Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Frank Sinatra, Jr. Kidnapping

The Root Defense

Appropriately, the trial of the three men in federal court in Los Angeles just two months after the abduction was a circus-style spectacle, with defense attorney Gladys Towles Root  serving as ringmaster.

Gladys Towles Root
Gladys Towles Root

The kidnapping seemed too bizarre to be true. And this became the primary defense, a strategy planned by John Irwin's attorney, Gladys Towles Root.

The famously flamboyant Root was one of America's first modern celebrity lawyers. Her firm juggled hundreds of criminal cases at a time, and Root became a specialist at defending men accused of sex crimes.

For 50 years, she was a courthouse fixture in southern California, rushing from one courtroom to another, often with reporters following in her slipstream.

Root enjoyed being the center of attention, and she certainly had the wardrobe for it. She wore hats that Carmen Miranda might have rejected as too gaudy. And in 1963, as her 58th birthday beckoned, she continued to pour herself into skin-tight dresses accessorized with enough oversized pins, brooches, bracelets and necklaces to fill a pawnshop jewelry case.

Root chose a well-worn strategy in the Sinatra defense, one that she often used in her sex crime cases: blame the victim.

She claimed the abduction was a publicity stunt to jumpstart Frank, Jr.'s career. She accused Junior of plotting his own kidnapping as "an advertising scheme" to both advance his career and to "make the ladies swoon like papa."

Keenan played along by falsely claiming that he had been approached by a Sinatra intermediary.

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