August 31st, 2015


Former Plain Dealer columnist James Neff has written a thriller-like book—Vendetta: Bobby Kennedy Versus Jimmy Hoffa—of the long smoldering battle between Bobby Kennedy and Jimmy Hoffa, two giants on the national scene in the 1950s and 1960s.

The book is stacked with inside info about how Bob Kennedy, as a staffer of the 1950s Senate Rackets Committee and the 1960s U. S. Attorney General under his brother President Jack Kennedy relentlessly pursued the Teamster boss.

Sy Hersh, a Pulitzer winner, rightly appraises the book:

If you think you know it all you don’t. James Neff has turned Bobby Kennedy’s headline-making clash with Jimmy Hoffa into a psychological thriller about two tough, powerful, and vengeful men who fought with all they had, exhausting both. This is not a book about a good Bobby versus a bad Hoffa. It is a study of two men who always got what they wanted staging a shoot-out on the streets of Laredo. And, as Neff tells it, there were no winners.

Hoffa eluded Kennedy until 1964 when he was found guilty on two counts in a jury tampering case.

Neff reveals conclusively that Kennedy was out to get Hoffa almost by any means necessary.

As one U.S. official noted, “Kennedy and I were never on the same page when it come to Hoffa.” He said later, “When I caME back as head of Organized Crime (unit), he set up a group within my section we called the Terrible Twenty. They were out to get Hoffa. Technically, they were to report to me, but he still didn’t trust me with Hoffa. Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t for Hoffa. However, I didn’t like twenty attorneys targeting him.”

This targeting earns the “vendetta” title of Kennedy’s pursuit of Hoffa.

Of course, someone else got to Hoffa eventually and how and where remain secret. Kennedy tragically met his death at the hand of a lone assassin.

The same official helped explain Kennedy’s obsession with Hoffa and the Teamsters.

“Robert Kennedy had a great capacity for love, but he also had an equally great capacity for hate.”

Hoffa had eluded Kennedy’s long-time attempts to convict him of crimes.

The book is stacked with startling quotes from documents, interviews and various records, including from the Teamsters. It reads like suspense story.

I vaguely remember as a reporter in Bridgeport, Conn. once being on a stage with Hoffa among others. My feeling was that the man exuded intimidation. It seemed to radiate scarily from him.

Neff, who was a professor at Ohio State University after leaving the PD, says in his note on sources that he was able 15 years ago to “secure access” to the business archives of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. They included “several million pages” of record, microfilmed and indexed.”

Neff spent 10 year researching the book and the inside quotes from various Teamsters, mob figures and Kennedy reveal they were well-spent.

The even-handed account avoided making a hero of Kennedy. Hoffa was portrayed, I believe, honestly as a ruthless, mob-connected union leader who did some good things for his Teamster members.

By Roldo Bartimole…


  1. Jeff Hess says:

    Back in the mid’90s, I missed an opportunity to work with James Neff while I was freelancing between editor gigs. Jim wanted me to do some research, to follow the money, through volumes of documentation. I passed because the upfront money was less than minimum wage and I had bills to pay.

    Clearly I fucked up.


  2. I should have noted that Neff presently oversees an investigative team at the Seattle Times and it has won multiple Pulitzer Prizes.

    He also published Mobbed Up, on an obvious subject.


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