith broke with Chuckie while in college when he realized more about the man’s past; Goldsmith was appointed by George W. Bush in 2003 to be the assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel, according to his article in the Atlantic. He later concluded that Chuckie was innocent.
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