In Hoffa’s Shadow: a Stepfather, a Disappearance in Detroit, and My Search for the Truth, by Jack Goldsmith

December 26, 2019 at 7:41 pm (Book review, books, True crime)

  Few people are able to write about this complicated subject with the kind of inside knowledge possessed by Jack Goldsmith. Chuckie O’Brien, who was Jimmy Hoffa’s indispensable foot soldier up until the time of his disappearance, was also, for ten years, Jack Goldsmith’s stepfather.

This story, turbulent and fascinating as it is, has a special meaning for those of us who came of age in mid-twentieth century America. I remember the Teamsters Union as a force to be reckoned with, constantly in the news. So was the Mob – the Outfit – whatever you wanted to call it. The two were, in certain instances, intertwined.

Chuckie O’Brien was a loving and devoted parent. He entered Jack Goldsmith’s life at a time when the youth was in need of a father’s care and guidance. Jack was so grateful for Chuckie’s devotion that he changed his last name to O’Brien. But on reaching adulthood, Jack began to see things differently. He was ambitious, wanting to make a name for himself and possibly serve in the government as a lawyer. How would he ever obtain and keep security clearance if his connection to Chuckie O’Brien came to light, as it inevitably would? And in addition, Jack had come to see his stepfather in a different light, as an uncouth, uneducated man whose choice of associations was, to say the least, dubious.

And so he reverted to the name Jack Goldsmith and proceeded to ascend the career ladder, serving for a time in the Justice Department. He is now a member of the faculty of Harvard Law School.

But that is not the whole story. Not by a long shot.

It has to be said that in the course of his adult life, Jack Goldsmith came to a new understanding and a realization with regard to his stepfather. This is how he concludes the introduction to the book:

The uneducated union man, it turned out, had a lot to teach the professor.
What follows is an account of what I learned.

Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance in 1975 coincided roughly with the building of the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (It opened in 1976.) For years, this “Jersey girl” heard the rumor repeated that Jimmy Hoffa was buries somewhere underneath the Meadowlands structure. In 2010, the stadium was demolished; no human remains were found to be present.

In Hoffa’s Shadow is the fruit of seven years of intensive research. But this was more than a fact finding mission. It was also an act of contrition, Goldsmith’s chance to make amends to the man who gave him unconditional love at a time when he desperately needed it. As such, it is a surprisingly moving work, as  well as being beautifully written and revelatory on many levels. Highly, highly recommended.

Chris Nashawaty has written an especially astute review in the New York Times.

WXYZ in Detroit aired this segment in September:

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Nan said,

    I’ve put this in my folder for book ideas. It sounds fantastic. Thank you!

  2. Fixing Geek said,

    Awesome

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