Birthday: October 25, 1920
Died At Age: 83
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Also Known As: Francis Joseph Sheeran, The Irishman
Born Country: United States
Born in: Darby, Pennsylvania, United States
Notorious As: Teamster
Height: 1.93 m
Spouse/Ex-: Irene Gray (m. 1968), Mary Sheeran (m. 1946 - div. 1968)
father: Thomas Francis Sheeran Jr.
mother: Mary Agnes Hanson
children: Connie Sheeran Griffin, Dolores Miller, MaryAnne Francis Cahill, Peggy Sheeran
Died on: December 14, 2003
place of death: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Who was Frank Sheeran?
Francis Joseph Sheeran, also referred as ‘The Irishman,’ was an Irish-American labour union official recognised as a prominent figure who facilitated organized crime activity into labour unions and who claimed to have killed president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), Jimmy Hoffa. Sheeran, a high-ranking official of IBT served as acting president of Local 326 of IBT in Wilmington, Delaware, and was accused of having connections with the Italian-American Mafia crime family called the Bufalino crime family. He played an instrumental role in corrupting the labour unions by initiating organized crime within its ranks during the 1960s and 1970s. He was found guilty of eleven charges of labour racketeering and was sentenced to thirty-two years in prison and served thirteen years. He later claimed to have killed Hoffa. The narrative nonfiction work of Charles Brandt titled ‘I Heard You Paint Houses’ that chronicles the life of Sheeran mentions his supposed confessions of killing Hoffa and Joe Gallo, however veracity of the book has been disputed by some. The book was later adapted into the Martin Scorsese directed epic crime film ‘The Irishman’ starring Robert De Niro as Sheeran.
Early Life & Military Service
Francis Joseph Sheeran was born on October 25, 1920, in Darby, Pennsylvania, US, in the working-class Irish Catholic family of house painter Thomas Francis Sheeran Jr. and his wife Mary Agnes Hanson. He was of Irish descent from his father’s side and Swedish descent from his mother’s side.
Frank Sheeran got enlisted in the US Army in August 1941 and was delegated to the military police after completion of his basic training near Biloxi, Mississippi. He volunteered to undergo training in the Army Airborne at Fort Benning, Georgia after Japan made the surprise Pearl Harbor attack on December 7 that year. Sheeran however dislocated his shoulder leading to his transfer to the 45th Infantry Division.
He set sail for North Africa on July 14, 1943, and served 411 days of combat duty. Starting from the Italian campaign of Second World War, which included the invasion of Sicily, the Salerno landings, and the Anzio Campaign, Sheeran went on to serve during the landings in southern France and the Western Allied invasion of Germany.
According to Frank Sheeran, he had gone AWOL (absent without official leave) for fifty days during which time he drank red wine and chased French, Italian, and German women; however was never AWOL when his unit returned to the front lines for combat.
He mentioned that he developed callousness in killing people during his war service and claimed that he took part in several acts of massacres and summary executions of German prisoners of war which did not comply with the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 and the 1929 Geneva Convention on POWs. While giving interviews to Charles Brandt, Sheeran categorized these massacres within four brackets – following orders from unit commanders while in a mission, revenge killings during the heat of battle, the Dachau reprisal killings and other reprisal killings of guards and trustee inmates of concentration camps, and deliberate killings to dehumanize and degrade German prisoners of war.
The war ended on September 2, 1945, and after around a month on October 24 Sheeran was discharged from the Army.
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Teamsters Union Official, Organised Crime & Sentencing
Following his stint in the military, Sheeran started working as a meat driver for Food Fair. A couple of years later, he fell on the wrong side of law thrashing two men during a trolley incident. He also worked with local loan sharks in Philadelphia to make some side cash.
In 1955, he happened to meet Russell Bufalino, the Italian-American mobster and future crime boss of the Northeastern Pennsylvania crime family called the Bufalino crime family, when the latter offered Sheeran to help him fix his truck. Sheeran later started working with Bufalino, driving the mobster around and making deliveries, marking the start of Sheeran's role as "the muscle" in Pennsylvania. Sheeran also worked from the bar of Bill Distanisloa in Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania. Distanisloa worked for the Sicilian-American mobster Angelo Bruno.
