Unformatted text preview: Contents
Prologue “Russ & Frank”
Chapter One “They Wouldn’t Dare”
Chapter Two What It Is
Chapter Three Get Yourself Another Punching Bag
Chapter Four Little Egypt University
Chapter Five 411 Days
Chapter Six Doing What I Had to Do
Chapter Seven Waking Up in America
Chapter Eight Russell Bufalino
Chapter Nine Prosciutto Bread and Homemade Wine
Chapter Ten All the Way Downtown
Chapter Eleven Jimmy
Chapter Twelve “I Heard You Paint Houses”
Chapter Thirteen They Didn’t Make a Parachute Big Enough
Chapter Fourteen The Gunman Had No Mask
Chapter Fifteen Respect with an Envelope
Chapter Sixteen Give Them a Little Message
Chapter Seventeen Nothing More Than a Mockery
Chapter Eighteen Just Another Lawyer Now
Chapter Nineteen Tampering with the Very Soul of the Nation
Chapter Twenty Hoffa’s Comedy Troupe
Chapter Twenty-One All He Did for Me Was to Hang Up
Chapter Twenty-Two Pacing in His Cage
Chapter Twenty-Three Nothing Comes Cheap
Chapter Twenty-Four He Needed a Favor and That Was That
Chapter Twenty-Five That Wasn’t Jimmy’s Way
Chapter Twenty-Six All Hell Will Break Loose
Chapter Twenty-Seven July 30, 1975
Chapter Twenty-Eight To Paint a House
Chapter Twenty-Nine Everybody Bleeds
Chapter Thirty “Those Responsible Have Not Gotten Off Scot-Free”
Chapter Thirty-One Under a Vow of Secrecy Afterword
Copyright To my wife,
NANCY POOLE BRANDT,
to my mother,
CAROLINA DIMARCO BRANDT,
and to my father’s memory Acknowledgments
I owe a debt of gratitude to my incredibly beautiful, talented, and wonderful wife, Nancy, who gave
each chapter and each revision a hard, honest, and sensible edit before I sent it to the publisher. While
I was in New York and Philadelphia working on the book Nancy took care of everything else and
gave me daily inspiration, encouragement, and support. On the times Nancy would accompany me to
visit Frank Sheeran, he would light up like a young man. And I owe a deep sense of gratitude for the
encouragement of our supportive children Tripp Wier, Mimi Wier, and Jenny Rose Brandt.
I owe a debt of gratitude to my remarkable mother, who at 89, cooked Italian food for me, put up
with me, and encouraged me during the long weeks I stayed in her Manhattan apartment and sat at my
I owe a debt of gratitude to my dear friend, the publishing icon William G. Thompson—first to
publish both Stephen King and John Grisham—who generously lent his expertise as editorial advisor
in developing and executing the project.
I struck pay dirt when Frank Weimann of the Literary Group agreed to be my agent. Frank took the
project to heart as a piece of history that would otherwise be lost, gave the book its title, and gave
Frank Sheeran a nudge in the right direction for his final taped interview.
A special thanks to the talented Kristin Sperber, editor at Steerforth, who, among other things,
caught me writing like a lawyer from time to time.
When Neil Reshen suggested that my agent contact Steerforth Press we suddenly had my book
accepted by a publisher who is always thinking. Thank you Neil, for steering us to the exceptional
Chip Fleischer and his aide, Helga Schmidt.
Thanks to those writers, such as Dan Moldea, Steven Brill, Victor Riesel, and Jonathon Kwitny,
whose skillful investigative reporting, at risk of physical harm, uncovered and preserved so much of
the history of Jimmy Hoffa, his times, and his disappearance.
Thank you to those agents, investigators, and prosecuting attorneys and their staff whose efforts
created many of the headlines and news stories I consulted.
Thanks to my creative cousin, Carmine Zozzora, for his daily encouragement that kept me focused
when the going was rough and for his wise counsel every bit of the way, especially when I would
bellyache and he would repeat: “Just write the book; the rest will take care of itself.”
A big heap of gratitude to all my superb friends and family who rooted for this book, and to those
pals to whom I repeatedly turned for advice, encouragement, and support, especially Marty Shafran,
Peter Bosch, Steve Simmons, Leo Murray, Gary Goldsmith, Barbara Penna, Rosemary Kowalski, Jeff
Weiner, Tracy Bay, Chris DeCarufel, Jan Miller, Theo Gund, and Molly and Mike Ward. I owe a deep
debt in countless ways to Rob Sutcliffe.
