In Hoffa’s Shadow

Jack Goldsmith

The Irishman is great art . . . but it is not, as we know, great history . . . For some of the real story, and for a great American tale in itself, you want to go to Jack Goldsmith’s book, In Hoffa’s Shadow.” —Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal

On July 30, 1975, Jimmy Hoffa—the former leader of the million-member Teamsters union and one of the most beloved, and polarizing, figures in America—disappeared from a parking lot in a Detroit suburb. What happened to him next remains one of the greatest unsolved crimes in American history, spawning conspiracy theories, countless false confessions, and, most recently, The Irishman, Martin Scorsese’s critically acclaimed blockbuster starring Al Pacino in the role of Hoffa and Robert De Niro as his purported killer, the mobster Frank Sheeran.

Jack Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law School and former assistant attorney general, has become one of the leading experts on the case, and for the unlikeliest of reasons: his stepfather, Chuckie O’Brien, was Jimmy Hoffa’s right-hand man and later one of the suspected accomplices in his disappearance. In Hoffa’s Shadow is the definitive book on the mystery, the result of years of research, extensive interviews with FBI agents working the case, and Goldsmith’s own reconciliation with Chuckie, a man he once disowned for his ties to the mob. It has been hailed as a “monumental achievement” by The Wall Street Journal, and described as “emotionally powerful and utterly compelling” by The Washington Post and as a “gripping hybrid of personal memoir and forensic procedural [that] lands with the force of a sucker punch” by The New York Times.

In his book, Goldsmith sets out to clear his stepfather’s name by disproving the claim that he could have driven Hoffa to his death—a claim repeated by Scorsese in The Irishman, which includes a poignant scene in which Chuckie (played by Jesse Plemons) convinces Hoffa to get into the car that will take him to the scene of his murder. By bringing a legal scholar’s eye to a story of deep personal—and national—importance, Jack Goldsmith has written a book like no other: In Hoffa’s Shadow is at once an investigation into the Hoffa disappearance and the rise and fall of American labor as well as a moving tale of love between a father and son.

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It also takes us deep into the world of Jimmy Hoffa and his associates. The following photos are drawn from In Hoffa’s Shadow:

A celebratory evening in Miami Beach on October 5, 1957, the day after Jimmy Hoffa was first
elected president of the Teamsters union. Chuckie is seated at the far end of the table, holding his
young son. Hoffa is seated on his left. (Reproduced with permission of Charles O’Brien)

Chuckie’s mother, Sylvia, left, with New Jersey Teamsters official (and mobster) Anthony
Provenzano and his wife, Maria, in Miami Beach, 1957. “Tony Pro,” played by Stephen Graham
in The Irishman, would come to be closely associated with Hoffa’s disappearance. (Reproduced
with permission of Charles O’Brien)

Chuckie in California working on a Teamsters union campaign in July 1973 (Reproduced with
permission of Charles O’Brien)

The author, right, with his brothers and Chuckie at Florida Air Academy, 1976 (Reproduced with
permission of Charles O’Brien)

Chuckie became Goldsmith’s stepfather when he married the author’s mother, Brenda, in June
1975. The next month, Hoffa would disappear, throwing their lives into turmoil. This Christmas
photo was taken at a friend’s home in Miami in 1976. From left: Chuckie, Goldsmith, the
author’s brother Brett, Brenda, and the author’s brother Steven (Reproduced with permission of
Brenda O’Brien)

The author’s graduation from college in June 1984. One week later, intent on embarking on a
legal career, he told Chuckie that he was changing his last name from O’Brien back to
Goldsmith, the name of his mother’s first husband. (Reproduced with permission of Brenda

The first page of a long letter Chuckie sent the author on Teamsters stationery, responding to
news of the name change (Reproduced with Permission of Charles O’Brien)

Further Reading:

In a Land of Heroes, Gangsters and John Ford, The Wall Street Journal
My Family Story of Love, the Mob, and Government Surveillance, The Atlantic
The Irishman Fact vs. Fiction: Inside Jimmy Hoffa’s Open Murder Case, Newsweek
Are the Claims in the New Film ‘The Irishman’ True?, Lawfare
The Irishman: The Inconvenient Truth About the Movie’s Central Confession, Vanity Fair

Jack Goldsmith is the Henry L. Shattuck Professor of Law at Harvard University. From October 2003 to June 2004 he was assistant attorney general, Office of Legal Counsel. He lives in Newton, Massachusetts.