The History of Kidnapping of John Paul Getty III

Background of the Case

The case under consideration is one of the most discussed kidnapping stories of the twentieth century. The case roots back to July 10, 1973, when 1-year-old John Paul Getty III was kidnaped by Italian criminals in Rome. The people who organized the crime were the members of ‘Ndrangheta,’ a Calabrian organization that was related to the mafia (Paoletti). It was not the first case of Ndrangheta kidnapping people for ransom, but at that time, they were expecting a huge profit. The matter was that the kidnapped teenager was a grandson of J. Paul Getty, the head of one of the richest families in the world of that time and a founder of the Getty Oil Company.

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The kidnappers expected to get a ransom of 17 million dollars from the boy’s family. It was a substantial amount of money but real for Getty III’s grandfather, who was a billionaire. Consequently, the public was waiting for a soon resolution of the case after J. Paul Getty paid the ransom. Nevertheless, the famous grandfather made an unexpected announcement. He refused to pay and justified his decision by the fact that he had 14 other grandchildren, and in case he paid a penny to kidnappers, he would have 14 kidnapped grandchildren (McPadden). After some months, the criminals decided to prove that they were serious in their intentions. They cut off the boy’s ear and a lock of hair and sent them to a local newspaper with a note. The note states that the family had ten days to pay; otherwise, they would receive Getty III in pieces (Pearson).

After the rich grandfather agreed to pay the ransom, the sum was negotiated and reduced to three million dollars. The grandfather gave 2.2 million dollars and lent 800,000 to his son, the father of the kidnapped boy, at 4% interest. The money was to be delivered by Getty’s legal manager, Fletcher Chase (Pearson). On December 12, the man took the money to the pre-arranged location, but the boy was released a few days later. There are different versions of how Paul was found. Pearson claimed that Paul’s mother and Chase found him at a police station (Gallagher). The version of The New York Times was that the boy was discovered at an abandoned service station.


There was not much evidence in the case of Getty III’s kidnapping. The first one was the note that his mother received a couple of days after the boy disappeared. It was a written note where Getty III informed that he had fallen into the hands of kidnappers (McDonnell-Parry). The boy asked for help and insisted on avoiding police interference or public attention. Another piece of evidence related to the case is a lock of Paul’s hair that was cut off by the kidnappers and sent to the boy’s mother. Also, the criminals cut off the boy’s ear and sent it to a local newspaper (Esztherhas). There were also some phone calls between the boy’s mother and the kidnappers, but they were not recorded and thus could not serve as evidence at the court. Still, they were included as evidence for investigation retold by the boy’s mother because she was the person whom the criminals contacted. There was also evidence that proved the violent behavior of the kidnappers. For example, they took away John’s radio that could help pass the time while being kept as a hostage. Also, the criminals killed a bird that the boy kept as a pet. Moreover, John Paul Getty III continuously militated, and his family was receiving many treats from the kidnappers.

Forensic Tests Used for Analysis

The case took place in 1973, and forensic science of that time did not allow providing any complicated tests to prove the boy’s identity or identify the criminals. For example, in case a similar story happens now, forensic expertise can apply DNA analysis to discover if the cut hair or the ear really belongs to the kidnapped person. Still, at the time of the kidnapping, the police and experts did not have such advanced opportunities. Moreover, there was not much evidence available for the case. Although there is no information about the investigation in the context of forensic tests, the following actions could have been taken. One of the available tests of that time was taking and comparing fingerprints. Therefore, fingerprints of both the kidnapped boy and the criminals could have been taken. They could be found on the notes that the kidnappers had sent to the family and on the envelopes. Another opportunity to investigate the case was to work with the things found at the pace where the boy was kept. The location could be investigated to find evidence of the boy staying there. Also, the first note that was created by cutting off the words from newspapers and magazines were studied.

Results of Analysis

The initial version that Getty III kidnapped himself did not found any proof. The forensic tests used for analysis revealed the fact that John Paul Getty III kept the notes sent to his parents in his hand because his fingerprints were found there. Moreover, after some members of the criminal group were arrested, their fingerprints were identified as well. The investigation of the place where the boy was kept for almost half a year provided evidence of John Paul Getty III staying there. His blood and his hair were found there. Moreover, the newspapers and magazines that were used for cutting out the words for the first note were identified at that place, which was another proof of guilt of the kidnappers.


The resolution of the case came after about half a year, which was necessary for the Getty family to make a decision. After the family saw real evidence of Getty III being in danger, the grandfather was persuaded to pay the ransom. Still, after negotiations with the kidnappers, the amount was reduced. J. Paul agreed to pay 3 million dollars for his grandson’s release. Still, he provided only $2.2 million and gave a loan of $800,000 to his son, Getty III’s father (McDonnell-Parry). After the ransom was paid, the boy was released and left at a gas station in Italy on December 15, 1973, more than half a year after he had been kidnapped. After the boy was released, the police arrested nine menders of Ndrangheta, the criminal group that was keeping Getty III for half a year. Still, no one from its senior figures or Cinquanta, the head of the group, was caught.

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John Paul Getty III returned to his mother in a tragic state (Pearson). He was exhausted and terrified. The criminals, obviously, did not use any anesthetic when cutting his ear or any medicine to take care of his ear wound. Instead, the kidnappers had been feeding him with alcohol, thus developing an addiction that caused many problems in his adulthood. After the release, the boy had to face the world’s media that were tracing the story from the beginning. It was torture for a young boy, and he had a breakdown (Pearson). He overdosed on drugs and fell into a coma. Still, he survived and was cared for by his dedicated mother. Nevertheless, the coma had certain consequences, and John Paul III was paralyzed. Still, he lived for several decades, was married, and had a son. He died in 2011 after a long illness at the age of 54.

The story was broadly discussed in the press all over the world. Still, major attention was not on legal but on moral character. Certainly, the criminals were expected to be arrested, but the fact that Getty, the grandfather of the boy and one of the richest people in the world, refused to pay the ransom was the main issue for discussions. The story developed into a book, a movie, and a TV drama based on real events (Miller). Thus, John Person published his book “Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortune and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty” in 1995. In 2017, the movie “All the Money in the World” started in cinemas and became a success that brought some significant rewards to its creators and the actors. Finally, the TV series “Trust” appeared in 2018, providing the story of John Paul Getty’s kidnapping in ten episodes.

Works Cited

Esztherhas, Joe. “J. Paul Getty III: Exclusive 1974 Interview with Kidnapped Oil Heir.” Rolling Stone, Web.

Gallagher, Caitlin. “How Did John Paul Getty III Escape His Kidnappers? ‘Trust’ Will Show the Harrowing Ordeal.” Bustle. Web.

McDonnell-Parry, Amelia. “John Paul Getty III: The True Story Behind’ Trust’.” Rolling Stone, Web.

McPadden, Mike. “The Kidnaping of J. Paul Getty III: Oil Money, the Mafia & a Savagely Damaged Ear.” CrimeFeed, Web.

Miller, Julie. “J. Paul Getty III’s Horrific Kidnapping Is the Subject of a New TV Series.” Vanity Fair. Web.

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Paoletti, Gabe. “The True Story of the John Paul Getty III Kidnapping.” All That’s Interesting, Web.

Pearson, John. “The Real Story Behind the Kidnapping of John Paul Getty III.” The Australian Financial Review, Web.

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