“The Irishman”: the true story of the truck driver, mafia member and hitman who plays Robert De Niro

The new Martin Scorsese film, released in some rooms and available since yesterday on Netflix, recovers a dark figure like that of Frank Sheeran, the gangster who claims to have liquidated the trade union leader Jimmy Hoffa and capo Joe Gallo

Frank Sheeran was a fighter in World War II, then a truck driver, mafia member, convict, hitman, father of four daughters and devoted grandfather.

He was one of the few non-Italians who moved comfortably in the underworld of the mafia of the 50s and 60s. Between last names like Bufalino, Provenzano, Colombo, Bonnano, Genovese, Luchese and Gallo, Sheeran did his job. Of 26 names of gangsters who handled justice at one time, he was the only Irishman, the only one without Italian descent. He was climbing positions on the criminal ladder. He started chauffeur. At the time, their work extended to those of valijero and hitman. Effective and discreet, he won places quickly.

The mention of Frank Sheeran’s past as a soldier in World War II is relevant. Not only because of what it produces, because of the indelible sediment that such a contest leaves over a person, not just because he used it to guard against death. Sheeran said that much of what happened next in his life he could do for everything he learned on the battlefield. And we do not talk about driving trucks that were his main job in the first years after the return of Europe ( peace times cannot be used in the life of Sheeran: he was always at war).

Frank Sheeran confessed to committing two crimes on commission: that of truck driver leader Jimmy Hoffa and that of gangster Joe Gallo

Although it looks like a truism, in war, Sheeran learned to kill, got used to killing. And in his memoirs he recounted some specific situations in which confrontation with the enemy was not the norm, it did not refer to the vicissitudes of a battle. When a German killed one of his companions, at the time of the surrender of the enemy, already unarmed, he killed him in cold blood. Upon entering Dachau, seeing the atrocious picture, the American soldiers according to Sheeran, unloaded their stupor and their thirst for revenge with the Nazi guards that were still there, trying not to leave any alive. He also acknowledged killing several prisoners of war.

That is why he says that when he had to commit his first commissioned crime by order of a mob boss, he already had experience in the matter. At least on that occasion, he obtained some economic revenue.

Frank Sheeran said he killed between 25 and 30 people in his long career in the underworld. But two of those killings were the most famous. nd it is for them, or at least for having attributed the authorship of those two crimes, that we know of him. Otherwise, he would be one of the many mafia soldiers, without greater merit than his loyalty and his persistence in the illegal; nothing too strange, nothing too special in the area in which he moved.

Frank Sheeran did not resemble Robert De Niro, the actor who plays him in The Irish, the new Martin Scorsese movie released in some theatres and available since yesterday on Netflix. He was taller and burly, with brown hair and a small, pointed nose, perhaps the only delicate feature of his physiognomy. The face was square, with a strong jaw and a hard and somewhat jaded look. His work as a truck driver allowed him to meet Bufalino, head of a mafia family and also Jimmy Hoffa, a union leader. From that moment, oscillating in the relationship with both of them warped his later life in the field of the illegal and criminal. It was not strange. The mafia and the unions (especially Hoffa truckers) were intertwined.

A discussion that is renewed with each film based on historical facts: what is the attachment to the truth of the past and what are the licenses that screenwriters take to tell the facts. In this case, that debate is more sterile than usual. Scorsese does not claim to be faithful to strict historical events. He (and his notable screenwriter Steven Zaillian) tell the facts according to the vision of Sheeran, the Irish. It is his point of view and his narrative that are imposed. “I don’t care too much about the truth of what happened with Hoffa. What matters is not that. But that world, the characters, the way they behave and the vision of this man, ”Scorsese said a few weeks ago.

The film is based on Sheeran’s memories, on how this character from the trade union and mafia life of the second half of the last century narrated his life to the journalist Charles Brandt

The title of the book comes from a very particular dialogue that Sheeran had with Jimmy Hoffa the first time they spoke on the phone. They told me that you painted houses (I heard you paint houses). This is what the book is called and that is what the trade unionist would have said. According to Sheeran, that phrase contained a code, an encrypted message. In mafia jargon, it meant that he was someone willing to kill on demand. Painting houses was a euphemism that arose from the blood pool left in a house after the victim was shot to death.

But, according to the experts, from the title, we must distrust the version of the story that Sheeran offers. No former mafia member or any specialist has heard that phrase before in his life.

The first unresolved crime that the Irish claimed was that of Joe Gallo, a mobster with a long history of deaths behind and a reputation for being wild. They called him Crazy Joe.

He has attributed among others the murder of the leader of the Anastasia family. On his 43rd birthday, Gallo was celebrating with his family in a busy restaurant, Umberto’s Clam House, of Little Italy, Manhattan, when he was shot to death. They were times of fights between the families of the mafia and complicated successions. Some lives were worthless. Gallo and his boldness had become very dangerous and someone thought it was best to get him out of the way.

