December 15

This Day in History

General Interest

Dec 15, 1973:

Billionaire's kidnapped grandson found in Italy

Jean Paul Getty III, the grandson of American billionaire J. Paul Getty, is found alive near Naples, five months after his kidnapping by an Italian gang. J. Paul Getty, who became the richest man in the world in 1957, had initially refused to pay his 16-year-old grandson's $17 million ransom but finally agreed to cooperate after the boy's severed right ear was sent to a newspaper in Rome. He eventually secured his grandson's release by paying just $2.7 million, the maximum amount that he claimed he was able to raise.

Born in Minneapolis in 1892, Getty inherited a small oil company from his father. Through his autocratic rule and skillful manipulation of the stock market, Getty soon shaped Getty Oil into a massive financial empire. By 1968, Getty's fortune exceeded $1 billion. However, the world's wealthiest man did not live an ideal life. He is remembered as an eccentric billionaire who married and divorced five times and had serious relationship problems with most of his five sons.

In the final 25 years of his life, Getty lived near London, England, in an estate surrounded by double barbed-wire fences and protected by plainclothes guards and more than 20 German shepherd attack dogs. He was also a notorious miser--his installation of a payphone for guests in his English mansion is a famous example. Three years after failing to pay his grandson's ransom in a timely manner, J. Paul Getty died at the age of 83.

His children and former wives fought bitterly over the inheritance of his fortune in court, but ultimately the bulk of his billions went to the J. Paul Getty Museum "for the diffusion of artistic and general knowledge." Today, the Getty Museum, based in Los Angeles, is the most richly endowed museum on earth.

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