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When oil mogul John Paul Getty’s grandson was kidnapped by the Italian Mafia, it spurred one of the most expensive crimes in history. His kidnapping didn’t merely shake up the Getty family, but also exposed just how dangerous addiction to one’s riches could be.

Paul’s uber-rich grandfather

16-year-old John Paul Getty III wasn’t your typical kidnapping victim. Thanks to the fame of his rich grandfather, the young man was a super socialite. J. Paul Getty Sr. spent the mid-1900s racking up millions in the oil industry. By the late 1950s, he was the world’s richest man.

Unfortunately, J. Paul Getty was notoriously selfish. Perhaps as a karmic punishment, a curse of misfortune followed his bloodline, from ill-health to addiction to crime.

This came to a fever pitch when his grandson became yet another victim of their family fame… and his grandpa continued pinching his pennies.

The kidnapping of Paul

At the time of his kidnapping, Paul Getty was living in Rome. The high-school dropout had become a celebrity around the town for his “Golden Hippie” lifestyle. Although his name was rich, his lifestyle was poor. Often times, he traded his artwork for food. Despite being loaded, his grandfather didn’t help out.

Paul often joked that he was going to stage his own kidnapping to steal his grandpa’s fortune.

This certainly arose suspicions when he actually went missing. On July 10, 1973, as Paul walked home, a group of men dragged him into their vehicle, gagged him, and drove him to a hideout.

When his mother, Gail, was sent a ransom note demanding $17 million for the return of Paul, she knew she couldn’t pay the hefty fine.

The selfishness of Getty Senior

Soon, all eyes turned to Paul’s grandfather. Gail knew his riches were her only hope for seeing her son again.

When Gail reached out, Getty told her he wouldn’t pay the ransom. The reason? Other than his fortune-obsessed attitude, he claimed to be protecting his other 14 grandchildren.

“If I pay one penny, I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.”

Meanwhile, Paul was living in horrid conditions. The elongated battle to acquire the ransom from the senior Getty meant chaos. What was intended to be a quickly-resolved kidnapping turned into a months-long captivity.

Paul’s earliest days in captivity

His initial kidnappers weren’t totally inhuman. They allowed Paul to bathe, use the radio, and eat, despite the fact that he was imprisoned. While they promised not to hurt him, the lengthy time it took to reason with the eldest Getty made his kidnappers desperate.

Soon, new captors came onto the scene and tortured Paul. Eventually, they cut off his right ear and mailed it in to a Roman newspaper outlet. After the de-earring of Paul, any whisper that he had staged his own kidnapping was gone.

Finally, Getty agreed to a much-reduced ransom amount: $3 million (the most that he could pay while still remaining tax-deductible). After the ransom was paid, Paul was dumped at a gas station in the pouring rain.

His post-rescue trauma

Understandably, Paul was pretty screwed up. There’s nothing like coming home from a traumatic kidnapping and realizing your stupidly rich grandpa doesn’t value your life as much as his fortune, right?


Even after his kidnappers went to trial, Paul wasn’t at peace. After a hasty marriage and the birth of his child, he experienced a narcotics-induced stroke. Gail became his caretaker until he died in 2011 at 54.

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