It was a crazy idea -- nab Frank's boy -- but the bozos pulled it off. Almost. Thirty-five years ago, just after the death of President Kennedy and just before the arrival of the Beatles, three men kidnapped 19-year-old Frank Sinatra Jr. from a motel in Lake Tahoe, Nev. He was held in a Los Angeles hideout for four days; the price of his release was $240,000. During that time, the family was distraught, and because of who the father was, the headlines were big and black and screaming across front pages around the country. Attorney General Robert Kennedy offered the government's support, J. Edgar Hoover activated the FBI, and mob boss Sam Giancana volunteered his own special brand of crime solving (which the elder Sinatra refused).

Sinatra Jr. made it through the ordeal. The kidnappers were caught, brought to a trial that may as well have been staged by Ringling Bros., duly sentenced and carted off to prison. Though it was a heinous offense, the kidnapping was far from a criminal masterwork. In fact, it was an absurd event riddled with profound incompetence and confusion, perpetrated by amateurs whose previous criminal experience had been along the lines of lighting palm trees on fire for laughs.

The brains behind the caper were Barry Keenan's. A high school chum of Junior's sister Nancy, Keenan at 21 had been the youngest member of the Los Angeles Stock Exchange. He became a real estate developer at 22, a kidnapper at 23, a jailbird at 24. The money behind the whole thing came from Dean Torrence, of the surf-pop duo Jan and Dean. That Dean.

Since the kidnapping, Keenan has forged a charmed life. He survived a near-death experience with alcohol to make a fortune in real estate development and created several successful substance-abuse treatment centers. Now he travels the country with his faithful dog Gordy, helming a development firm that plans to build a $3 billion resort in the South.

Sinatra Jr., now 54, still refuses to talk about the incident. But Keenan agreed to talk, with two stipulations. The first was that he be able to tell his version of the whole story, which would take hours. The second was that the interview take place during a one-way drive to Las Vegas.

Part of the route would snake down a lonely stretch of Highway 395, where Keenan, as a young man, had driven his white '63 Chevy Impala on a cold winter night with Frank Sinatra Jr. blindfolded in the back seat.

The dog trots through the drizzle down a street in Westwood one night in 1961. He is a mutt, about the size of a cocker spaniel, and at the spot where the road banks into a steep curve, he stops to sniff something.

A 1960 Ford Ranchero approaches just as the dog decides to cross the avenue. The driver slams on the brakes and loses control; his vehicle caroms off several parked cars and finally hits a retaining wall.

The man behind the wheel is Barry Worthington Keenan. A successful young businessman with a fiancee riding shotgun on the way to his mother's house, a clever fellow with a bright future, a diligent UCLA student with plans.

Plans that do not include crashing his car to avoid killing a mutt or sustaining a back injury that will cause chronic pain -- pain that will soon have him addicted to Percodan, muscle relaxers and tranquilizers. Drugs will send his career into a shambles and, mixed with desperation, alter his thinking to the point that he will concoct an elaborate scheme to save himself by kidnapping Frank Sinatra Jr.

Through the prescribed substances that percolate in his brain, he will come to envision this kidnapping as not so much a crime as a resplendent act of good will. One that would bring the estranged Sinatra family together again. Strengthen the bond between father and son. The ransom gained in this act would be invested in carefully chosen stocks and development deals that would yield maximum profits, which would put an end to his and his family's financial woes, line the wallets of his accomplices, and ultimately allow him to pay back the senior Sinatra's capital contribution, a chunk of money that law enforcement officials will refer to as ransom.

Barely rattled, the dog continues across the street.

"For the first time in my life I'd run out of money completely," recalls Keenan, who has aged from an affable, charming young man into an affable, charming businessman of 57 years. "By September of '63 I was in desperate straits, alcoholic, drug-addicted."

