‘Reluctant’ Sinatra kidnapper dies in Salem

A 65-year-old man came East a few years ago to be closer to his son, a Staunton musician, died May 6. What makes this story so unusual is that the father was a participant in the 1963 kidnapping of Frank Sinatra Jr., the only son of the legendary crooner.

In a copiously detailed story published in the Roanoke Times, the late Joe Amsler comes to life as a quiet man regretful of his crime and, his friends suggest, reticent about his prior life in Hollywood.

Still, there's that key detail that he participated in taking then 19-year-old Sinatra Jr. from a Lake Tahoe hotel at gunpoint, holding him for three days, and accepting a $240,000 ransom for the physically unharmed victim.

The Times reports that although handed life sentences, the two kidnappers served less than five years in prison. The ringleader, Barry Keenan, now a successful Texas-based real estate developer, accepts full responsibility for the crime and downplays Amsler's role. The crime was the subject of Stealing Sinatra, a 2003 movie made for the Showtime channel, with William H. Macy playing the role of the third conspirator.

Amsler's son is Chris Amsler, who is half of the husband-and-wife Staunton-based acoustic Americana musical duo called The Rusticators.

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