When Frank Sinatra passed away, more than 400 mourners paid their respects.
It was a somber ceremony, accented by some of the great singer’s favorite things. The church’s speakers played some of his hits, including “In The Wee Small Hours” and “Moonlight in Vermont.”
Loved ones packed his favorite candies, including a roll of cherry-flavored Lifesavers and a package of Tootsie Rolls, into his casket as a final goodbye. They also included a dog biscuit so that Sinatra could feed the dogs in heaven.
But, one of the strangest items buried with Sinatra was also one of the most sentimental: a roll of dimes. After all, the singer had carried dimes in his pockets for decades.
For Sinatra, the dimes held special importance.
On December 8, 1963, 19-year-old Frank Sinatra Jr. was kidnapped from his dressing room at Harrah’s Club Lounge in Lake Tahoe. The perpetrators, Barry Keenan and Joe Amsler, were old high school classmates of Sinatra Jr. Their plan was to grab the singer and demand a high ransom from the teenager’s famous father.
The night of the kidnapping,
Keenan and Amsler drove Sinatra Jr. to their hideout in a Los Angeles suburb. A policeman pulled over the kidnappers on their way to the house, but let them off with a warning.
Less than an hour after the abduction, FBI agents had met with the elder Frank Sinatra.
They told him that the crime likely had a financial motive and that the kidnappers would attempt to contact him soon. Their suggestion was to wait for the abductors’ demands, then give in. The FBI would give Sinatra traceable money, then arrest the criminals.
Less than 24 hours later, the two kidnappers met with a new conspirator, John Irwin, who would act as the ransom contact and handle the money drop. Irwin called Sinatra and demanded $240,000, then gave the singer a warning: To avoid phone taps, the kidnappers would only communicate via pay phone.
On December 10, Sinatra Sr. was on the phone with Irwin when he ran out of dimes. He immediately panicked, fearing for his son’s life. After re-establishing contact with the kidnappers, Sinatra began carrying rolls of dimes everywhere.
Irwin told Sinatra to leave the money between two buses parked at a gas station on the morning of December 11.
Before heading to the drop, Sinatra allowed the FBI to photograph the money. Meanwhile, Keenan and Amsler left to pick up the ransom, leaving Irwin with Sinatra, Jr.
Irwin worried that something had gone wrong with the drop. Panicking, he released Sinatra Jr., who walked several miles to find help. A security guard escorted him to his mother’s home.
The FBI had no problems finding all three kidnappers. After a highly publicized trial, Keenan, Amsler, and Irwin received convictions.
For the Sinatra family, the ordeal was terrifying. The elder Sinatra never forgot the helplessness he’d felt when his call with the kidnappers suddenly cut out. For the rest of his life, he carried rolls of dimes in his pocket—a strange habit, for sure, but also an ever present symbol of his love for his family.