His father had gone broke in the market and his mother was recovering from a suicide attempt. They'd been divorced since Keenan was 3. "I saw myself as the rescuer of my whole family," he says. "Intellectually, I knew it was a crime, but emotionally I was working very hard to rationalize it, to make it an okay deal."

Keenan did his homework, heading to the library to read crime articles written by J. Edgar Hoover, studying kidnappings dating to biblical times to determine where others went wrong. Covering all the bases, the devout Catholic also spent time regularly petitioning God for help. Though unfortunately there is no patron saint of kidnappings.

Keenan had attended school with Nancy Sinatra, including West L.A.'s University High, which was filled with children of the rich and famous; he had many classmates to mull over as potential victims.

"I originally thought of Tony Hope {adopted son of Bob}, but Bob Hope had been very active with entertaining the troops and seemed like an all-around good guy. Kidnapping Tony didn't seem like a very American thing to do.

"I decided upon Junior because Frank Sr. was tough, and I had friends whose parents were in show business, and I knew Frank always got his way. It wouldn't be morally wrong to put him through a few hours of grief worrying about his son."

Which is not to say that Keenan disliked Old Blue Eyes. He sometimes rode along when Frank Sr. would drive Nancy and her friends places.

"He was always very nice to me," Keenan says.

Barry Keenan picks up the phone in late October 1963, and dials the number of his best friend, Dean Torrence. They have known each other since they were kids, were both members of "the Barons de West L.A." club at Uni High, have both made money off investments Barry has put together since graduation. They're like brothers.

Dean lives with his folks, is a student at USC, but his grinning, California boy face is known to teens nationwide. They see it plastered on the front of heartthrob magazines and album covers, they hear Dean and his partner Jan Berry falsettoing through radio speakers, extolling the wonderfully tanned dreamland of Southern California -- riding the waves and shooting the curl and "two girls for every boy."

Barry makes the call knowing that he can count on Dean for the money to finance the little plan he's cooked up. After all, with "Surf City" hitting No. 1 just a couple months earlier, Dean is flush.

They agree to meet at the statue of Tommy Trojan on the USC campus at noon. Barry brings a three-ring binder containing a titled, indexed proposal extensively outlining his ideas and the need for adequate funding. He calls it the Plan of Operation.

Dean brings a sack lunch.

"I had three or four days to prepare, so I wrote a business plan out. I didn't think he'd say, This is a great idea,' but I had to go about rationalizing it so that he might buy into it," Keenan explains. "I wanted him to put in $5,000, and, in 1963 dollars, that was a lot of money.

"I asked him not to react until he'd heard the whole thing. So I went about saying we're going to do this kidnapping, only it's not really a kidnapping, I'm just going through this process because I need money to make these investments.

"I had four or five primary investments that would allow a quick return and, ultimately, I would pay Sinatra back because that was the only way I could get the sin forgiven in the Catholic Church; you had to make amends and restitution."

But what if Sinatra simply didn't want the money back? What if there were tax problems, ransom write-offs and such that could throw a wrench into the restitution effort? A quick consultation of the index showed that such an eventuality was provided for. "If he didn't want it himself, we'd ask him what charity he would like it donated to," Keenan offers.

"Dean said, That all sounds great, Barry, very entertaining, but what happens if you get caught?' I said, Well, Dean, I'm not going to get caught. That's not part of the plan. I will have such an iron-clad alibi.'

"He said, I'll tell you what, this is too bizarre for me to even relate to, but I will give you $500 now. You try to get your life together, and let me know how things go.' At the time, Dean was certain I'd cooked this whole thing up as a preposterous way for me to ask him to borrow some money."

Dean Torrence had never spoken publicly about the kidnapping, but through the efforts of Keenan and the Barons de West L.A. bond that has seen them through times good and bad, he was persuaded to talk.

Whatever sans souci qualities they sang about in those surf songs, Dean is all of that still. He speaks in a languid beach drawl. He smiles a lot. He still has all his hair. For an interview at the exclusive Bel-Air Hotel restaurant where patrons are dressed for power business, Dean shows up in a sweat shirt and ripped jeans and is shown to a table immediately.

