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John Paul Getty (1892 - 1976) American oil executive, multi-millionaire and art collector, with Zsa Zsa Gabor, exotic international Hungarian leading lady. May 16, 1972. Photo Getty Images.

John Paul Getty (1892 – 1976) American oil executive, multi-millionaire and art collector, with Zsa Zsa Gabor, exotic international Hungarian leading lady. May 16, 1972. Photo Getty Images.

The Getty Family

A Cautionary Tale of Oil, Adultery, and Death

Billions, Affairs, Severed Ears, Drug Overdoses, And Oil

The story of the famed Getty family is one of the most obvious examples that money, and cold hard cash, doesn’t buy you happiness.

“The Getty Curse,” as it is known, has stoked the public imagination for almost as long as the Gettys themselves have been striking oil.

The legend begins with J. Paul Getty, considered alongside Howard Hughes as the first modern billionaire. Getty’s business acumen—he not only scored a six-decade concession on an oil field outside of Kuwait in 1949 for less than $10 million, he learned Arabic to help seal the deal— was matched only by his cluelessness as a family man.

A notorious philanderer who was married five times, by the time J. Paul Getty, died in 1976 at 83, his legacy as a financial titan and benefactor of the arts was secure. But as so happens in industrial dynasties, his story grew strange near the end — and black sheep began to crowd the family tree.

He had lost his youngest son, Timmy, when he died of a brain tumor at age 12 (Getty failed to attend the funeral) and his eldest son and seeming heir apparent, George, under mysterious circumstances.

According to a story Claus Von Bulow once told, “He fell twice on a barbecue fork.”

Around the same time of George’s death, in 1973, came the famous kidnapping of J. Paul Getty III, the elder Getty’s grandson, in Rome by Italian gangsters.

Andrew’s father, Gordon, seemed to have bypassed the family’s tragic storyline.

Artistic and intelligent, he studied classical music composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and became a composer and philanthropist, raising four sons in the Bay Area with wife Ann.

The Getty family –once known for its oil riches and J. Paul Getty’s passionate appetite for art — seems to makes its way into the public sphere about once a decade, generally for some tragic occurrence. Like Forrest Gump, J. Paul Getty’s rise to become the world’s richest man was really a tale of two extremes: one of unbridled capitalism leading to a multi-billion dollar international oil empire; the other, decades of family indifference that destroyed the lives of some of the wealthiest individuals in the world.

In 1957, J. Paul Getty was on top of the world, sitting on a ten-digit fortune, having struck oil in the Neutral Zone between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Less than 20 years later, he was on his deathbed after witnessing the suicide of his oldest son, the death of his daughter-in-law due to a heroin overdose, and the famously gruesome kidnapping of his grandson, which included his ear being chopped off.

Getty was born in 1892 in Minneapolis to a successful father, George Franklin Getty, who after years as an attorney became an Oklahoma wildcatter. Getty grew up in Los Angeles in the early days of the twentieth century, joining his father’s Minnehoma Oil in Tulsa, Oklahoma at 21. Convinced he would make a fortune in no time, he began buying and selling oil leases with his father’s backing. Having made a million dollars in less than two years, the young Getty retired to Los Angeles, where, according to a 1976 obituary in the New York Times, “he lived a gaudy, girl-filled life for two years.”

After that stretch of the Playboy lifestyle, J. Paul Getty was once again ready for business. Back at his father’s side, the Gettys did what they did best, wildcatting, and the money flowed. By George Franklin Getty’s death in 1930, his son already had three weddings, two divorces, and two children under his belt. After his fifth failed marriage, with as many children, J. Paul Getty dedicated his amorous and sentimental life to a fixed repertoire of lovers and mistresses, whom he would pit against each other using what many claim was the most important thing for him: money.

John Paul Getty. J. Paul Getty, born in 1892, made millions buying and selling oil leases in Oklahoma. He made his first million by the time he was 25, and retired for a time to Los Angeles to engage what the New York Times called “a gaudy, girl-filled life.” But, unable to resist the lure of black gold, he was back in business shortly after World War I, making more money. In 1957, Fortune speculated he was the world’s richest private citizen. But as the old chestnut goes, money didn’t buy Getty happiness — and as the song goes, it didn’t buy him love, either. He was married and divorced five times. And he earned a reputation as a Scrooge who installed a pay phone in his own mansion.

