“This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get some money within ten days, then the other ear will arrive”
The grandson of oil billionaire J. Paul Getty was something of a loose cannon in the family. J. Paul Getty III lived life in the fast lane, forever getting into scrapes. After a night out with friends he was kidnapped in Rome in July 1973. He was driven 386 km (240 mi) south to Calabria where he was moved from safe house to safe house.
On 12 July his mother, Gail, received a phone call from the kidnappers but they did not specify how much they wanted. Because of his wild escapades the Getty family and much of the media believed the kidnap had been organized by Paul himself. On 18 July the kidnappers demanded $500.000.
The low amount solidified the belief that the kidnap was a hoax. J. Paul Getty said that to pay would put his other grandchildren at risk and “that acceding to the demands of criminals and terrorists merely guarantees the continuing increase and spread of lawlessness”. J. Paul Getty II also refused to pay. On 24 July the demand went up to $16.7 million. The police and the Getty family were still unsure as to the reality of the kidnap.
On 15 August Getty sent J. Fletcher Chace, a trusted aide, to Rome to see if the kidnap was a hoax. When the kidnappers called, Chace offered them 53 million lire. The offer was rejected and the ransom went up to 3,000 million lire, accompanied by a threat of mutilation to Paul.
On 10 November 1973 a package arrived at the offices of Il Messagero. It contained a lock of reddish hair and a human ear and a note, which read: “This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get some money within ten days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits.” The kidnappers asked for 1,700 million lire ($3.2 million). Two reporters from Il Tempo were sent Polaroids of Paul — he was missing his right ear. Even the mutilation did not galvanize the old man and he offered only 600 million lire ($1 million). Finally, he agreed to the ransom. He paid $2.2 million and loaned (at four per cent interest) his son $1 million to make up the rest. The money — 52,000 banknotes in three sacks — was handed over on 12 December.
Piazza Farnese, Rome, Italy
3am Tuesday 10 July 1973
Paul Getty III was released in Lagonero, southern Italy on 15 December 1973, shortly after the ransom was paid. However, his life was never the same. He became a drug addict and on 5 April 1981 overdosed on a cocktail of drink and drugs that left him permanently speechless, blind and paralyzed. He married Gisela Martine Zacher on 12 September 1974. Their son is the actor Balthazar Getty. Police arrested seven men and they were sent down for between four and ten years. Only $17,000 of the ransom was ever recovered.