By Matt Micucci
19 year old Frank Sinatra Jr. was trying to establish an independent singing career when a trio of crooks abducted him for purely financial purposes.
When Frank Sinatra died on May 14, 1998, he was buried at Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City, California, with a bottle of bourbon, a pack of cigarettes and a lighter, candies, a dog biscuit and a roll of dimes. Sinatra had acquired the habit of carrying a roll of dimes in his jacket pocket in December 1963, after the kidnapping of his son.
Back then, Frank Sinatra Jr. had been trying to establish an independent singing career and had played a few live shows throughout 1963.
On December 8, he was to perform with The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in Lake Tahoe at Harrah’s Club Hodge. Little did he know that for several weeks, he had been followed by two 23 year old men and former high school classmates Barry Keenan and Joe Amsler, who had been waiting to take their move. Their plan was very simple – kidnap the young man and then request a hefty ransom of his wealthy father.
At around 9pm, an hour before the nineteen year old was set to perform, he was resting with a friend in his dressing room. Keenan knocked on the door, pretending he was delivering a package. The kidnappers then entered the dressing room, knocked them out and kidnapped Frank Jr. His friend recovered quickly and alerted the authorities, but despite roadblocks, Keenan and Amsler managed to sneak their way to their hideout in a suburb of Los Angeles, where they also met up with a third conspirator John Irwin, who was to be the ransom contact.
They held Sinatra Jr. captive for three days, until his father paid a 240,000 dollar ransom to ensure his son’s safe return. He was found in Bel Air after walking a few miles and alerting a security guard. To avoid the press, he was put in the trunk of the guard’s patrol car and taken to his mother Nancy’s home.
A rumor at the time was that Frank Sr. arranged this in an attempt to gain publicity for his son’s fledgling singing career, but it was proved to be false when the abductors were found and arrested. They were sentenced to long prison terms for kidnapping, of which they served only small portions. Mastermind Keenan was also later adjudged to have been legally insane at the time of the crime and hence not legally responsible for his actions.
The motive behind the kidnapping was very clearly strictly financian. Keenan had been a flourishing investor and member of the Los Angeles Stock Exchange, and had suffered a series of misfortunes until in 1963 he was officially broke. The event was adapted for the big screen in 2003 in the film Stealing Sinatra, which starred David Arquette as Barry Keenan, Ryan Browning as Joe Amsler, James Russo as Frank Sinatra Sr. and Thomas Ian Nicholas as Frank Sinatra Jr. The real life Keenan received no money from the film.
Throughout the ordeal Frank Sinatra, he carried a roll of dimes with him, worried he might run out of them and hence be unable to contact the kidnappers, who insisted that he would only contact then through payphones. He continued to do so until his death.