History Detectives

HDSI - Who Killed Jimmy Hoffa?

Notorious teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa disappeared without a trace in 1975. Was he murdered? If so, who pulled the trigger and why? Watch as the History Detectives tackle this famous cold case.

Air Date 7/22/14

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HISTORY DETECTIVES returns to explore the stories behind historic sites, artifacts and tall tales told in cities across the country, with the help of an inquisitive team of fact-finders with an uncanny talent for uncovering the truth.
Upcoming Air Dates
  • #505 — Great Mexican War Posters/Nora Holt Autograph Book/Muhlenberg Robe |
    Tuesday, Feb 28 at 5am TPT LIFE
  • #506 — Nc-4: First Across The Atlantic/Howard Hughes Crash/Professor Lowe's Hot Air Balloon |
    Wednesday, Mar 1 at 5am TPT LIFE
  • #507 — Red Cloud Letter/'32 Ford Roadster/Cast Iron Eagle |
    Thursday, Mar 2 at 5am TPT LIFE
  • #601 — History Detectives |
    Friday, Mar 3 at 5am TPT LIFE
  • #602 — History Detectives |
    Saturday, Mar 4 at 5am TPT LIFE
  • #505 — Great Mexican War Posters/Nora Holt Autograph Book/Muhlenberg Robe
    Great Mexican War Posters - While cleaning out the basement of an old home he'd recently purchased, a man from San Francisco, California, discovered a stash of strange and colorful posters announcing the "Great Mexican War." They appear to be early 20th-century advertising for news film of the Mexican Revolution. The posters indicate that a man named Charles Pryor made the films. If the posters prove to be authentic, does it mean that this mystery cinematographer was an eyewitness to the Mexican Revolution? In Washington, DC, and El Paso, Texas, HISTORY DETECTIVES host Wes Cowan examines a turning point in filmmaking history - when producers aimed to satisfy the American audience's appetite for films of overseas events, at times walking a fine line between real-life and on-screen dramatic events. Nora Holt Autograph Book - The mother of a man in Los Angeles, California, was an avid collector of African-American memorabilia. Upon his mother's passing, the contributor inherited a garage full of the material she had assembled, most of which is uncatalogued and has attracted a great deal of attention from scholars. Amid the collection is a curious small green leather autograph book that belonged to a woman named Nora Holt. Holt was a luminary of the Harlem Renaissance and associated with author Theodore Dreiser and photographer Carl Van Vechten, among others. Mysteriously, these artists' names appear in the book alongside the signatures of Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, neither of whom was involved in the Harlem Renaissance. The autographs take host Gwen Wright to Harlem and Westchester, New York, and to Westport, Connecticut, as HISTORY DETECTIVES follows the path of a liberated woman who participated in one of the most significant artistic flowerings of the 20th century. Muhlenberg Robe - George Washington's cherry tree, Betsy Ross' flag, Paul Revere's ride ... now Muhlenberg's Robe may be added to the list of debatable Revolutionary War legends. The story goes that in January 1776, Lutheran Reverend Peter Muhlenberg turned his pulpit into a recruiting station for revolutionary fighters. During a fiery sermon, he tore his robe from his shoulders to reveal a uniform and at once rallied 300 able-bodied congregants to the patriotic cause. A woman in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, wants to know: Is the robe that's on display at the nearby Lutheran Theological Seminary the cloak that bore witness to this event? In Philadelphia and Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, HISTORY DETECTIVES host Elyse Luray delves into rare, period accounts from Muhlenberg's family, friends and contemporaries to find the truth behind the story of the reverend's famous robe.
