By Brad Dison
Just after 9:00 p.m. on Sunday night, December 8, 1963, nineteen-year-old Wayne and twenty-four-year-old John were enjoying dinner in Wayne’s room of the South Lodge, a motel in Lake Tahoe on the California-Nevada border. They were performers in the world-renowned Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and were due to take the stage at 10:00 p.m. While eating, someone knocked on the door and announced, “Room service. I’ve got a package for you.” Without a second thought, Wayne got up from the table and walked to the door. He turned the handle on the door and two gun-wielding men burst into the room. The armed men told Wayne and John to keep quiet and forced them to the floor. “Where’s the money?” they asked. Wayne and John only had $12 in cash between them. The men took the $12.00 and ransacked the room in search of more money. When they failed to find the large amount of money that they had expected, one of the men bound John’s wrists with adhesive tape, then taped his mouth shut. They taped Wayne’s hands but not his mouth. One of the men told John “You stay there for ten minutes and don’t make any moves if you want to see the kid again.” The other man forced Wayne out of the motel room. As they men left the room, John heard one of them tell a third person, “We’ve got him. We’ve got to get to Sacramento.” John, still on the floor, heard a car crank up and drive away into a snowstorm. He heard the unmistakable sound of snow chains on the car.
As soon as John could no longer hear the car he worked his way free and notified police. John gave investigators a description of two of the kidnappers. John never saw the third man. Within ten minutes of the kidnapping, police had roadblocks all around the area. Several of the roads were blocked by the heavy snow, which limited the number of routes the kidnappers were able to take. The snow also hindered the policemen’s ability to search for Wayne and his abductors. Deputies armed with pistols and sawed-off shotguns searched all of the empty summer homes they could get to in the area, but found no trace of Wayne or the kidnappers.
Wayne’s father flew to Lake Tahoe to assist in the investigation in case the kidnappers called with a ransom demand. On the following afternoon, Wayne’s father received a telephone call from one of the kidnappers. The kidnapper told Wayne’s father to go to a specific service station in Reno, Nevada, about forty miles northeast of Lake Tahoe, and wait by the pay phone booth for a call. Wayne’s father was concerned that he would have to call the kidnappers from a pay phone at some point and made sure he kept ten dimes in his pocket. At the time, a local telephone call cost just ten cents. At the gas station in Reno, Wayne’s father waited as instructed.
Minutes seemed like hours as Wayne’s father anxiously awaited the call. Finally, the phone rang. Wayne’s father told the kidnapper that he wanted to speak with his son to ensure that he was okay. The kidnapper allowed Wayne and his father to speak briefly. The kidnapper told Wayne’s father to get $240,000 and go to Wayne’s mother’s house. (Wayne’s parents were divorced.) Adjusted for inflation, $240,000 in 1963 would be over $2,000,000 today. The kidnapper also demanded that law enforcement officers in California and Nevada relax their roadblocks so that they could return Wayne after the ransom had been paid. Wayne’s father agreed to the ransom demand and immediately left for Wayne’s mother’s house in Los Angeles. Wayne’s father joined his mother, who had been waiting impatiently by the telephone. Finally, the phone rang. The kidnappers allowed Wayne’s father to speak to Wayne again. Once Wayne assured them that he was okay, Wayne’s father agreed to give the kidnappers the money in exchange for Wayne’s safe return.
With the help of the FBI, Wayne’s father gathered the $240,000 in fives, tens, fifties, and hundred-dollar bills. Twice more, the kidnappers had Wayne’s father go to service station pay phones for instructions. Wayne’s father kept checking to be sure he always had ten dimes in his pocket. Finally, the kidnappers told Wayne’s father where to leave the money. An FBI agent acted as courier and delivered the money as the kidnappers had instructed. Wayne’s parents waited by the phone. They clung to the hope that the kidnappers would follow through with their part of the deal and release Wayne unharmed.
Finally, the phone rang. Three days had passed since the kidnapping. One of the kidnappers told Wayne’s father that they had dropped Wayne off at the intersection of Mulholland Drive and the freeway in Los Angeles. Wayne’s father and a myriad of law enforcement officers and agents raced to the area. They searched but found no trace of Wayne. The kidnappers had dropped Wayne off at the location they told Wayne’s father, but fearing the kidnappers would return, Wayne ran as soon as they let him out of the trunk. He ran about two miles from the drop-off location and hid each time he heard a car approaching.
George C. Jones of the Bel Air Patrol, a private security service for exclusive homes in the area, heard someone shout from the darkness behind his car. He looked back and saw a young man standing on the street with a blindfold dangling from his neck. It was Wayne. The security officer knew reporters were surrounding Wayne’s mother’s house. Rather than riding up front in the car with the security officer in full view of the press, Wayne opted to ride in the trunk. After three days of riding in trunks, Wayne agree to one more short trunk ride. The officer drove through the crowd of unsuspecting reporters and through the gate surrounding Wayne’s mother’s house. Once they were out of view from the press, Wayne emerged from the trunk. Wayne saw his father first and said, “Father, I’m sorry.” “Sorry? Sorry for what?” his father replied. Wayne’s father reassured him that he did nothing wrong. Wayne hugged his mother as she cried tears of relief. “Don’t cry, mother. I’m well, I’m in good shape.”
After their reunion, Wayne’s father spoke with reporters about the kidnapping and told them that the following day, December 12, was his 46th birthday. “This is about as good a birthday present as I could ask.” For the rest of Wayne’s father’s life, he carried ten dimes in his pocket just in case of emergencies. On May 18, 1998, thirty-five years after the kidnapping, Wayne’s father died of a heart attack. He still had ten dimes in his pocket. At the funeral, Wayne’s father was buried with a few of his favorite things which included a bottle of Jack Daniel’s Whiskey, a pack of Camel cigarettes, a Zippo lighter, and ten dimes. Wayne’s father was one of the most famous actors, producers, and singers of the twentieth century. Wayne was an actor, bandleader, and singer in his own right. Wayne, who went by Frank Jr., shared his father’s first and last name, Frank Sinatra.
1. Nevada State Journal, December 9, 1963, p.1.
2. Reno Gazette-Journal, December 9, 1963, p.1.
3. Nevada State Journal, December 10, 1963, p.1.
4. Reno Gazette-Journal, December 11, 1963, p.1.
5. The Billings Gazette, May 24, 1998, p.2.