This Day in History: Frank Sinatra, Jr. Is Freed By His Kidnappers

By | December 9, 2022

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Mrs. Nancy Sinatra embraces her son, Frank Sinatra, Jr. after being released by kidnappers for $240,000 ransom on December 12, 1963. (Bettmann/Getty Images)

On December 12, 1963, legendary singer Frank Sinatra paid ransom to free his son, Frank, Jr., from a trio of kidnappers. Nineteen-year-old Sinatra, who had been taken from his hotel room in Lake Tahoe, was recovered in Bel Air and reunited with his family, but not before spending a terrifying four days blindfolded and alone.

The Kidnapping Of Frank Sinatra, Jr.

The plot to kidnap the son of one of the world's most famous singers was hatched by Barry Keenan, a 23-year-old man who once attended U.C.L.A. with Frank, Jr.'s sister, Nancy. Keenan's life had spiraled into addiction, poverty, and a sense of hopelessness, and he thought he could make a statement about the inequalities of the world by kidnapping his former classmate's little brother. (Plus, he could have used the ransom money.) With a high school buddy, Joe Amsler, Keenan studied Sinatra's concert schedule and learned that after a Lake Tahoe gig, he was set to fly to Europe, so on December 8, 1963, they drove to his hotel in Lake Tahoe and posed as delivery drivers to gain access to his room.

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Sinatra family portrait, 1949, with Frank Jr. at far right. (Movie Life/Wikimedia Commons)

Tracking The Kidnappers

As Keenan held a gun to Sinatra's head, the two men dragged him out a side door, stuffed him in the trunk of their car, and sped back to Los Angeles, where they met with a third conspirator, John Irwin. On December 10, Irwin called Sinatra's father and demanded a ransom of $240,000, although by this time, the FBI was with the Sinatra family and advised them to pay the ransom but use marked bills so they could track the money back to the kidnappers. As per the kidnappers' instructions, the money was placed between two parked school buses at a Texaco station in Sepulveda, California in the pre-dawn hours of December 11, 1963.