Despite his youth, Keenan was an accomplished businessperson.
At the tender age of 21, he had become the youngest member of the Los
Angeles Stock Exchange. He went into real estate development the
next year and suffered a sudden financial reversal.
He hit upon kidnapping for ransom as the way to dig himself out of
his economic hole. The first victim he considered was Tony Hope,
son of the famous comedian Bob Hope. Patriotism dissuaded him
from this selection. �Bob Hope had been very active with
entertaining the troops and seemed like an all-around good guy,� he
said later. �Kidnapping Tony didn�t seem like a very
American thing to do.�
Why pick on the son of Ol� Blue Eyes? �I decided upon
Junior because Frank Sr. was tough, and I had friends whose parents
were in show business, and I knew Frank always got his way,� Barry
explained. �It wouldn�t be morally wrong to put him through
a few hours of grief worrying about his son.� He even
rationalized that he would be doing the Sinatra family a favor by
kidnapping a member of it. The kidnapping, he thought, would
bring the family closer together.
Keenan enlisted Amsler and Irwin in his kidnapping plot. In
an interview decades later with Peter Gilstrap of the Dallas
Observer, Keenan would say that the trio planned to snatch Sinatra
Junior from the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on November 22, 1963.
The reason? There was a USC versus UCLA football game scheduled
for the day after and businesslike Barry believed he could go to the
game and establish an airtight alibi.
That day Keenan picked up the phone and heard the switchboard
operator sobbing on the line: President John F. Kennedy had just been
shot. That put a monkey wrench in the plan. Amsler and
Irwin, both Kennedy admirers, broke into tears when they heard the
news. Keenan was only concerned with the fact that his own
scheme had been derailed. But only temporarily, he decided.
So Keenan and colleagues followed the younger Frankie to Lake Tahoe
where he was scheduled to appear at Harrah�s nightclub.
Together with Amsler, Keenan spirited Sinatra Jr. away from his hotel
room and took him across the Nevada state line and into California.
The young singer spent some time as a hostage in a room in the San
Fernando Valley with Keenan; captor and hostage chatted even if not in
complete comfort. �He told me of the little money he was
making,� Keenan recalled. Keenan also quoted young Frankie as
saying, �I�ll bet the receipts wherever I sing will go up now on
account of this publicity.�
|Frank Sinatra Snr. talks to
the press (CORBIS)
The kidnappers contacted Frank Sinatra, Sr. and demanded a ransom
of $240,000. The legendary crooner coughed it up but most of the
money was recovered after Keenan, Irwin, and Amsler were arrested.
John Irwin hired Gladys Towles Root as his attorney. The
story he told her made him sound heroic in a wacky manner. Irwin
admitted that he had been the runner for a bookmaker in his salad
days. He claimed to have had an ethical and spiritual awakening
so he settled down to the rigors of a 9-to-5 job and the
responsibilities of marriage and family life. Irwin said that he
was enamored of Keenan�s mother and he had developed a fatherly
feeling towards her son. Irwin claimed he went along with the plot to
kidnap Sinatra only in order to prevent the singer from being
physically harmed and Keenan from committing a more serious offense.
Irwin claimed, �I took an oath unto myself that whenever I saw a boy
going any or partly astray I would lean over backwards to help him.