At the Philbrook Museum during ANTIQUES ROADSHOW’s visit to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2018, a woman named Lesa brought in a letter that was written by Frank Sinatra in response to his son’s kidnapping on December 8, 1963.
Sinatra’s letter was addressed to Father Roger Schmit, who had reached out to Sinatra on behalf of the two men who kidnapped Sinatra Jr. — Barry Keenan and Joe Amsler. Based on Sinatra’s response, appraiser Laura Woolley speculated that Father Schmit’s letter implored the Sinatra family to go easy on Keenan and Amsler. Angered by the request, Sinatra Sr. responded by attacking the “hoax” ploy Amsler’s defense attorney used against his son. Woolley explains Sinatra's anger by saying:
And he’s writing to the chaplain saying, you know, ‘How dare you. The embarrassment that this has caused to my family.’ And my favorite part here is at the end, where he says, ‘Up to this time, I have remained silent on the subject of the manner in which the trial was conducted, and the harm done to my son by the claim of hoax. But your letter, written in the name of God, has caused me to break that silence.’
Sinatra’s letter came into Lesa’s possession through her late father, who was incarcerated during the time of the kidnapping, and who was working for Father Schmit, the prison chaplain. Woolley estimated that the letter would sell at auction for between $20,000 and $30,000.
Read the full letter below.
Letter from Frank Sinatra to Father Schmit, 1964
July 27, 1964
Dear Father Schmit:
Mrs. Sinatra and I were disturbed by your letter of June 27, 1964, written on behalf of Barry Keenan and Joseph Amsler.
Since you have had no prior relationship to the Sinatra family, we assume that it was not the purpose of your letter to give us religious guidance. Accordingly, there could only be two possible purposes for your letter: (1) a request that we forgive Keenan and Amsler, and/or (2) that we take some action to express our forgiveness in order to alleviate the punishment the court has imposed upon them.
At the outset, I feel I must tell you that in my opinion it is presumptuous for you to ask us to forgive them because the very request presumes that we harbor some antagonism towards Keenan and Amsler, or that we have expressed such antagonism, or have otherwise sought to punish them or to encourage their punishment.
During the trial, I resented the fact that the press reported the proceedings in a manner which made it appear that it was a case of Sinatra vs. Keenan and Amsler rather than The People of the United States vs. Keenan and Amsler. It is obvious to me that the conduct of the defendants and their attorneys encouraged the press to write the story in this manner. Therefore, it was very distressing to find that after you had been exposed to them, you have also concluded that this is a case of Sinatra vs. Keenan and Amsler because otherwise you would not make the assumption that we must be encouraged to forgive them.
Mrs. Sinatra and I have been meticulous in conducting ourselves to conform to the decision that we each arrived at independently, that the determination of the guilt of Keenan and Amsler and the punishment to be imposed in the event of their guilt were matters with which we should not be concerned or take a position. We were concerned that the persons accused of the kidnaping [sic] should receive a fair and impartial trial and that if found guilty, the punishment imposed upon them be an intelligent punishment. Fortunately, we live in a country that expends great sums of money to assure defendants of a fair and impartial trial. After the trial, we were thankful that a procedure had been established by Congress and invoked by Judge East as to Keenan and Amsler, pursuant to which extensive medical, psychological, and other evaluations were made at the Medical Center in Springfield, Missouri, so that Judge East would have all the guidance that it is humanly possible to make available to assist him in his decision.
From the time our son was kidnaped [sic], we placed the entire problem in the hands of the United States Department of Justice and we were indeed thankful that the Department, through the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was able to return our son to us unharmed. We were also thankful that the kidnapers [sic] did not harm our son.
Just as we left the solution to the crime to the FBI, we have never taken any position with the Department of Justice with respect to the prosecution of the persons alleged to have committed the crime and did not in any way communicate with Judge East to make any recommendations whatsoever about the punishment – since we did not think it was within our province to take a position. The crime is not just against the Sinatras, but a crime committed against society with respect to which the excellent machinery established by the Federal Government should function on behalf of society without interference from the victims of the crime or others.
"As to Mr. Keenan, while he did not testify as to a “hoax”, it would seem to me that he should also be man enough to make extensive efforts to publicize the fact that the claim of “hoax” was completely without substance."
After reading this letter, I hope you will understand why I must resent any statements which imply that there is a need to advise us to forgive Keenan and Amsler and any implication that we harbor any animosity by reason of the kidnaping [sic] crime.
In your letter you state that you are convinced that Keenan and Amsler will try to make amends for their conduct and that they have often expressed their sorrow and regret for the suffering caused by the kidnaping [sic] and what you describe as “perhaps some embarrassment during the trial.”
Your use of the words “some embarrassment” caused me to wonder whether you fully understand that the defendants Amsler and Irwin by permitting their counsel to make opening statements in court about a “hoax” and to make statements to the press outside the court proceedings about the claim of “hoax,” and the conduct of the defendants during the trial and afterwards has caused the Sinatra family great anguish and suffering. As a result of the conduct of said defendants and their attorneys and the effect this had on the manner in which the press reported the case, suspicion was created in the minds of many people as to the honesty and truthfulness of our son. Nothing has been done by the defendants subsequent to the trial to help remove that suspicion. To refer to this conduct as “perhaps causing some embarrassment” is to indicate a lack of sensitivity as to the harm done by the claim of “hoax.”
Aside from what you refer to as “embarrassment,” their conduct in permitting this claim of “hoax” was, in my opinion, another crime against society. This claim meant that both the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were either parties to the “hoax” or too stupid to realize that the kidnaping [sic] was a “hoax.”
In my opinion, Mr. Amsler and the other defendant, Mr. Irwin, deliberately lied on the stand concerning this fabricated defense of “hoax." It would seem to me that if Mr. Amsler were indeed sorry and wanted to make amends, he would be man enough to insist that his counsel publicly disclose that the “hoax” defense was a hoax perpetuated by defendants Amsler and Irwin upon the court and the public.
It requires more than expressions of regret to a Chaplain or to others at your Medical Center to atone for sins – particularly when those expressions of regret should be examined in light of the fact that they were being made to persons who are going to write a report upon which the Director of the Bureau of Prisons would prepare a recommendation to Judge East with respect to the sentencing.
As to Mr. Keenan, while he did not testify as to a “hoax," it would seem to me that he should also be man enough to make extensive efforts to publicize the fact that the claim of “hoax” was completely without substance.
Perhaps the defendants in this case will be able to convince the authorities that must now sit in judgment as to the length of their sentence that they want to make amends to the victims of the crime, but it is my hope that the persons upon whom the duty of making that judgment now rests will impose a stricter test. They have an opportunity to make amends by taking direct and vigorous action to dispel any suspicion that the kidnaping [sic] was a “hoax” and that my son participated in the arrangement of his own kidnaping [sic] for the purpose of gaining publicity. In my opinion, my son has either gotten over the effects of being kidnaped [sic] or will easily get over any adverse effects of the kidnaping [sic] since I think he is a strong person; however, unless something affirmative is done by the defendants, the cloud of suspicion which hangs over his head will continue to affect adversely his life and his career.
Up to this time I have remained silent on the subject of the manner in which the trial was conducted and the harm done to my son by the claim of “hoax”, but your letter, written in the name of God, has caused me to break that silence.
Very truly yours,
Father Roger Schmit, O.S.B.
The Catholic Chaplain
United States Department of Justice
Bureau of Prisons
Medical Center for Federal Prisoners