The True Story of the Kidnapping of Frank Sinatra Jr.

Frank Sinatra with his son Frank Sinatra Jr.
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On December 8, 1963, Frank and Nancy Sinatra‘s worst nightmare came true. Their son, Frank Sinatra, Jr. was 19 years old and following in his father’s footsteps to start a singing career of his own when he was abducted. Reportedly, Sinatra Jr. was resting in his dressing room on a night he was performing at Harrah’s Club Lodge in Lake Tahoe when he received a knock at the door, with a person saying they were delivering a package. When he opened the door, two men ran in and tied up Sinatra Jr.’s friend and blindfolded and kidnapped the young singer.

Those men were Barry Keenan and Joe Amsler, two of his former high school classmates, who wanted to make some cash from ‘Ole Blue Eyes himself. In a wild turn of events, his friend freed himself and called the police. Then, the police actually stopped the kidnappers on their way but they lied and got away… at first. Soon, the FBI was on the case. The police told the distraught Sinatras to wait until the kidnappers demanded their ransom, pay it, and then they could track the money and lock up the men for good.

Frank Sinatra speaks at a press conference for the first time since the capture of the kidnappers of Frank Sinatra, Jr. in the driveway of his ex-wife's home.

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The third conspirator, John Irwin, was the one to call Sinatra and pass along the demand for $240,000 in ransom on December 10. The FBI continued with the plan and the kidnappers picked up the money, while Irwin got nervous and freed Sinatra Jr. He was found walking in Bel Air and unfortunately, had to be put in the trunk of another car, but this time it was to avoid the press and get home to his parents safely.

(Original Caption) 1/20/1964-Los Angeles, California- The three suspects in the Frank Sinatra Jr. kidnapping are shown in court 1/20. (L-R) Barry Keenan, 23, Clyde Amsler, 23, and John Irwin, 42. Attorneys for the three men charged with the 12/8/63 kidnapping of Sinatra Jr. pulled out all stops 1/20 in legal skirmishing for what promises to be a colorful and heated trial.

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On this day in 1963 (December 11), Siantra Jr. returned home. The FBI was on the case to find the kidnappers and eventually, Irwin’s brother ratted him out, and not long after, Keenan and Amsler were captured and the ransom money was returned to the Sinatras. All three men were convicted, despite their lawyer Gladys Root’s story that it was all just one big publicity stunt orchestrated by Sinatra Jr. Rumors swirled but ultimately, the kidnapping was due to the trio wanting money and fame. Although the men were initially given long sentences, they were all released within five years and went on to work regular jobs. A film about the kidnapping called Operation Blue Eyes is reportedly in the works. If you don’t want to wait for it, a film called Stealing Sinatra debuted on Showtime in 2003, starring David Arquette, William H. Macy, and James Russo.

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