By Christy Strawser
CBS Detroit Managing Editor
DETROIT (CBS Detroit) Reported Detroit mob underboss Anthony Zerilli came out this weekend to say he knows where the bodies are buried — one body in particular, belonging to Detroit’s most notorious missing person — Jimmy Hoffa.
Zerilli, 85, told WDIV in Detroit Hoffa’s killers buried him in a shallow grave and were going to move him to a hunting lodge in northern Michigan after they offed him 37 years ago. But Zerilli — who was in prison at the time on a racketeering charge — said they left him where he was.
Local mob expert and author Scott Burnstein thinks this is the biggest break in the Hoffa case since the union boss’ disappearance.
“I think this is the most credible person to ever come forward to talk about this story,” Bernstein said, adding Zerilli is the son of Detroit mafia founder Joe Zerilli and served as the Detroit mob underboss from 1979 to 2002.
Why would Zerilli tell this story now?
“It’s a combination of he’s looking for a payday and he’s upset with the leaders of the family for taking him out of the loop a couple of years ago,” said Burnstein, author of “Detroit Mob Confidential” and “Motor City Mafia.”
“I think there’s no body to be found, but if there is a body to be found he’s the guy to lead you to it,” Burnstein said. “This is someone who definitely could have intimate knowledge of what happened.”
Zerilli hasn’t yet publicly said where the shallow grave is, but reports say the area he’s discussing is in northern Oakland County, about 20 miles away from Hoffa’s last sighting.
“I think this has got to be the biggest potential break in the case in a long time, it’s really shocking to me that he would do this,” Burnstein said.
On July 30, 1975, Hoffa disappeared from the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Hills. Searches for Hoffa’s body have included digs at a football stadium, at a Milford farm, and under a Roseville driveway.
This latest revelation comes on the heels of a massive hunt for Hoffa this fall that turned into a neighborhood circus, when police dug up a driveway in Roseville on the word of a neighbor who reported he saw men mysteriously moving black bags around the back yard the night Hoffa disappeared.
While camera crews rolled, onlookers lined the street and neighbors held parties, soil samples taken from 6 feet under a driveway found no evidence of human remains.
Burnstein had said at the time there was no way Hoffa was buried under the driveway.
The feds have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the decades-long hunt for Hoffa, according to inside sources. A 2006 Milford farm dig alone cost $250,000, sources said, and before that, in 2003, a swimming pool and the surrounding area was excavated a few hours north of Detroit. Investigators subsequently tore apart a home where Hoffa’s blood reportedly stained the floorboards.
Burnstein made a video several years ago called “Gangland Detroit Mob” where he explained the Zerilli situation, saying boss “Black Jack” Tocco blamed Zerilli for the big bust in the 1970s that essentially shut down the Detroit mafia. Burnstein said Tocco “took Zerilli’s stripes” when he got out of jail, and “put him on the shelf.”
“He’s been persona non gratis with the Detroit mafia,” Burnstein says in the video, adding “Tony Zerilli’s been walking around town not in the best of light, looking for money, Jack Tocco apparently won’t take his calls, and Tony Zerelli is not at the point he thought he would be, sitting here in his 80s.”