Three impacts hit his body as he ate with his back to the door. As he could Gallo took a table and used it as a shield to try to leave the room full. There were more than 20 shots. Many argue that he did that, with his last strength, to take away the shots of his family. When he reached the sidewalk he was lying, dying, on the floor. He died in the car that took him to the hospital.

Joe Gallo, also known as Crazy Joe, was a New York-based Profaci family gangster who started the Columbo Wars, one of the bloodiest conflicts in the history of organized crime

Here, as is often the case in these types of stories, the versions fork and contradict each other. A kind of Rashomon with characters from Cosa Nostra. While investigators and some witnesses argue that it was three people who shot at the mafia wayward, others speak of a single attacker. A murder in broad daylight, in a crowded place of people and no one, could determine if those who shot were three, four or only one. In his memoirs, Sheeran says it was he, the Irishman, who alone, without anyone’s help, murdered Joe Gallo.

The other famous death that is attributed is one of the great mysteries of public (and criminal) life in the United States. Jimmy Hoffa (played in the film by Al Pacino) He was one of the most powerful men in North America during the 50s and 60s. He was the union leader of truckers, a strong, populous and influential union.

Hoffa was not a leader anymore. Charismatic, aggressive and unscrupulous possessed ambition and a kind of addiction for power. He quickly came into contact with the Mafia. Their business and union activity merged. Fraud, bribes, tightening, extortion. A parade through the penal code. And on the few occasions when justice brought him before the podiums, he influenced the jurors in a non-sanctioned manner. After years of persecution, he was arrested and convicted in 1967. It was a Chimborazo for public life in the United States.

The leader of the largest union in the country had to spend more than a decade behind bars. But in 1971 he was pardoned by President Richard Nixon. The condition of the pardon was that Hoffa did not try to regain the leadership of his union. That position had lost her after her arrest. Hoffa tried to continue handling the threads from jail but after a few months, his seconds appropriated business and forgot his former boss. Relations with the mafia were one of those issues in which Hoffa no longer decided. The decisions and business were of others. Once free, he gradually began to meet with old colleagues, gangsters and affiliates to regain his position despite the ban that had been a condition of his release.

“I don’t care too much about the truth of what happened with Hoffa. What matters is not that. But that world, the characters, the way they behave and the vision of this man, ”said Martin Scorsese a few weeks ago about the crime of the union leader and the relationship with” the Irishman “(REUTERS)

Until July 30, 1975, Hoffa disappeared. It vanished. The police and all federal agencies searched him boldly for years. It seemed impossible for someone so familiar, someone who had been so influential to fade away without a trace. Seven years later, justice, without finding it, without having too many keys, must have declared him officially dead.

In April 2002, after 27 years of investigation, after following hundreds of clues, focusing on dozens of possible culprits, the FBI closed the investigation. There was a record of 16 thousand pages and a great mystery. Who killed Jimmy Hoffa? An FBI agent explained the failure: “The only thing that, at this point, can solve the crime is for someone to confess or provide some unknown information in their sickbed, knowing that there will be no consequences.”

That confession finally arrived. Sheeran explains in his book how he killed Hoffa. The description of the facts is detailed and credible. Whoever reads it will be convinced that the events happened as they are told in those pages. However, there are many specialists who believe that the Irishman was lying.

What would be the reason for attributing a crime of that magnitude? Some argue that it was the only way for the book to be relevant (if this hypothesis is true, it must be recognized that Sheeran was right: the book sold well and the rights paid by Netflix were also bulky).

A scene from the Scorsese film that raises the world of mafia and hitmen, of union power and crimes in the 50s and 60s in the United States

The life of a mid-line gangster had already been told many times. Solving the most important unresolved crime of the last half-century ensured its impact. That data, already present in the cover of the book: Frank the Irish Sheeran and the resolution of the Hoffa Case says the descent of the original edition.

Many went out to refute Sheeran’s version. Some of their descriptions are accurate and conform to the few tests obtained. Others are incomprehensible statements.

The truth is Sheeran, in life, gave four different versions of Hoffa’s death and in the end, his murder was attributed. Journalists, lawyers, investigators and criminals have denied Sheeran. The last was Jack Goldsmith, a lawyer and stepson of whom they syndicate as the driver of the car that delivered Hoffa to his murderers. Goldsmith’s book, which yesterday was included by The New York Times in its list of the 100 best books of the year, destroys the claims of the Irish.

Hoffa’s murder has caused dozens of people who claimed the crime to arise; others who said they witnessed the moment they shot him, or when he was buried or cremated. None of these testimonies provided any certainty.

The only person who accused Frank Sheeran of killing Jimmy Hoffa was Frank Sheeran himself, the Irishman.

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About the Author: David Martin

David Martin is the lead editor for Spark Chronicles. David has been working as a freelance journalist.

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