Francis Joseph Sheeran
October 25, 1920
|Died||December 14, 2003 (aged 83)|
|Occupation||Labor union official|
|Organization||International Brotherhood of Teamsters|
|Known for||I Heard You Paint Houses|
(m. 1946; div. 1968)
|Allegiance||Bufalino crime family|
|Criminal penalty||32 years|
|Killed||25 to 30 claimed, none confirmed|
In his capacity as a high-ranking official in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), Sheeran was a leading figure in the corruption of unions by organized crime. In a RICO lawsuit, the US government named Sheeran as one of only two non-Italians in conspiracy with the Commission of La Cosa Nostra, alongside such figures as Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano and Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno. Shortly before his death, Sheeran claimed to have killed Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa in 1975. Author Charles Brandt detailed what Sheeran told him about Hoffa in the narrative nonfiction work I Heard You Paint Houses (2004). Post-publication Sheeran's confessions received significant independent corroboration largely detailed in 71 pages of backmatter that have been added to the book. Dr. Michael Baden, former chief medical examiner of New York City, has written: “Sheeran’s confession that he killed Hoffa in the manner described in the book is supported by the forensic evidence, is entirely credible, and solves the Hoffa mystery.” The truthfulness of that book, and the claims that Sheeran killed Hoffa or Joey Gallo, have since been discredited in several publications. The book is the basis for the 2019 film The Irishman directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro as Frank Sheeran and Al Pacino as Hoffa.
Frank Sheeran was born and raised in Darby, Pennsylvania, a small working-class borough on the outskirts of Philadelphia. He was the son of Thomas Francis Sheeran Jr., a house painter from Philadelphia (1886–1968), and Mary Agnes Hanson. Sheeran was of Irish Catholic descent on his father's side and Swedish on his mother's side. He grew to his full adult height of 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m) while serving in the United States Army during World War II.
World War II
Sheeran enlisted in the 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 July 14, 1943, Sheeran set sail for North Africa.
Sheeran served 411 days of combat duty (a significant length of time, as the average was around 100 days). His first experience of combat was during the Italian Campaign; including the invasion of Sicily, the Salerno landings, the Anzio Campaign. He then served in the landings in southern France, 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 categories:
- 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.
- 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."
- The Dachau massacre and other reprisal killings of concentration camp guards and trustee inmates.
- 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, he "had no hesitation in doing what I had to do."
Sheeran was discharged from the army on October 24, 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, Sheeran became a truck driver 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. Sheeran was suspected to have been the lone shooter in the murder of Joe Gallo at Umberto's Clam House on April 7, 1972. Years later, lead Gallo case detective Joe Coffey confirmed that Sheeran was the man who killed Gallo because the NYPD would hang up on phone callers who would try to sell the NYPD information on the "three killers" who claimed to kill Gallo as an integrity test. Coffey was stated as saying "We (The NYPD) knew it was a large lone gunman and he certainly wasn't Italian." The circulated story was that three Italian men stormed Umberto's guns blazing and killed Gallo. Also a separate eyewitness from the night of the shooting has confirmed that Sheeran killed Joe Gallo. Sheeran had also operated out of a bar located in Sharon Hill Pa which in fact was run by Bill Distanisloa who was an Angelo Bruno soldier.
The Teamsters' Union
Bufalino set Sheeran up with Teamsters 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.
It was revealed in 2004 that in the week prior to Election Day in the 1972 United States Senate election in Delaware, an unidentified representative of the Biden campaign (described as the campaign's legal counsel) approached Teamsters Local 326 President - and Mafia hitman - Frank Sheeran about preventing the distribution of the Wilmington News Journal because Senator J. Caleb Boggs was running an advertisement unflattering to Biden. In exchange for undisclosed considerations and because Sheeran felt "Biden was better for labor anyway," the Teamsters Union organized a strike preventing the newspapers from being delivered. Additionally a shipment of newspaper printing materials had been sabotaged. As a result, the Wilmington News Journal was not distributed in the week prior to Election day. It is unclear whether Biden himself was aware of the plot but after the election Sheeran said he "could always reach out to [Biden] and he would listen."
Upon returning from war, Sheeran moved to Pennsylvania and married Mary, an Irish immigrant. The couple had three children together but divorced in 1968. Sheeran then married a woman named Irene, with whom he had a daughter.
Sheeran 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 because 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.
In the book I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran and the Closing of the Case on Jimmy Hoffa (2004), author Charles Brandt claims that Sheeran confessed to assassinating Hoffa. According to Brandt, Chuckie O'Brien drove Sheeran, Hoffa, and fellow mobster Sal Briguglio to a house in Detroit. He claimed that while O'Brien and Briguglio drove off, Sheeran and Hoffa went into the house, where Sheeran claims that he shot Hoffa twice in the back of the head. Sheeran says that he was told that Hoffa was cremated after the murder. Sheeran also confessed to reporters that he murdered Hoffa.
