Salvatore “Sally Bugs” Briguglio makes a brief, but key, appearance in The Irishman, Martin Scorsese’s Mafia epic on Netflix. (Be forewarned that there are spoilers for the Netflix movie in this article.)
In the movie, Sally Bugs – known as such due to his oversized glasses – shows up laying linoleum in the Detroit home where Jimmy Hoffa will soon die. Then, he has a bizarre conversation about a fish with Hoffa’s foster son, Chuckie O’Brien. (The real Chuckie really did claim to have a fish in the car that authorities think ferried Hoffa to the suspected death house that day. It was a 40-pound salmon.)
The Irishman then shows titular character Frank Sheeran (played by Robert De Niro) taking out Sally Bugs (played by Louis Cancelmi) years later in a gangland hit.
However, is it true? Who was Salvatore “Sally Bugs” Briguglio and did the real Sheeran kill him? (Sheeran, of course, confessed in a book that he murdered both Jimmy Hoffa and Crazy Joe Gallo, another mobster. However, there are many people who doubt those claims, especially as witnesses described the Gallo gunman as looking nothing like Frank Sheeran. You can read details on those theories here.)
Instead, some experts think Salvatore Briguglio is the man who killed Hoffa, not Sheeran. And there’s no evidence that Briguglio’s killers included Sheeran, although Sally Bugs did die in a gangland hit in Little Italy. In 2001, The Los Angeles Times reported that “the FBI has established a match between known samples of Hoffa’s hair and strands of human hair found here more than 25 years ago in a car that police believe was used to abduct the former Teamsters president and carry him to his death.” That was the car driven by Chuckie O’Brien, who denies involvement in the case.
Here’s what you need to know:
Sally Bugs Was Listed as a Hoffa Suspect in the Famous ‘Hoffex Memo’ & Some Experts Think He Was the Triggerman; News Articles From the 1970s Widely Reported That Briguglio Was Suspected of Involvement in Hoffa’s Death
Way back in December 1975, an article in the Orlando Sentinel reported that a then-mysterious informant had named three New Jersey teamsters with alleged Mafia ties in Hoffa’s disappearance. Salvatore Briguglio, 47, then of Paramus, New Jersey, and his brother, Gabriel, of East Rutherford, and Thomas Andretta, 38, of Hasbrouck Heights, were ordered to appear before a police lineup after being named by the informant.
Police and federal sources said that Hoffa’s disappearance was “approved by the highest echelons of organized crime.” Both Sally Bugs and Andretta had ties to the Genovese crime family in New York, according to the article. William Bufalino, the lawyer tied to Russell Bufalino, claimed in the story that none of the brothers had been in Detroit before the disappearance.
It described Briguglio as “business agent of Local 560 in Union City, New Jersey,” once headed by Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano. Provenzano is the mobster who had a falling out in prison and later with Hoffa, as chronicled in Sheeran’s book, news articles from the time, and the Netflix movie. News articles from the time indicate that it was widely believed that Tony Pro, who was closely associated with Sally Bugs, ordered the hit, with orders from more powerful crime bosses, but wasn’t at the scene himself.
No one has ever been charged in connection with Hoffa’s suspected death, and his body was never found, although he was legally declared dead.
In 1978, the Associated Press quoted unnamed law enforcement officials as saying that Briguglio personally arranged the “contract murder,” of Hoffa and they hoped that his murder would result in a break in the case. That article, though, claimed the killers were a relative and close friend of Briguglio.
Steven Brill, a journalist who wrote a book on the Teamsters, said the Mafia Chieftain who ultimately ordered the Hoffa hit, though, was Russell Bufalino. He was said to control part of the Genovese Crime Family, according to an article in Public Opinion dated 1978.
Two eyewitnesses said they saw O’Brien and Briguglio in the car with Hoffa, that article states. A lineup was held.
An AP and UPI story in 1975 stated that Briguglio was accused of scuffling with plainclothes detectives on the way into the lineup.
A 1987 article in the Lansing State Journal reported that authorities still were “no closer to indicting those responsible” than they were when the abduction first occurred. A federal grand jury reviewed evidence without issuing an indictment.
