Jimmy Hoffa case exclusive
Eric Shawn investigates ‘The Irishman,’ Frank Sheeran
EXCLUSIVE – It started, and ended, on this day 43 years ago.
It was a hot July afternoon, nearly 92 degrees, when Teamsters president and labor icon Jimmy Hoffa is said to have opened the rear door of a 1975 maroon Mercury in the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox restaurant, in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan., and climbed in.
He was never more seen.
The FBI has expended countless resources in the ensuing decades, in the hope of finally solving this enduring American mystery with no success.
But I am of the opinion, based on my 2004 investigation, that Frank Sheeran did it.
“Suspects Outside of Michigan: Francis Joseph “Frank” Sheeran, age 43, president of local 326, Wilmington, Delaware. Lives in Philadelphia and is known associate of Russel Bufalino, La Cosa Nostra Chief, Eastern Pennsylvania,” reads the 1976 HOFFEX memo, the compilation of everything the researchers knew about Hoffa’s disappearance, that was prepared on a high level, secret conference of the FBI headquarters, six months after he is gone.
Sheeran, known as “The Irishman,” told me that he drove with Hoffa to a nearby house where he shot him twice in the back of the head. Our research then led to the confirmation, the suspected blood evidence on the wooden floor and through the hallway of the house, which provides support for Frank’s story.
No one who has ever boasted about knowing what really happened to Jimmy Hoffa have their claims tested, examined and then confirmed by independently discovered evidence… except Frank.
He is also the only one of the FBI’s ten suspects who has ever come forward and talked openly about the deaths, let alone admit involvement.
Every other claim you’ve ever heard of Hoffa is buried in the end zone of the Giants Stadium is buried under a strip of asphalt of the highway somewhere, came from people who never on the bureau’s list of people suspected of actual involvement.
For that reason, Frank stands alone.
Six weeks after Hoffa disappeared, Frank, along with the other suspects, was summoned to appear before the Detroit grand jury investigating the case. He took the Fifth.
When I met him in the spring of 2001, Frank, free-spoken.
My meeting with Frank was arranged so that I could take his measure, and he mine, for a possible in-depth research, interviews and news story about his claims. He was accompanied by his former lawyer Charlie Brandt, the author of Frank the then-proposed biography, which tells the Hoffa story. Charlie was able to spring Frank from a Mafia-related federal extortion, imprisonment, and for that reason was taken into Frank’s confidence.
It would be three years before the book, “I Hear You Paint Houses: Frank ‘The Irishman’ Sheeran And Closing The Case On Jimmy Hoffa” would be published by Steerforth Press, and for the first time of my many stories about Frank, and our investigation, would air on television.
His story is this: He and others were ordered by the Mafia to kill Hoffa to prevent him from trying to run again for the presidency of the Teamsters union. Hoffa had resigned after serving prison time for jury tampering, attempted bribery and fraud convictions. Frank picked Hoffa up at the restaurant, in the company of two others, to supposedly drive Hoffa to a mob meeting. When they walked into the empty house, along with Frank a step behind Hoffa, he raised his gun at point-blank range and fired two deadly shots into his unsuspecting target, he turned and left. He said that the body was then dragged down the hall by two awaiting accomplices, and that he later told Hoffa was cremated in a mob-connected funeral home.
Frank had an imposing, old-school gangster way about him that even his advanced age-he was 80 — does not betray. His menacing aura was not diminished by a severe form of arthritis that crippled him so badly that he bent over when he slowly walked with two canes, who are struggling to get one foot in front of the other.
I found Frank tough, determined, steely.
As I listened to his matter-of-fact recounting of what he said went on in that house, and giving such details I remember of what he said could actually be true.
Here is why:
There is no doubt that Frank was a close confidant of Hoffa, someone who Hoffa trusted. And Hoffa didn’t trust very much.
Frank was a long-time top Teamsters Union official in Delaware as an admitted Bufalino crime family hit-man and top assistant of the boss himself.
The FBI admits that Frank was “known in the Detroit area at the time of JRH disappearance, and is considered to be a good friend of JRH,” if the HOFFEX memo states.
