Getty Center

Los Angeles, California | C.1997

Photo Credit: Vanshika Arora

The Getty Center is the result of the personal art collection of J. Paul Getty, the founder of the Getty Oil Company and at one time, the world’s wealthiest man. Yet, it was his frugal nature and razor-sharp negotiation skills that would prove most memorable when he helped release his grandson from kidnapping in 1973.

On July 10th, the Italian mafia organization ‘Ndrangheta kidnapped John Paul Getty III in Rome’s Piazza Farnese. Only 16 years old, Getty III was blindfolded, transported, and imprisoned in a cave in the region of Calabria. When a ransom note for $17 million emerged in exchange for his safety, the Getty family suspected the teenager plotted the incident himself to get money from his grandfather.

Getty initially refused the ransom, convinced that if he paid, his other grandchildren could become targets, too. But the kidnapping was no ruse. When the second ransom demand wasn’t met, Getty III endured increased toruture and three months later, his severed ear was mailed to a local newspaper. This time, the captors demanded $3.2 million and promised to mutilate Getty III if their request wasn’t met.

Getty then agreed to pay $2.2 million (equivalent of $12.7 million in 2019) for his grandson’s rescue. After the ransom was paid, Getty III was found at a petrol station in the province of Potenza. Nine of the kidnappers were arrested, but only two were convicted and sent to prison. Most of the ransom money was never recovered.

Through his fortune and fortitude, Getty’s legacy lives on in both his grandson’s rescue and the Getty Center in Los Angeles. A passionate art collector, the museum started in Getty’s home and has now expanded throughout the vast museum. At the Center, visitors can view pre-20th century European artwork, including Van Gogh’s masterpiece “Irises”.

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