It was over 50 years that the nation was gripped by one of the most highly publicized kidnappings in U.S. history. The victim, who died in 2016, would have been 74 years old Wednesday.
In December 1963, a teenage Frank Sinatra Jr. — the son of the iconic singer — was attempting to make it on his own as a musician. The then-19-year-old was traveling around from city to city for performances.
But what he didn’t know was that he was being followed by several criminals looking to get rich quick.
As recounted on the website of the FBI, Los Angeles natives and high school classmates Barry Keenan and Joe Amsler had been tracking the younger Sinatra. Their plan was to kidnap him and demand that his father pay a ransom.
Keenann and Amsler had originally wanted to carry out the kidnapping in November, but their plans had to be pushed back due to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
According to History, the sons of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby were also considered as potential victims, but Keenan eventually settled on Sinatra because he was confident the young singer was mentally tough enough to deal with being abducted.
The kidnappers put their plan into action on the night of Dec. 8, after Sinatra Jr. had finished performing at a club in Lake Tahoe, California.
Keenan pretended to deliver a package to Sinatra’s dressing room where the singer had been resting with a friend. The pair of kidnappers tied up the friend and took Sinatra — who they blindfolded — outside to their getaway car.
The friend was able to escape, then immediately alerted authorities. But the criminals made it to Los Angeles, where they had a hideout.
That’s when the FBI got involved.
The elder Sinatra reportedly decided to accept the bureau’s help after turning down aid from crime boss Sam Giancana.
Sinatra was advised by the bureau to wait for a ransom demand, which he did, then pay the kidnappers whatever amount of money they asked for and let the bureau track the cash.
It didn’t take long for the kidnappers to make their demands known.
John Irwin, a third conspirator who acted as the kidnappers’ ransom contact, told Sinatra Sr. via a phone call the next night to wait for instructions.
On Dec. 10, he demanded $240,000 in cash for Sinatra Jr.’s freedom, despite the fact that Sinatra Sr. had offered $1 million for his son’s return. The next morning, the money was delivered to the drop-off point, located outside a gas station in Sepulveda, California.
But Irwin got cold feet, and freed the abductee while his co-conspirators were picking up the money.
Sinatra Jr. walked to Bel Air and told a security guard what had happened. He was put in the trunk of the guard’s car — in order to avoid unwanted attention from reporters — and taken to the home of his mother, Nancy.
When he returned home, the first thing Sinatra reportedly said to his father was, “I’m sorry, Dad.”
Though he did not have many details about the kidnappers, the FBI was able to use what he did know to find their hideout.
Meanwhile, Irwin talked to his brother what had happened, only for the brother to alert authorities. Irwin eventually told the FBI everything, and within hours, Keenan and Amsler — along with the ransom money — were found.
The drama, however, was not over yet.
During the trial, which took place the following spring, lawyers for the defense attempted to argue that Sinatra Jr. had been in on the scheme. In the end, this claim was proven to be false, and all of the conspirators were convicted.
Sinatra Jr. would go on to have a successful musical career, and he released the album “Young Love for Sale” in 1965.
According to Variety’s Richard Ginnell, Sinatra Jr. “might have had an easier time establishing himself had he gone into real estate.”
But still, Ginnell wrote in 2003, “There aren’t too many singers around with Sinatra’s depth of experience in big band music, or his knowledge of the classic American songbook.”
“There are even fewer with such real feeling for the lyrics of a song, and such a knack for investing a song with style and personality,” he added.
Sinatra Jr. died on March 16, 2016, at the age of 72.
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