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The story of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III in Rome

Tycoon grandfather of kidnapped teen refused at first to pay ransom.

John Paul Getty III, the 16-year-old grandson of the American oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, was abducted by criminals in Rome's central Piazza Farnese in the early hours of 10 July 1973.

Before his disappearance the rebellious teenager had been expelled from a private school and lived a bohemian lifestyle in Rome, making ends meet by selling paintings and acting as an extra in movies.

When he was kidnapped it was first suspected that he had staged the abduction himself as a ploy to extract money from his grandfather, the richest man in the world at the time.

Two days after his abduction, his mother Gail Harris received a demand of around $17 million in ransom.

Harris, divorced from her son's father John Paul Getty II who lived in the UK, informed the kidnappers over the phone that she had no money.

She was reportedly told to "get it from London" where her son's father and grandfather lived.

However J. Paul Getty was notoriously tight-fisted with his vast fortune and when he heard of the ransom request he refused, stating famously: “If I pay one penny now, I'll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.”

After four months of keeping their hostage in captivity, in remote hideaways in the southern Calabria region, the increasingly frustrated criminals took dire action.

In November 1973, a package arrived at the Rome-based newspaper Il Messaggero, its arrival delayed by three weeks due to a postage strike in Italy.

Inside was the captive's severed ear and a bloodied lock of his hair, along with a warning: "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 had also reduced their ransom demand to around $3 million.

The parcel's shocking contents prompted J. Paul Getty to agree to paying $2.2 million, the maximum sum eligible for a tax write-off, and he loaned the rest of the money to Paul's father at four per cent interest.

The ransom was made over in bundles of Italian banknotes and was left in a bag at a roadside location agreed with the criminals.

On 15 December 1973 a truck driver found the missing teenager shivering outside a petrol station on the Salerno-Reggio Calabria highway.

Some time after his release, on his mother's suggestion, he telephoned his billionaire grandfather to thank him for paying the ransom, however the old man reportedly declined to take the call.

Nine people associated with the 'Ndrangheta mafia organisation were subsequently arrested for the kidnapping, but only two were convicted, and most of the ranson money was never recovered.

Getty III was permanently affected by the trauma and struggled with drug addiction.

In 1981 a narcotics-induced stroke left him paralysed and requiring care for the rest of his life.

He was taken care of by his mother until his death at his home near London on 5 February 2011, at the age of 54.

General Info

Address Piazza Farnese, 00186 Roma RM, Italy

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The story of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III in Rome

Piazza Farnese, 00186 Roma RM, Italy

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