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Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran (October 25, 1920 – December 14, 2003) was a labor union official who was accused of having links to the Bufalino crime family. In his capacity as a high official in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Sheeran was a leading figure in the corruption of unions by organized crime. Shortly before his death, Sheeran also confessed to killing Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa. Author Charles Brandt detailed what Sheeran told him about his alleged murder of Hoffa in the non-fiction book I Heard You Paint Houses (2004).
Frank Sheeran was born in Darby, Pennsylvania, a small working-class borough on the outskirts of Philadelphia. His family was of Irish and Swedish descent. He grew to his full adult height of 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m) tall while serving in the Army during World War II.
World War II
Frank Sheeran enlisted in the United States Army in August 1941, did basic training near Biloxi, Mississippi, and was assigned to the military police. Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor, he volunteered for training in the Army Airborne at Fort Benning, Georgia. After dislocating his shoulder, he was transferred to the 45th Infantry Division, known as "The Thunderbirds." On 14 July 1943, Sheeran set sail for North Africa.
Sheeran served 411 days of combat duty (a large amount; average is around 100). His first experience of combat was during the Italian Campaign; including the invasion of Sicily, the Salerno landings, the Anzio Campaign, and the Battle of Cassino. He then served in the landings in southern France, the Battle of the Bulge, and the invasion of Germany.
Sheeran added, however, "All in all, I had fifty days lost under AWOL -- absent without official leave -- mostly spent drinking red wine and chasing Italian, French, and German women. However, I was never AWOL when my outfit was going back to the front lines. If you were AWOL when your unit was going back into combat you might as well keep going because one of your own officers would blow you away and they didn't even have to say it was the Germans. That's desertion in the face of the enemy."
Sheeran later recalled his war service as the time when he first developed a callousness to the taking of human life. Sheeran claimed to have participated in numerous massacres and summary executions of German POWs, acts which violated the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 and the 1929 Geneva Convention on POWs. In later interviews with Charles Brandt, he divided such massacres into four different categories.
- 1. Revenge killings in the heat of battle. Sheeran told Brandt that, when a German soldier had just killed his close friends and then tried to surrender, he would often "send him to hell, too." He described often witnessing similar behavior by fellow GIs.
- 2. Orders from unit commanders during a mission. When describing his first murder for organized crime, Sheeran recalled: “It was just like when an officer would tell you to take a couple of German prisoners back behind the line and for you to ‘hurry back’. You did what you had to do.”
- 3. The Dachau massacre and other reprisal killings of concentration camp guards and trustee inmates.
- 4. Calculated attempts to dehumanize and degrade German POWs. While Sheeran's unit was climbing the Harz Mountains, they came upon a Wehrmacht mule train carrying food and drink up the mountainside. The female cooks were first allowed to leave unmolested, then Sheeran and his fellow GI's "ate what we wanted and soiled the rest with our waste." Then the Wehrmacht mule drivers were given shovels and ordered to "dig their own shallow graves." Sheeran later joked that they did so without complaint, likely hoping that he and his buddies would change their minds. But the mule drivers were shot and buried in the holes they had dug. Sheeran explained that by then, "I had no hesitation in doing what I had to do."
Private Frank Sheeran was discharged from the United States Army on 24 October 1945. He later recalled that it was, "a day before my twenty-fifth birthday, but only according to the calendar."
When he left the service, he became a trucker but made extra money on the side by committing crimes, including murder for hire. Due to his criminal acumen, he became a close associate of Mafia bosses Russell Bufalino and Angelo Bruno. It was Bufalino, the head of the Bufalino crime family, who acted as Sheeran's mentor throughout his life.
The Teamster's Union
Bufalino set Sheeran up with the International President Jimmy Hoffa. Hoffa, who became a close friend, used Sheeran for muscle, including the assassination of recalcitrant union members and members of rival unions threatening the Teamsters' turf.
He also claimed to have been part of the provisioning of the anti-Fidel Castro forces involved in the Bay of Pigs invasion and said he had intimate knowledge about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. According to Sheeran, Jimmy Hoffa wanted Kennedy dead, as Kennedy's brother Bobby Kennedy, the Attorney General of the United States, was harassing him. The assassination of President Kennedy was a Mafia hit, according to Sheeran, who did not actively participate in the plot, but who transported three rifles to the alleged assassins via David Ferrie.
Brandt describes in his book how the old and ill Sheeran told him that he was the man who shot Jimmy Hoffa upon Mafia orders. Sheeran would also confess to killing Hoffa to Fox News reporters. While investigators did find traces of blood in the Detroit house where Sheeran confessed he killed Hoffa (with two bullets to the back of the head) they also determined it may have been too old for conclusive testing.
Additionally, Sheeran claimed to have been the triggerman behind another famous mob-related murder, that of Crazy Joe Gallo. An eyewitness to the Gallo hit was discovered by Charles Brandt and confirmed that Sheeran was the shooter at Umberto's Clam House.
However Colombo Captain Michael Franzesse in the History Channels Mafia Documentary The Definitive Guide to the Mob states there was two shooters, one using a .38 caliber and the other a .36 caliber revolvers. So Sheeran may have been one of the shooters but not a lone gunman.
In popular culture
- Brandt, Charles (2004). "I Heard You Paint Houses": Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran and the Inside Story of the Mafia, the Teamsters, and the Last Ride of Jimmy Hoffa. Hanover, New Hampshire: Steerforth Press. ISBN 978-1-58642-077-2. OCLC 54897800.
- English, T. J. (2005). Paddy whacked: the untold story of the Irish American gangster. HarperCollins. p. 438. ISBN 978-0-06-059002-4.
- Brandt (2004), page 39.
- Brandt (2004), page 38.
- Brandt (2004), pages 38-50.
- Brandt (2004), page 50.
- Brandt (2004), page 51.
- Brandt (2004), 40.
- Brandt (2004), page 84.
- Brandt (2004), page 52.
- "Where is Hoffa?". 8 HD I-Team. November 13, 2006.
- Brandt, Charles. I Heard You Paint Houses.
- "Where is Hoffa?". 8 HD I-Team. November 13, 2006.
- "Detroit House Searched for Clues in Hoffa Case". Fox News. 1975-07-30. Retrieved 2012-05-30.
- The Irishman and the Quiet Don by Mike La Sorte, Professor Emeritus (SUNY)