"As long as I didn't have to give up anything more than lunch -- which I was going to eat anyway -- I was willing to listen to it," Torrence says of Keenan's abduction proposal. "I was there to listen, kind of like a therapist.

"Obviously, I knew it was wrong. On the other hand, if it made him happy to think about it . . . It just seemed so outrageous that I kind of thought it was more of a fantasy than anything else. I thought something else would probably come along for him and he'd go, Oh that thing, I'm no longer doing that, I just sold 100,000 vacuum cleaners,' or something.

"I don't think I ever took him seriously," Dean continues. "It was so insane."

There was no way Keenan was going to do this thing accompanied only by his three-ring binder; he needed accomplices. He turned to his high school friend Joe Amsler, an up-and-coming boxer and abalone diver. Amsler had recently married, and he needed cash.

Amsler thought the plan was nuts, but agreed to play along for the $100 a week that Keenan offered. The next recruit was John Irwin, 42, who had been Keenan's mother's boyfriend; he, too, thought the 100 bucks sounded good. Irwin was a decorated Navy veteran of World War II and was "a really tough guy" who could "talk tough on the phone," says Keenan. You don't want to have a ransom conversation with Frank Sinatra and not be able to talk tough.

The soldiers were now in place, the Plan of Operation ready for mobilization.

First they planned to kidnap Junior in Phoenix, where he was appearing at the State Fair. "But we made a couple of mistakes in Arizona so the effort there was aborted," Keenan says.

Back in Los Angeles, the trio slipped into their best suits and went to the Ambassador Hotel for Junior's opening. They got a table a few feet away from Big Frank, who was sitting with fellow Rat Packers Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. Drinks flowed, tensions eased, it was a good night.

" See, we're just like these people,' " Keenan coaxed his boys, as Junior, onstage, made dad proud. "That's when they started to get into it."

Junior had an apartment just a few blocks from Dean Torrence's home; that seemed a perfect place to make the grab. Keenan settled on an ideal date: Nov. 22. This was 1963, mind you.

The next day there was a USC-UCLA football game that Keenan would attend, being seen by hundreds who knew him. The perfect alibi. He got a motel room to use as a headquarters; after the nab, Junior would be hustled down to a house on a secluded five-acre lot in suburban Canoga Park that Keenan had rented under the name Frank A. Long.

That morning, Keenan picked up the phone to make a call and got the motel's switchboard operator. She managed, between sobs, to inform Keenan that the president had been assassinated.

The soldiers broke down, too. "The deal was off, as far as they were concerned," says Keenan.

But the ringleader wouldn't give up. He found out that Junior was headed next to Nevada and then to Europe. "So it was Lake Tahoe or bust."

He hit up Torrence for another $500. Meanwhile, Irwin had taken a house-painting job and couldn't be bothered. Amsler was out of work, had had a fight with his wife -- who told him to find employment or not come home.

Keenan played the angles: "I said, Joe, let's go up to Lake Tahoe and get a job. There's construction jobs up there.' I did not tell him Junior was up there. It sounded like a good deal to him. . . .

"So we arrive in Lake Tahoe, and Joe sees Junior's name on the marquee at Harrah's Casino. He said, You're not still thinking about that, are you?' I said, Joe, don't worry about it.' "

While Amsler was busy applying at construction offices, Keenan shadowed Junior's movements, went to his performances, observed his comings and goings from the showroom to the adjacent motel where he was staying. With the assistance of a steady supply of beer and pills, Keenan says, he eased Amsler back into the idea of finally doing the job.

Days passed. Keenan decided the abduction would take place on Sunday, Dec. 8. One factor in helping him pick this crucial date was that they were out of money. Even if they had wanted to leave, there was not enough cash to pay the hotel bill. "It became, now we had to kidnap Frank Sinatra Jr. just to get out of the hotel. As crazy as that sounds, that's what it boiled down to. I needed to get money from Junior because I didn't have enough gas in the car to get to L.A."

