The Billionaire Who Refused to Pay the Ransom for His Kidnapped Grandson

Andrei Tapalaga

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John Paul GettyWikimedia Commons

Some billionaires are looked upon as different kinds of people and that is because they put money over anything else and anyone else. For them, money is at the premise of life as they have worked for it. This sort of personality applies to John Paul Getty who in the 1960s was classified as the richest man on Earth.

Getty was one of the first petrol industrialists who took advantage at the start of the 20th century of the abundant resources of petrol and demand that has been constantly growing for the last 80 years. By the 1960s Getty was classified as the richest man alive, with a fortune of 4 billion dollars (considering inflation that would be about 30 billion dollars today).

The next of kin

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John Paul Getty IIIWikimedia Commons

At the start of the 1970s, Getty’s health was getting worse and even with the best medical care in the world, age was simply an inevitable disease, that is why he had to start thinking about who he would pass on his fortune to. His decision ended up being John Paul Getty III which was his grandson (the son of John Paul Getty II).

Getty III was born in 1956 in Minnesota but he lived most of his childhood in Italy where he also studied at a top school and was looking forward to becoming a tycoon just like his grandfather. Just like the son of every billionaire, he became a very spoiled teenager.

The decision made by Getty I of who would take his wealth after his death quickly reached the ears of media outlets around the world. Due to his behavior at the time media within Italy nicknamed Getty III the golden hippie, which attracted a lot of attention around him.

The kidnapping

On July the 10th, 1973 Getty III was kidnapped whilst he went shopping for a magazine at the local corner store. The boy was watched for many days and this incident wasn’t spontaneous, but meticulously planned. The boy was taken into a cave in the South of Italy and in the next 12 hours, an anonymous message was sent to the newspapers in Italy demanding a ransom for Getty III of 17 million dollars (with inflation that would be around 102 million dollars today).

His family quickly called Getty I to help pay the ransom but he refused as he thought that this was all planned so that his family could rob him of some money. Even for a billionaire like Getty I, 17 million didn’t seem like pocket change, but no price should be put on family members.

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Section of a Local Newspaper representing the storyRolling Stones

The kidnappers started sending threatening statements anonymously through social media outlets, stating that they would start cutting him up if they didn’t send the money quickly. The family kept begging Getty I to cooperate but with no luck, he was keener towards protecting his money and still quite skeptical about the whole kidnapping.

Once the patience of the kidnappers ran out, they cut an ear off Getty III and sent it to an Italian media outlet. This convinced Getty I that the kidnapping wasn’t a hoax by his family to take some of his money, but even so, he still didn’t want to help.

The mother of Getty III, Abigail Harris, was left with no choice but to raise the money on her own. During this time the family members got to talk personally with the kidnappers, saying that they were raising the money but it would take some time. After five months the kidnappers gave them a final deadline before killing the boy.

This is when the family started begging Getty III to pay the ransom as they were not able to raise that huge sum in such a short period of time. After five months, Getty I decided to cooperate, but he wasn’t willing to pay 17 million, so he called the kidnappers and negotiated the price, dropping the price to 2.9 million dollars.

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Photo of John Paul Getty III after he had been rescued with no ear in 1973Wikimedia Commons

Getty actually only paid 2.1 million because that was how much he was able to withdraw (that is what he said) and the rest of $800,000 came from Getty II (the father of Getty III). The second day after the money was given, Getty III was brought home missing an ear but in good health.

Money over family

Besides not wanting to pay even if he knew that his grandson’s life was on the line, he had the audacity to negotiate the price whilst sitting with four billion dollars in his pockets, risking the life of Getty III.

Once the event finished, Getty I got a lot of bad publicity for his decision to interfere so late, but in an interview from 1974, he was asked why he intervened so late with the financial help. His response was:

“I have 14 other grandchildren and if I paid the ransom for one I will pay the ransom for the 14 others”. (Quote by John Paul Getty III)

It seems that Getty III was dedicated to die with his money and not with his family by his side. You would think that a family member would cost more, but for Getty III the price is approximately 3 million dollars.

Getty, I died in 1976 and all of his money still ended up going to Getty III. If he was planning to give his grandson all his wealth, then why not ransom him from his kidnappers? Money may just be like a drug for some.

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