Frank Sinatra Jr. was kidnapped, at the age of 19, on December 8, 1963 at Harrah's Lake Tahoe (room 417). Sinatra was released two days later after his father paid the $240,000 (about $1,832,000 in 2013 dollars) ransom demanded by the kidnappers.
Left to right: John W. Irwin, 42, of Hollywood; Barry W. Keenan, 23, of Los Angeles, and Joseph Clyde Amsler, 23, of Playa Del Rey, Calif.
Barry Keenan, Johnny Irwin, and Joe Amsler were soon captured, prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced to long prison terms for kidnapping, of which they served only small portions (mastermind Keenan was later adjudged to have been legally insane at the time of the crime and hence not legally responsible for his actions).
A rumor at the time was that Frank Sr. arranged this in an attempt to gain publicity for his son's fledgling singing career— FALSE
The kidnappers demanded communication via payphone. During one conversation, Frank Sr. ran out of money and was disconnected. Fearing never seeing his son again, Frank Sr. decided to carry a roll of dimes with him at all times (payphones at this time cost 10 cents). This tradition lasted the rest of his life. Frank Sr was buried with a flask of Jack Daniels, his cigarettes, zippo lighter, and a roll of dimes..
News broke quickly in the aftermath of the kidnapping on a Sunday night, December 8, 1963. Frank Jr. had been snatched at gunpoint from a motel room at Harrah's Club at Lake Tahoe — a flashy casino strip in Stateline that straddles the border between California and Nevada, on the lake's south shore.
The suspects were dubbed "rank amateurs" by the prosecuting attorney. The country was still reeling from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November. Jack Ruby had shot and killed Kennedy's assassin on live television two days later, and the Sinatra kidnapping headlines followed less than a month after.
One of Barry Keenan's oldest friends was Dean Torrence of the Surf rock duo Jan & Dean. Keenan grew up as a rich kid in Los Angeles. He had met Frank Sr when he visited Nancy Sinatra (jr) when he was young.
"I knew Frank Jr. had been in boarding school and wasn't close to his father," says Keenan, who had never met this younger Sinatra. His drug-addled rationalization: "A kidnapping would draw them closer." Needing cash to fund the scheme, Keenan went to Dean Torrence, then flush from the hit single "Surf City." " 'I'll give you $500, because that's one of the most creative stories I've ever heard,' " Torrence recalls telling him. "I shrugged it off as a fantasy."
Really it was more like a circus....