The Kidnapping of Billionaire Edgar Bronfman’s Son

People v. Lynch, 403 N.Y.S.2d 755 (App. Div. 1978)

On August 9, 1975, the FBI was notified that Samuel Bronfman—son of Edgar Bronfman, founder and president of the billion-dollar Distillers Corp-Seagram Ltd.—had been kidnapped. A $2.3 million ransom demand was made via audiotape, with Sam Bronfman himself speaking. The father paid, but Bronfman remained missing. Then on August 17, one of the kidnappers, Dominic Byrne, informed the police where Bronfman was being held. Charging into the apartment of firefighter Mel Patrick Lynch, they found him and a loosely bound, blindfolded Sam Bronfman side-by-side on the living room sofa.

At first, the Bronfman kidnapping was considered a typical abduction for ransom. The public deemed ridiculous the assertion by Lynch’s defense attorney that Sam Bronfman himself had masterminded the crime. But the ransom audiotapes with Bronfman’s voice featured changes in tone from a shaky “O.K., Dad, that’s it” to a firm, authoritative “Hold on . . . do it again.” Bronfman did relatively well on the stand, but Lynch testified that he and Bronfman had been engaged in a homosexual affair for a year and that Bronfman devised his own kidnapping, threatening to expose Lynch’s homosexuality if Lynch didn’t help him. Dominic Byrne was smiling and genial throughout the trial; he repeatedly changed his account of events.

The jury acquitted Lynch and Byrne of kidnapping but convicted them of grand larceny. Two jurors interviewed by the New York Times cited the rope used to bind Bronfman, which they examined during deliberation and which fell apart in their hands.

The kidnappers, if that is what they were, served less than four years in prison.