Keenan went into the intricate final prep mode. Intending to pass as a delivery boy, he got a wine box from a liquor store and filled it with pine cones. Logically, if questioned, he could say he was taking pine cones to Junior's room for holiday decorations. Plus, "there were lots of pine cones in Lake Tahoe."

Here's how it went:

Frank Sinatra Jr. is on the second floor in Room 417, sitting in his underwear eating chicken before his evening show. With him -- unbeknown to Keenan -- is one John Foss, 26, trumpet player in Junior's band. He, too, is eating chicken. Keenan and Amsler pull the car up to the stairwell and Keenan hands Joe a gun, unloaded. His own gun (acquired in Arizona) is loaded save for one empty chamber. As the pair begin to mount the steps they can see their breath billow before them.

The sun is down, the moon is up, the air is cold as science.

"Joe says, Let's go back to L.A. You're not going to go through with this thing; let's go to L.A. before we get in trouble.' I said, No, Joe, I'm going to do this.' At the landing between the first and second floor, that's when Joe really started to worry."

Keenan gets up to the door, gun in his belt under his coat, wine box of pine cones nestled beneath his arm. Amsler has just reached the top of the stairs slowly shaking his head and locks eyes with Keenan, who reaches his fist up, knuckles inches from the door, seconds away from a knock that will change lives. "I knock on the door and Junior says, Come in.' Joe turned white." Keenan turned the door knob. "I said, Hi guys, I've got a package for you.' Junior says, Put it over there.' "

Keenan puts the package down and grabs for his gun, except it gets stuck on his jacket. He's yanking at the thing as Junior swallows a bite of thigh.

"Finally, it sort of flew out, and I cocked it in Junior's face. I could see he was looking at the bullets. I said, Don't make any noise and nobody'll get hurt, don't make any noise and nobody'll get hurt,' sort of like a stuck record. Then I started taking charge. I said, Both of you get over and lie on the floor, this is a robbery. Where is your money?' "

Foss has no money, Junior has 20 bucks. By this time, Amsler has entered the room and is in perhaps more shock than anybody. Keenan tells him to get the money, but he doesn't move. He tells him again, finally points his gun at him. Then back at Junior, then back at Amsler, then over at Foss, then back at Amsler.

"Joe, get the money!"

According to the Plan of Operation, they were supposed to be addressing each other with the names of presidents. Too late for that. Amsler gets the money, says, "Let's go," but they don't.

"I pointed the gun at him and said, No.' I said, We're going to have to take one of you guys with us. You in the dark hair' -- pretending like I didn't know who he was -- you're going to go with us.' "

Foss was tied up -- or rather, taped up, with adhesive tape; Amsler, Keenan and Junior left the room and made for the car. But wait -- didn't they leave something back in the room? What was it? Keenan thought for a second.

Oh yeah, a gun.

"I went up to get it," he says. "When I got there, {Foss} was already up, getting untied. I'd told him, Don't move for 10 minutes,' but I'd been gone less than one minute, and he was already moving around."

What to do? Sure, Keenan was the one with the gun, he could tell the guy to remain motionless until Valentine's Day if he wanted to. Nevertheless, he'd originally said 10 minutes, one or so had gone by, and now he'd been up in the room for a few more minutes, probably bringing the total elapsed time to just over four minutes. Keenan stood there thinking about this while perhaps another minute passed.

Foss slumped in his chair and stared at his captor, awaiting the next order.

"I made it five minutes this time, I told him not to move for five minutes. I figured we'd already used five minutes of our 10-minute time." Obviously, it was the decent, fair thing to do.

Back to the car.

Junior is placed in the back seat with a sleeping mask over his eyes. But that guy back in the room, he's going to get loose soon, he's going to call the cops. This could be a problem.

