The Getty Kidnapping: How Much is a Grandson’s Life Worth?


 

Jean Paul Getty refused ransom demand for grandson

Jean Paul Getty (1892-1976) was one of the wealthiest man in the world. In 1966 the Guinness Book of Records named him as the wealthiest man on the planet with a fortune of $1.2 billion ($9.1 billion in 2017). He earned his fortune in the oil business, and in 1996 The Wealthy 100 ranked him as the 67th richest American who ever lived.

Despite his vast wealth, Getty had a reputation for frugality, and like his fortune, it was well-earned. He installed a payphone at his home for visitors to use and placed locks on all the other phones, preventing anyone from making a free phone call.

Nothing cemented his reputation as a tightwad like the unfortunate kidnapping of his grandson. On July 10, 1973 16-year-old grandson J. Paul Getty, III was abducted. The kidnappers demanded $17 million for his return. The boy’s father, John Paul Getty, Jr., asked his father for the money, but he refused. The elder Getty later gave the explanation that he did not want to encourage additional kidnappings of other family members.

Three months later the kidnappers sent the boy’s ear and a lock of hair through the mail. They demanded $3.2 million, and said, “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.”

Horrified, the boy’s father again went to the elder Getty, asking for the money. After considerable thought, Getty agreed to pay $2.2 million — the maximum amount that would be tax deductible. He lent an additional $800,000 to his son, with the requirement that it be repaid with 4% interest.

After the ransom was delivered, J. Paul Getty, III was released. He called to thank his grandfather for providing the ransom money, but Grandpa Getty refused to come to the phone.

 

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