    Tuesday, Feb 28 at 5am TPT LIFE
  • #506 — Nc-4: First Across The Atlantic/Howard Hughes Crash/Professor Lowe's Hot Air Balloon
    NC-4: First Across The Atlantic - Almost 10 years before Charles Lindbergh's famous solo flight across the Atlantic, the NC-4 was the first aircraft to make the transatlantic journey in May 1919. Now, a woman in Saratoga, California, has a small square of canvas-like fabric that she believes comes from the NC-4, one of four U.S. Navy "flying boats" that had originally been commissioned to alert American destroyers to the locations of German U-boat submarines that were wreaking havoc on merchant ships along the U.S. coast during World War I. Due to early mechanical problems, the NC-4 was considered by many aviation insiders to be the least likely candidate to complete the trek across the Atlantic. In Pensacola, Florida, and Hammondsport, New York, HISTORY DETECTIVES host Elyse Luray investigates the little-known story of the NC-4 and its historic voyage. Howard Hughes Crash - On July 7, 1946, Howard Hughes undertook the first flight of his XF-11 - designed to be the highest, fastest spy plane of its time. But the propeller failed, leaving Hughes without power. He crashed in Beverly Hills, California, destroying two homes and scarring himself for life. A man in Laramie, Wyoming, owns a 1940s altimeter he received from his father, who claimed it came from the fiery crash. He'd been a Hughes employee for more than 34 years and was there the day of the accident. Based on this altimeter's near-perfect condition, experts are skeptical of its connection to the crash, but footage from Martin Scorsese's The Aviator and a visit to Hughes' Spruce Goose at the Evergreen Aviation Museum could challenge this assertion. HISTORY DETECTIVES host Tukufu Zuberi heads to Los Angeles, California, and McMinnville, Oregon, to determine if the altimeter can be traced back to Hughes, an aviation pioneer and America's first billionaire. Professor Lowe's Hot Air Balloon - A collector from Midland, Michigan, may have purchased a fragment of American aviation history. At first glance, it's a simple piece of frayed material in a frame. But on the back of the frame are the words, "A piece of Prof. Lowe's Aeronautical balloon 'Enterprise'... after it was destroyed upon landing ... in 1862." Could this be an artifact from the dawn of American military airpower? HISTORY DETECTIVES host Wes Cowan reveals more about the ambitious and fascinating professor who launched the country's first aeronautic division by inflating his hot air balloon, the Enterprise, on the lawn of President Lincoln's White House.
    Wednesday, Mar 1 at 5am TPT LIFE
  • #507 — Red Cloud Letter/'32 Ford Roadster/Cast Iron Eagle
    Red Cloud Letter - A Nebraska man obtained a curious letter from his grandfather, who spent time on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation during the early part of the 20th century. The letter is from the sculptor of Mount Rushmore, Gutzon Borglum, to a Lakota leader named James Red Cloud. It makes several ambiguous references to treaties between the U.S. government and the Lakota and, moreover, to Borglum's desire to help the tribe. The contributor asks: How was a leader of the Lakota people connected with the creator of a monument that was regarded by many as a desecration of sacred land? HISTORY DETECTIVES host Gwen Wright journeys to South Dakota's Black Hills for the answer. '32 Ford Roadster - A man in Benicia, California, owns a 1932 Ford roadster that, upon purchase, had an engine too powerful for normal driving. The contributor suspects his car was used for dry-lake racing, a sport that had its heyday in Southern California in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1932, although America was in the midst of the Depression, Henry Ford forged ahead, designing a new model '32 car with the first powerful V8 engine affordable to the masses. Was the contributor's car among the popular hot rods raced out at the dry lakes? HISTORY DETECTIVES host Tukufu Zuberi high-tails it to California to examine one era's car-racing culture and to investigate one of the most iconic hot rods of all time. Cast Iron Eagle - One of the main attractions at a family-run zoo in Sussex, New Jersey, is a majestic, 12-foot-high cast iron eagle perched on an orb in the center of the park. The contributor's grandfather founded the park in 1927; family lore is that the eagle had once been perched atop an old post office in New York. However, a visitor recently told the contributor that the eagle resembles the giant cast iron eagles that graced the old Grand Central Station in Manhattan. The eagle dates to the post-Civil War period, when decorative style involved cast iron prefabrication. But was Grand Central Station - built for railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt - its original home? To find out, HISTORY DETECTIVES host Wes Cowan heads to New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York City, home of the arts and crafts movement at the turn of the 19th century.
