• U.S.

Nation: My State of Mind Was Fear

4 minute read

Frank Sinatra Jr., 20, carbonated copy of his pop, was aboutas accommodating a kidnap victim as anyone could want.

Testifying in a Los Angeles federal court at the trial of three men charged with kidnaping him last Dec. 8, young Sinatra said he had been taken from his Lake Tahoe motel room “at gunpoint” but had then stretched out quietly— without being bound or gagged—in the back seat of the kidnapers’ car. Later, he continued, when the car approached a roadblock full of lawmen, he suggested to his kidnapers that they might fool the cops by telling them that “we’ve been to a party and I’ve had too much to drink.”

“It’s Too Bad.” Frank Jr. said that after a $240,000 ransom payment from his father had been arranged, he bade a fond farewell to one of his accused abductors, John W. Irwin, 42, giving him a manly handshake and the lament, “It’s too bad we couldn’t have met under different circumstances.” When Irwin dropped him off that night on a highwaya few miles from his mother’s Bel Air home, Sinatra advised him to stop where it was dark “so I won’t be able to see the license plate of your car.” All this warmth and cooperation, young Frankie testified, was out of concern for “my own preservation and well-being.”Said he: “My state of mind was fear.” Attorneys for the three defendants—Barry W. Keenan, 23, an unemployed salesman, Joseph C. Amsler, 23, a shellfish diver, and Irwin, a house painter—thought young Sinatra’s motives were quite different. The defense lawyers argued that the issue was “not who committed the crime, but was there a crime committed?” Irwin’s lawyer, a bejeweled, well-over-40 platinum blonde named Gladys Towles Root, went right to the point and accused young Sinatra of engineering the kidnapinghimself as “an advertising scheme” so that “he might make the ladies swoon like papa.” Said Mrs. Root to the jury: “The more I listen to this trial, the more I become sickened at the thought of what young people will do these days to make money.” “I’m Upset.” Such were the defense tactics that at the courtroom press table, where sat more than two dozen working reporters and Walter Winchell, the stock gag soon became “Do you think Sinatra will be acquitted?” But Frank Jr. absolutely denied that the well-publicized kidnaping had been any sort of publicity stunt, once snapped in exasperation, “This kind of publicity would do me more harm than good!” When he had finished, his father took the stand. Frank Sr., too, was subjected to question after question about the possibility of a hoax. For the most part he kept his temper—something he seldom bothers about. But Mrs. Root riled him when she asked, “Within the last year, did you ever say to anyone you talked to that Frank Sinatra Jr. might be a kidnap victim?” Sinatra snapped back: “Wrong!” Then he simmered down, and when asked about the phone calls he had taken from one kidnaper— identified later as Irwin—to arrange the ransom drop, Sinatra recalled that the man had constantly blubbered such things as “I’m terribly nervous, I’m upset, I sure wish I weren’t in on the scheme—I don’t like it no matter what it’s being done for.” Later Irwin turned himself in to the FBI. Agents then quickly arrested the other two defendants and found all but about $2,000 of the ransom money.

Late last week the prosecution neared completion of its case, and the defense attorneys were ready to present their case—which presumably would have quite a bit more to say about a possible hoax.

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