"We were trying to figure out what to do. Before I made up my mind, I turned around and asked Junior what his name was. He said, I'm Frank.' I said, Frank, your friend's going to get up before we get out of Lake Tahoe, and I'm concerned that there's going to be gunplay. There's one way that we can work this out, and that's if you play along with us, and we pretend that we're just guys out having a good time.' "

Keenan recalls Junior saying: "You don't have to worry about me, I'll play along. And you better take my signet ring. I'm Frank Sinatra Jr. Somebody might notice the FS ring."

So, Keenan says, "He was very quickly starting to be one of the co-conspirators. We're in the car maybe three or four minutes. I say, Frank, what we should do is make you look like you're drunk, so here, take these sleeping pills {Nembutal, to be precise} and take a swig of this whiskey.' Frank was very cooperative. And, of course, Joe couldn't wait to get a hold of the whiskey."

Soon Foss is free, and word on the crime is out. A blizzard is kicking in -- but luckily, Keenan thought ahead to put on snow chains. Coming down the mountain, out of the worst of the storm, they round a sweeping turn, and suddenly there are lights up ahead shining into the night, an oasis of danger. A roadblock.

Keenan stops the car half a mile from it to reconnoiter.

"I knew they were looking for three people, so I pulled over and said, Joe, you get back to L.A. as best you can. Frank and I will go on through the roadblock. I'll let Frank go somewhere down the road, and we'll meet up later."

Poor, hapless Amsler runs full-tilt into the woods.

"I get out to take my chains off, when a sheriff's car comes driving up, a guy jumps out while the driver has a gun on me. I said, What's going on, officer?' He said, Oh nothing, we're just looking for some people.' He gets back in his car and drives back to the roadblock.

"I said to Frank that he'd done well, and as soon as we get past the roadblock we'd let him out. He says, I told you you didn't have anything to worry about. But you better not leave your friend out here. I've lived in snow conditions, and he could die very quickly.' I think Frank was sincerely concerned for the guy."

Keenan starts calling for Joe.

"Then we heard Joe rustling in the brush, and he comes out. I said, What happened?' He said, I ran into a fence post, and I think I was knocked out.' I told him that they'd seen two people, so he should get in the trunk."

They drive to the roadblock.

"One guy waves me through, and another guy puts up a shotgun and says, Stop that {expletive} car or I'll blow you right out of it.' So I put on the brakes and roll down the window, and he puts the shotgun on the sill. I said, We've already been searched.' He says, Well, we're going to search you again.' "

Then the first two cops arrive on the scene -- "It's all right, we've already checked them out."

"The guy with the shotgun says, Son, let me tell you something. When you come to a roadblock, you better stop the {expletive} car or you're going to get shot.' I said, Yes sir, I will always stop for a roadblock if that ever happens again.'

"As we pulled away, Junior says, Who does that {expletive} think he is, talking like that?' I was like, Yeah!' "

A few miles down the road, Keenan pulls over, pops the trunk and out comes Joe, teeth chattering. He gets in the car. "Frank, you got that whiskey?"

The whiskey bottle is close to dead, and Keenan flicks on the radio. It's a voice saying Frank Sinatra Jr. has been kidnapped! And now . . . a segue into a record by his father.

"Why would they think this is a kidnapping? Isn't that just like the radio stations to exploit this," Junior grumbles.

"At this point, we'd all reassured each other that we weren't going to hurt each other," Keenan relates. "We weren't going to hurt Sinatra, and he was going to play along if we hit any more roadblocks. We're one big happy family on this drive through the night together."

They have gone through a roadblock, Amsler has been rescued from a frozen death; drugs and booze have been enjoyed; ritual road trip bonding has occurred between these three young men, and Junior is convinced that finally -- as the car pulls into the driveway of the safe house in Canoga Park -- that the robbery will be at an end and he will be allowed to go free.

