His Grandfather Was The Richest Man On Earth, He Was Kidnapped At 16, And Nobody Came To Save Him

To understand the Paul Getty kidnapping, you need to know a little bit about Getty family history. Paul, also known as John Paul Getty III, was the grandson of J. Paul Getty, the man who began making money from oil leases in the 1910s and became extremely wealthy. Despite his vast wealth, however, he was a very frugal man. He had all the money in the world but was very particular about how it was distributed among his children and grandchildren.

Getty was supposedly such a miser that his fifth wife, Teddy Getty Gaston, revealed her ex-husband got upset with her for spending too much on medical treatments for their 6-year-old son, Timmy, who had a brain tumor, and he demanded she pay the bills from her own small allowance. When Timmy passed in 1958 at age 12, his father did not attend the funeral. Teddy divorced him that year. 

Knowing all of this, it doesn't seem too surprising that Getty refused to pay Paul's ransom after he was kidnapped in 1973. But was money really more important than blood?

  • Paul's Father Fought Addiction, And His Stepmother Died Of An Overdose

    John Paul Getty Jr. had four sons with his wife Gail Harris. Their son Paul (actually John Paul Getty III) was born in 1956, and the couple divorced when he was eight. Getty then relocated to Rome and married Dutch actor Talitha Pol. The pair allegedly became addicted to drugs, and Pol died of an overdose in 1972.

    Police believed Getty was partially responsible for his wife's passing, but he was never charged with it.

  • He Got Expelled From School And Lived A Carefree Life In Rome

    He Got Expelled From School And Lived A Carefree Life In Rome
    Photo: Umberto Pizzi / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    When he was 16, Paul was living in Rome near his father, who was in charge of the family's Italian part of the business, Getty Oil Italiana. Paul lived on his own after getting expelled from a private school and enjoyed life as a carefree teenager without any responsibilities. He partied at clubs and participated in political demonstrations.

    He made money, meanwhile, by appearing as an extra in films and selling jewelry and paintings.

  • He Was Kidnapped At 16, And His Captors Asked For A Multi-Million Dollar Ransom

    He Was Kidnapped At 16, And His Captors Asked For A Multi-Million Dollar Ransom
    Video: YouTube

    On July 10, 1973, the night of his kidnapping, Paul was reportedly hanging out in the Piazza Navona with a Belgian go-go dancer when he vanished. The Italian mafia grabbed Paul, placed him in the back of a van, and drove him 300 miles south of the capital to Calabria, which is surrounded by mountains.

    His captors contacted Paul's family and asked for $17 million in ransom.

  • Paul's Family Thought He Made Up The Kidnapping Story To Get Money

    Though kidnappings were common in Italy at the time, there was some doubt at first that Paul had indeed been taken. People wondered if he had made it up in order to get money from his grandfather, who was notoriously stingy - even with his family. Paul was even known to joke about faking a kidnapping.

    As a result, the police and some of Paul's family and friends didn't take him seriously. But Paul wrote a letter to his mother pleading for help. It was published by TIME on July 30, 1973:

    Dear Mother: I have fallen into the hands of kidnappers. Don’t let me be killed! Make sure that the police do not interfere. You must absolutely not take this as a joke... Don’t give publicity to my kidnapping.

  • His Grandfather Refused To Pay The Ransom As He Didn't Want To Set A Precedent

    His Grandfather Refused To Pay The Ransom As He Didn't Want To Set A Precedent
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Paul's grandfather was notoriously tight with his money. Even though he was the richest man in the world, he didn't like to spend his fortune. He was so cheap, he notoriously set up a payphone at his London home for guests. 

    When it came to paying the massive ransom demanded for his grandson, Getty Sr. didn't want to pay the kidnappers because he feared it would set a precedent and put his other family members in danger. He told the media: "If I pay one penny now, I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren."

  • The Kidnappers Cut Off Paul's Ear, And His Family Finally Paid The Ransom

    Paul's mother, Gail, was so incensed with her former father-in-law that she shamed him publicly to get him to pay the ransom. He wouldn't relent, and Paul's captors started getting restless after four months of waiting. In November 1973, they sent a package to a Roman newspaper with gruesome contents - a lock of Paul's red hair and a severed ear. They wrote:

    "This is Paul's ear. If we don't get some money within 10 days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits."

    The kidnappers asked for $3.2 million, and the family patriarch negotiated. In the end, J. Paul Getty paid $2.2 million, which was tax deductible, while his son was responsible for the remaining amount.

    Lacking the funds, Getty Jr. borrowed the money from his father at 4% interest.