Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Frank Sinatra, Jr. Kidnapping

Easy As A-B-C

Keenan, Amslet and Irwin
Keenan, Amslet and Irwin

Keenan couldn't execute his scheme alone, so he brought in two accomplices — Joe Amsler, his school buddy who was working as an underemployed abalone diver, and John Irwin, 42, a house painter.

Irwin had once dated Keenan's mother.

In one of the more curious footnotes to the caper, Keenan would later reveal that he hired Irwin because he had a gruff voice. He was designated as the gang member who would phone Sinatra Sr. to demand a ransom. Knowing Sinatra's pugnacious reputation, Keenan felt he needed someone who could exchange tough talk, like a Hoboken hoodlum.

He offered to pay Amsler and Irwin $100 a week for their services — far more than they were earning legitimately.

Using the name Frank Long and a phony English accent, Keenan rented a house in Canoga Park where Sinatra, Jr. could be held after the abduction.

Plan A was to grab Junior in October 1963 during an appearance of the Dorsey Orchestra at the Arizona State Fair in Phoenix. When that fell through, Keenan chose a new date for the kidnapping: Nov. 22, 1963, while the band was appearing at the Ambassador, the landmark Wilshire Boulevard hotel in L.A.

Plan B was aborted with the news of President Kennedy's assassination that afternoon. The kidnap gang was too depressed to muster a felony.

This led to Plan C, the kidnapping in Lake Tahoe, which occurred in a near-blizzard.

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