Robert De Niro is about to bring the extraordinary story of Frank Sheeran – The Irishman – to the big screen. But his daughter reveals how the man who killed his mentor Jimmy Hoffa was a loving father who kept his gruesome past from his family…
When Frank Sheeran, the mafia contract killer known as ‘The Irishman’, got the order to assassinate his mentor Jimmy Hoffa, he knew he had no choice.
It was a case of kill on command or die for disobedience.
The disappearance of Teamsters union leader Hoffa 36 years ago remains one of America’s most enduring mysteries.
To this day, no one knows where his body ended up – except for those who buried him.
And if not for Sheeran’s Catholic guilt at the end of his life and a tenacious former prosecutor turned crime writer, the story of how Hoffa died would never have been known either.
Now Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro are set to bring Sheeran’s extraordinary life to the big screen.
The Irishman starts filming later this year and will also cover Sheeran’s alleged role in the assassination of American President John F. Kennedy.
For Sheeran’s daughter Dolores Miller, the interest in her father is bittersweet. ‘I suspected my father was behind Jimmy’s death but I never asked him directly,’ says Dolores.
‘My mother disagreed. She said he and Jimmy were as thick as thieves but my gut instinct told me otherwise.
‘The year before, when I was 19, there was a big benefit party for my father. There must have been 1,000 people there, including Jimmy.
‘One of my father’s most cherished possessions was a gaudy gold and diamond watch Jimmy gave him. He wore it to the day he died.
‘I remember my father phoning to say Jimmy had disappeared from outside a restaurant in Detroit.
‘I asked him where he [Sheeran] had been and he said a wedding in the same area. I made a comment about the coincidence but he brushed it off.
‘He was among the top suspects and the FBI put him in prison time and again, hoping he’d crack. But he never did.
‘Then towards the end of his life he told me he wanted absolution. I remember saying he had to be truly sorry for the things he’d done in the past, that if he had his time again he wouldn’t do the things he’d done.
‘He said he was sorry and I drove him to the church to confess. He seemed much happier after that.’
In the final five years of his life, Sheeran poured his heart out to writer Charles Brandt. He died in 2003, aged 83, six weeks after reading the finished manuscript, and without revealing to his family what he’d done.
‘We never discussed it before he died and Charles didn’t tell me the truth until the book came out,’ says Dolores, a 55-year-old medical secretary.
‘Charles told me to read the story to the end and as I turned every page it got worse. It was awful. I didn’t want it to be true that my father killed Jimmy.’
Despite her shock, Dolores knew her father wasn’t a saint – in the 1980s then-US attorney Rudy Giuliani named Sheeran as one of only two non-Italians on the list of 26 top mobsters.
Sheeran grew up in the Great Depression in the tough Philadelphia suburb of Darby, with devoutly religious Irish-American parents.
At 17, Sheeran lied about his age to serve in the war and joined General George S. Patton’s ‘killer division’ – a band of men who showed no remorse as they moved through Europe slaughtering the enemy.
He returned to Pennsylvania, drove a lorry and married Mary, an Irish immigrant. Daughters Mary Anne, Peggy and Dolores were born in the years that followed.
‘My first big memory of [my dad] was when I was five,’ Dolores says.
‘My mother told him to take me to see Mary Poppins but instead he took me to The Valentine’s Day Massacre.
‘I was six when my parents first separated. That’s when he met mafia boss Russell Bufalino and my mother said everything changed.
‘Bufalino was a nasty, mean man but my father started doing odd jobs for him. It’s only now that we know what some of those jobs were.’
Sheeran and Mary divorced when Dolores was 12. He would go on to marry his second wife, Irene, and have another daughter, Connie.