Thanks Lynn Shafran for all your advice, and especially for bringing the late Ted Feury to Nancy
and me. Thank you, Ted, so much.
Thanks to the award-winning illustrator, author, and artist, my friend Uri Shulevitz, who more than
twenty years ago encouraged me to start writing professionally. And a belated thanks to my inspiring eleventh-grade English teacher at Stuyvesant High School in
1957, Edwin Herbst. prologue
“Russ & Frank”
In a summer cottage by a lake in a room full of tearful and anxious members of Jimmy Hoffa’s family,
the FBI found a yellow pad. Hoffa kept the pad next to his phone. On the pad Hoffa had written in
pencil “Russ & Frank.”
“Russ & Frank” were close friends and staunch allies of Jimmy Hoffa. The giant, iron-muscled
Frank was so close and loyal to Jimmy throughout Jimmy’s ordeals with the law and with Bobby
Kennedy that Frank was thought of as family.
On that day by the lake the family in the room feared deep in their souls that only a very close
friend, someone trusted, could have gotten near enough to harm a cautious, vigilant Jimmy Hoffa—a
man who was keenly aware of his deadly enemies. And on that day “Russ & Frank,” mob enforcer
Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran and his godfather, Russell “McGee” Bufalino, became leading
suspects in the most notorious disappearance in American history.
Every book and serious study on the Hoffa disappearance has alleged that Frank “The Irishman”
Sheeran, a staunch Hoffa supporter within the Teamsters, had turned on his friend and mentor. These
studies allege that Sheeran was a conspirator and perpetrator, present when Hoffa was killed, and that
the killing was sanctioned and planned by Russell “McGee” Bufalino. Among these studies are
meticulously researched books, including The Hoffa Wars, by investigative reporter Dan Moldea;
The Teamsters, by Court TV’s founder Steven Brill; and Hoffa, by Professor Arthur Sloane.
On September 7, 2001, more than twenty-six years after the mystery began, a family member who
had been at the cottage by the lake sharing that terrifying time with his mother and his sister held a
press conference. Hoffa’s son, Teamsters President James P. Hoffa, had just had his hopes raised by a
new development in his father’s disappearance. The FBI revealed that a DNA test done on a strand of
hair proved that Jimmy Hoffa had been inside a car long suspected of being used in the crime. Fox
News’s senior correspondent Eric Shawn asked James if his father could have been lured into that car
by several of the other well-known suspects. James shook his head in response to each man on the list
and at the end said, “No, my father didn’t know these people.” When Shawn asked if Frank Sheeran
could have lured his father into the car, James nodded his head and said, “Yes, my father would have
gotten into a car with him.”
In closing his press conference, James expressed to the media his wish that the case would be
solved by a “deathbed confession.” At the time he made this request, Frank Sheeran was the only man
among the original suspects who was still living and sufficiently aged to give a “deathbed
confession.” The press conference took place four days before the tragic events of September 11,
2001. James P.’s scheduled appearance on Larry King Live for the next week was canceled.
A month later, and with the Hoffa story crowded off the front page, Jimmy’s only daughter, Judge
Barbara Crancer, telephoned Frank Sheeran from her chambers in St. Louis. Judge Crancer, in the
manner of her legendary father, got to the point pretty quickly and made a personal appeal to Sheeran
to provide her family closure by telling what he knew about her father’s disappearance. “Do the right thing,” she said to him. Following his attorney’s advice, Sheeran revealed nothing and respectfully
referred Barbara to his counsel.
This wasn’t the first time Judge Barbara Crancer had written or called the Irishman with the aim of
unlocking the secrets in his soul. On March 6, 1995, Barbara had written Frank: “It is my personal
belief that there are many people who called themselves loyal friends who know what happened to
James R. Hoffa, who did it and why. The fact that not one of them has ever told his family—even
under a vow of secrecy—is painful to me. I believe you are one of those people.”
On October 25, 2001, a week after Barbara’s telephone call, Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, then
in his eighties and using a walker to get around, heard a knock on the patio door of his ground-floor
apartment. It was two young FBI agents. They were friendly, relaxed, and very respectful to this man
nearing the end of his life. They were hoping he had softened with age, perhaps even repented. They
were looking for that “deathbed confession.” They said they were too young to remember the case,
but they had read thousands of pages of the file. They were up front about the recent phone call
Sheeran had received from Barbara, telling him straight out they had discussed the call with her. As
he had done repeatedly since July 30, 1975, the day Jimmy disappeared, Sheeran sadly directed the
FBI agents to his lawyer, the former district attorney of Philadelphia, F. Emmett Fitzpatrick, Esq.
