That era ran from 1945 to 1970. During that time, many special events happened that garnered world-wide publicity for “The Biggest Little City in the World.” One of the most widely covered internationally was the kidnapping of Frank Sinatra, Jr., which observed its 50th anniversary on Sunday this year.
There will probably be reams of copy written about the event, but none is likely to attribute the City of Reno’s Mapes Hotel’s prominent part in the story.
To set the stage, it was a stormy late night in December when I received a call from Walter Ramage, manager of the Mapes Hotel. His message was brief and to the point when he informed me that Frank Sinatra’s kid had been kidnapped … and the DA, Bill Raggio, was on his way to the hotel with Frank Sr. in tow.
He asked if I could come down to the hotel immediately. I quickly dressed and drove the short distance to the hotel where Ramage and I awaited the arrival of Raggio and Sinatra in the lobby of the building. During that time, Ramage filled me in on the particulars of the kidnap.
Apparently, Jr., who was performing at Harrah’s South Shore, had been abducted from his dressing room. The father had immediately flown to Reno and he and Raggio had attempted to drive to Lake Tahoe, but were unable to make it due to a fierce snowstorm in the mountains. Raggio had contacted Ramage and asked if he could accommodate Frank at the hotel. About that time, the two arrived at the front door and Frank was hastily escorted to Charles Mapes’ private suite.
Early the next day, a “hot-line” was set up and the first call received on it was from Attorney General Robert Kennedy, offering any help he could possibly give to Frank. Also, early in the morning, Frank’s publicity man, Jim Mahoney, arrived from LA. Since I had worked with Mahoney previously, we were able to work out a schedule of press conferences with the FBI agent in charge of the case.
Those press conferences proved very necessary because there was a vast contingent of Bay Area reporters that had come to Reno to cover the story first-hand. Additionally, there were a couple of dozen scribes from all over the world that had been in Dallas, Texas, doing stories on the recent assassination of JFK.
The FBI agent in charge suggested I take a room in the hotel so that I could be on-call as the breaking story unfolded. One of the first calls that I received from Frank’s suite was that the worried singer wanted to get out and get some physical exercise. Since the lobby was swarming with reporters, I decided to take Frank to the rear of the building where the freight elevator was located. I escorted him to the roof of the hotel where we strolled for about 45 minutes. (continued next month)
Harry Spencer is a long-time northern Nevada resident.