Posted: May 23, 2006
HOFFA'S FATE WAS "DUST TO DUST"
By Celia Cohen
If Jimmy Hoffa's remains are found on that Michigan farm wonderfully named "Hidden Dreams," where the FBI currently is searching, it will be a huge surprise to Charles P. Brandt, the Delaware lawyer-turned-author who wrote a tale about the hit that took out the Teamster leader.
From what Brandt knows, he thinks Hidden Dreams has as much to do with Hoffa as Giants Stadium in New Jersey, another place where the body was supposed to be deposited after Hoffa vanished more than 30 years ago.
Still, the digging goes on. Never mind that a lot of people telling Hoffa stories could be selling tickets to Elvis concerts on the side.
"I wouldn't call this a hot tip. I'd call this a weak tip," Brandt said.
Brandt, who divides his time these days between Lewes and Idaho, is a former chief deputy attorney general. He became immersed in Hoffa lore after he switched to defense work and helped to get an early prison release for medical reasons in 1991 for Frank Sheeran, a murderous and witty thug who was close to Hoffa and once ran a Teamsters union in Delaware.
Brandt's association with Sheeran led to a 2004 book called I Heard You Paint Houses, the name coming from the first words Hoffa spoke to Sheeran. It was crime slang, referring to the blood spattering from a shooting.
Sheeran, who was 83 when he died in 2003, was on the list of nine suspects fingered by the FBI in Hoffa's disappearance on July 30, 1975, and after years of hedging, Sheeran eventually told Brandt that he was the triggerman. Brandt believes it, although his belief is not universally accepted.
Hoffa became a marked man after he got out of prison and tried to regain control of the Teamsters union. Sheeran claimed he killed his patron because he almost certainly would have been killed himself if he had not. The hit went down near Detroit in a nondescript house where Hoffa thought he was going to a meeting and Sheeran was along for his protection. There was no meeting.
"When Jimmy saw that the house was empty, that nobody came out of any of the rooms to greet him, he knew right away what it was," Sheeran said in I Heard You Paint Houses.
"He turned fast, still thinking we were together on the thing, that I was his backup. Jimmy bumped into me hard. If he saw the piece in my hand, he had to think I had it out to protect him.
"He took a quick step to go around me and get to the door. He reached for the knob, and Jimmy Hoffa got shot twice at a decent range -- not too close or the paint splatters back at you -- in the back of the head behind his right ear. My friend didn't suffer."
Sheeran said it was not part of his business to know what happened to Hoffa's body. That job belonged to two "cleaners" waiting on the premises to sanitize the site and handle the removal.
Still, Sheeran said he was sure the plan was not to bury Hoffa's corpse, but to cremate it, because of what he was told beforehand by Russell Bufalino, the crime boss who had introduced him to Hoffa and was in on the plot.
"There won't be a body," Buffalino had said and ground his thumb on the table where he was having dinner with Sheeran. "Dust to dust."
Sheeran thought Hoffa was taken to a Detroit incinerator owned by a crime figure, but Buffalino led him to believe the body went to a funeral parlor under friendly management, and he never knew for sure. Like nearly everybody else the FBI thought was involved, Buffalino is long dead.
Since the FBI began digging last week near Detroit at the Hidden Dreams farm, which was owned by a Teamster boss when Hoffa disappeared, Brandt has been fielding telephone calls and e-mail from news reporters. He is sticking by Sheeran's story.
"I believe Sheeran, and I'm someone who's very experienced in cross-examination -- I've taught it -- although I have a vested interest," Brandt said. "Mobsters do not bury anybody on land that they own. If that happens, that will be the first."
Besides, the farm was too far out of the way. As Sheeran told Brandt, "You most definitely couldn't go driving around any kind of distance with Jimmy's body in a car. . . . Who in their right mind would transport such a high-profile package a block longer than was necessary?"