Jimmy Hoffa and high-ranking members of organized crime families were once as thick as thieves — but if you believe his onetime friend Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran, his former buddies were also the cause of his demise.
The release of the newest Martin Scorsese film, “The Irishman,” has reignited interest in the decades-old mystery of what happened to union boss James “Jimmy” Hoffa. "The Irishman," which hits limited theaters Friday, November 1, and then Netflix on Nov. 27, depicts the 1975 vanishing of Hoffa, the leader of the Teamsters union. While his body was never found, officials and the Teamsters alike have made it clear they think he’s dead and that the mob did it.
So, how did a man who reportedly had such close ties with the mob end up dead at their hands?
Charles Brandt’s 2004 book, “I Heard You Paint Houses,” features Brandt's interviews with Frank Sheeran, a labor union leader believed to have worked for years as a hitman for the Bufalino crime family. His nickname was “The Irishman,” and the book served as a basis for the new movie — as Sheeran has claimed credit for killing his onetime friend Hoffa.
Hoffa was convicted in 1964 of both fraud for funneling union pension money to mafia-backed projects and of trying to bribe a grand juror. He'd only served four years of his 13-year sentence when then-President Richard Nixon commuted his term, but freedom didn't lead to happiness for Hoffa.
Sheeran told Brandt that when Hoffa got out of prison in 1971, he began fighting to reclaim the presidency of the Teamers, despite his inability to: He had been banned from engaging in any union activities until 1980 by Nixon.
Furthermore, Sheeran said, “Jimmy became very hard to talk to," nohing he allegedly “became reckless with his tongue — on the radio, in the papers, on television. Every time he opened his mouth he said something about how he was going to expose the mob and get the mob out of the union. He even said he was going to keep the mob from using the pension fund.”
In Scorcese's version, Hoffa, played by Al Pacino, was always a hothead but he became stubborn after he was released from prison. He would not compromise.
That might piss off the mob, all right.
Sheeran called his sudden anti-mob moves post-prison “hypocritical’ in "I Heard You Paint Houses" because well, in his words: “Jimmy was the one who brought the so-called mob into the union and the pension fund in the first place.”
The hitman, who was close friends with Hoffa, claimed he tried to reason with Hoffa and tried to get him to comply, according to both the movie and the book. Sheeran knew if he didn't, Hoffa would likely be killed. But Hoffa didn't heed that good advice. In the movie, Hoffa expressed shock when Sheeran told him the mob was thinking about killing him. He called their bluff, according to the film, a movie which did take creative liberties.
The movie suggests that the mob got annoyed with his non-compliance for several other reasons despite the obvious. Hoffa may have not just owed them his compliance but possibly even favors, seeing as (according to Scorsese’s vision) they may have done him some pretty gruesome solids: For one, the movie suggests that Hoffa and the mob may have had John F. Kennedy killed because his brother Bobby Kennedy, who served as attorney general, had it in for Hoffa.
Both the movie and the book made it clear that Hoffa was also fighting with Anthony Provenzano, also known as Tony Pro, a capo for the Genovese crime family who was also vice president for Teamsters Local 560 in Union City, New Jersey. The two, who served time together, got in a fight when Hoffa wouldn’t give Provenzano money he wanted. That resulted in a fight in which Hoffa used the phrase, “you people,” which Provenzano took as a slur against Italian-Americans, according to both the movie and the book.
Later, at another meeting, they fought again and Provenzano allegedly threatened to kill Hoffa and kidnap his granddaughter, according to both the movie and the book.
Hoffa disappeared on July 30, 1975, not long after getting into a maroon Mercury at the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township, Michigan. An FBI report, as reported on by the Chicago Tribune in 1985, claims the meeting was actually a hit cooked up in New Jersey by Teamsters with ties to the mob. Mob associates Provenzano, Anthony Giacalone, Russell Bufalino, Salvatore Briguglio, and Charles O`Brien (who was also Hoffa's adopted son) were all listed as the key suspects in Hoffa's mysterious vanishing.
According to both the movie and the book, Sheeran claimed he shot Hoffa in the back of the head despite his attempts to keep his friend alive. Whether or not Hoffa was actually killed because of his misbehavior towards the mob after his prison release as put forth as a theory in both the book and the movie, remains unproven. His body was never found, even though there's plenty of theories about where that is, and nobody has ever been convicted in connection with his death.
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