On December 11, kidnappers release Frank Sinatra, Jr., after abducting him in Lake Tahoe, California, three days earlier. The 19-year-old man, who was trying to follow in his father’s footsteps by pursuing a singing career, had been blindfolded and taken at gunpoint from his hotel room at Harrah’s Club Lodge and taken to Canoga Park, an area of Southern California’s San Fernando Valley. After allowing a brief phone conversation between father and son, the kidnappers demanded a ransom of $240,000.
Barry Keenan, the young mastermind behind the scheme, had also considered abducting the sons of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. But he and his partners decided upon Frank Sinatra Jr. because they thought he would be tough enough to handle the stress of a kidnapping. Although the crime was originally scheduled for November, President Kennedy’s assassination delayed their plan.
Immediately following his son’s abduction, Frank Sr. received offers of assistance from Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Sam Giancana, one of the country’s most powerful organized crime leaders. He declined and instead accepted aid from the FBI. After a series of phone calls, the kidnappers revealed the drop point for the ransom money—between two school buses in the town of Sepulveda. According to the FBI, while two of the three perpetrators retrieved the money in the early morning hours of December 11, the third got nervous and freed Frank, Jr., who was found walking in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles. In an attempt to avoid a public scene, law enforcement officials picked up the young Sinatra and brought him home in the trunk of their car.
Within a couple of days, John Irwin, one of Keenan’s partners, turned himself in to the San Diego FBI field office and confessed to the crime. By December 14, all the perpetrators had been located and arrested.
During the trial, which took place in the spring of 1964, controversy erupted when the defendants claimed that Frank Jr. had orchestrated the abduction as an elaborate publicity stunt. Gladys Root, a flamboyant Los Angeles attorney, pursued this line of defense, despite the fact that there was no evidence to support the accusation. Even after Keenan and the others were convicted, the rumors persisted. For his part, Keenan served 4-and-a-half years in federal prison. After his release, he became a successful real-estate developer. Frank Jr. died in 2016.