Dad, I’m sorry
Franklin Wayne Emmanuel Sinatra was the only son of the legendary crooner Frank Sinatra, born to his first wife Nancy in 1944. He attempted to follow in the old man’s footsteps and become a singer. In late 1963 Frank, Jr was booked to sing at Harrah’s Lodge overlooking Lake Tahoe. On the evening of 8 December a blizzard was blowing and 19-year-old Frank, clad only in his underwear, was sitting in his room just 90 m (100 yd) from the casino.
He and his friend, Joe Foss, aged 26, had just finished dinner before their first show. Two men burst into the room and held the two friends hostage at gunpoint. Foss was tied up and gagged while Frank was bundled into a 1963 white Chevrolet Impala and driven to a hideout at 8143 Mason Avenue in the San Fernando Valley. Foss managed to free himself and called hotel security who informed the police.
Sinatra rang his Rat Pack colleague Peter Lawford who contacted his brother-in-law Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, who offered FBI resources to be put at Sinatra’s disposal. The first contact from the kidnappers came at 4.45pm on 9 December. Sinatra offered the kidnappers $1 million but they asked for only $240,000. Sinatra agreed to their demand and flew to Los Angeles where, with an FBI agent, he delivered the ransom.
His son was released, after 54 hours in captivity, 3 km (2 mi) from his mother’s Bel Air home at 700 Nimes Road. His first words back at home to his father were, “Dad, I’m sorry.” Four days later, the kidnappers were arrested and most of the ransom money recovered. They were Barry Worthington Keenan and Joseph Clyde Amsler, both 23, who had taken Frank away and their accomplice, John Irwin, 42, who had placed the ransom calls. They were caught after Joe Amsler’s brother, James, called the FBI.
Harrah’s Lodge, 15 Highway 50, Stateline, Nevada, USA
9.30pm Sunday 8 December 1963
In court in February 1964 Keenan claimed that Frank had been involved in his own kidnapping as a publicity stunt to bolster his singing career. The jury disbelieved that claim and all three kidnappers were found guilty.
Keenan and Amsler were sentenced to life imprisonment plus 75 years while Irwin received a sentence of 16 years and eight months. Keenan served four and a half years, was released in 1968 and went on to become a successful estate agent. Amsler and Irwin served three and a half years.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
In gratitude to the FBI, Frank Sinatra sent $2,000 gold watches to the agents who had helped free his son. They were returned with a note explaining that agents were not allowed to accept gifts for doing their jobs. Sinatra sent a similar watch to FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover. That gift was not returned.