The gangster Whispers DiTullio hired Frank Sheeran for $10,000 to destroy the Cadillac Linen Service in Delaware while Sheeran was unaware that Bruno had a large stake in the linen service. Sheeran was caught outside the business in Delaware and before things got worse, Bufalino convinced Bruno to spare Sheeran. Bufalino then ordered Sheeran to murder DiTullio, marking the first murder committed by Sheeran. It was also suspected and later claimed by Sheeran that on April 7, 1972, he murdered Italian-American mobster of the Colombo crime family of New York City, Joe Gallo, at Umberto's Clam House following orders of Bufalino.
Meanwhile Bufalino introduced Sheeran to American labour union leader and president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) Jimmy Hoffa. The latter became a close friend of Sheeran and used him for muscle, including intimidating and murdering disloyal union members and members of rival unions who threatened the power structure IBT that kept Hoffa on top. As claimed by Sheeran, during his first telephonic conversation with Hoffa, the latter said "I heard you paint houses". It is a mob code meaning "I heard you kill people" and the word "paint" refers to the blood that splatters after bullets are fired into a body. Impressed by Sheeran’s work Hoffa made him acting president of Local 326 of the IBT in Wilmington, Delaware.
In 1972, Sheeran was charged with the murder of Robert DeGeorge. The latter was killed in a shootout in 1967. The case was eventually dismissed as Sheeran was denied a speedy trial.
In July 1980, Sheeran and 6 others were indicted on charges associating their connections with the labour leasing businesses that were controlled by Eugene Boffa Sr. Sheeran was found guilty of eleven charges of labour racketeering on October 31 that year and given a sentence of 32 years in prison. He served 13 years of his prison term.
In Popular Culture
The 2004 published book ‘I Heard You Paint Houses’, a work of narrative nonfiction by Charles Brandt, gives an overview of the life of Sheeran as an alleged mafia hitman who confessed of working and committing crimes for the Bufalino crime family including claiming of murdering Hoffa and Gallo. During the recorded interviews given by Sheeran to Brandt in a course of almost 5 years, he confessed of handling over 25 hits for the mob and Hoffa.
According to the book, Bufalino ordered Frank Sheeran to kill Hoffa and Sheeran did so knowing that if he refuse he would be killed. Sheeran claimed that he murdered Hoffa by shooting him twice in the back of the head in a house in Metro Detroit. Sheeran mentioned that he was informed that Hoffa was cremated following the murder. Sheeran also confessed to reporters in 1975 that he killed Hoffa, however the blood stains found in the Detroit house where Sheeran claimed to have killed Hoffa were determined not to match the DNA of Hoffa.
The supposed confessions of Sheeran of killing Hoffa and Gallo was disputed by Bill Tonelli in his article ‘The Lies of the Irishman’ that featured in Slate and by Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith in his article “Jimmy Hoffa and 'The Irishman': A True Crime Story?” which featured in The New York Review of Books. Meanwhile FBI continues in its efforts to link Sheeran to Hoffa’s murder by retesting the blood and floorboards with latest forensics tools and technologies.
Brandt’s book on Sheeran became basis of the American epic crime film ‘The Irishman’ directed and produced by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro as Sheeran, Al Pacino as Hoffa, and Joe Pesci as Bufalino. The film premiered at the 57th New York Film Festival on September 27, 2019, and released theatrically on November 1 that year. Digital streaming of the film started via Netflix on November 27 that year.
Family & Personal Life
Frank Sheeran married Irish immigrant Mary Leddy in 1946. They had three daughters together - MaryAnne, Dolores, and Peggy. Sheeran divorced Leddy in 1968 and same year he married Irene Gray. His fourth daughter Connie was born through Irene who died in December 1995.
Frank Sheeran suffered from cancer and succumbed to it in a nursing home in West Chester, Pennsylvania, US, on December 14, 2003. He was interred in Yeadon, Pennsylvania at Holy Cross Cemetery.