Tuesday, May 5, 2009

My Crime Beat Column: I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran, The Man Who Claimed to Murder Jimmy Hoffa

I read that director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert De Niro, who teamed up to make the classic crime films Goodfellas, Mean Streets and Casino, are returning to the scene of organized crime in an upcoming film.
Scorsese and De Niro are planning to make a film based on the book I Heard You Paint House: Frank 'The Irishman" Sheeran and Closing the Case On Jimmy Hoffa. The book, written by former prosecutor Charles Brant, is based on four years of taped interviews of Frank "the Irishman" Sheeran, a Philadelphia native, Teamster union official and self-confessed hit man for Cosa Nostra crime families.
With the urging of his daughters, the elderly and ill Sheeran visited a Monsignor in Philadelphia and received absolution, which allowed him to be buried in a Catholic church when he died. After visiting the Monsignor, Sheeran agreed to make another "confession" by talking to Brant. Sheeran admitted to committing several murders, including the murder and dismembering of his close friend, former Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa.
"I heard you paint houses," was the first thing Hoffa said to Sheeran when they met. The expression "painting houses" was a criminal euphemism for murder, suggesting the blood that is sprayed on walls when a man is shot and killed.
Some of the story takes place in South Philadelphia, where I was raised and still live, and according to Sheeran, his first "hit' was ordered in a South Philly restaurant by Philadelphia Cosa Nostra boss Angelo Bruno. Bruno simply told Sheeran, "You gotta do what you gotta do."
Sheeran was a World War II veteran, truck driver and small-time crook, who went on to work alongside Hoffa in the International Teamsters. he also committed murder for his Padrone, Russell Bufalino, the Cosa Nostra boss for Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Sheeran offers an inside-story of Hoffa's battles with the union, the mob and the law. The law won and Hoffa was sent to prison. After Hoffa was pardoned by President Nixon he tried to regain control of the union, which ultimately led to his murder by mob bosses who controlled the union. According to Sheeran, Bufalino ordered the murder.
Sheeran told Brant he regretted killing his friend and resorted to drinking heavily afterwards. Although he was long a suspect, he was never arrested for Hoffa's murder. He died in 2003.
Hoffa's murder has been a mystery that has fueled conspiracy buffs for decades. This book answers many questions, but the probelm with I Heard You Paint Houses and many other true crime books, is they are based primarily on the word of a career criminal.
And considering that criminals steal, cheat, kill and lie for a living, one should be skeptical. Sheeran may very well have killed Hoffa, but he offers scant hearsay evidence that Hoffa paid off Nixon for his pardon, and that the mob killed President Kennedy.
But having said that, I found the book to be a good crime story and a compelling tale of betrayal and redemption. These are themes that interest Scorsese and De Niro, so I'm looking forward to the film.
Note: The above column originally appeared at GreatHistory.com. 

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