Frank Sheeran - "I Heard You Paint Houses"

A few years ago a friend from the States visited me and told me an incredible story about his father meeting Tony “Pro” Provenzano, a Genovese capo and then international vice president of the (Brotherhood of) Teamsters, the big blue collar labor union. Tony Pro had asked him to help him get some cargo out of the country to Canada without the proper paperwork. The cargo consisted of a few oil drums - just as speculation flooded the streets of what had happened to Jimmy Hoffa, who had disappeared mysteriously. One of the theories was - no surprise - that the body was shipped out of the country in empty oil drums.

Based on the dry and factual account of Frank Sheeran, trusted man of Jimmy Hoffa, it’s highly unlikely it happened that way, but you never know. In “I heard you paint houses“, a euphemisms for a professional hit man, Sheeran confesses he killed his boss, mentor and best friend, and he suspected that the body was taken to a mafia crematorium and “processed”.
Why did Sheeran kill his mentor and friend? Because he was his mentor and friend. No one in the mob trusts a stranger in his vicinity, so the hit had to be done by someone close to you. It also involved some kinky code of honor. you didn’t make a hit when family or kids were in the vicinity. No Pacino-esque “meet my little friend”, but “Hi” and the kill was done.

The book gives a unique insight in a world so utterly strange to the most of us it has become a world of weird fantasy and nonsensical speculation for most people. Sheeran does a fine job telling his own story, interrupted every now and then by Brandt for some background. No heroism, just business as usual. For the inattentive reader it could well be that you’re halfway the book and start to realize Sheeran is talking about killing dozens of people. No theater, no spectacle, just good old business pals taking care of business of a different kind.

The Hoffa kill is just a small part of the book describing the road Sheeran walked to become as casual killing people as he describes it to us. His youth and wartime experience were a big factor, but it’s also clear that Sheeran was drawn into the business to get away from a lousy existence as bad father and husband, drunk and dozens missed opportunities. It’s Russel Bufalino, the Pennsylvania boss, who discovers Sheeran, standing over 6 foot is a sturdy bodyguard and extremely loyal executive right hand. He remains his godfather till the very end.

Large parts of the book gives us insight in the shared hatred for the Kennedy family, especially Robert Kennedy. One of the reasons is not so much the fact that Bobby Kennedy tried to eradicate the mafia, but because his family broke the rules of the game. In the Mafia’s opinion father Kennedy had become rich due to illegal activities during the Probation, but now he betrayed the people who had made him rich by allowing his sons to go after them. There’s also a hint that Hoffa was responsible for the murder on JFK, but the evidence is hardly convincing. Sheeran also tells the story about transferring large sums of money to Attorney General John Mitchell to make Nixon pardon Hoffa. I wonder if that’s true, although Richard Nixon did pardon Hoffa..

As said before, Sheeran’s account is about “business as usual”. How “usual” was the “business”? The closing chapters containing the Hoffa hit gives us a view of how usual. Sheeran explains that a hit is no sloppy job. It’s always a detailed and pre-planned action with dozens of people involved who often don’t know each other. the same goes for the murder on Hoffa. Russel Bufalino calls Sheeran about Hoffa. No words are spilled, and nothing explicit is said. Sheeran knwos what he has to do, telling the story without a hint of drama. Bufalino drives Sheeran in his limo to an Ohio airstrip where a plane is waiting. When Sheeran gets on the plane, Bufalino dozes off. Upon returning Sheeran finds him still asleep. Waking up, Bufalino tells Sheeran, my Irish Friend, that he hoped Sheeran had a pleasant flight. On which Sheeran answers: “And I hope you had a good sleep.”