If you're a legit Frank Sinatra fan, you probably know that he was buried with a bottle of Bourbon, a pack of smokes, and a roll of dimes. The first two items are pretty self-explanatory. Why was the Chairman of the Board obsessed with loose change? Probably because he hung up on his son's kidnappers because he couldn't feed the payphone. It may not be common knowledge now, but Frank Sinatra Jr.'s abduction was big news in 1963.
Who kidnapped him?
Two of Frank Sinatra Jr.'s former high school classmates. On December 8, 1963, Barry Keenan and Joe Amsler abducted the 19-year-old singer from Harrah’s Club Lodge in Lake Tahoe. Their plan wasn't terribly well thought out. It worked anyway: They pretended to deliver a package to Frank Sinatra Jr.'s dressing room, pointed a gun at him when opened the door, and told him to get in their car. Then they blindfolded him and drove him to a suburb of Los Angeles.
The ransom money
What did they want?
A cool $240,000 in cash. Once they had Frank Sinatra Jr. squirreled away in Los Angeles, a third conspirator came out of the woodwork. On December 10, a 42-year-old house painter named John Irwin called Frank Sr. demanding the money. Weird fact: Sinatra offered to pay them $1 million, but Keenan turned him down, sticking to his original demand for $240,000. The kidnappers insisted that Frank Sr. communicate with them by payphone. At one point, Sinatra panicked when he ran out of money in the middle of a call. They called back.
How'd they catch them?
Sinatra Jr. was freed after the ransom was delivered to a California gas station on December 11. The FBI was planning on tracing the cash, but the kidnappers spared them the trouble. Irwin decided it would be a great idea to brag about the kidnapping to his brother—who promptly called the FBI. Keenan, Amsler, and $168,000 of the ransom money were taken into custody within 48 hours.
What happened to the kidnappers?
The trial was a total media circus. The kidnappers testified that Frank Jr. had rigged the kidnapping in a desperate bid to jumpstart his less-than-impressive singing career. On January 5, 1964 the New York Times reported on the courtroom gossip:
Irwin said young Sinatra had told him he was having “a rough life, that trying to break into show business was real tough.” “He told me he was going through the same period his father was going through in Jersey City and Hoboken,” the defendant continued. “Junior said his father really struggled, working in low‐type nightclubs, until somebody finally got the that girls would swoon over him. “Junior told me that the guy who got the idea was a smart operator and that he [young Sinatra] needed somebody like that. He said he was lucky to clear $100 a week.”
The kidnappers were eventually convicted, but the rumors followed Frank Sinatra Jr. for the rest of his life. Frank Sinatra Sr. dealt with the stress of the ordeal by obsessively hoarding dimes.
Feature image via Bronx Banter