John Paul Getty. J. Paul Getty, born in 1892, made millions buying and selling oil leases in Oklahoma. He made his first million by the time he was 25, and retired for a time to Los Angeles to engage what the New York Times called “a gaudy, girl-filled life.” But, unable to resist the lure of black gold, he was back in business shortly after World War I, making more money. In 1957, Fortune speculated he was the world’s richest private citizen. But as the old chestnut goes, money didn’t buy Getty happiness — and as the song goes, it didn’t buy him love, either. He was married and divorced five times. And he earned a reputation as a Scrooge who installed a pay phone in his own mansion.

Starting in the Depression, Getty began gobbling up companies, ultimately restructuring his empire in 1956 to put the namesake Getty Oil Company at the apex of a global pyramid, of which he owned 80%. J. Paul truly challenged the global monopoly of the so-called Seven Sisters (Anglo-Iranian Oil Company – which later became BP  Royal Dutch/Shell; Standard Oil of New Jersey; Standard Oil of California; Socony Vacuum—which later became Mobil; Texaco; and Gulf) when he got a foothold in the Middle East.

Not only was Getty smaller than his rivals, he was also late to the party. Yet in 1948, Getty beat his competitors and won a 60-year concession in Saudi Arabia’s Neutral Zone, 2,200 square miles of desolate desert jointly controlled by the Saudis and Kuwaitis, who had already given their portion to American consortium Aminoil. It wasn’t cheap: Getty agreed to pay King Abdul Aziz $9.5 million upfront plus a guaranteed $1 million a year royalty, along with 55 cents per barrel of oil, a full 2.5 times what majors paid across the Middle East. With oil trading at $2 per barrel, Getty was making a big bet. Without having stepped foot in the Middle East—he sent his son George II—he struck oil in 1953, seeing his fortune double as shares in his company soared. In the ensuing years, Getty invested $600 million in building an integrated global oil giant: exploration, production, refining, and even its own fleet of mega-tankers.

Getty the billionaire permeated the global consciousness in 1957, when Fortune magazine estimated the 65-year-old’s net worth at between $700 million and $1 billion, proclaiming him the richest man in the U.S. Going deeper, Forbes pegged him at $1.6 billion, by including other assets such as the Pierre Hotel in New York and his incredible art collection. Due to his newfound fame, the nomadic Getty could no longer manage to live in his favourite hotels, so in 1959 he low-balled the Duke of Sutherland to buy Sutton Place in the outskirts of London, where he would reside for the rest of his life. Beyond lavish parties, Sutton Place became famous after Getty installed a payphone so that his guests wouldn’t feel they were “imposing.”

A genius when it came to analyzing geological formations or a coming deal, Getty was the opposite when it came to his personal relations. He boasted to a lawyer in 1954 that he had had 100 lovers and wanted to make sure he gave some money to all of them. The miser’s apparent generosity is diametrically opposed to the relationship with his own children, which was probably Getty’s most destructive feature. Disdainful of them, he barely spent time with his family, many times looking down on them, communicating through sarcasm and irony. This, in part, led to the tragedy of the Getty family.

The first to succumb was J. Paul Getty, Jr., who changed his name from Eugene Paul and as a youngster was his father’s favourite. Jr. married his longtime girlfriend Gail Harris in 1956 and had four children. He moved to Italy and was seen as a potential heir, groomed to run Getty Oil’s European operations. That all came crashing down in 1964, when he divorced Gail and started seeing Talitha Pol. The daughter of a Dutch artist who grew up in Bali, Talitha was a femme fatale, a beautiful actress who designed her own clothes. Together with Jr., whom she married two years later, they became fixtures of Rome’s bohemian underworld, hanging out with Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, and getting deep into drug culture. They chose to name their baby son Tara Gabriel Galaxy Gramophone just before Talitha left Jr., relocated to London, and started frequenting lovers. A devastated Jr. convinced her to come back to Rome in 1971, where on July 11 she was found dead of a heroin overdose.

The 1970s gave no respite to the Gettys. As the family was recovering from the death of J. Paul Jr.’s second wife, another potential successor to the family patriarch suffered the family curse. George Franklin Getty II, J. