Where Are You?
Perhaps an affluent Cadillac subdivision
By Anne Stanton
On a pretty, sunny afternoon 34 years ago, Pete Smith was at work
building a cabin in the woods north of Cadillac near M-55 and 33 Road.
Smith, a strapping 23-year-old, was running low on logs. He hopped in
his truck and went on a quiet ride down a two-track looking for more.
Twenty minutes later, he came upon a couple of well-dressed Italian
guys dressed in black. His first thought: they were definitely out of
place in the woods.
A taller man was closing the trunk of a large shiny black carmaybe an
Oldsmobile or Buickwith a red interior. At the same time, a second
shorter man was emerging out of the edge of the woods. Their black
hair was slicked straight back.
The men met eyes with Smith and nodded. Smith waved and drove away.
Smith suspected he had stumbled upon two gangsters and feared for his
life. His heart racing, he drove to the dead-end of the two-track, out
of sight of the men, and didnt leave for 45 minutes.
Once he thought it was safe, Smith returned to the spot and walked in
the direction of where he saw the shorter man. After about 25 minutes,
he came upon what appeared to be a freshly dug circle grave about
seven or eight feet in diameter. It was obvious someone was buried
there, he said. Then it hit me. Theres a body here. It dawned upon
me that this was two days after Jimmy Hoffa went missing. This could
THE GRAVE SITE
Hoffa, once the powerful president of the Teamsters Union with
mobster connections, suddenly disappeared on July 30, 1975, never to
be seen again. Smith believes the mobsters chose this remote spot to
bury a body, thinking it was part of the Manistee National Forest. In
fact, the property belonged to his dad, who had recently bought it
from the state.
Smith didnt take a picture nor did he report the incident to the
cops, not wanting to get involved. Instead he kept quiet until about a
year ago, when he went to the Michigan State Police in Cadillac , who
then referred the case to Agent Robert Birdsong of the Federal Bureau
of Investigation in Traverse City. The graveif thats what it isnow
lies in a wooded area of pines and maples in front of a $500,000 home.
Last summer, the FBI contacted the property owner where the body is
allegedly buried, but the owner has refused to let them come on the
We dont discuss ongoing cases, said FBI spokesperson Sandra
Berchtold. Thats pretty much all we can say. If we do get new leads,
we investigate those leads. Murder has no statute of limitations. We
would have to have probable cause to draft a search warrant and
present it to the general magistrate and get permission to go on the
land. We follow all leads until the leads are exhausted.
Smiths call to the Express was his first outreach to the media, but
he said that over the years, hes told his close friends and the
property owner about his suspicions. For many years after he came
across the grave, he would visit the site to see if it had been dug
up, but it remained untouched.
Smith requested that the exact location not be published, so as not to
cause undue hardship on the property owner, who he wanted to remain
At first, Smith told no one about what hed seen. He thought to
himself that hed dig it up, but he wanted to finish building his
cabin before deer season started. Then it was winter and the ground
froze too hard to dig.
Smiths life was overtaken by work the next year as he began to design
a golf course. And over the next two decades, he remained busy as he
designed another golf course, developed a subdivision around the golf
course, married and raised a family. In short, there just never seemed
to be enough time. I had a backhoe, a dozer, everything I needed to
dig it up. I just didnt do it. I always thought Id get to it later.
I just procrastinated myself out of doing the whole thing. I screwed
up, swear to God, I should have told somebody, he said.
Even in the 1990s, when he heard there was a $200,000 reward for
information about the Hoffa murder, he didnt say anything. I dont
know why. I just had a lot of things going.
In 1995, a beautiful house was built on the lot containing the burial
site; Smith told the new owner about the makeshift grave hed seen.
Smith eventually marked the site with a large rock. At first, the
property owner thought it was kind of cool, but over the years he
became much less open to talking about it, Smith said.
About six years ago, when Smiths work had slowed down significantly,
he saw a television documentary that showed two suspects in the murder
and a car that might have been involved it was black with a red
interior. The men looked real familiar to the two people I saw. It
was 20 some years ago that I saw them in the woods, but it looked like
the same guys. I know it was the same car.
After Smith had contacted the State
Police, he went to the spot himself with the property owner and
another friend while the ground was still partially frozen. Smith
tried to dig up the grave himself, but said his back was in horrible
pain. The other two men refused to help since they didnt believe his
story and gave Smith a hard time.
The combined pain and humiliation caused Smith to give up after
making little progress.
A detective at the Michigan State Police Post in Cadillac said he told
Smith he wasnt happy with his efforts to dig up the site. (He added,
however, that the property owner is free to dig up the area.) This
past summer, Smith met with FBI Agent Robert Birdsong in Traverse
City. I told him (Birdsong) the story twice, and the third time he
told me they tried to get in and dig him up, but the owner didnt
want anything to do with it, so they didnt.
The Cadillac-based detective said the case was referred from the
Traverse City FBI office to FBI officials in Detroit,
who determined there wasnt evidence to justify a search warrant. He
said the case was cold, and authorities found it strange that Smith
had waited 34 years to report what hed seen.
Interestingly, this isnt the first connection to Jimmy Hoffa and
Northern Michigan. Jimmy Hoffas son was in Traverse City on the day
of his fathers murder, who was last seen that day at a Bloomfield
Hills restaurant at 2:45 p.m., according to a Hoffex Conference report
generated by the FBI in 1976.
Smith said he knows people will think hes crazy, but he knows what he saw.
I saw two guys in the middle of the woods. Definitely Italians.
Definitely doing something they shouldnt be doing. I believe my story
should be told. If anybody else saw what I saw, theyd think the same
thing. Jimmys gotta be here.
Could the Italians have buried someone other than Hoffa? Smith has
thought about that too.
Say you had a contract to kill Hoffa. You whack him, put him in the
garage. Are you immediately going to whack someone else? These people
are not whacking people every day. Theyve got a job going on.
Theyll solve this problem before theyll go onto someone else.
I know it was a weird thing to see. I did it all wrong, but I saw
what I saw. This would help solve one of the biggest crimes of all
time. It was just on Entertainment Hoffa was the fourth on the list
of the countrys 20 most unsolved crimes. Ive heard about him,
Wheres Hoffa? on 30 shows. Its the running joke, and Im the only
guy in the world who knows where hes buried at, besides the two guys
who buried him. But its like seeing a Martian. Even my own mother
cant believe it.
Not really. Shes just tired of the whole thing. But I wouldnt come
and waste my time and go through all this if I were lying. Im telling
you the honest truth. Id like to get this over with and find out
whats buried there.
Next week, Dan Moldea, author of Hoffas Wars, the critically
acclaimed 1978 book on the murder of Jimmy Hoffa, weighs in on Pete