The Kidnapping of Jean Paul Getty III

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So that there would be no confusion between him, his father and his enormously wealthy grandfather, Jean Paul Getty III was generally known as Paul.

In 1973, when he was only sixteen years of age, Paul was kidnapped by a ruthless Italian gang – but yet many people at the time believed it was a hoax.

The Golden Hippie

Paul lived in Rome where he became known for his hippie lifestyle. Being a Getty, it was not necessary for him to earn a living. But on July 10th, 1973 his mother, Gail, who was also in Rome became unaccountably concerned about him. She called him and Paul’s room-mate said that he hadn’t been seen for hours. This was unusual.

That evening, Gail received a phone call from an unknown person speaking with a Southern Italian accent. He asked if she was Signora Getty. When she confirmed that she was,the voice said “We have your son, Paul”. He went on “We are kidnappers and we have him captive. He is safe but we will require a lot of money to release him”.


Jean Paul Getty

Gail told the man, truthfully, that she did not have money for a ransom and the voice told her “Then be prepared to ask for it from your father-in-law. He has all the money in the world”. He told her not to go to the police, then hung up. Gail called her parents in American who told her that she must contact the police. Gail did so and then called Jean Paul Getty II – her ex-husband and the father of her kidnapped son.

She asked him to speak to his multi-millionaire father but the two were estranged. At that point, the Italian police arrived.


The police listened to her story then remarked “We know your son, Signora. He is probably with a girl or with his hippie friends. He will almost certainly show up”. Within twenty minutes the press (including American media) had got hold of the story. And most of them agreed with the police and headlines appeared such as Joke or Hoax?

But in fact, Paul had been grabbed in the street and bundled into a car. He was chloroformed, gagged, blindfolded and was unconscious when the car arrived at its destination in the south of Italy. He was shacked in a cattle hut in the woods.

Ten days passed and Gail heard nothing from the police or from the kidnappers. Then a letter arrived — asking for a ransom of about$17 million for Paul’s release. Soon afterwards she received a letter from Paul himself explaining the circumstances he was in and begging her to speak to his wealthy grandfather about the ransom.

Jean Paul Getty

Gail’s husband hadn’t summoned up the courage to speak to his father. Gail tried to contact her father-in-law every day but he was ‘not available’. But he did make a statement to the press, as follows:

I have fourteen grandchildren. And if I pay a penny of this ransom, I will have fourteen kidnapped grandchildren.”

He wanted nothing to do with the affair. He disapproved of Paul and of his father (who also led a hippie lifestyle) and intended to have nothing to do with either of them until they mended their ways.

Three weeks after the kidnapping

Gail’s phone rang again – it was the kidnappers and they were angry. They refused to believe that the rich old American wouldn’t pay for the release of his own grandson. Gail tried to calm the man down but he insisted that he needed the money to be paid as soon as possible. The police still maintained that Paul was faking his own kidnap.

Four weeks after the kidnapping, Gail had heard no more from the kidnappers. She was advised to go onto Italian TV and make an appeal, which she did. This mobilised the kidnappers who called her again, assuring her that Paul was alive and well. Gail wanted the man to prove it.

This started a series of back-and-forth conversations where Gail would ask a question that only Paul would know (such as ‘what is the name of our next door neighbour’ scat?’) and the kidnappers would call back with Paul’s reply. At least Gail knew that Paul was  still alive.

Time passed … and the kidnappers were getting impatient. They fastened new chains to his legs. Before his eyes, they killed a small wild bird that Paul had made into his pet. They kept him gagged for many hours at a time and played Russian roulette by pressing a .45 revolver to his head.

October arrived

One morning Paul was made to drink lots of cheap Italian brandy. Then the kidnappers told him he needed a haircut. Paul disagreed but they insisted.  When Paul felt the ‘barber’ swab alcohol on his ear, he knew what was about to happen but was too weak to struggle. The kidnappers severed his right ear.

On October 21st, the kidnappers called Gail and told her what they had done. They said that they would arrange for her to see photographs to prove it. Sure enough, the police received a call telling them to search a public garbage can and there they found photographs of Paul, emaciated, dirty and weak — and with a gaping hole at the side of his head.

The day before, the kidnappers had packaged the ear and mailed it to the Rome newspaper, Il Messagero. But there was a postal strike and the ear did not arrive until November 10th – Paul had now been missing for four months.


The kidnappers became even more impatient and let it be known that Paul’s remaining ear would be next to arrive. But Paul was now malnourished, weak and dispirited. And because of the amateur amputation, the wound became infected.  He contracted pneumonia and the kidnappers saw that they could lose their potential ransom if the boy died. The contacted Gail.

Gail knew now that it was likely that Paul would die in captivity. She spoke to her father who argued so forcibly with Jean Paul Getty that the old man agreed to pay $2.2 million, the amount that was tax deducible. He said that Paul’s father would have to pay the rest. As he couldn’t, Getty Senior lent his son the remaining ransom money – at an interest rate of 4%.


On December 10th, a representative sent by Jean Paul Getty III drove south – with the money- to a rendezvous spot determined by the kidnappers. He left the money as instructed by the side of a quiet road. The next day, Gail heard nothing. The following day, there was still no word from the kidnappers.  But then in the evening, her phone rang.

The kidnappers explained that they would leave Paul on a hillside near the place where the money had been left. They gave her directions and told her that she must travel there alone to get him. She decided to take the Getty representative. The police had been monitoring her calls and they followed.

Where was Paul Getty?

It was snowing when they arrived. There was no sign of Paul. They called his name but there was no sign of him. The representative told Gail that she should be prepared to find that the kidnappers had killed their victim. The police who had followed them were searching the hills and they found a blanket and a blindfold.

They asked Gail what they thought Paul would have done when he was freed.”He would have headed for home” she told them. Gail got into the squad car as they slowly searched the autostrada. There was no sign of Paul.

Then they heard a message on the police radio – an unidentified male had been picked up by the police and was being held at the station. They rushed there and Gail hardly recognised Paul. He was emaciated, filthy, he could hardly walk and had a dirty, bloodstained bandage around his head. But he was alive.

Gail and Paul immediately checked into a clinic when they returned to Rome. There, she was told that despite his ordeal, he would fully recover and that it would be possible to rebuild his ear thanks to plastic surgery. Gail then remembered that it was Jean Paul Getty’s birthday; the old man was eighty one that day. She suggested that Paul call him to thank him for paying the ransom.

Back in America

The eighty one year old Getty was in his study when he heard the phone ring. A member of his staff answered the call and respectfully came to tell him who was on the line.”It’s your grandson Paul. Do you wish to speak to him?”

Getty had a one word reply. It was:



Jackie Jackson, also known online as BritFlorida, is a highly experienced designer and writer. British born and now living in the USA, she specialises in lifestyle issues, design and quirky stories. You can see a wide range of articles here, or visit her website Tastes Magazine. See The Writer’s Door for more information.

Author: Jackie Jackson

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