The Real Story Of The Billionaire Who Refused To Pay Grandson’s $17 Million Ransom

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If push comes to shove, wouldn’t you do anything for your loved ones?

I’m talking serious situations here, situations where it’s your choice and actions that can make the difference between life and death of another human being that’s close to you. I’m sure that pretty much anyone would jump at the opportunity to help, let alone save someone they love from death, if that given the chance and power to do so. It’s the most natural thing to do, help your loved ones, care for them, make sure they’re safe and keep them that way and everybody would. Right?

Well, turns out, not quite everybody.

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Here’s the story about J. Paul Getty. This man is known for two things, one of which was his immense wealth he gathered throughout his life(he was an oil tycoon) that put him in the spot “the richest man in the world”.

The second thing he is infamous for is the fact that he refused to pay a ransom for his grandson’s life, when the boy got abducted. That particular piece of information spawned a popular novel which in turn was the genesis for one of the most anticipated movies to be released this year.

Here’s some stuff about the movie (because I know that whenever a movie get mentioned, there’s always a need for some info on it – it’s in our culture):

The flick’s title is All the Money in the World and it’s directed by the acclaimed Ridley Scott – twice. Kevin Spacey was originally starring as Paul Getty. After they finished principle photography, Spacey got himself into trouble when allegations of his sexual misconduct appeared, so Scott had to either scrub the movie, or reshoot all of the scenes with Getty. He chose door number 2 and recast Christopher Plummer as J. Paul Getty and they shot those scenes as quickly as possible, as the movie’s premiere date was not to be moved.

Alright. Now that the movie trivia is out of the way, here’s the more important part behind it. The real story took place in 1973, in Rome, where John Paul Getty III (that’s the grandson) lived with his mother. He was 16, fresh out of a fancy private school (expelled, not finished) and working as a nude model and a part time painter. The boy was a part of the counterculture and a bit of a rebel. One fine summer day (10th of July to be exact) a van stopped next to him and three armed men got out and kidnapped him. They journeyed to Southern Italy and hid the teenager in huts and caves, away from people, telling him that he’d better buckle in, because he’d stay with them for a long time.

Surely enough, a ransom letter soon found its way to Paul’s mom Gail. In the letter the kidnappers stated their demands – the sum of $17 million in cash for her son’s life and that they knew she could get the money from Getty. For a short while no one actually believed this was a kidnapping – the police and Paul’s family thought that the plot was orchestrated by the boy, so that he could swindle some cash from his grandfather. The old Getty was known to be a miser of epic proportions, a man who had installed a payphone in his home, so that his guests wouldn’t be granted any free calls when they would visit him.

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Once everybody realized that the kidnapping was indeed for real, they all looked at Getty and if he’d pay the ransom. Gail begged him. Shockingly, he said ‘No’. His reasoning was that if he paid the ransom money once, what’s to stop his other 14 grandchildren to get abducted? As far as he was concerned, none of his money would ever fall in the hands of criminals and that was that.

Three months passed and no contact was made with the kidnappers (who as it turned out, were Mafia-affiliated). And then a message was sent to one of Rome’s newspapers and it was loud and clear – it was Paul’s severed ear. Everybody got the gist. Gail started a campaign to raise the money needed for the ransom, while negotiating with the kidnappers. In the end she managed to negotiate it down to $2.2 million. Even then she couldn’t get the money together all by herself, so grandpa Getty had to intervene, putting up the rest, but loaning it to Gail’s husband at 4 per cent interest rate.
Still, on the 12th of December the ransom was paid and three days later the boy reappeared – they left him at an abandoned service building. Later he tried to call his granddad in order to thank him, but Getty wouldn’t come to the phone.

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Getty stood by his choice to not pay the ransom. His perspective didn’t change even when nine years after being abducted, Paul died from a drug overdose and trauma had definitely had something to do with it. His position on the matter was that if he did pay his grandchild’s ransom, that would leave the other 14 open to being kidnapped. Moreover, he stated that if one were to agree to criminals’ demands, he would only increase lawlessness. That’s what the man believed and he would have no one tell him any different.


A book was written later (the basis for All the Money in the World). When the author, John Pearson was asked how would old John Getty take the movie, if he was still alive, he answered that the Getty would be very unhappy with the film’s position on the matter. If it were up to him, he would have the screenplay rewritten so that he wouldn’t catch the heat for what happened. And what’s more, Pearson, said, Getty would have found a way to make money out of that movie. This was the man’s nature in a nutshell.

Written by Patrick Bennet

I have been working as a teacher my whole life. I love reading books.

I love writing about all kind of different and interesting facts. It's not only exciting, but I learn something new every day. What I learn I share it with you guys. If you have any questions feel free to contact me.

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