The Hoffa Files: A Deathbed Confession - 8 News NOW

George Knapp, Investigative Reporter

The Hoffa Files: A Deathbed Confession

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Officially, the disappearance of Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa back in 1975 has never been solved. The FBI believes Hoffa was murdered by mobsters, but who was the triggerman?

In this Eyewitness News I-Team investigation you will hear from a man who says he's the one who pulled the trigger, even though he and Hoffa were friends.

When he got out of prison, former Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa announced that he wanted his job back, even though he'd been warned by Mafia associates to back off. "I'm not guilty then, nor am I guilty now," Hoffa told union members in the 1970's. 

The mob was concerned that Hoffa might reveal the connection between Teamsters loans to Las Vegas casinos and the cash being skimmed from those casinos. Hoffa had to go.

On the last day of his life, hours before he was killed, Hoffa placed a frantic call to Las Vegas. An FBI telex shows that he phoned the Dunes hotel to speak to his lawyer Morris Shenker, who bought into the Dunes with a teamsters loan of his own.

Just a few weeks earlier, Hoffa had visited Las Vegas to meet with Shenker, and with casino owner Moe Dalitz, another recipient of union money. Hoffa finally agreed to a sit-down with his Mafia nemesis Tony Provenzano, presumably to work out their differences. They were to meet at the Red Fox restaurant in suburban Detroit.

Hoffa insisted that his trusted muscle, Frank "the Irishman" Sheerhan, be there to back him up. In mob slang, Sheerhan painted houses. That is, he killed people -- 25-30 hits in all, most carried out at the orders of Mafia kingpin Russell Bufalino.

"If a guy's gonna talk about doing something, he's not gonna say I'm gonna go out and whack this guy. You paint a house," said Frank Sheerhan, Mafia hitman.

Late in his life, as he was dying of cancer, Frank Sheerhan finally told the story about Hoffa's murder to his longtime lawyer Charles Brandt, who has written a book, I Heard You Paint Houses.

During the last 31 years, there have been others who've claimed knowledge of what happened to Hoffa. Sheerhan is the real deal.   "So they selected Sheerhan for the hit and Sheerhan said to me, 'you don't say no. You don't say no to Russell Bufalino about anything. If I said no to Russell, Jimmy would be just as dead and I'd have gone to Australia with him.' He was in a position where he had to do it or he'd have been killed," said Charles Brandt, author and former prosecutor.

It took years before Sheerhan told his lawyer everything about the Hoffa hit. Sheerhan had already been mentioned as a possible suspect in a few Hoffa books. He told Brandt he wanted to tell the truth about that day.

"It gave me chills," Brandt said.  In interviews recorded on video and audiotape, Sheerhan slowly filled in the blanks. He and Brandt retraced the events, starting at the restaurant. Sheerhan said he was one of three men who arrived in a car to pick up Hoffa, who got into the backseat. The meeting had been moved to a house, they told Hoffa.  The house was on Beaverland Street, a short distance away. Hoffa walked into the house with Sheerhan behind him, and Sheerhan put two bullets into the back of Hoffa's head.

"When he got out of the car at the house and walked in, that's when he got whacked. Hoffa wasn't scared of nothing," Sheerhan said.  When Sheerhan was asked if he was the shooter, he replied, "that's right."

the whole thing was over in an hour. They didn't start looking for him until 6 p.m. that night. By that time, he was long gone. There is plenty to corroborate Sheerhan's story. For one thing, Hoffa was cautious. He wouldn't have climbed into the car unless someone he knew was there -someone like Sheerhan.

From the beginning, the FBI considered Sheerhan a prime suspect. Agents have tried everything to get him to talk. When they first searched the car, police dogs detected Hoffa' s scent in the backseat, just where Sheerhan said Hoffa sat. Agents also found a human hair, but it wasn't until 25 years later that DNA testing confirmed it was Hoffa's hair.

Las Vegas attorney Stan Hunterton wrote and defended the motion that allowed the government to seize the car and preserve the evidence. Hunterton spent years as a strike force prosecutor in Detroit and Las Vegas. He thinks Sheerhan's confession rings true.

"I believe Hoffa was lured into the car we seized. It had to be someone he trusted. He had to be killed quickly, which means nearby," said Stan Hunterton, former organized crime prosecutor.

That's also consistent with Sheerhan's confession. "It may not have happened exactly that way, but I think that's the gist of it."

In 2003, days away from dying, Sheerhan gave Brandt the okay to go forward with the book. Brandt believes the hitman was trying to reconcile for murdering his friend Jimmy Hoffa.

"He was one of the best men I ever knew," Sheerhan said of Hoffa.

Click here to post your comments on The Hoffa Files blog.

Click here to email Investigative Reporter George Knapp.

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