Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Frank Sinatra, Jr. Kidnapping

Fleeting Wealth

Sinatra, Jr. told reporters he was "scared and a little bit nervous, naturally," during the ordeal. But he said he was a cool cat compared with his abductors.

"By the way they talked," he said, "I think they were even more afraid than I was."

After grabbing the ransom, Keenan, Amsler and Irwin reveled in their new wealth.

"We laid all the money out, danced on it, lit cigarettes with it, did all the things we'd seen in the movies," Keenan told L.A. Weekly. "We had a money war, throwing wads of bills at each other."

But the fun didn't last.

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover claimed that brilliant gumshoe work by his agency brought the kidnappers to justice.

 J. Edgar Hoover
J. Edgar Hoover

It wasn't true.

L.A. cops, jealous that Hoover stole the limelight, revealed that the caper was solved by the most ordinary method: Somebody dropped a dime.

John Irwin split with his cut, $40,000. He planned to go to New Orleans and get lost, but he stopped in San Diego to see his brother.

The Sinatra ransom payment and safe return of Junior was a huge news story across America. John Irwin couldn't help himself. He bragged to his brother about his role.

When John went to bed, his brother made a phone call. The jig was up.

Irwin was in custody within hours, and he quickly gave up Keenan and Amsler.

They had had a chance to spend just $6,114 of the ransom loot — most of it on a furniture set Keenan bought to impress his ex-wife.

The FBI planned to confiscate the furniture, but a magnanimous Sinatra, Sr. said, "Let the poor broad keep her couch!"

He also gave a $1,000 tip to the security guard who delivered Junior home. On the day after his son's release — Dec. 12, Frank, Sr.'s 48th birthday — he treated a pack of pals to dinner and drinks at the Sands casino in Las Vegas.

He told his friends to bring no birthday gifts.

"Getting Frankie back is the best birthday present I could ever have," Sinatra said.

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