Hoffa’s son, current Teamsters President James P. Hoffa, told me that in September 2001, that his father would have gotten in the car with Frank. He said that his father would not have taken that drive with a number of other FBI suspects who I called.
Frank, in the book, says that he was sitting in the passenger seat of the car as a subtle warning for Hoffa, who usually sat there. He felt a deep friendship and loyalty to Hoffa, yet knew what his fate would be if he did not carry out the lethal order from his mob masters. So he sat on the passenger seat, hoping Hoffa would realize something was wrong. He did not.
The FBI found “a single three-inch brown hair . . . in the back seat rest of the car that matches Hoffa, and three dogs picked up “a strong indication of the JRH scents in the rear seat.”
I asked Frank if he remembered how to get to the house. I thought that finding out where Hoffa was killed, and the investigation of everything about the house, can be the key to the case. Frank rattled off the directions from the restaurant and a description of the house is the interior layout.
AMERICAN labor leader Jimmy Hoffa is photographed at the Greater Pittsburgh Airport in the state of Pennsylvania, in this April 12, 1971.
Murderers may not remember an exact address from a murder scene, but they never forget how they got there and what they did when they arrived.
“Sheeran gave us the directions,” Charlie wrote in the book. “This was the first time he had ever turned out the directions to me. His deepened voice and a hard attitude was to chill out, when, for the first time ever, he declared publicly to someone other than me, that he had shot Jimmy Hoffa.”
A year after our meeting, Charlie and Frank drove to Detroit to try to find the house, and when they did Frank pointed it at Charlie. They don’t go in.
Three years later, in 2004, I, along with producer Ed Barnes and Charlie first stepped foot in the lobby, where Frank said he shot Hoffa, looked around the first floor and it turned out, Frank’s description fit the interior of a tee.
Ed and I arranged with the homeowners to actually take to the foyer and hall floor and remove the press-on vinyl floor tiles that they had put down over the original hardwood floors when they bought the house in 1989.
We hired a forensic team of retired Michigan state police investigators try to find any blood evidence. They sprayed the chemical luminol on the floors, which detectives routinely use to detect the presence of blood.
We have found it.
The testing showed a specific pattern of blood evidence, laid out like a map below of the instructions for the america’s most infamous unsolved murder. Small yellow numbered tags were placed throughout the first floor entrance and the hall, on the occasion of each place where the researchers test yielded positive hits.
The pattern definitely told the story of how Hoffa was killed.
The largest amount of positive hits were found right next to the front door, where Hoffa’s bleeding head would hit the floor.
Seven tags lined the narrow hallway to the rear of the kitchen, the mark of the drops that perfectly mimic Frank the story of Hoffa’s lifeless body being dragged to the kitchen by the two waiting minions, who then stuffed it in a body bag and carried him to the back kitchen door.
We will arrange for the Oakland County parquet remove the floor boards for DNA testing by the FBI, but Oakland County prosecutor David Gorcyca warned that it would be “a miracle” if Hoffa’s DNA was recovered.
I knew that opportunity. A DNA hit was a long shot.
The experts said that such small samples of genetic material broken off by the passage of 29 years and the exposure to air and the elements under a homeowner heavily traded basis, would probably not be sufficiently material to result in a DNA match.
The FBI lab report says that chemical tests were performed on 50 specimens; 28 tested positive for the presence of blood and DNA was only recovered from two samples.
The FBI in comparison with what was recovered to the DNA from a known strand of Hoffa’s hair. A sample was found to be “of male origin,” but it was not certain from whom. The result was “largely unclear.”
I Was disappointed that a DNA match was not possible? Yes. Was I surprised? No. I think this is refuted Frank’s claim? No.
Think about it.
What are the chances of a random house in America testing positive for traces of blood of more than two dozen samples, in the exact pattern that confirms a man’s murder confession?
What would luminol reveal under your own floor?
There are other reasons to believe why Frank’s scenario fits.
