Murder, the mob, and Las Vegas casinos. Sounds like the makings of a movie, but this real life mystery revolves around the question: Who killed Jimmy Hoffa? A prosecutor with insight into the murder of the Teamsters boss tells investigative reporter George Knapp about a Mafia hitman’s deathbed confession. Originally aired on Nov. 13, 2006, on KLAS TV in Las Vegas. First of 3 Parts.
MYSTERY WIRE — From the mid-‘50s through the mid-‘70s, Jimmy Hoffa was a rock star of organized labor, as well known as Elvis or the Beatles. His rapid ascent through the ranks of the Teamsters Union was made possible, in part, by friendships Hoffa forged with high ranking organized crime figures across the country. They helped keep Hoffa in power. In return, he allowed the mob to use the Teamsters pension fund as its own bank.
Tens of millions of dollars were loaned to mob owned casinos in Las Vegas.
“But for Jimmy Hoffa, I don’t think any of this would have happened,” former homicide investigator Charles Brandt says, referring to casinos that grew thanks to Teamsters money.
Brandt, also an author and former prosecutor, thinks Hoffa probably deserves a statue in Las Vegas because of what the pension fund loans meant to the town, even though the loans came with strings attached. The casinos that took the loans allowed the gangsters to skim millions of dollars as part of the deal.
Like the rest of the country, Brandt is fascinated by the disappearance of Hoffa in 1975. But unlike most, Brandt says he knows what happened on that fateful day. The man who killed Hoffa, he says, is former Teamsters official Frank Sheeran.
Brandt knows because Sheeran told him, as detailed in Brandt’s book, “I Heard You Paint Houses.”
In 1967, Hoffa had become president of the Teamsters and he needed some muscle. He contacted mob boss Russell Bufalino, one of his closest allies in the Mafia. Bufalino put Sheeran on the phone, and the first words that Hoffa uttered to Sheeran were, “I heard you paint houses.”
“That means you kill people,” Brandt explains. “The paint is the blood that spatters on the floor. And Sheeran said, ‘I do my own carpentry work, too.’ That means you dispose of the bodies.”
Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, a mountain of a man, was a professional killer who worked mostly for Bufalino, one of the top mafia bosses in the country. In the 1970s, Sheeran was listed as one of the only non-Italian La Cosa Nostra figures in the U.S.
In all, Sheeran is believed to have murdered more than two dozen people. Sheeran was the Luca Brasi to Bufalino’s Don Corleone.
When Bufalino told Sheeran to report to work for Hoffa, Sheeran says he started doing hits on behalf of the Teamsters. As a thank you, Hoffa created a Teamsters local in Delaware and put Sheeran in charge. Sheeran and Hoffa became very close.
“He became Hoffa’s trusted East Coast guy,” Brandt says. “He traveled with Hoffa. They did an awful lot together.”
Brandt says, “Sheerhan loved Hoffa.”
“Sheerhan said to me that when it’s time for you to go, they’ll send your best friend. You’ll be talking about a football bet, and the next thing you know, you’ll be dead. And they selected Sheeran to kill Hoffa because at the time Hoffa was very leery. He knew he had enemies that wanted him dead.”
Hoffa was sent to prison for jury tampering and planned a return to power upon his release. According to Brandt, Hoffa arranged a $500,000 bribe to the Nixon administration, money that was skimmed from Las Vegas casinos and delivered to Nixon’s attorney general, John Mitchell, by none other than Frank Sheeran. Nixon then pardoned Hoffa.
But rival Frank Fitzsimmons had become Teamsters president and wouldn’t step aside for Hoffa. The mob was concerned that the headstrong Hoffa might spill the beans about the dirty loans to Las Vegas casinos, so Bufalino and others decided Hoffa had to go. They gave the job to Sheeran.
At the end of Sheeran’s life, as he was dying of cancer, he made a confession to Brandt — on tape.
“There is no question Frank Sheeran was telling me the truth,” Brandt says.