Witnesses did put Hoffa at the restaurant in Detroit that day and his car was later found in the parking lot of the restaurant.
A special agent in charge of the FBI’s Detroit office indicated to the Associated Press in 1977 that there were five primary suspects.
The Lansing State Journal article named the suspects as Provenzano, Salvatore Briguglio (by then dead), his brother Gabriel, Thomas Andretta, and Anthony Giacalone. Sheeran is not mentioned. Giacolone was a powerful Detroit mobster who, along with Tony Pro, was supposedly meeting Hoffa at a restaurant on the day of the suspected murder to mediate the dispute between Hoffa and Tony Pro. Neither Giacalone nor Provenzano showed for the luncheon.
In his book on the Teamsters, journalist Brill said that the two Briguglio brothers and Andretta carried out the murder at the order of Provenzano. Hoffa was then put into a “giant shredder-compacter- incinerator,” claimed Brill. But the FBI said they discounted the theory of what was done with the body but not the theory of who did it, according to Lansing State Journal.
The car of Chuckie O’Brien, Hoffa’s foster son, was tested and the FBI found that a blood stain on its front seat was fish blood but they couldn’t verify if human blood was brought in. Trained dogs “detected Hoffa’s scent in the car and in the car’s trunk. A hair follicle covered with blood believed to be Hoffa’s was reportedly found in the car,” Lansing State Journal says. In 2001, Hoffa’s DNA was matched to a hair strand from that car, according to The Los Angeles Times.
The article says that Provenzano said he was playing cards in Union City, New Jersey, when Hoffa disappeared. Sally Bugs said he was playing cards with Provenzano, his brother Gabriel and Thomas Andretta in New Jersey, but the FBI “could not independently verify his alibi.”
Sally Bugs Was Shot Dead in the Street in Front of a Little Italy Restaurant
Sally Bugs Briguglio was murdered gangland style in 1978.
In March 1978, an article in the Hackensack New Jersey Record, said that “groups of men threatened news photographers” at Briguglio’s funeral.
Sally Bugs was “shot five times in the face and chest… by unknown killers in Little Italy,” the article said.
The article stated that Sally Bugs was a suspect but never charged in Hoffa’s disappearance and was scheduled to go on trial in a couple weeks for a 1961 murder (He was about to stand trial for the murder of Anthony Castellitto, secretary treasurer of local 560.)
Tony Pro was at the funeral. Sally Bugs’ widow “broke down at the graveside,” and cried, “I don’t want to say goodbye. I want to go with him.”
In 1978, the AP reported that homicide detectives considered the murder of Briguglio to be “gangland style” and were investigating whether it was a contract killing. Two guns were used. “He had a number of enemies. There are a lot of people out there who wanted him dead,” said Deputy Chief of Detectives Martin Duffy in that article. “But we don’t know who killed him or why.”
He was slain “in a spray of gunfire” around 11:15 p.m. outside a Little Italy restaurant. Witnesses saw him “struggle with two men, who knocked him to the ground and shot him four times in the face and once in the head.” He was a business agent for Teamsters Local 560.
He was killed outside Benito’s II restaurant on Mulberry Street.
One article in the Lebanon Daily News, on March 14, 1982 said that authorities suspected that Briguglio was executed “because he failed to pay a $10,000 debt.”
As for the Hoffa disappearance, Briguglio made that suspect list from the start.
Chuckie and Briguglio were among 12 Hoffa 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.”
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 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.
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 and concluded that Chuckie was innocent.
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.
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.
A 1989 article in the Kenosha News alleged that a magazine article’s authors claimed Fat Tony Salerno, the powerful Genovese boss, gave permission to Tony Provenzano for the Hoffa killing. A 1994 article in the Sydney Morning Herald explained how a new book had alleged that Salerno ordered the execution after Hoffa punched Provenzano over an argument about whether Hoffa would again control the union after getting out of jail. Hoffa “threatened to exposure the Genovese family’s extortions from the union,” the article said, so Salerno decided he had to go. Other articles claim that it was Russell Bufalino who ordered the hit or that, as Netflix shows, it was Salerno and Bufalino together.
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.”
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