Our earlier quiz this week featured this question: When this billionaire oilman’s grandson was kidnapped, he only agreed to pay the maximum amount that was tax deductible. Who was this a-hole?
It was J. Paul Getty I, one of the richest and worst human beings ever to live. Here is the incredible story of that kidnapping, taken from the J. Paul Getty III’s obit last year (he died at age 54).
Expelled from a private school, the young Mr. Getty was living a bohemian life, frequenting nightclubs, taking part in left-wing demonstrations and reportedly earning a living making jewelry, selling paintings and acting as an extra in movies. He disappeared on July 10, 1973, and two days later his mother, Gail Harris, received a ransom request. No longer married, she said she had little money.
“Get it from London,” she was reportedly told over the phone, a reference either to her former father-in-law, J. Paul Getty, the billionaire founder of the Getty Oil Company, or her former husband, who lived in England.
The amount demanded was about $17 million, but the police were initially skeptical of the kidnapping claim, even after Ms. Harris received a plaintive letter from her son, and a phone call in which a man saying he was a kidnapper offered to send her a severed finger as proof he was still alive. Investigators suspected a possible hoax or an attempt by the young Mr. Getty to squeeze some money from his notoriously penurious relatives.
“Dear Mummy,” his note began, “Since Monday I have fallen into the hands of kidnappers. Don’t let me be killed.”
The eldest Mr. Getty refused to pay the kidnappers anything, declaring that he had 14 grandchildren and “If I pay one penny now, I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.” His son said he could not afford to pay.
Three months after the abduction, the kidnappers, who turned out to be Calabrian bandits with a possible connection to organized crime, cut off Mr. Getty’s ear and mailed it, along with a lock of his hair, to a Roman newspaper. Photographs of the maimed Mr. Getty, along with a letter in which he pleaded with his family to pay his captors, subsequently appeared in another newspaper. Eventually the kidnappers reduced their demands to around $3 million. According to the 1995 book “Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortune and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty,” by John Pearson, the eldest Mr. Getty paid $2.2 million, the maximum that his accountants said would be tax-deductible. The boy’s father paid the rest, though he had borrow it from his father — at 4 percent interest.
Getty was devastated by the kidnapping. He became a drug and alcohol abuser and suffered a drug-induced stroke at age 24 that left him immobilized for the remainder of his life.