Opened up the paper—yes, I still read one—the other day and saw that folks in Michigan thought they were close to finding Jimmy Hoffa. For those of you too young to understand this macabre adult version of “Where’s Waldo”, the late Mr. Hoffa was a thug, I mean a respected union leader, who went to lunch one day with a few of his friends in the Detroit mafia and never showed up that evening for dinner—or anywhere else for that matter– for the last 38 years. Apparently, this latest search has, like all the others undertaken over the years, failed to turn up any evidence of the ill-fated former Teamster. While I’m as curious as the next guy as to what happened to Jimmy after he finished up the blue plate special at the Machus Red Fox that day, I did start to wonder about our irrational fascination with finding out “what happened” to folks whose disappearances have absolutely no effect on our every day lives.
Maybe it’s because the random timing of these “sightings” and “locatings” are such a break from the ordinary. Why else would we give credence to the assertions of people whose credibility we would typically view as dubious at best? The case of the still undiscovered Mr. Hoffa is a prime example. The good people of Oakland county Michigan will now incur the costs of heavy earth moving equipment, anthropologists, medical examiners and cadaver dogs all based on a hot tip provided by an 85 year old ex-Mafia member—and we all know how credible they are—who was in jail at the time of the disappearance. It’s kind of like a few years ago when there seemed to be a rash of alien abductions, but the abductees always seemed to be two residents of Klanville, Mississippi who happened to be out “frog-giggin” at the time of their close encounter of the third kind.
Perhaps we’re all just a little obsessed with a morbid fascination as to how people we know are dead, really died. Take Amelia Earhart. The woman was born in 1897, so even if she hadn’t disappeared in 1939, it’s highly unlikely that she’d still be with us today, yet still, every ten years or so, our attention is peaked when someone says they’ve found her plane. Just like the aforementioned remains of Mr. Hoffa, the wreckage somehow never materializes, and we are once again left to wait and wonder. I just don’t know what we are hoping for. Odds are her plane crashed somewhere in the South Pacific, and if this did prove to be the case, would we feel any sense of relief since it was what we expected all along? I think that in situations like this, our hope is that what we all really know happened, didn’t, and that Amelia spent the remainder of her life basking in the sun, eating exotic fruits, and teaching polka to the natives. Now that would be unexpected.
Actually, the search for those who have left this mortal coil under less than obvious circumstances serves an economic purpose. Whole cottage industries have grown around these “mysterious disappearances”. How many people that probably otherwise couldn’t find employment have made entire careers out of their books, websites, and lectures at the local Super 8 motel promulgating their theories as to the whereabouts of everyone from Judge Crater to D.B. Cooper? And how many hours of programming would be lost to cable outlets like The Discovery Channel and its offspring without these folks? A few million insomniacs don’t want to know the answer to that question. So, ironically enough, for all of us who want answers, there are a heck of a lot of people out there whose livelihoods depend on us never finding out.
In a sense, our desire to explain the unexplained reflects our common need for closure. It’s our answer to the “cause” portion of the equation when we already know the effect. The occasional nature of this desire in response to the sporadic identification of “new evidence” is really just a manifestation of our natural curiosity. It’s only when these things are taken to the extreme—like those Area 51 fanatics that think the government has aliens and space ships housed in an underground warehouse in New Mexico. The Watergate conspirators couldn’t keep a secret for three weeks, but somehow this one is airtight—that they become problematic. As to the fate of the late Jimmy Hoffa, let me advance my own personal theory: Colonel Mustard, in the conservatory with the candlestick.