Frank Sinatra’s Son Was Once Kidnapped in a Terrifying Crime

When many people think of the glamorous life of celebrities, they fail to take into consideration just how dangerous it can be. Many actors, musicians, and writers have found themselves stalked, harassed, kidnapped, and even murdered by fans, rivals, and the very people who claim to love them. Frank Sinatra was no exception to this.

His son Frank Sinatra, Jr was kidnapped by a group of criminals who were just looking to make it rich. This story thankfully didn’t have a tragic ending, but it could have. It’s one of the most notorious kidnappings in American history that is still discussed to this day.

Frank Sinatra with his son Frank Sinatra Jr.
Frank Sinatra with his son Frank Sinatra Jr. posing for a picture | Keystone/Getty Images

Frank Sinatra is one of the most famous artists in American history

In a time when music was just beginning to become available to the masses, Sinatra managed to do the impossible, and sold over 150 million records worldwide. In his 82 years on this earth, he became a famous singer, an actor, and a producer. 

He was well known for romancing the ladies, and had more than one affair. Sinatra also had a temper, and had no problem with getting into physical arguments with journalists. He was one of the most influential artists of his time and has left a legacy that many can only dream of.

Why was Frank Sinatra’s son targeted?

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As with many kidnappings, it all boiled down to money. The FBI reports that it all began with two former classmates named Barry Keenan and Joe Amsler. While neither were career criminals who had been doing this sort of thing for years, they came up with a simple, but brilliant plan. 

The pair decided to make their move on December 8, 1963. The country was still reeling from the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the thought that another tragedy could happen so swiftly after this was unthinkable. That’s what made it the perfect time to strike. 

Frank Sinatra, Jr. was trying to begin his own career and was traveling from city to city, performing every night. With so many people flocking in to see if he had the same talent as his incredibly famous father, Sinatra, Jr. probably didn’t realize he was being followed by the same two young men who mysteriously appeared everywhere he did.

On the evening of December 8, Sinatra, Jr. had just finished up his latest show at Harrah’s Club Lodge in Lake Tahoe. He was sitting in his dressing room with a friend someone knocked at the door. Keenan entered the room with the ruse that he had a package to deliver.

Keenan and his partner Amsler quickly overwhelmed Sinatra, Jr. and his friend. They then forced Sinatra, Jr. to exit through the backdoor where they had a car waiting.

His friend was able to free himself, and the authorities set up a roadblock that actually stopped Keenan and Amsler. The pair were able to bluff their way through the roadblock, however, and the chance to save Sinatra, Jr. was lost. They took him to a hideout in a suburb of Los Angeles, where they held him captive.

There was a happy ending after all

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The kidnappers weren’t swift to call in the ransom. Sinatra, Jr. was kidnapped on December 8, but his father never received a ransom demand until December 10. A third conspirator named John Irwin was chosen to make the call to Frank Sinatra. 

The demands were simple. The kidnappers wanted $240,000. If Sinatra delivered his, then his son would go free. All he had to do was drop the money off between two school buses located in Sepulveda, California on December 11. 

Keenan and Amsler went to pick up the money, while Irwin stayed behind to guard Sinatra, Jr. He began to grow worried, and decided to release Sinatra, Jr. before his cohorts returned.

Sinatra, Jr. was then able to track down a security guard and explain what had happened. He was placed in the trunk of the guard’s car so that no one would recognize him and was taken to his mother’s home. 

Once again, Irwin proved himself to be the weak link, and he confessed to his brother what he had done. With the FBI closing in, he probably panicked. His brother turned in Irwin, and Keenan and Amsler were soon arrested. All three were convicted, and the money was ultimately recovered.