by Charles Fox
(St. Martin’s Press, $25.99)
Reviewed by Larry Cox
J. Paul Getty III was the grandson of an oil baron once thought to be the richest man on the planet. Getty was 16 and living on his own in Rome in 1973. He frequented nightclubs, dabbled in art and even acted as an extra in films. On July 10, 1973, he was kidnapped by Italian gangsters.
Two days later, his mother received a ransom note demanding $17 million, followed by a note from Getty begging his family not to let him be killed. It was then that Getty’s family and police realized this was not a publicity stunt. The kidnappers offered to send a severed finger to prove they had Getty and that he was still alive.
His grandfather, J. Paul Getty I, dug in his heels and refused to pay. Getty’s father, who also lived in Italy, said he did not have the funds to meet the ransom demand. So a lengthy delay of several months began.
Three months later, when Getty’s ear and a lock of his hair came in the mail along with a reduced demand of $3 million, the case was kicked into high gear. J. Paul Getty I finally paid $2.2 million, but only after his accountants told him it was tax deductible. His son borrowed the rest from his dad at 4 percent interest. On Dec. 15, Getty was found at an abandoned gas station, malnourished and missing his ear.
During the entire ordeal, the late Charles Fox followed the kidnapping, capturing not just the facts of the bizarre case but also the voices of the models, maids, artists and club owners who had played important roles in young Getty’s life. During the 1990s, Getty asked Fox to help him write his autobiography, which was published shortly before his death in 2012. Getty had died the previous year.