EVERY now and then a story comes along that is so scandalous and sudsy, it’s almost impossible to believe.
The notorious 1973 kidnapping of John Paul Getty III is that story, and it’s about to be fleshed out in a new 10-part series called Trust that is fittingly over the top.
Considering the events it’s based upon, why wouldn’t it be?
Around 3am on the morning of July 10, 1973, John Paul Getty III was rolling around the streets of Rome (where he lived) drunk, when a car pulled up and kidnapped the 16-year old at gunpoint.
Once in the car, he was chloroformed, driven to a cave in southern Italy and tied up. Why? Well, Getty was the grandson of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, the richest man in the world at the time. Twenty-four hours after his abduction, his mother Gail received “the call”.
The kidnappers wanted $US17 million (approximately $US94 million in today’s coin) for Getty’s safe return, and they wanted it now. Then things began to get interesting.
The Italian media, who nicknamed Getty “The Golden Hippy”, believed it all to be a hoax, and accused the 16-year old of staging his kidnapping to squeeze his famous grandfather of millions, citing he had bragged to friends in the past that he was confident he could pull of the perfect kidnapping.
Getty’s only problem was his famous grandfather was a sensational cheapskate — he famously had a payphone installed in his English manor Sutton Place to avoid paying for his guests’ calls — and wasn’t about to bow to anyone’s demands.
“I don’t believe in paying kidnappers,” Getty famously told the media at the time. “I have 14 other grandchildren and if I pay one penny now, then I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.” The media went nuts. It was the scandal that just kept giving.
Early one October morning, approximately three months into the ordeal, the young Getty was given a haircut, tied up and blindfolded.
Then his right ear was removed with one fell swoop from a razor-sharp blade.
The appendage was sent to Il Messagero, a newspaper in Rome, with a lock of his hair and a note demanding the ransom be paid within 10 days or “we shall send you the other ear”.
When photos of Getty showing his missing ear found their way to reporters, the family agreed to pay $US2.9 million, less than 20 per cent of the original asking price, for his safe return.
The family patriarch ponied up $US2.2 million — anything over that wasn’t tax deductible — and loaned the remaining $US700,000 to his son, John Paul Getty Jr, to pay off the rest, with a jaw-dropping caveat: It had to be repaid back at 4 per cent interest.
On December 12 the deal was done. Money finally exchanged hands, five months after the ordeal had begun, and Getty was released to a rock star reception. Italian teenage girls gushed over him like he was a Rolling Stone, and he received fan mail accordingly.
His grandfather, on the other hand, wasn’t so pleased, which became apparent when Getty called to say thank you for securing his release.
J. Paul Getty refused to take the call and wished him “good luck”.
Nine men associated with the ’Ndrangheta organised crime group, aka the Calabrian mafia, were arrested for Getty’s kidnapping, with two convicted. The others were acquitted through lack of evidence and only $85,000 of the $2.9 million was ever recovered.
A year later, in 1974, Getty, 18, married photographer Martine Zacher, 24, who was five months pregnant. He was immediately disinherited by his grandfather, who was outraged he was marrying so young. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the end of Getty’s misfortune.
In 1981, after a night of partying on methadone, Valium and copious amounts of booze, Getty suffered liver failure and a devastating stroke, which left him quadriplegic, partially blind and unable to speak.
In 2011, after years of bad health, he passed away at this father’s estate in Buckinghamshire, England. He was 54 at the time.