Officially, the disappearance of Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa in 1975 has never been solved. The FBI believes Hoffa was murdered by mobsters, but who was the triggerman? Investigative reporter George Knapp reports the story of a man who says he’s the one who pulled the trigger, even though he and Hoffa were friends. Originally aired on Nov. 14, 2006, on KLAS TV in Las Vegas. Second of 3 Parts.
MYSTERY WIRE – Mafia hitman Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran had a euphemism for murder. Whenever he killed someone, he said “they went to Australia,” meaning, down under the ground.
The murder of Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa was likely related to what the mob was doing with millions of Teamster dollars in Las Vegas.
When he got out of prison, Hoffa announced that he wanted his job back, even though he’d been warned by Mafia associates to back off. The mob was concerned that Hoffa might reveal the connection between Teamster loans to Las Vegas casinos and the cash being skimmed from those casinos.
Hoffa had to go.
On the last day of his life, hours before he was killed, Hoffa placed a frantic call to Las Vegas. An FBI telex shows that he phoned the Dunes Hotel to speak to his lawyer, Morris Shenker, who bought into the Dunes with a Teamster loan of his own. Just a few weeks earlier, Hoffa had visited Las Vegas to meet with Shenker, and with casino owner Moe Dalitz, another recipient of Teamster money.
Hoffa finally agreed to a sit-down with his Mafia nemesis, Tony Provenzano, presumably to work out their differences. They were to meet at the Red Fox restaurant in suburban Detroit. Hoffa insisted that his trusted muscle, Sheeran, be there to back him up.
In mob slang, Sheeran painted houses. That is, he killed people — 25-30 hits in all, most carried out at the orders of Mafia kingpin Russell Bufalino.
“If a guy’s gonna talk about doing something, he’s not gonna say, ‘I’m gonna go out and whack this guy.’ You paint a house,” Sheeran said. The paint is the victim’s blood.
Late in his life, as he was dying of cancer, Sheeran finally told the story about Hoffa’s murder to his longtime lawyer, Charles Brandt.
Brandt’s book, “I Heard You Paint Houses,” is Sheeran’s story of what happened when he got the order to kill Hoffa.
There have been others who’ve claimed knowledge of what happened to Hoffa. Sheeran is the real deal.
According to Brandt: “So they selected Sheeran for the hit and Sheeran said to me, ‘You don’t say no. You don’t say no to Russell Bufalino about anything. If I said no to Russell, Jimmy would be just as dead and I’d have gone to Australia with him.’ He was in a position where he had to do it or he’d have been killed.”
It took years before Sheeran told his lawyer everything about the Hoffa hit. Sheerhan had already been mentioned as a possible suspect in a few Hoffa books. He told Brandt he wanted to tell the truth about that day.
“It gave me chills,” Brandt remembers. “I’m looking at him and I go … ‘He killed Hoffa.’ ”
In interviews recorded on video and audiotape, Sheeran slowly filled in the blanks. He and Brandt retraced the events, starting at the Red Fox restaurant. Sheeran said he was one of three men who arrived in a car to pick up Hoffa, who got into the backseat. The meeting had been moved to a house, they told Hoffa — a house on Beaverland Street, a short distance away. Hoffa walked into the house with Sheeran behind him, and Sheeran put two bullets into the back of Hoffa’s head.
“When he got out of the car at the house and walked in, that’s when he got wacked. Hoffa wasn’t scared of nothing,” Sheeran said.
He is asked: “You were the shooter?”
“That’s right,” Sheeran replied. “The whole thing was over in an hour. They didn’t start looking for him until 6:00 that night. By that time, he was long gone.”
There is plenty to corroborate Sheeran’s story. For one thing, Hoffa was cautious. He wouldn’t have climbed into the car unless someone he knew was there — someone like Sheeran. From the beginning, the FBI considered Sheeran a prime suspect. Agents have tried everything to get him to talk.
When they first searched the car, police dogs detected Hoffa’s scent in the backseat, just where Sheeran said Hoffa sat. Agents also found a human hair, but it wasn’t until 25 years later that DNA testing confirmed it was Hoffa’s hair.
Las Vegas attorney Stan Hunterton wrote and defended the motion that allowed the government to seize the car and preserve the evidence. Hunterton spent years as a strike force prosecutor in Detroit and Las Vegas. He thinks Sheeran’s confession rings true.
“I believe Hoffa was lured into the car we seized. It had to be someone he trusted,” Hunterton said.
“He had to be killed quickly, which means nearby,” he continued. “That’s also consistent with Sheeran’s confession. It may not have happened exactly that way, but I think that’s the gist of it.”
In 2003, days away from dying, Sheeran gave Brandt the okay to go forward with the book. Brandt believes the hitman was trying to reconcile for murdering his friend Jimmy Hoffa.
“He was one of the best men I ever knew,” Sheeran said into the camera.
Is there any other suspect who fits the bill as well as Sheeran?
No one is even close. There was a mob figure named Sal Briguglio who was high on the list of suspects and who was suspected of cooperating with the FBI. He was murdered on a New York sidewalk in 1978. The man who pulled the trigger was Frank Sheeran.
COMING WEDNESDAY: Jimmy Hoffa burned to ashes within hours of death, hitman says — Part 3