Failing to persuade Sheeran to cooperate and give a “deathbed confession,” the FBI announced on
April 2, 2002, that it had turned over its complete, 16,000-page file to the Michigan district attorney
and had released 1,330 pages of that file to the media and to Jimmy Hoffa’s two children. There
would be no federal charges. Finally, after nearly twenty-seven years, the FBI had given up.
On September 3, 2002, almost a year to the day after James P.’s press conference, the State of
Michigan gave up too and closed its file, expressing “continued condolences” to the Hoffa children.
In announcing his decision at a press conference Michigan District Attorney David Gorcyca was
quoted as saying: “Unfortunately, this has the markings of a great ‘whodunit’ novel without the final
chapter.” “I Heard You Paint Houses” is a “whodunit,” but it is not a novel. It is a history based on one-on-one
interviews of Frank Sheeran, most of which were tape-recorded. I conducted the first interview in
1991 at Sheeran’s apartment, shortly after my partner and I were able to secure Sheeran’s premature
release from jail on medical grounds. Immediately after that 1991 session Sheeran had second
thoughts about the interrogative nature of the interview process and terminated it. He had admitted far
more than he was happy with. I told him to get back in touch with me if he changed his mind and was
willing to submit to my questioning.
In 1999 Sheeran’s daughters arranged a private audience for their aging and physically disabled
father with Monsignor Heldufor of St. Dorothy’s Church in Philadelphia. Sheeran met with the
monsignor, who granted Sheeran absolution for his sins so that he could be buried in a Catholic
cemetery. Frank Sheeran said to me: “I believe there is something after we die. If I got a shot at it, I
don’t want to lose that shot. I don’t want to close the door.”
Following his audience with the monsignor, Sheeran contacted me, and at Sheeran’s request I
attended a meeting at his lawyer’s office. At the meeting Sheeran agreed to submit to my questioning,
and the interviews began again and continued for four years. I brought to the interview process my
experiences as a former homicide and death penalty prosecutor, a lecturer on cross-examination, a student of interrogation, and the author of several articles on the U.S. Supreme Court’s exclusionary
rule regarding confessions. “You’re worse than any cop I ever had to deal with,” Sheeran said to me
I spent countless hours just hanging around with the Irishman, meeting alleged mob figures, driving
to Detroit to locate the scene of the Hoffa disappearance, driving to Baltimore to find the scene of
two underworld deliveries made by Sheeran, meeting with Sheeran’s lawyer, and meeting his family
and friends, intimately getting to know the man behind the story. I spent countless hours on the phone
and in person, prodding and picking away at the storehouse of material that formed the basis of this
More often than not, the first rule in a successful interrogation is to have faith that the subject truly
wants to confess, even when he is denying and lying. This was the case with Frank Sheeran. The
second rule is to keep the subject talking, and that was never a problem with the Irishman either. Let
the words flow and the truth finds its own way out.
Some part of Frank Sheeran had been wanting to get this story off his chest for a long time. In 1978
there had been a controversy about whether Sheeran had confessed over the phone, perhaps while he
was under the influence of alcohol, to Steven Brill, author of The Teamsters. The FBI believed
Sheeran had confessed to Brill and pressured Brill for the tape. Dan Moldea, author of The Hoffa
Wars, wrote in an article that over breakfast at a hotel, Brill told Moldea he possessed a taperecorded confession from Sheeran. But Brill, perhaps wisely to keep from becoming a witness in
need of protection, denied it publicly in the New York Times.
Accordingly, throughout most of the arduous interview process, an effort was made to protect and
preserve Sheeran’s rights, so that his words would not constitute a legally admissible confession in a
court of law.
As the book was written, Frank Sheeran read and approved each chapter. He then re-read and
approved the entire manuscript.
On December 14, 2003, Frank Sheeran died. Six weeks earlier, during his final illness, he gave me
a final recorded interview from his hospital bed. He told me that he had made his confession and
received communion from a visiting priest. Deliberately omitting the use of any protective legal
language, Frank Sheeran faced a video camera for his “moment of truth.” He held up a copy of “I
Heard You Paint Houses” and stood behind all the material in the book you are about to read,
including his role in what happened to Jimmy Hoffa on July 30, 1975.
The following day, a week or so before he lost his strength and stamina, Frank Sheeran asked me to
pray with him, to say the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary with him, which we did together.
Ultimately, Frank Sheeran’s words are admissible in the court of public opinion and so to be
judged by you, the reader, as part of the history of the past century.