"We get in the house, and I tell him, Frank, this is a kidnapping.' He went ballistic. He was so angry, and it seemed bizarre to me that he would get angry at his kidnappers, not for kidnapping him but for lying to him," Keenan says.

"I told him we could get this thing over with quickly and asked for the phone number of his dad. He says, I'm not going to give you anything. You guys lied to me, you're going to have to shoot me now.'

"I was going to call his bluff, Well, I guess I'm going to have to shoot you. We're still going to get the ransom money.' Then Joe jumps in and takes Junior aside and says, I know this guy, he's crazy. He might shoot you; he might shoot me, too.' "

But Junior wouldn't budge.

"We're really screwed," Keenan says. "Now what do you do?"

You call the tough guy, you call the decorated vet, you call John Irwin. His response is, "Jesus! You actually did it!"

Keenan begs him to come over. Irwin says forget it.

" John, you knew about it, you got two choices,' " Keenan cajoles. " You can turn us in, or you've got to help.' I put all these guilt trips on him, things I'd done for him. Plus, his share of the ransom was $40,000. I said, Think what you could do with that.' So he agrees to make one phone call."

A brief interlude: Now it is Monday morning, and Keenan needs more money. Among other reasons, he has to drive back up to Tahoe and pay his hotel bill so he can remove any evidence from the room. Back to Dean Torrence, the financier, who now realizes that all this has become more than a grandiose ploy to borrow money.

"I go over to Dean's house, and Dean was a little shaken," Keenan says. "I said I needed money, we drove down to the bank, and that was a strange drive. Very quiet. I was disappointed that he wasn't more elated like I was. He gave me $500."

No, Dean was not elated.

"I was going through all the scenarios in my mind," Torrence explains. "I'm actually going to the bank, which makes me an accessory, and what does that mean? While he was yakking about how he did it, I was trying to figure out why I'm doing what I'm doing."

Back to the hideout.

Keenan tells tight-lipped Junior that he and Amsler are only low-level goons in this caper, that one of the Big Boys is coming to get that number from him. And don't get him mad. The imposing figure of Irwin enters the room. "You got to give me a phone number so we can wrap this up."

"Shoot me, beat me up, whatever," spews gutsy Junior. "I'm not giving you a phone number. I'm not scared of you guys."

But, as it turns out, they don't need Junior to get a number.

"We'd heard on the radio that Sinatra had set up headquarters at the Mapes Hotel in Reno," Keenan explains. "So we got the number from information. We went to a library, got a Reno phone book and found a Chevron station where we knew the phone wouldn't be tapped. Irwin called an expectant, edgy Frank and said, Your boy is okay, you can talk to him, but get to this Chevron station in 15 minutes.' "

What they didn't realize was that the listings for Carson City and Reno were in the same book; the station they chose was in Carson City, Sinatra was in Reno. Frank grabs an FBI man, they jump into a car and cut a 40-minute drive to 20.

Now dig this:

Irwin calls the station in 15 minutes. "Is Frank Sinatra there?" The Chevron man answers -- "No!" Click.

Irwin calls back a second time. "Is Frank Sinatra there?"

The Chevron man: "Listen buddy, I'm working on a car, I don't have time to play around. Don't call again!"

Irwin calls a third time. "Is Frank Sinatra there?"

Chevron man: "Listen, pal. Mr. Sinatra is not in the habit of taking his calls at this Chevron station!"

Seconds after he hangs up, a black car peels into the station, brakes screeching to a halt. The passenger door is flung open, a man bounds out, brilliant blue eyes ablaze. He runs up, grabs the slack-jawed attendant by the front of his shirt.

"I'm Frank Sinatra! Have I had any calls?!!"

Irwin calls one more time, a panting Sinatra grips the phone, and the conversation goes something like this:

"What do you want, money?"

"Of course."

"How much? I'll give you a million dollars if you let my son go!"

"Well, we don't need a million dollars. I'll tell you how much we need tomorrow."