    Thursday, Mar 2 at 5am TPT LIFE
  • #601 — History Detectives
    WWII Diary - A man in Lexington, North Carolina, has a poignant diary written by a World War II pilot. He inherited the diary 20 years ago from his father, who said it once belonged to a close friend whom he fought alongside in WWII, until the war took his friend's life in 1944. Keeping the last thoughts of this fallen solider is now too great a burden for the contributor. Can HISTORY DETECTIVES return it to a living relative? The stakes are raised as the diary pages reveal the story of a young American pilot stationed in England, racing against time and all odds to return home before the birth of his first child. Host Wes Cowan heads to Florida on a quest to reunite the diary with the pilot's surviving family. 1856 Mormon Tale - The tattered pages of an anonymously authored 1856 book titled Female Life Among the Mormons claim to be the personal memoirs of a New York woman who married a Mormon elder at a time when polygamy was openly practiced but characterized by some abolitionists as the "enslavement of white women." In it, the author says she traveled with her husband as the Mormons were chased out of New York and Illinois, eventually settling in the Utah Territory. Throughout her journey, the author claims to have witnessed a shocking, immoral culture of violence, polygamy, sexual depravity and brainwashing. The contributor from Stanfordville, New York, wants to know who wrote the book and if, in fact, it is a true account Mormon life. The search to find the author takes HISTORY DETECTIVES into a mystery that has haunted bibliographers for nearly 150 years. Host Tukufu Zuberi sorts fact from fiction in this fascinating tale. Annie Oakley Coin - A contributor from Bath, Maine, has an 1853 French Napoleon coin with a bent, split edge and a great bit of family lore: that the coin was shot by Annie Oakley and that Oakley herself gave the coin to two of the contributor's great-granduncles. It doesn't look like any of the souvenir coins the Wild West Show icon typically handed out to her many fans. Can HISTORY DETECTIVES prove that the sharp-shooting star of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show shot the coin for the two brothers - and turn family lore into bona fide bragging rights? To find out, host Elyse Luray travels to Cody, Wyoming, to conduct ballistics tests, scour the Buffalo Bill Historical Center archives and even re-create one of Oakley's sure shots. In HD where available.
    Friday, Mar 3 at 5am TPT LIFE
  • #602 — History Detectives
    Red Hand Flag - During her last active duty posting with the Army at Ft. Jackson, a Desert Storm veteran from South Carolina learned about a local, all-but-forgotten African-American infantry regiment in WWI. Years later, she purchased a worn red-white-red striped flag with a red felted hand sewn in the center and small U.S. flags sewn in the corner. The contributor would like to know if her flag was carried into battle by one of the few African-American infantry regiments that fought in WWI under the command of the French. These unsung heroes of the Great War exhibited extraordinary heroism in battle and were highly decorated by the French. If this particular flag has French origins, though, why is it red-white-red-striped and not blue-white-red like the tricolor French flag? HISTORY DETECTIVES host Elyse Luray heads to Columbia, South Carolina, to link this mysterious flag to the legacy of the Red Hand Division and its wartime triumphs. Seth Eastman Painting - A Decatur, Illinois, man purchased a painting that depicts a scene of traditional Native-American life. The contributor, a longtime student of the history of the American West, says the image appealed to him because it was strangely familiar, almost iconic in its imagery. The painting bears the initials "S.E." and the seller's Web page reads "Seth Eastman, American Painting, Oil on Canvas." Could this painting be an authentic work of artist and military officer Seth Eastman - and an accurate depiction of Native-American life in the mid-1800s? HISTORY DETECTIVES host Tukufu Zuberi travels to historic Fort Snelling in Minnesota to examine how Eastman carried out government policies of Native-American removal while capturing on canvas what he believed was a doomed way of life. Isleton Tong - The president of the historical society in Isleton, California, has inherited a two-story wooden building with tin sides that she believes once housed a Chinese Tong. In the late 1800s, Chinese immigrants risked everything to start a new life in America. But Americans who feared losing jobs to the new, cheap labor turned the land of opportunity hostile. Chinatowns burned, ethnic slurs flew and Congress prohibited Chinese laborers from entering or working in the country. For outcast Chinese, Tongs were places of protection and solidarity during this time of chaos, where they could worship, study and settle legal disputes peacefully. In the newspapers, the Tongs were secretive centers of gangland warfare, opium deals and gambling. Was there a Tong operating inside Isleton's once-booming Chinatown? If so, what happened there? HISTORY DETECTIVES host Gwen Wright heads to the Sacramento Delta and to San Francisco to unravel the mystery of the Chinese Tong.