The thread of this story is Frank Sheeran’s unique and fascinating life. The witty Irishman was
raised a devout Catholic and was a tough child of the Great Depression; a combat-hardened hero of
World War II; a high-ranking official in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters; a man alleged by
Rudy Giuliani in a Civil RICO suit to be “acting in concert with” La Cosa Nostra’s ruling
commission—one of only two non-Italians on Guiliani’s list of twenty-six top mob figures, which
included the sitting bosses of the Bonnano, Genovese, Colombo, Luchese, Chicago, and Milwaukee
families as well as various underbosses; a convicted felon, mob enforcer, and legendary stand-up
guy; and a father of four daughters and a beloved grandfather.
Because of all that was positive in Frank Sheeran’s complex life, including his military service and
his love for his children and grandchildren, as a pallbearer I helped to carry the Irishman’s green coffin draped with an American flag to his final resting place. Here is the final chapter of the Hoffa tragedy, a crime that has hurt and haunted everyone connected
with it, including those who carried it out, but a crime that has especially hurt and haunted the family
of Jimmy Hoffa in their effort to lay to rest their father’s fate. Author’s Note: The portions of this book in Frank Sheeran’s voice, derived from hundreds of hours of
interviews, are indicated by quote marks. Some sections and some chapters written by me add critical
detail and background information. chapter one “They Wouldn’t Dare”
“I asked my boss, Russell “McGee” Bufalino, to let me call Jimmy at his cottage by the lake. I was
on a peace mission. All I was trying to do at that particular time was keep this thing from happening
I reached out for Jimmy on Sunday afternoon, July 27, 1975. Jimmy was gone by Wednesday, July
30. Sadly, as we say, gone to Australia—down under. I will miss my friend until the day I join him.
I was at my own apartment in Philly using my own phone when I made the long-distance call to
Jimmy’s cottage at Lake Orion near Detroit. If I had been in on the thing on Sunday I would have used
a pay phone, not my own phone. You don’t survive as long as I did by making calls about important
matters from your own phone. I wasn’t made with a finger. My father used the real thing to get my
While I was in my kitchen standing by my rotary wall phone getting ready to dial the number I knew
by heart, I gave some consideration to just how I was going to approach Jimmy. I learned during my
years of union negotiations that it always was best to review things in your mind first before you
opened your mouth. And besides that, this call was not going to be an easy one.
When he got out of jail on a presidential pardon by Nixon in 1971, and he began fighting to reclaim
the presidency of the Teamsters, Jimmy became very hard to talk to. Sometimes you see that with guys
when they first get out. Jimmy became reckless with his tongue—on the radio, in the papers, on
television. Every time he opened his mouth he said something about how he was going to expose the
mob and get the mob out of the union. He even said he was going to keep the mob from using the
pension fund. I can’t imagine certain people liked hearing that their golden goose would be killed if
he got back in. All this coming from Jimmy was hypocritical to say the least, considering Jimmy was
the one who brought the so-called mob into the union and the pension fund in the first place. Jimmy
brought me into the union through Russell. With very good reason I was concerned for my friend more
than a little bit.
I started getting concerned about nine months before this telephone call that Russell was letting me
make. Jimmy had flown out to Philly to be the featured speaker at Frank Sheeran Appreciation Night
at the Latin Casino. There were 3,000 of my good friends and family, including the mayor, the district
attorney, guys I fought in the war with, the singer Jerry Vale and the Golddigger Dancers with legs that
didn’t quit, and certain other guests the FBI would call La Cosa Nostra. Jimmy presented me with a
gold watch encircled with diamonds. Jimmy looked at the guests on the dais and said, “I never
realized you were that strong.” That was a special comment because Jimmy Hoffa was one of the two
greatest men I ever met.
Before they brought the dinner of prime rib, and when we were getting our pictures taken, some
little nobody that Jimmy was in jail with asked Jimmy for ten grand for a business venture. Jimmy
reached in his pocket and gave him $2,500. That was Jimmy—a soft touch. Naturally, Russell Bufalino was there. He was the other one of the two greatest men that I ever met.
Jerry Vale sang Russ’s favorite song, “Spanish Eyes,” for him. Russell was boss of the Bufalino
family of upstate Pennsylvania, and large parts of New York, New Jersey, and Florida. Being
headquartered outside New York City, Russell wasn’t in the inner circle of New York’s five families,
but all the families came to him for advice on everything. If there was any important matter that
needed taking care of, they gave the job to Russell. He was respected throughout the country. When
Albert Anastasia got shot in the barber’s chair in ...
View Full Document
- Spring '14
- Teamsters, Jimmy Hoffa