"Can I talk to my son?"

A conversation ensues that consists of: "Are you all right?" and "Yeah." Click.

Jazzed on Percodan, Coca-Cola and no sleep for two days, Keenan proceeds to drive back to Lake Tahoe in a rented Impala. He's strapped skis on the roof for a winter tourist effect. He cleans the hotel room, pays up, completes the smoke screen by going skiing. Once down the bunny slope and he's L.A. bound.

He arrives at the hideout to find a nervous Irwin and Amsler demanding they get going with the ransom collection. In his absence, Amsler and Junior "had been really bonding. They were doing pantomimes of their favorite Wallace Beery movies," Keenan recalls.

That night, they put in the big call to Sinatra, demanding $240,000 from the grief-stricken Chairman of the Board, giving him explicit instructions on how and where to deliver the ransom. An FBI courier must follow a trail of pay phones, receiving directions at each one, finally making the drop with the bills in a black satchel between two parked school buses at a gas station on Sunset Boulevard.

Keenan and Amsler, nerves on hair-triggers, depart into the night to make the pickup. The black satchel is there. Keenan lets Amsler out to grab it while he circles the block. Four right turns later, he can see the buses, he can see the satchel still sitting there, but Amsler is nowhere to be found.

"Suddenly there's taxicabs and ice cream trucks driving around. I can sense it's the FBI. I put the money in the car and take off."

There is a little surprise in store for him at the hideout.

"I get back to the house and there's no Irwin and no Junior," he says. "Now I'm freaking out. Our fingerprints were everywhere, so I quickly tried to wipe the place down, gathered up everything I could, burned the Plan of Operation, and got out. I was about a block away when lines of police and FBI cars came heading for the house."

Keenan and the money make it to a friend's apartment, where he casually asks to spend the night. Sure, Barry. And so, for the first time in days, he sleeps.

Now here's how the other guys are faring:

Back at the pickup site, Amsler freaks about the FBI presence, jumps a fence and makes a beeline for his wife's place. At the hideout, Irwin, too, freaks, calls Frank Sr. to fill him in, and drives, at Junior's request, to an overpass of the 405 freeway, where he lets him out. Junior, freaked as well, cowers in some roadside bushes as passing headlights flash, understandably paranoid that his captors would return to get him. In doing so, he manages to hide himself so well that his own father, driving up and down the street, can't find him at the prearranged spot. Gathering his fortitude, Junior walks into Bel-Air and reveals himself to a security guard who drives him -- stowed in the trunk to avoid the waiting press -- to his mother's house, where there is much rejoicing.

In the next few days, there is also much rejoicing in the kidnappers' camp. Despite the botches and foul-ups, it had been a success, hadn't it? Per Keenan's predicted outcome of happiness for all, the Sinatra family is once more united -- Frank throws a huge party and even invites his archenemy, the press -- and the exhausted trio of 'nappers have the money firmly in their grasp. Keenan delivers Dean Torrence's share, which Dean soon returns to him. Keenan and Amsler decide to enjoy the cash in one way or another.

"We laid all the money out, danced on it, lit cigarettes with it, did all the things we'd seen in the movies," says Keenan. "We had a money war, throwing wads of bills at each other."

But the exultant currency skirmishes were not to last. The authorities close in fast. On his way to hide out in New Orleans, Irwin stops in San Diego to visit his brother, to whom he spills his guts. While Irwin sleeps, his brother turns him in. Amsler is taken while playing chess at a friend's house. The FBI gets Keenan at his girlfriend's place.

Virtually all the ransom is returned, apart from a small amount Keenan has given his ex-wife with which to buy furniture. When the FBI informs Sinatra about this, he waves his hand: "Christ, let her keep the furniture!"