    Saturday, Mar 4 at 5am TPT LIFE
    Monday, Apr 3 at 5am TPT LIFE
  • #603 — History Detectives
    Japanese Balloon Bomb - The granddaughter of a World War II veteran from Austin, Texas, has a wartime memento with a note claiming it's a piece of Japanese balloon that floated across the Pacific Ocean in 1945. The alleged balloon scrap could be evidence of a unique weapon in modern warfare: the Japanese balloon bomb. More than 9,000 of these incendiary weapons were launched from Japan during the war via the jet stream with the intention of causing mass disruption and forest fires in the American West. The existence and purpose of the balloon bombs were kept secret from the American public for security reasons, until a tragic accident forced a change in policy. The balloon bombs caused the only fatalities on the U.S. mainland due to enemy action during World War II. HISTORY DETECTIVES host Tukufu Zuberi travels to Austin, Texas and to the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, to learn whether this souvenir is a missing piece of a secret weapon. Society Circus Program - In her school's drama closet, a young girl from Oregon finds a curious, yellowed circus program that reads "Official Program of Cobina Wright's Society Circus for the benefit of the Boy Scout Foundation, Hon. Franklin D. Roosevelt, President, Season 1933." Who was Cobina Wright and what do the Boy Scouts, FDR and Cobina's Circus - with its lengthy "who's-who" celebrity list - have in common? HISTORY DETECTIVES host Gwen Wright explores New York City's 1930s high society and illuminates a connection between FDR and the Boy Scouts that inspired one of the most popular and effective pieces of the president's New Deal program. Camp David Letter - Maryland's Camp David has served as a presidential retreat for more than 60 years and is possibly best known for the Camp David Accords, the famous Egyptian-Israeli peace agreements signed there in 1978. A self-styled dumpster diver in San Francisco has recovered a windfall of memorabilia that reveals a story of Camp David's beginnings. The salvaged items appear to have once belonged to a three-generation Navy family headed by John H. Kevers. Among photos, dog tags and epaulets, one letter in particular caught the contributor's attention: It's from Ronald Reagan to Kevers' widow, stating "... Captain John H. Kevers gave many years of service to Presidents, starting with Franklin D. Roosevelt ... Because of Captain Kevers, we have the enjoyable facility of Camp David ..." In Los Angeles and San Francisco, HISTORY DETECTIVES host Wes Cowan searches presidential archives and Navy history to pinpoint Kevers' connection to the secret mountaintop hideaway that was FDR's "Shangri-La."
