The rains have come and gone. I walk the streets with our dog, Miss Hepburn, but my mind is elsewhere.
Back to 1963.
On Dec. 13, 1963, Barry Worthington Keenan, 23, was arrested by the FBI at his father’s house on Oakwood Drive in La Cañada Flintridge.
The charge was kidnapping.
The victim was Frank Sinatra, Jr., the 19-year-old son of Old Blue Eyes.
On Dec. 8, 1963, a snow-swept night in Lake Tahoe, Frank Sinatra, Jr. was working a gig with the Tommy Dorsey Band at Harrah’s.
Frank Sinatra, Jr. had checked into Room 417 of Harrah’s South Lodge, a two-story motel near Harrah’s.
The kidnapper, Barry Worthington Keenan, had checked into Harvey’s Wagon Wheel Motel, a motel across the street.
At 8 p.m. Keenan called Room 417. Frank Sinatra, Jr. answered the phone.
Keenan used a fake English accent. He said, “This is Rex Harrison. Is Helen Forrest there?” Helen Forrest was a singer with the Tommy Dorsey Band.
It was a ruse. Frank Sinatra, Jr. responded. Keenan recognized his voice. The fix was on.
A short time later, Keenan and his cohorts knocked on the door of Room 417.
Press reports in the Los Angeles Times described what happened next: Keenan, who wore no disguise, had brought along one prop. It was a Manischewitz wine carton filled with pine cones. Across the front, in red crayon, was scrawled the name, ‘Frank Sinatra, Jr.’
The kidnapping was traumatic for 19-year-old Frank Sinatra, Jr. Keenan and his cohorts used guns, drugs, chains and threats. Worse still was Keenan’s Chutzpah.
What is Chutzpah, you might ask?
Chutzpah is a French word, which, according Webster’s means “supreme self confidence” or “gall.”
Keenan’s Chutzpah was not the misuse of the Manischewitz Wine, although many who have actually tasted Manischewitz wine say they would have preferred the pine cones.
Keenan’s Chutzpah was not the ransom, or the invocation of Rex Harrison or the kidnapping itself.
It was his defense.
Keenan’s defense, which was patently untrue, was that Frank Sinatra, Jr. orchestrated his own kidnapping to promote his own career.
Years later, Keenan admitted that the defense was a complete falsehood. The damage, however, had been done. Frank Sinatra, Jr. was the victim of rumors, innuendo and jokes, in addition to the trauma of the crime.
It turned out well for Keenan. He was convicted. He received a life sentence. There were appeals. He served less than five years in prison before his release. Five years in prison is not fun, but after Keenan was released, he sold his story for a “made for TV” movie.
This was before the enactment of the “Son of Sam” laws that prohibit convicts from profiting from their crimes. Keenan and Frank Sinatra, Jr. were embroiled in litigation. After Keenan won, new laws were enacted to cover future victims. And Keenan’s name pops up from time to time in the South, mostly when his proposed large-scale casino projects are contested by the local residents.
Last we heard, Keenan lives somewhere in Texas. He describes himself as a successful real estate developer.
ANITA SUSAN BRENNER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published Thursday, January 22, 2009 4:10 AM PSTLa Cañada Valley Sun: La Cañada Flintridge, California