The rest of the story is, well, as odd and chaotic as everything that preceded it. The case was tried in four weeks. There were flamboyant, grandstanding lawyers, and there was testimony from FBI agents, police, Torrence, Keenan, Irwin and Amsler, all twisting their stories to cover their various behinds (Torrence, miraculously, escaped without punishment). On the stand, Junior told the truth and nothing but, even admitting that he said to his abductors, "I hope you guys get away with this."

In a move that Keenan regrets more than any aspect of the kidnapping, at the behest of Amsler's and Irwin's attorneys, he concocted the now-infamous story that the crime was a hoax, a publicity stunt he'd pulled off after being approached by mysterious characters involved with the Sinatras. It is something that has followed Junior all his life, and is simply not true. Nor did the scam help Keenan and his associates when sentencing time rolled around. They got 75 years plus life.

But the maximum sentence ultimately proved to be their ace out of the hole: It qualified them for psychiatric observation at a medical center for federal prisoners. "They said in effect that I was legally and mentally insane at the time of the kidnapping," Keenan says, "and we had no criminal malice, and didn't fit the profile of normal criminals."

This brought their sentences down to 25 years. All three pursued appeals, and as the judge organized his files to forward to the appellate court, he came across a summary from the medical center that differed from the one he had originally reviewed. Because of this technicality, the judge reduced Keenan's time in the big house to 12 years. Amsler and Irwin were back on the streets in 3 1/2 years, and the first time Keenan went up for parole his wish was granted. After only 4 1/2 years, he was a free man in 1968.

He was not free from the drug-and-booze monkey that was still clinging to his back. In prison he'd been "immediately given 40 milligrams of Valium, so I was stoned the whole time," he says. And, while in the slammer, he could easily "get drunk every Saturday night."

These addictions did not stop Keenan, once free, from digging back into his career. In prison, he had earned 17 cents an hour working as a purchasing agent and emerged with about $800 in his pockets. Friends were there to help him, throwing a benefit party that raised $2,500. Torrence leased a car for his credit-bereft pal. And Keenan was able to step back into real estate.

By the '70s, Keenan was not only "in and out of AA," but involved in projects that included office buildings, apartments, retirement homes and RV parks that all paid off. By 1983, his net worth was $17 million.

Talk about a functioning abuser.

It caught up with him three years later.

"I almost died from alcoholism," admits Keenan, who mixed his prescription pain relievers with whiskey. With little choice and a renewed faith in a higher power, he committed to the 12-step program. He turned his skills to opening several successful treatment centers, sub-acute psychiatric hospitals, and shelters for runaway teens and battered women with children. The thrice-divorced Keenan now lives in Texas and has a farm in Mississippi and an apartment in Los Angeles. If his $3 billion resort deal goes through, Keenan stands to rake in millions.

Frank Sinatra Jr. continues to sing, his voice and looks now more his own than a hereditary print of his father's. In recent years he has led the orchestra for Frank Sr. on dates around the world and kept quiet on the long-ago kidnapping that now seems so ludicrous.

And, now and again, Keenan and Junior -- men of wealth and prestige who spent a handful of strange days and nights together 35 years ago -- will cross paths at Beverly Hills cocktail parties. They do not speak. They simply nod across a crowded room. Postscript: A version of this article originally appeared in the weekly New Times Los Angeles. It immediately became the subject of a frantic, major-studio bidding war. Rights were snatched by Columbia Pictures for $1 million. CAPTION: News of the weird: In montage above, clockwise from top left, "I was scared," Frank Sinatra Jr. tells reporters shortly after his father paid a $240,000 ransom; the crooning son; FBI agents take Barry Keenan into custody; father and son. Right, Keenan today, a millionaire developer. CAPTION: Developer Barry Keenan, left, now 57, and Frank Sinatra Jr., now 54, conducting a concert last July. "Intellectually, I knew it was a crime," Keenan says of the kidnapping, "but emotionally I was working very hard to rationalize it. CAPTION: Dean Torrence -- then and now -- part of the surfer-singing duo Jan and Dean, financed the plot to kidnap Frank Sinatra Jr.