    Tuesday, Apr 4 at 5am TPT LIFE
  • #604 — History Detectives
    China Marine Jacket - A man in Santa Monica, California, received an embroidered jacket as a gift from his son. The contributor, a former Marine, is intrigued by the jacket's stitched inscriptions, which read: "4th Marines," "Shanghai," "China," "1937-1939" and "MWD." He knows the 4th Marines were transferred from Shanghai to the Philippines in November 1941 amidst growing tensions with the Japanese. The unit was attacked by the Japanese on the same day as the Pearl Harbor bombings. Some of the men who fought in the Philippines never returned, having suffered Japanese imprisonment and the Bataan Death March. But to whom did this particular jacket belong, and what was his legacy as a Marine? HISTORY DETECTIVES host Gwen Wright travels to Washington, DC, and Los Angeles to investigate the story of the "China Marines," a regiment that worked under extreme circumstances to keep the peace and protect American interests during the perilous ramp up to World War II. Airstream Caravan - A couple in Southern California owns a classic Airstream trailer that may lay claim to an illustrious past. The trailer's fading numbers and logo indicate that it is an early member of the elite Wally Byam Caravan Club International. In the mid-20th century, members of this adventure club followed legendary leader and Airstream founder Wally Byam all over the world: Central America, Europe, Africa and the Yucatan Peninsula. Did this particular Airstream make the journey on the historic "Cape Town to Cairo Caravan" of 1959? HISTORY DETECTIVES host Tukufu Zuberi heads to Denver and Southern California to explore one man's wanderlust at the birth of American leisure travel and, ultimately, to a spectacular 221-day, 14,307-mile trek from the tip of Southern Africa to the pyramids of Ancient Egypt. Lincoln Forgery - A woman in Portland, Oregon, owns a bound volume of 19th-century sheet music. The book contains several "Abraham Lincoln" signatures on random pages. At the end of one of the compositions, a handwritten notarized inscription claims the music is a gift from President Lincoln's widow, Mary Todd Lincoln, to Lincoln's former coachman, William P. Brown, in 1866. Could the sheet music really be from Lincoln's personal library? HISTORY DETECTIVES host Wes Cowan travels to Chicago and Springfield, Illinois, to explore the years after Lincoln's death and to illuminate the origins of these curious documents.
    Wednesday, Apr 5 at 5am TPT LIFE
  • #605 — History Detectives
    Hindenburg Artifact - A Hoboken, New Jersey, man has a palm-sized, army-green metal box that looks like an instrument panel. Beneath a shattered plastic covering is a sliding, numbered scale; knobs on each end move a lever across the scale. German writing indicates the country of origin. Might this instrument have been recovered from the crash site of the Hindenburg in Lakehurst, New Jersey? Family lore says that a distant relative was among the many bystanders plucking souvenirs from the wreckage of the terrifying disaster. Chemicals from the fire or balloon envelope gas would have evaporated 10 minutes after the explosion, but the broken plastic can be tested for age and heat distress with forensic analysis of the instrument. HISTORY DETECTIVES host Elyse Luray travels to Atlanta and the New Jersey landing site of the ill-fated zeppelin to determine if the instrument panel is in fact from the horrifying crash. Bonus Army Stamp - A collector in Hawaii has a postage-sized stamp with an illustration of a World War I "doughboy" solider and the words "PAY THE BONUS." The contributor, whose grandfather was a World War I soldier, thinks the stamp is linked to the "Bonus Army" veterans. A bill was passed in 1924 promising WWI veterans a payment 21 years later - dubbed a "bonus" - in 1945. When the Great Depression hit, veterans organized to demand early payment of the bonus. They organized a protest march on Washington in 1932, demanding pay for their combat, and approximately 20,000 veterans camped out near the Capitol following the march. Weeks went by until Herbert Hoover ordered General Douglas McArthur to force the vets out. Two veterans were shot and killed; thousands were tear-gassed. What role did this political stamp play in the veterans' movement? HISTORY DETECTIVES host Wes Cowan heads to Hyde Park, New York, and Washington, DC, to reveal the stamp's connection to the veterans' struggle. Dempsey Fight Bell - July 4, 1919, marks the day America found its true calling in a national obsession. Icon Jack Dempsey became the world's first boxing superstar, and he did it with the clang of a bell. Now, a contributor in Reno, Nevada, wants to know: Is the bell he's toasted many a night on the wall of his favorite bar the one that was ringside at Dempsey's legendary world heavyweight championship match? The question goes beyond a single fight. Dempsey's bout ushered in the Roaring 20s, America's fascination with celebrity and the golden age of championship sports. Tukufu Zuberi leads the HISTORY DETECTIVES to weigh in on the case in Reno, Nevada, and New York City, sorting truth from myth to determine which clues ring true.
