10 Famous Kidnappings

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A Brief History

On May 12, 1932, the lifeless body of Charles Lindbergh Jr. was found, about 6 weeks after he had been kidnapped from his crib. The kidnapping and murder of the child of “Lucky Lindy,” the first man to fly across the Atlantic Ocean non-stop was called at the time “The Crime of The Century.” (Remember, at that time Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls had not yet been made!) History has been marked by abductions of famous people and by famous abductions of people. Here we list 10 of the most notable kidnappings. What other abductions would you put on this list?

Digging Deeper

10. Adolf Eichmann, 1960.

This Nazi war criminal was one of those responsible for the murders of millions of Jews and other people during the Holocaust of World War II. After the war he escaped to Argentina and was living comfortably until kidnapped in 1960 by the Israeli secret agency, the Mossad. He was taken to Israel, tried for his crimes and hanged in 1962.

9. John Paul Getty III, 1973.

Kidnapped in Rome at age 17, Getty was the son of the richest man in the world at the time. His father refused to pay the $17 million ransom, until the kidnappers cut of the victim’s ear was delivered to a newspaper office. The ransom (now $3.2 million) was negotiated down to $2.9 million and paid, and the teenager returned alive. The kidnappers were later caught and jailed.

8. Aldo Moro, 1978. 

An Italian politician an former Prime Minister of Italy, Moro was kidnapped out of his car when abductors blocked his convoy and killed his body guards. Held for 55 days by the Red Brigades terrorist organization, the Italian government refused to negotiate and the demand that 16 terrorists be released was unmet. Moro’s family begged the government to bargain for his release, and Pope Paul IV even offered to be exchanged for Moro. The frustrated kidnappers finally put Moro in a car and shot him 10 times, leaving him to be found. Speculation and conspiracy theories have surrounded this case ever since, without definitive conclusion.

7. Chiang Kai Shek, 1936. 

The leader of China for 22 years (and later the leader of Taiwan for 30 years), Chiang was kidnapped in the middle of fighting with communist Chinese and dealing with Japanese attempts to seize Manchuria. The kidnappers were Chiangs own generals who thought his leadership choices were going to cause the loss of China and who forced Chiang into an uneasy peace with the communists in order to have both Chinese factions unite against the Japanese. Chiang was then released, and immediately put the ring leader, Zhang Xuelinang, under house arrest and executed the others.

6. Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus, 2002-2004. 

Kidnapped by Ariel Castro, a neighborhood man in separate incidents, the 3 girls were held captive as sex slaves for a decade until May of 2013 when they were finally freed alive. Castro had brutalized the girls over the years, forcing miscarriages and even killing a victim’s puppy as punishment. Castro pled guilty to over 900 counts and was sentenced to life in prison, which in his case truly was life, for he hanged himself shortly after his trial.

5. Adam Walsh, 1981. 

Snatched from a Sears store in Hollywood, Florida while his mother momentarily was distracted, the 6 year old Adam was later found murdered (his decapitated only) 2 weeks later. The case got massive publicity and a 1983 made for television movie, Adam. Adam’s father, John Walsh, embarked on a crusade on behalf of victims of violent crimes and is well known for hosting the television show, America’s Most Wanted which ran for 23 years. Adam’s legacy is the over 1200 criminals captured because of America’s Most Wanted, as well as several laws regarding child molesters and abductions. Convicted criminal and serial killer Otis Toole confessed to the kidnapping and murder of Adam, but then withdrew his “confession” and was not tried for the crime (due to lack of evidence). Police, however, consider Toole the kidnapper/murderer and have closed the case.

4. Patty Hearst, 1974. 

Wealthy heiress Patty Hearst of the Hearst newspapers family was kidnapped at age 19 by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) from her apartment in Berkeley California. Ordered by the kidnappers to provide $70 worth of food to every single needy Californian, Patty’s father spent $6 million on food for the poor. (Actual cost of compliance with the demand would have been a staggering $400 million.) Two months after the kidnapping Patty Hearst announced her name was now “Tania” and that she was a member of the SLA. She then took part in bank robberies and was arrested 7 months after being taken. Convicted of bank robbery and jailed, she claimed she had been force to do the crimes and had been “brainwashed.” Despite the public being less than sympathetic, President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence after only 2 years.

3. Frank Sinatra Jr., 1963. 

Junior was kidnapped at age 19 from his casino hotel room at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe and returned safely 2 days later when Frank Sr. paid the $240,000 ransom. The 3 kidnappers were caught and went to jail, but were released early. The ringleader was later found to be insane at the time of the kidnapping. Accusations and rumors that the kidnapping was staged for publicity were never found to have substance.  Because of running out of change and losing his pay phone connection during a ransom call, Frank Sinatra always carried a roll of dimes with him at all times afterwards. For younger readers not familiar with Frank Sinatra, he was one of the biggest singing stars of all time and a major movie star at the time.

2. The Lindbergh Baby, 1932.

Charles Lindbergh was at the time his child was kidnapped an enormous international celebrity and an American hero. As described above, little Charles Jr. was taken from his crib in the Lindbergh’s New Jersey home, triggering a massive search and media frenzy. Negotiations with an alleged kidnapper resulted in payment of $250,000 without return of the boy. The baby was found dead in May of 1932 and in September of 1934 the kidnapper, Bruno Hauptmann of New York was finally caught by tracing ransom money that he had been spending. Hauptmann was executed in 1935 without ever naming any accomplices. This incident led to a law making kidnapping a Federal offense.

1. Helen of Troy, circa 1200 BCE.

The face that launched a thousand ships” was kidnapped by the Trojan, Paris, and taken to Troy. Agamemnon, the brother of Helen’s husband, Menelaus of Greece raised and army that included the likes of Odysseus (Ulysses) and Achilles and went to Troy where the Greeks laid siege to Troy for 10 years before finally sneaking into the city in the Trojan Horse and conquering Troy. Although much of the story is part of the Greek mythology, we now believe there really was a Trojan War and we have no reason to believe it was not started over a kidnapped wife. This story is told in the ancient text, The Iliad, and has been retold numerous times and made into dozens of films, so many cultural references that Wikipedia claims the list alone would be longer than The Iliad!

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Burford, Michelle and Michelle Knight. Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed: A Memoir of the Cleveland Kidnappings. Hachette Books, 2014.

Gardner, Lloyd C. The Case That Never Dies. Rutgers University Press, 2004.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.