Book is ‘whodunit’ for the ages
Memoir of connected teamster published
By DANA DUGAN
Express Staff Writer
Even for people not interested in the
history of the Teamsters and the Mafia, "I Heard You Paint Houses" is a
fascinating book. It reads as a memoir. Incredible conversations are recorded
between some of the more infamous crime bosses of the past 70 years. Written by
former Sun Valley resident Charles Brandt, the book is subtitled "Frank ‘The
Irishman’ Sheeran & the Inside Story of the Mafia, the Teamsters, & the Last
Ride of Jimmy Hoffa."
Brandt will be in town later this summer
for a book signing at Chapter One Bookstore in Ketchum.
Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran talks with
Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa in this book jacket photo for "I Heard You Paint
Houses" by Charles Brandt.
As subjects go, it all seems so long ago.
After all, Hoffa, once called the second most powerful man in the country after
the president by Bobby Kennedy, disappeared in 1975. But who killed him and what
happened to his body has remained one of the more intriguing mysteries in modern
Now, "I Heard You Paint Houses" reveals
the conclusion of the nearly 30-year-old conundrum. This account is based on
Brandt’s multiple interviews with Sheeran before he died late last year. Six
weeks before his death, Sheeran posed with the finished book in a video tape
standing by all the material in the book.
Brandt researched and cross-checked
everything Sheeran told him. Interspersed are Brandt’s own words illuminating
what was happening at the time of certain relationships. Sheeran seems to have
had excellent recall. He was a decorated war hero who was on the front lines for
all four years of World War II with a near record of 411 active combat days. He
learned how to take care of himself from his gritty upbringing in Philadelphia
in the Depression, while in combat and later struggling to make a buck post war.
Sheeran was a big beefy guy in a world populated by shorter dark Italians.
One time a Teamster organizer named Bill
Isabel tells Hoffa, "I’ve never seen a man walk straight through a crowd of
people like the Irishman does and never touch a single person. Everybody
automatically parts out of the way. It’s like Moses parting the Red Sea."
Sheeran was a truck driver, cargo loader,
dance teacher, muscle during the violent early union days, a fairly faulty
husband and father, a red wine drinker and an intimate of the legendary crime
boss Russell Buffalino as well as Hoffa. And Sheeran was, not incidentally, a
very discreet and successful hit man,
Eventually, Sheeran, who was made head of
the Teamsters local in Wilmington, Del., became one of only two non-Italians on
the FBI’s famous La Cosa Nostra list.
Sheeran reveals some justly shocking
facts, including his own actions just prior to President Kennedy’s assassination
and how his death effectively squelched his brother’s crusade against organized
He also introduces us to some colorful
turns of phrase. The title of the book, "I Heard You Paint Houses," is mob-speak
for "I understand you’re a hit man." If you answer this phrase with "I also
clean up after myself," it means that you dispose of the body as well.
Going to school means doing prison time;
if someone is going to Australia, it means they’re going down under…or being
killed. No one ever commands someone to kill a person. They instead say, "Go see
this guy, tell him what it is." That is the warning—what it is. After that, if
they don’t see what it is, they go to Australia with the help of someone who
paints houses. Hoffa’s first words to Sheeran were "I heard you paint houses."
His story would be just as interesting if
he hadn’t been involved in big doings. It doesn’t matter. The slice of an
American life is riveting. Rarely is such a story told in first person with such
a high degree of literacy, feel for place, time and atmosphere.
Granted, a morally squeamish person may
not appreciate this tale. It’s filled with all sorts of horrors. For those with
an open mind, the build-up to Hoffa’s disappearance is like watching a good film
noir, that happens to be true.