    Thursday, Apr 6 at 5am TPT LIFE
  • #606 — History Detectives
    GAR Photograph - A Civil War enthusiast in Etters, Pennsylvania, owns a striking vintage photograph that depicts about 20 older white men in full dress uniform, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with two black men. In Reconstruction-era America, association between blacks and whites was frequently taboo. What brought them together for this portrait? Their bond, it turns out, was the Grand Army of the Republic, a remarkable fraternal order organized for war veterans. In fact, integration was actually a GAR standard. The reason? The men's common struggle with post traumatic stress transcended race. HISTORY DETECTIVES host Elyse Luray heads to Cazenovia, New York, and Washington, DC, to investigate the first national social group to challenge the color barrier. Bill Pickett Saddle - A Staten Island woman owns a well-worn saddle with the name "Bill Pickett" burned into it. She believes it was once owned by legendary cowboy Bill Pickett, an African-American Wild West Show and film star. Pickett invented bulldogging, the rodeo event now known as steer wrestling. His back story is perhaps most intriguing: Born to slave parents, Pickett rose to entertain kings and dignitaries on an international tour of his Wild West show; he counted among his friends Will Rogers and Tom Mix. HISTORY DETECTIVES host Tukufu Zuberi heads to Oklahoma to visit the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, meets a real-life steer wrestler and talks with a 101 Ranch historian about the legacy of the legendary "Bulldogger." Hitler Films - A contributor in Staten Island, New York, has several film cans, unseen since World War II, that he believes may contain German home movies of Nazi officials, possibly even Hitler. He received them from his wife's uncle, a GI in Germany, who found the cans in the bombed ruins of the Old Opera House in the northern Bavarian town of Bayreuth. The first glimpse of one of these fragile reels reveals footage of Hitler, Goebbels, Goering and Himmler arriving at the Richard Wagner opera festival, staged annually in Bayreuth. In New York City, HISTORY DETECTIVES host Gwen Wright examines this film's depiction of the Nazis' manipulation of art and culture to bolster the party's following.
    Friday, Apr 7 at 5am TPT LIFE
  • #607 — History Detectives
    Black Tom Shell - A woman in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, has an explosive artifact in her possession: a large, intact artillery shell, along with a note in her mother's handwriting that reads "Black Tom Explosion of 1914." The contributor's mother's record-keeping is off: It was not 1914, but July 30, 1916, when a German spy ring carried out a well-planned set of synchronized explosions on Black Tom Island in New York's harbor, using the United States' own cache of munitions produced to aid Britain and France in World War I. Two million pounds of exploding ammunition rocked the country as far away as Philadelphia and blew the windows out of nearly every high rise in lower Manhattan, injuring hundreds. HISTORY DETECTIVES host Gwendolyn Wright travels to Maryland and New Jersey to determine whether this shell was involved in one of the earliest foreign terrorist attacks on American soil. USS Olympia Glass - The door of a farmhouse in eastern Nebraska has an etched glass window with a depiction of a ship cruising through open waters, smoke pouring from its stacks. The home's owner believes the ship is the USS Olympia, the cruiser commanded by Commodore George Dewey when he defeated Admiral Montojo's Spanish aquadron at Manila Bay in 1898, beginning the Spanish-American War. The farm's been in the family for more than half a century, and a 1977 letter from the USS Olympia Association states that etched glass windows may have adorned Admiral Dewey's own stateroom. HISTORY DETECTIVES host Wes Cowan travels to Fremont, Nebraska, and Philadelphia to find our whether the unique window can serve as a portal into a turning point in American foreign policy. Front Street Blockhouse - When a young couple in Schenectady, New York, purchased their dream house in the town's historic district, they believed their home was built for a middle-class family in the late 19th century, like all other homes in their neighborhood. But four mysterious stone walls visible in the attic have led them to believe otherwise. Did this house once guard against enemy attacks during the tense years of the French and Indian Wars - nearly 300 years ago? HISTORY DETECTIVES host Elyse Luray travels to Upstate New York to determine whether this unassuming structure may have helped ensure the survival of the town of Schenectady, a 17th- and 18th-century vanguard Dutch outpost, as it fought France and her Indian allies for control of the lucrative fur trade.
    Saturday, Apr 8 at 5am TPT LIFE
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