John Paul Getty III, grandson of billionaire oil tycoon, was kidnapped on this day in history

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The Getty family is known for its immense wealth but also its misfortune.  

J. Paul Getty made his fortune in the oil industry, beginning work in Oklahoma oil fields with his father, according to the Getty Museum. 

The businessman negotiated a 30-year oil concession between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in the late 1940s, giving Getty Oil exclusive rights to the oil in the area, according to the source. His gamble paid off in the 1950s. In 1957, he was named the “richest man in the world” by Fortune. 

John Paul Getty III and J. Paul Getty

J. Paul Getty, a wealthy American oil tycoon, refused to pay the ransom when his grandson, John Paul Getty III, was kidnapped on July 10, 1973. (Getty Images | Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


With his riches also came those trying to claim a piece of it. On July 10, 1973, J. Paul Getty’s 16-year-old grandson, John Paul Getty III, was kidnapped and held for a ransom his grandfather refused to pay. 

His many months in captivity were gruesome ones. Even though he was found alive, the tragedy has remained with the family.

  1. How old was John Paul Getty III when he was kidnapped?
  2. What did the kidnappers do to John Paul Getty III?
  3. What happened to John Paul Getty III after the kidnapping?

1. How old was John Paul Getty III when he was kidnapped?

When John Paul Getty III was kidnapped, he was 16 years old. He was kidnapped on July 10, 1973, while he was living by himself in Rome after being kicked out of private school. 

Two days after his disappearance, his mother, Abigail “Gail” Harris, received a ransom note demanding $17 million for the boy’s safe return. 

John Paul Getty III and his mother Gail Harris

John Paul Getty III’s mother, Abigail “Gail” Harris, received a note two days after his disappearance that demanded $17 million for his return. (Vittoriano Rastelli/Corbis via Getty Images)

At the time, some family members and investigators believed the kidnapping to be a hoax, perhaps one organized by the boy himself in an attempt to get money from his wealthy grandfather.

The family patriarch refused to pay the ransom price, famously proclaiming, “If I pay one penny now, I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.”


The ransom went unpaid and John Paul Getty III remained in captivity for five months before a deal was struck.

2. What did the kidnappers do to John Paul Getty III?

Months into his captivity, John Paul Getty III’s ear was severed by his abductors and sent by mail with a lock of hair to a Roman newspaper, according to the New York Times.

A note accompanied the severed ear reading, “This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get some money within 10 days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits.”

Shortly after this gruesome mailing, J. Paul Getty got involved in the matter.

J. Paul Getty allegedly paid $2.2 million of the negotiated $3 million ransom, according to the book, “Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortune and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty” by John Pearson, as that was the largest amount that his accountants claimed would be tax-deductible. 

The remainder of the ransom was paid by the boy’s father, J. Paul Getty Jr., in a sum borrowed by the family’s patriarch with a 4% interest rate.


On Dec. 15 of the year he was taken, after the ransom was paid, John Paul Getty III was found alone at a gas station. Nine men were arrested after being connected to the crime, but only two were convicted, according to the New York Times. 

3. What happened to John Paul Getty III after the kidnapping?

After his kidnapping, John Paul Getty III struggled with drug addiction.

In 1981, he suffered a drug overdose, leading to a stroke that left him paralyzed.

John Paul Getty III in wheelchair

John Paul Getty III was left paralyzed from a stroke due to a drug overdose. He died on Feb. 5, 2011. (Bruno Vincent/Getty Images)

He fell under the care of his mother, who provided assistance to him until he died on Feb. 5, 2011, at age 54.

In the years following his death, a movie and TV series have been made, featuring John Paul Getty III’s kidnapping at the center of the story.


In 2017, the Ridley Scott-directed movie, “All the Money in the World,” was released. The following year, a TV drama series called “Trust” premiered, also inspired by the Getty family and the teen’s kidnapping.

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