(First, I’d hate being called “Junior.”)
Again, I’ve long forgotten how I got there, but last night I ended up at one of my occasional research haunts: TruTV’s Crime Library, where I was reminded of an event I hadn’t thought about in years — even after doing a post on Big Frank last month.
Of course, I’m talking about the bizarre kidnapping of Frank Sinatra, Jr. back in 1963. The Crime Library’s David J. Krajicek did a fine job on the essay; you should read it. But in case you haven’t the time or inclination, here are the more tasty bits that made it truly wacko:
- Barry Keenan, the “mastermind” (if you can call him that), chose to kidnap Junior over another celeb’s kid, because Big Frank was a wise guy — meaning he was in thick with mobsters — and putting a guy like Frank through a few hours of misery wouldn’t be morally deplorable. Besides, this was about money; Keenan had no plans to hurt the 19-year-old Frankie. In fact, after he got his $240,000 ransom money from Daddy, Keenan was going to invest it, and within 10 years, pay Sinatra back.
- He and his two idiot accomplices had originally planned the kidnapping for 22 November, but were too depressed to commit the crime after John F. Kennedy was assassinated that morning. (Hey, ya gotta give ’em that.) So they chose 8 December, when Junior was booked at Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe. They entered his hotel room after posing as delivery men, and it was on.
- Big Frank, frantic with worry and refusing to eat or walk away from the phone until it rang with the ransom demand, quickly offered Keenan $1 million for Frankie’s return. But Keenan said no, $240,000 would be fine. (cricket…..cricket…..)
- The Mastermind and one of his goons happily went to the agreed-upon spot (between 2 school buses in an LA parking lot) and picked up the suitcase with the 240 grand in it — in full view of FBI cameras.
- They returned to find Goon #3 — and Junior — gone. He’d gotten nervous, left the house, and let Frankie out on the highway someplace, where he was eventually picked up and taken home. So, like, the kidnapping part was done. Oh well. At least they had their sultan’s fortune in cash.
- Goon #3, dizzy with delight at getting his cut of the ransom ($40G), had plans to go to New Orleans and live the high life. One problem: he stopped at his brother’s house in San Diego to stay the night, and told him all about it. Bro called the law and the jig was up. He sang like a nightingale, and within hours, everybody got arrested.
But the story gets better after that…
Enter the bumblers’ defense attorney, Gladys Towles Root, who has a great story herself. A Hollywood lawyer who often took on sex offender cases (and won), she came up with an interesting defense for the would-be criminals. It didn’t work.
Happy ending for Keenan, though: he’s now the millionaire he always wanted to be, thanks to a lucrative real estate business. He was sentenced to life in prison plus 75 years. He was out in four. No lie.
But Junior… poor Junior. Can you imagine trying to make a name for yourself in shadow of your larger-than-the-universe father, singing the same kind of music he did? Kid didn’t have a prayer — not back then, when his dad was the king of all media.
He was a good-looking young man, though, and he and his sister Nancy were pretty visible in the early-mid 60s, mostly on TV specials with Big Frank. Nancy also had two or three top 40 hits. My all-time favorite is this one, that she recorded with her dad. It’s such a pretty song, and beautifully simple…it brings back fantastic memories. Music does that to me.
Anyway, Junior had to live down years of speculation that he himself set up the kidnapping in order to jumpstart his own career. He never had a fraction of the success his dad enjoyed. He does the casino circuit now (ALTHOUGH I’M SURE HE HAS MANY OTHER GREAT THINGS IN THE WORKS, LIKE A SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL, OR OCEAN’S 19, OR MAYBE AN EVEN NEWER BROADWAY VERSION OF THE JERRY SPRINGER SHOW), still singing big band and crooner tunes, just like Pop. Here he is today.
In a way, though, Junior had the last word on the whole kidnapping thing. In 1998, when they made a movie of the story, Keenan stood to make $1.5M from it as a consultant. Sinatra sued, invoking protection under the Son of Sam law, and won.
Happy Sunday. Back to work.