Kidnap is a horrendous ordeal not only for the victim, but also the loved ones who don’t know if the abductees will ever come home. In the United States alone, approximately 70 children are kidnapped each day, and there are also some 800,000 missing persons reported each year.
Some people are kidnapped for ransom due to their family connections, while others are snatched by depraved sexual predators. While a large percentage of kidnap victims return home safe and sound, a small proportion die in captivity. However, even those that survive suffer tremendous psychological strain and in some cases, are unable to live their lives to the fullest extent. In this piece, I look at six of the most famous kidnapping cases in history.
1 – Frank Sinatra Jr. (1963)
As the son of the legendary crooner, Frank Sinatra Jr. wasn’t exactly a surprising kidnap target, yet when he was taken on December 8, 1963, it was a crime that shocked America. Sinatra Jr. wanted to follow in the footsteps of his famous father and he toured dozens of cities as a singer. Unbeknownst to him, Joe Amsler and Barry Keenan followed him on this tour with a view to kidnap him for ransom.
The nation was still reeling from the assassination of John F. Kennedy, so maybe that is why the duo decided to strike on December 8, a little over two weeks after the death of the president. On that evening, Sinatra Jr. was performing in Lake Tahoe at Harrah’s Club Lodge. At approximately 9 p.m., he was relaxing in his dressing room when Keenan knocked on the door and pretended to be a delivery man. When Sinatra Jr. answered the door, he was accosted by the two assailants while his friend in the room with him was tied up. Sinatra Jr. was blindfolded and taken outside to a getaway car.
His friend quickly untied himself and contacted the police. Roadblocks were set up almost immediately, and the kidnappers were stopped at one point, but somehow managed to bluff their way through. Within 40 minutes of the crime, the FBI in Reno became involved and met with the victim’s parents. Their recommendation to the Sinatra family was to wait for the ransom demand, pay it, and then allow the agents to track the money.
The following day, Keenan phoned John Irwin and asked his co-conspirator to act as the ransom contact. Irwin called the elder Sinatra and told him to wait for instructions. The following day, he phoned again and demanded $240,000 for the release of his son. Sinatra Sr. obeyed FBI instructions and gathered the cash. They completed the drop between a pair of buses in the town of Sepulveda, California on the morning of December 11 and waited.
While Keenan and Amsler gleefully collected the money, a nervous Irwin released Sinatra Jr. The victim was found in Bel Air, California, and the police placed him in the trunk to avoid the media glare before bringing him to his mother’s home. Although Sinatra Jr. saw or heard little, the FBI was able to find the home where the victim was held and found plenty of evidence at the scene. Irwin confessed to his brother, who subsequently called the police. By December 14, all three kidnappers were captured and almost all of the ransom money recovered.
The defendants tried to claim the kidnap was part of a publicity stunt, but with no evidence to back the claim, all three men were convicted. While they received lengthy sentences, they only served a fraction of their time behind bars. Keenan spent four-and-a-half years in prison and became a real-estate developer in later life.