Probably the three most important events covered were the 1960 Olympics, the shooting of The Misfits movie, and the Frank Sinatra, Jr. kidnapping.
All of these stories had a common thread. For the Winter Olympics, it was the fact that the Official International Olympic Press Club was located on the top floor of the Mapes Hotel. The next was the fact that the cast and crew of The Misfits were housed in the Mapes Hotel during the entire shooting. And the third was the fact that Frank Sinatra made the Mapes his HQ when his son was kidnapped from south shore Tahoe.
The Olympics and the Misfits are stories unto themselves, but for now, we are continuing the Sinatra Kidnap event that we wrote about last week.
As we mentioned, the senior Sinatra had been driven to the Mapes Hotel by the DA, Bill Raggio when the pair was unable to reach south shore Tahoe because of a blizzard in the mountains.
My most personal contact with Sinatra was when he requested to get outside the hotel somehow for some exercise. The two of us took the freight elevator at the back of the building up to the Skyroom Kitchen, then climbed the short flight of stairs to the roof of the hotel. During the 45 minutes or so that we walked on the roof, there was very little conversation between us. Sinatra looked gaunt, haggard and red-eyed due to lack of sleep. He was far from the glamorous persona he portrayed on the screen.
We walked over to the west side of the building. Sinatra gazed up at the cloud-covered mountains and mused “just think Harry, he’s still out there somewhere.” In actuality, his son had been transported by car to Los Angeles, a fact we learned later. I did not have the heart to tell him that the FBI agent in charge of the case had confided in me that the longer it took to find his son, the less likely the chance he would be found alive. The bitter cold finally drove us back into the hotel and I informed Frank that barring a break in the case, I would pick him up the following day at the same time.
Back at my office, I got a call from my long-time photographer, Don Dondero, who said if he could get a shot of Sinatra, he could sell it for a considerable sum. I told him to position himself in the bank building across the street, and if all went well, I would walk Frank to the north edge of the roof at exactly 10:15 am. His subsequent shot covered half of the front page of the San Francisco Examiner the next day.
Other than the exclusive walks on the roof of the hotel, my only interface with Frank was when we got him out of the hotel to fly to LA to pay the kidnappers’ ransom. I informed the gaggle of press that Sinatra would be leaving out the front door, but actually the FBI agent and I were escorting him through the basement level to the rear door. All but one of the press bit on the subterfuge. When I saw the reporter at the rear exit, the FBI agent and I grabbed Sinatra and threw him into a nearby potato bin. I convinced the reporter that he was missing Sinatra’s exodus from the front of the hotel, and then we quickly escorted Frank to the waiting car at the back of the building.
He was off to LA where he paid the ransom. His son was released unharmed.
Harry Spencer is a long-time northern Nevada resident.