Joe Amsler, 65; One of Frank Sinatra Jr.'s Kidnappers in 1963

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Joe Amsler, 65, one of three men who kidnapped Frank Sinatra Jr. in 1963, died May 6 in Roanoke, Va., of complications from liver disease, family members said.

Amsler was 23 when he and two associates -- lifelong friend Barry Keenan and Keenan’s mother’s boyfriend, John Irwin -- abducted 19-year-old Sinatra, the only son of Frank Sinatra, at gunpoint from a Lake Tahoe hotel Dec. 8, 1963. They released him unharmed three days later for $240,000 in ransom.

The three men were arrested soon afterward. They were tried and sentenced to life in prison, although each was released in less than five years.


The crime inspired a 2003 made-for-cable movie, Showtime’s “Stealing Sinatra,” in which Ryan Browning played Amsler opposite David Arquette as Keenan and William H. Macy as Irwin.

A native of Kansas City, Mo., Amsler served in the Navy in the late 1950s.

After he was released from prison, he worked as a stunt double and bodyguard for Ryan O'Neal in such movies as “The Thief Who Came to Dinner” and “What’s Up, Doc?”

He left Hollywood to work construction jobs and later was a handyman on a California ranch before moving to Virginia.