Two sets of blood remnants were found in the front hall and middle hallway of the Detroit house where Sheeran claimed the murder happened. One stain at the bottom of the stairs was fresh enough to extract DNA from and was found not to be Hoffa's blood. A blood trail from the vestibule, where Sheeran says he shot Hoffa, down the middle hallway was consistent with Sheeran's confession but proved to be too old and degraded to extract DNA from. The trail leads to the kitchen where, in 1975, there had been a door leading to the outside, consistent with Sheeran's confession that the "cleaners" would have taken the body directly out of the back of the house so no one could see the removal from the street.
The blood pattern was proof that someone had been killed at the home and the body had been dragged down the hallway as Sheeran had said. The house was located only minutes from the restaurant parking lot where Hoffa was last seen but no evidence yet exists that links Hoffa to the house. Out of the 28 spots of blood found in the home only 2 of the spots tested positive for DNA. Considering where Sheeran confessed he killed Hoffa and that almost 30 years had elapsed by the time a forensics team entered the home, it is not likely traces of Hoffa's DNA can be found.
The FBI continues its attempts to connect Sheeran to the murder, retesting the blood and floorboards with latest advancements in forensics. In Riddle, a documentary about the Hoffa disappearance that aired November 27, 2018 on FOX, the FBI replied "No comment" when asked about their latest tests.
Martin Scorsese was long interested in directing a film regarding Sheeran's life and his alleged involvement in the slaying of Jimmy Hoffa, eventually getting greenlit as The Irishman. Steven Zaillian is the screenwriter and Robert De Niro portrays Sheeran, with Al Pacino and Joe Pesci also starring. The film had its world premiere at the New York Film Festival on September 27, 2019 and was released on November 1, 2019 with digital streaming to start on November 27, 2019 via Netflix.
- U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007
- 1940 United States Federal Census
- Kaplan, Michael (19 November 2017). "The 'real' story of the man who murdered Jimmy Hoffa". New York Post. Retrieved 18 November 2019.
- 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.
- Tonelli, Bill. "The Lies of "The Irishman"". Slate. Retrieved 7 August 2019.
- Goldsmith, Jack. "Jimmy Hoffa and "The Irishman": A True Crime Story?". New York Review of Books. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
- "The Publisher of I Heard You Paint Houses Responds to "The Lies of the Irishman"". Slate. August 19, 2019. Retrieved November 1, 2019.
- Bell, Breanna (July 31, 2019). "Martin Scorsese's 'The Irishman' Trailer Teams Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci". Variety. Archived from the original on July 31, 2019. Retrieved July 31, 2019.
- 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), page 50.
- Brandt (2004), page 51.
- Brandt (2004), 40.
- Brandt (2004), page 84.
- Brandt (2004), page 52.
- "Interview: Charles Brandt, author 'I Heard You Paint Houses'". amp-clickondetroit-com.cdn.ampproject.org.
- "Where is Hoffa?". 8 HD I-Team. November 13, 2006.
- Brandt, Charles. I Heard You Paint Houses.
- "I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran & Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa: Charles Brandt: 9781586422387: Amazon.com: Books". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2019-11-16.
- Register, Orange County (August 17, 2012). "Henry Miller: Biden's unhinged, and worse, history".
- Ed Scarpo (March 20, 2011). "Sheeran's Daughter: 'My Father Killed Jimmy Hoffa'". Cosa Nostra News. Retrieved June 21, 2019.
- "Detroit House Searched for Clues in Hoffa Case". Fox News. 1975-07-30. Archived from the original on 2012-06-27. Retrieved 2012-05-30.
- "Riddle documentary Fox". Retrieved 18 October 2019.
- "RIDDLE: The Search for James R. Hoffa". Fox News. Archived from the original on 5 January 2019. Retrieved 18 October 2019.
- "History Detectives". Retrieved 11 May 2016. (transcript)
- "Police: Blood found in Detroit home did not come from Hoffa". highbeam.com. Associated Press. Archived from the original on 2016-09-11. Retrieved September 9, 2017.
- Karush, Sarah (February 14, 2005). "Police: Blood found in Detroit home did not come from Hoffa". Detroit Free Press. Associated Press.
- Stolworthy, Jacob (July 13, 2017). "The Irishman: Joe Pesci officially joins Robert De Niro in new Martin Scorsese film making Goodfellas reunion official". The Independent. Archived from the original on July 14, 2017. Retrieved August 27, 2019.
- Fleming Jr., Mike (August 27, 2019). "Netflix Sets November 1 Theatrical Bow For Martin Scorsese-Directed 'The Irishman:' 27 Day US & UK Rollout Comes Before Pic Streams For Thanksgiving Holiday". Deadline. Archived from the original on August 27, 2019. Retrieved August 27, 2019.