November 8, 1973: Severed Ear from Kidnap Victim Nets $2.9 Million (John Paul Getty III)

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A Brief History

On November 8, 1973, the severed right ear of John Paul Getty III was delivered to a newspaper with a ransom note demanding $3.2 million in return for the kidnapped heir to the Getty fortune.  The 17 year old John Paul Getty III had been living in Rome, Italy, where he was raised by his father, the son of Jean Paul Getty (usually referred to as JP Getty), the oil magnate that amassed a fortune of over $2 billion by the time of his death in 1976.

Digging Deeper

The younger Getty lived in Rome while his father ran the Italian branch of Getty Oil, and lived an odd, hippie like lifestyle with his father divorcing his mother and remarrying a model.  His father was often gone, off flitting around Europe while leaving the son in boarding school where the misbehaved teen was expelled in 1971 for painting a hallway in the manner of the Manson Family ala “Helter Skelter.”  Getty’s step-mom died from a heroin overdose that same year, and the young teen led an unsupervised life of partying and club going, often joining in on left wing political causes.

When the teen was kidnapped on July 10, 1973 and a ransom note demanding $17 million was received, the family decided the kidnapping was a ruse by the out of control young man to get his hands on some real money.  Apparently, the lad did not help himself in this evaluation of the situation in that he had previously joked about staging his own kidnapping to extort money from his dad!  After a second ransom note was received, John Jr. asked JP (his father) for the money to ransom John III, but the elder Getty refused.  If the old man sounds cold in his indifference, consider that he had 14 other grandchildren that could well be new targets of kidnappers if the ransom was paid.

The 3rd ransom note that was delivered to the local newspaper contained a lock of John III’s hair and the severed ear, and a threat to keep sending parts of the victim until the ransom was paid or the teen died.  The elder Getty, always concerned about every dollar in his fortune, negotiated with the kidnappers to a ransom of $2.9 million, of which he would pay only $2.2 million since that was the maximum amount he could use as a tax deduction!  The remaining $700,000 would be paid by John Jr. to whom the elder Getty loaned the money at 4% interest!

The teen victim was released safely in December of 1973, and his missing ear was reconstructed surgically in 1977.  Unfortunately, the young man died at the age of 54 in 2011, his health having been compromised by a drug overdose in 1981 that left him a quadriplegic.  His lifestyle had been one of partying and drug and alcohol abuse, never developing into a real career of any type.  In 1991 he became a citizen of Ireland.  Nine kidnappers associated with the Mafia were arrested, and only 2 were convicted and sent to jail.  The ransom money was not recovered.  Moral of the story?  Being born rich does NOT make one “high class!”

Should ransom be paid in kidnapping cases?  Should the police always be contacted?  Should the choice be left up to the families of victims?  Share your thoughts on this subject.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Fox, Charles.  Kidnapped: The Tragic Life of J. Paul Getty III.  Picador, 2018.

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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.