The house was probably empty on that fateful summer day. It was built in the 1920’s and owned for five decades by a single woman, Martha Sellers, a teacher and a department store employee. In the summer of 1975, Sellers was in the ‘ 80s, and not even living there full-time. Her family told The Detroit News and Free Press, which they had bought another home in Plymouth, Mich., where she would move permanently the next year.
Frank says that a man who he called “a real estater” lived in the house. The Sellers family is reminded that the border, which they reminded us stayed in a upstairs bedroom. He was described as “a shadowy figure . . . that would disappear. He never said more than a few words and they know nothing about him, not even his name.”
It is quite possible that “the real estater,” was the link between the house and the Detroit mob, which is an empty house if required, when sales staff was absent, for whatever purpose…including using it as a Mafia hit house to the murder of Jimmy Hoffa.
The FBI believed Sheeran had credibility. Agents visited him in his last years, in an unsuccessful attempt to secure his cooperation.
While we are conducting our research in Detroit in 2004, the FBI, I was told, tried to enter the house, even before we aired our story.
And the views of those closest to Jimmy Hoffa, his son and daughter seem to be particularly relevant in the assessment of Frank’s credibility.
Not only is James P. Hoffa confirm that his father would have driven out with Frank, but his sister, Hoffa’s daughter, Barbara Crancer, wrote Frank a poignant letter begging him to come clean about their father’s fate.
In the one-page heartfelt note, handwritten Frank on March 5, 1995, she wrote:
“It is my personal belief that there are many people who called themselves faithful 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 for me…”
She stresses: “I believe that you are one of those people.”
Crancer confirmed to me that she wrote that letter.
Unfortunately for the Hoffa family, Frank never directly honored her request. When I was with him, he said that his Number 1 priority was not to go back to “college”, what means that the prison. He decided that the best way to avoid that possibility, while also revealing his story, was sharing his secrets for the book and my reporting.
Frank died on Dec. 14, 2003. He was 83.
While the authorities no doubt will continue to respond to more tips, as it should be, I believe that we all know what happened to Jimmy Hoffa.
James R. Hoffa (left) with his son, James P. Hoffa, at a testimonial dinner in 1965.
(Library of Congress)
Frank described the most precise and credible scenario yet to be told, and the evidence that we find of the floor, a back-up of his confession.
In the more than four years ago, Hoffa’s life and legacy as a central part of the American labor movement has been somewhat overshadowed by his disappearance. But it seems clear that the organized crime bosses did not want him to resume the mantle of the Teamster presidency, and went to the ultimate length, by Sheeran, to prevent his return.
Today Hoffa’s union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents 1.4 million workers and is still run by his son. Three years ago, a milestone was celebrated in the attempts to shed a specter of possible organised crime. In 2015, Federal Judge Loretta Preska approved the Ministry of Justice and union agreement which put an end to the U.S. government oversight of the Teamsters that had lasted for more than 25 years.
The U. S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York in the time, Preet Bharara, said that the union had made “significant progress” in “bevrijden…de the influence of the organised crime and corruption,” although he warned that “the threat…persists.”
Hoffa called it “a historic agreement…our union is committed to the democratic process, and we can proudly declare that corrupt elements have been driven from the Teamsters.”
Unfortunately, it was those corrupt elements who took the life of his father when he tried to take back his of the union.
“Jimmy Hoffa raised millions of workers and their families out of poverty and into the middle class,” noted the Teamsters Union in a statement to Fox News.
“He gave his life during the fighting to remove the corrupt elements of the union and the power back to the members. This tragic anniversary is particularly difficult for his family who lost a father, and his grandfather much too fast. They want nothing more than the closure that they so deserve.”
Frank’s story is told in a major film, “The Irishman,” starring Robert De Niro as Frank and directed by Martin Scorsese. Tribeca Films, and Sikelia Productions, in co-operation with Netflix, will this story to the big screen and the streaming service at the beginning of the year 2019. Al Pacino and Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel are taught also a role, the uniting of the legendary actors of the genre in a latest mob film. I am proud of the impressions of the film idea, which will no doubt become an iconic motion picture.
Follow Eric Shawn on Twitter: @EricShawnTV