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Stealers Wheel

February 7, 2011
by

Speaking of ignominy, how’d you like to die with this as the headline:

J. Paul Getty III, 54, Dies; Had Ear Cut Off by Captors

Sad story, really. I had no idea.

At the time of his abduction, Mr. Getty was just 16 and living on his own in Rome, where his father, J. Paul Getty II, had, for a time, helped oversee the family’s Italian business interests.

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.

The amount demanded was about $17 million, but the police were initially skeptical of the kidnapping claim; even after Ms. Harris received a plaintive four-page letter from her son, and a subsequent 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.

That’s some cold ass shit.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 8, 2011 9:19 am

    It would definitely be tough to Van Gogh out like that.

    • Fat Al permalink*
      February 8, 2011 10:01 am

      Man, you’re a regular Shecky Greene.

  2. February 8, 2011 2:09 pm

    I remember reading about him in Rolling Stone, when it happened. Here’s an article about him:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1354353/John-Paul-Getty-III-dies-54-paralysed-30-years.html

    If anyone knows any more, I’m all ears.

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