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Crime News

The Kidnapping Of Teen Paul Getty, And His Wealthy Grandfather's Initial Refusal To Pay The Ransom

The real story of the kidnapping that inspired FX’s “Trust” and “All The Money In The World.”

By Gina Tron

The kidnapping of John Paul Getty III is back in the public eye after the 2017 film release ”All the Money in the World” a crime thriller directed by Ridley Scott and the new FX ten-part television drama "Trust", which debuted last week.

Both depict the infamous 1973 kidnapping of Getty, who was the grandson of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty (played by Donald Sutherland on "Trust" and Christopher Plummer in "All the Money in the Word"), once donned “the richest man” of the world, according to Vanity Fair.

John Paul Getty III, who went as Paul, was just 16 when he was kidnapped. At the time, he lived alone in Rome, Italy. Only a teenager, he lived a hippie lifestyle. He made and sold art to make a living while his father, who used to head the Italian division for the Getty family's oil business, was struggling with his own drug addiction issues in England. Paul earned the nickname the “golden hippie” both for his locks of hair and his wealth.

Paul was abducted by multiple masked kidnappers as he walked home on July 10, 1973. He was blindfolded and brought to a mountain hideaway in the tiny fishing area of Italy called Seminara. In a 1974 cover story interview with Rolling Stone, months after Paul was released by his kidnappers, he told the publication, "When they [the kidnappers] asked me for my grandfather's address, of course, I knew what the plot was. The thing is, I never thought my grandfather would pay any kind of ransom. Because of the way he is. Besides, I realized I would probably do the same thing. Because I don't believe that somebody should work for 60 years to make his money and then have some little criminal who's too lazy to get a job take his money away from him. And anyway you have to show by example to criminals that they can't get their way all the time.”

His kidnappers issued a ransom note to the Getty family, which asked for $17 million (which would be about $94 million now) for him to be returned home safely.  

Several of his family members didn’t take the kidnapping seriously. Some believed that Paul may have even staged his own kidnapping. Apparently, Paul had made jokes about staging a kidnapping in the past in an attempt to get money from his rich grandpa, according to The Washington Post.

This kidnapping, however, definitely wasn’t a hoax.

Initially, Paul’s grandfather refused to pay the ransom.

"I have 14 other grandchildren," the grandfather said, according to The Washington Post, "If I pay one penny now, then I'll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren."

Paul was held captive for over five months and his captors became increasingly frustrated at his family's refusal to pay for his safe return. The men kept their woolen masks on the entire time, according to Paul’s account.

Eventually, Paul’s kidnappers cut off one of Paul’s ears, which they sent, in addition to some of his hair, to an Italian newspaper. An accompanying typewritten note said, "This is Paul's first ear. If within ten days the family still believes that this is a joke mounted by him, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits."

That finally did it.

By this point, Paul’s captors lowered his ransom to $2.8 million. Getty Sr. finally arranged to make the payment but he did tell his son, Paul’s dad, that he needed to pay the money back and at 4 percent interest.

“All the Money in the World” screenwriter David Scarpa told Vanity Fair that Getty Sr. “was almost a caricature of wealth and greed, in the sense that you think of Mr. Burns from 'The Simpsons.'”

Paul was released and flagged down a truck driver for help. When he tried to call his grandfather to thank him, he wouldn’t even come to the phone, according to Rolling Stone.

Nine kidnappers were arrested in connection with the months-long hostage situation. They included a carpenter, an olive-oil dealer and an alleged mafia member. Only two of the nine were convicted: Girolamo Piromalli and Saverio Mammoliti. The others were released for lack of evidence.


Paul, like his dad, suffered from drug addiction which ultimately led to a stroke in 1981 which left him permanently paralyzed. He died at age 54 in 2011.

[Photos: Getty Images]