So, you think your family is a hot mess?
This is the story of John Paul Getty the Third. Paul was the grandson and namesake of J Paul Getty, a United States oil tycoon and one of the wealthiest men in the world at the time. He was a billionaire who once said, “The meek shall inherit the Earth but not the mineral rights.”.
This happened in Rome, in July of 1973. A 16 year old Paul had been walking home at 3 in the morning when a car full of men pulled up along side him; they wanted to know if he was JP Getty. When Paul said yes, the men in the vehicle seized the teen and threw him in the trunk of the car. Come to find out, Paul’s masked kidnappers belonged to a notorious Italian crime group called ‘Ndrangheta. Paul was kept in chains, held hostage at several different locations including a cave in the Calabria mountains.
Now, this group of outlaws had a knack for kidnapping people for ransom; they thought they’d finally hit pay dirt when they had Paul in their clutches. But there was one little problem – Grandpa the tycoon was very, how to put this, the man was frugal; it’s said that Senior had he even gone so far as to install a coin payphone in his home for house guests to use! Senior was paranoid about his fortune, he believed that literally everyone was out to take advantage of him.
Senior was not overly fond of his family. Paul’s estranged father was not the old man’s favorite child; since he had suffered from a very disappointing drug addiction which Senior had suspected may have contributed to his wife’s untimely death, the man was not a fan. And that feeling of contempt trickled down to Paul; the teen had been expelled from multiple schools, he’d dabbled in drugs, had been arrested during a protest, and had posed nude for a magazine. It’s just not the type of things a granddad would brag about; the wealthy old man thought of his teenaged grandson as a “hippie” and too much like his father. To make matters worse, Senior had heard that Paul had joked of staging his own kidnapping in order to gain some of Grandpa’s fortune, which was exactly what Senior believed was going on. The abduction was just a ruse used by “the hippie” to extort money from him.
So just a few days after the kidnapping, Paul’s mom, Abigail “Gail” Harris, received a ransom letter. The note was like the ones you see on tv, with all the letters cut out of magazines and glued to the paper? In this letter the captors demanded approximately 17 million dollars; there was also a letter penned by Paul himself which read: “Dear Mummy, Since Monday I have fallen into the hands of kidnappers. Don’t let me be killed. Love you, Paul”. Though Gail begged him to help, good old Grandpa refused to bite; he told the press: “I have 14 other grandchildren. If I pay one penny, I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.”.
In the beginning Paul’s captors hadn’t treated the teen too poorly, aside from chaining him up. It’s said that they even took pity on the kid after seeing how most of his family reacted regarding his current situation. They fed Paul, allowed him to bathe in a steam, and promised not to physically harm him if he did everything he was told. As time went by, the kidnappers grew increasingly frustrated, and Paul was treated worse and worse. They took his radio away, killed a bird he’d come to love as a pet, and played Russian roulette with John’s head.
In November of 1973, the kidnappers mailed John’s severed ear and a lock of his hair to a newspaper; enclosed was a note which read: “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 open wound from where John’s ear had been so crudely sliced off became infected, and the hippie came down with pneumonia. He was in terrible condition, and it’s not like the criminals could call a doctor. Ultimately they actually called Gail for advice on how to care for her son. John was given penicillin and copious amounts of brandy to keep him warm.
Finally Gail’s father, who just so happened to be a judge, convinced the older man to help out. Senior was informed that 2 mil of the ransom was tax deductible, so he agreed to pay 2.9 million to the criminals if Paul’s estranged father promised to pay one million back with 4% interest added annually.
5 months after he was first taken, on December 15th, Paul was discovered at an abandoned gas station 100 miles south of Naples. He was freezing, huddled up and shaking during a storm, but he was alive.
Much of the ransom was never recovered. 9 kidnappers were arrested for what had been done to Paul, all were high ranking members of the criminal organization. Since the kidnappers had always been careful to wear masks, Paul had a difficult time identifying them. Only 2 of the 9 were ever found guilty.
After the ordeal was over, the teen tried to call his grandfather and thank him. The old man never would even take Paul’s call.
At age 18 Paul married his 25 year old lover, Martine Zacher; together they moved to New York and had two children. Having been quite the Playboy himself, Grandfather was very disappointed that Paul had married so young; when Senior passed away in ’76, the billionaire reportedly left his grandson a measly sum of $500.
In 1977 Paul underwent plastic surgery to rebuild the lost ear. Sadly, at the age 24, Paul ingested a large dose of alcohol, Valium, and methadone. He suffered a terrible stroke and fell into a coma for the next few weeks. For the next three decades of his life, Paul remained partially blind, paralyzed, mute, and wheelchair bound. He passed away in 2011, while in London, England; he was 53 years of age. He is survived by his mama who cared for him till the day he died, his two children, and six grandchildren. Today the Getty family is worth about 5 billion dollars, but only because the old man couldn’t take it with him when he passed.