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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday, June 18, 2004


Book is ‘whodunit’ for the ages

Memoir of connected teamster published

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 U.S. history.

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 crime.

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.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.