John Stamos Finally Tells Story of Sinatra Kidnapping

True crime tale wound its way to the actor, who narrates the podcast
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 27, 2021 2:30 PM CDT
Updated Jul 31, 2021 7:00 AM CDT
Podcast Tells Story of Sinatra Kidnapping
John Stamos, shown in 2018, narrates a new podcast about the Sinatra kidnapping case.   (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

In 1963, Barry Keenan was a young man who wanted to be big news. He heard God’s voice on the radio telling him that kidnapping singer Frank Sinatra's son would be his ticket to the top. "And the radio wasn't even on," actor John Stamos said. Stamos narrates a podcast about the infamous kidnapping of Frank Sinatra Jr. that debuted Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reports. Keenan's mental health is just one part of the twisting tale, which Stamos had long wanted to tell. The actor-musician's route to this point is a story in itself. Here's what happened:

  • Keenan was a student at UCLA in 1963 who'd gone to grade school with Frank Sinatra Jr.'s sister Nancy. An auto accident left him in chronic pain, addicted to pain killers, and broke, per Esquire. He decided ransom would be the windfall he needed.
  • The singer was chosen as a victim because Keenan said he knew him to be tough; Sinatra had long been suspected of involvement in organized crime. "It wouldn't be morally wrong to put him through a few hours of grief worrying about his son," Keenan once said, per the Washington Post.

  • That December, Keenan and two accomplices seized the singer's son in a hotel room in Lake Tahoe, where Sinatra Jr., a 19-year-old singer, was performing. They left a band member who was there tied up and drove Sinatra to Los Angeles, where the victim was held for four days. A call to his father relayed the demand for $240,000 in ransom, and the FBI dropped off the money as instructed.
  • While Keenan and another man went to pick up the cash, the third grew nervous and let Frank Jr. go. He walked until he ran across a security guard in Bel Air, who drove him to his mother's house. A few days later, a brother of one of the men called police, and the kidnappers were arrested and almost all the money recovered.
  • All three were sentenced to 75 years in prison, but after psychiatric evaluations, Keenan was released 4½ years into the sentence. He would go on to make millions in real estate and is now 81. "He's a bright man," Stamos said, "and he just wanted to take a shortcut to everything."
  • How the tale got to Stamos is convoluted. Keenan wrote down his story while in prison and gave the manuscript to surf music pop star Dean Torrence of Jan and Dean as repayment for money owed. Torrence gave it to Stamos with the understanding that he'd produce it in some form. Stamos didn't know how to do that and "just threw it in a box."
  • "I've been trying on all fronts to get the story out," Stamos said. He was in his 20s when he got the manuscript and is 57 now. He'd also like to see it told in a TV series; it's too involved for a movie, he said, though Operation Blue Eyes, an unrelated film about the kidnapping, is in the works, per Deadline.
The Grand Scheme: Snatching Sinatra, a 14-part series, is available on Wondery. (More Frank Sinatra Jr. stories.)

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