Truth Is Always Stranger Than Fiction

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All The Money In The World an interesting story

Rome, 1973. Masked men kidnap a teenage boy named John Paul Getty III. His grandfather, Jean Paul Getty, is the richest human in the world, a billionaire oil magnate, but he’s notoriously miserly. His favorite grandson’s abduction is not reason enough for him to part with any of his fortune. All the Money in the World (2017) follows Gail Paul’s devoted, strong-willed mother, who unlike Getty, has consistently chosen her children over his fortune. Her son’s life in the balance with time running out, she attempts to sway Getty even as her son’s mob captors become increasingly more determined, volatile and brutal. When Getty sends his enigmatic security man Fletcher Chace (Mark Wahlberg) to look after his interests, he and Gail become unlikely allies in this race against time that ultimately reveals the true and lasting value of love over money.

The Kidnapping

Getty was kidnapped in the Palazzo Farnese in Rome at 3 a.m. on July 10, 1973, when he was 16. According to his girlfriend Martine Schmidt, he had toyed with the idea of getting himself kidnapped by petty criminals when the couple was struggling to make ends meet, but he had changed his mind because both of them started getting work modeling for photographers. She stated that “Paul didn’t want to be kidnapped anymore, but [the kidnappers] were following him.” He was blindfolded, transported, and imprisoned in a cave. The kidnappers issued a ransom note demanding $17 million (equivalent to $94 million in 2017) in exchange for his safe return. When that message arrived, some family members suspected that the kidnapping was merely a ploy by Getty. The kidnappers sent a second demand, but its arrival was delayed by an Italian postal strike.

John Paul Getty Jr. asked his father J. Paul Getty for the money, but his father refused, arguing that his 13 other grandchildren could also become kidnap targets if he paid. As time wore on, Paul’s treatment by his captors grew worse; they took away his radio, killed a bird that he had taken as a pet, and began playing Russian roulette against his head.

In November 1973, a daily newspaper received an envelope containing a lock of hair, a human ear, and a threat from the kidnappers to mutilate Paul further unless they were paid $3.2 million (equivalent to $17.6 million in 2017). The letter read, “This is Paul’s first ear. If within ten days the family still believes that this is a joke mounted by him, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits.” Paul’s health began to decline rapidly as his wound became infected, combined with pneumonia caused by the cold winter temperatures. His captors were alarmed at this sudden decline and gave him large doses of penicillin to treat the infection, which caused him to develop an allergy to the antibiotic and further affected his health. Getty’s biographer John Pearson attributed his later alcoholism to the large amounts of brandy that he was plied within the last few months of his captivity to keep him warm and numb his pain.

After Paul’s ear was sent, his grandfather negotiated a deal to get him back for about $2.9 million (equivalent to $16 million in 2017). He paid $2.2 million—the maximum amount that was tax deductible—and lent the remainder to his son, who was responsible for repaying the sum at 4% interest. Paul was found alive on December 15, 1973 shortly after the ransom was paid. At his mother’s suggestion, he called his grandfather to thank him for paying the ransom, but J. Paul Getty refused to come to the phone.

Nine of the kidnappers were apprehended, including Girolamo Piromalli and Saverio Mammoliti, high-ranking members of the ‘Ndrangheta, a Mafia organization in Calabria. Two of the kidnappers were convicted and sent to prison; the others were acquitted for lack of evidence, including the ‘Ndrangheta bosses. Most of the ransom money was never recovered. In 1977, Getty had an operation to rebuild the ear that his kidnappers had cut off.

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