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California and the West | MIKE DOWNEY

A True Crime That Won't Be Made Into a Movie

May 28, 1999|MIKE DOWNEY

I think I'll call my millionaire uncle, the great Hollywood film mogul, Cecil B. deDowney, to tell him he should hurry up and get in touch with this guy Barry Keenan.

Keenan is the crook who is still having such a hard time finding the upside of kidnapping Frank Sinatra Jr.

It was 35 years ago that Keenan and a couple of other mugs grabbed the son of one of America's most famous entertainers and demanded a ransom of $240,000.

(If you ask me, they asked for $240,000 because the three of them were too stupid to figure out how to split $250,000.)

Frank Sr. paid the dough, Frank Jr. was freed and the three kidnappers--so inept that they belonged in a story by O. Henry--were caught when one of their brothers ratted on them to the FBI.

In his original defense, Keenan claimed that the Sinatra family was in on the whole plot.

That's why the gentleman is a tramp.

Keenan confesses now that he was lying. (There's a shock.) His story was more flimsy than the bikini Nancy Sinatra wore on the cover of her "Sugar Town" album.

A jury sentenced Keenan--who went to high school with Nancy--to life, but he served fewer than five years and is now living in Mississippi as a developer. (Real estate, not film.)

In the meantime, some sucker in Hollywood apparently was willing to shell out six times more than that $240,000 Keenan and his goons got from Sinatra Sr., provided that Keenan could get the rights to sell the story of how he snatched Frank Jr.

Only in America could a criminal fight for his right to be paid before and after his crime.

That's what happened this week, before a Court of Appeals acted wisely Thursday to uphold a state law preventing a convicted felon like Keenan from capitalizing on his own crime. Perhaps he wanted to enter his story in next year's con film festival.

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A producer as enterprising as my Uncle Cecil ought to be able to zip off a few faxes by end of business Friday:

"TO: Barry W. Keenan.

"Sorry to hear that your $1.5-million deal with Columbia Pictures is in danger of being red-lighted.

"Hey, you go to all the trouble of abducting a 19-year-old boy at gunpoint, stuff him in a car trunk, torment him and his family for four days, then do a five-year stretch in the joint . . . and this is how they repay you???

"Why, they didn't even acknowledge all those expenses you must have run up at your hide-out in Canoga Park where you held your victim! You at least deserve a per diem.

"We can do business, Barry baby.

"Imagine the nerve of California, having a state law that prevents a genuine convicted felon like you from being able to profit from a job you pulled. And they call this the Golden State!

"I saw where you asked for a repeal of that statute this week. What was it your mouthpiece said? Oh, yeah--that California is 'attempting to punish Mr. Keenan retroactively.'

"I know what he means. Haven't you suffered enough for kidnapping somebody?

"Hang in there, Bare. If these Columbia people put you in turnaround, let's do lunch. Have your people call my people."

I can even picture his next fax:

"TO: David Berkowitz.

"Hello there, Son of Sam. You don't know me from son of Adam, but I'm a Hollywood big shot.

"I see where Spike Lee has just directed a movie about 'Summer of Sam,' and I was wondering if there was anything in it for you, you being Son of Sam.

"Dave, in case you're too nuts to know, it was your case that first led to a 1977 law in New York about not being able to make deals with people who were involved in crimes. You being a reputed serial killer and all, I bet you have first-hand information that could help a filmmaker make a better film.

"Anyway, I was curious whether you got a few points, or at least a piece of the gross.

"Have your people call my people. Or have your dog call my dog, whichever works best for you."

*

OK, so I don't really have an uncle in the industry. (Not even in the city of Industry.)

If I did, I'd probably tell him to fax Barry Keenan and remind him that he is lucky to be out of jail and developing Mississippi.

Then I would tell my uncle to offer a deal to Sinatra Jr., because if anybody gets paid a million for this story, don't you think it ought to be the kidnappee?

It would have been such an injustice had this law been repealed. Next thing you know, Charlie Manson's people would be calling about a three-picture deal.

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Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to him at Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053. E-mail: mike.downey@latimes.com

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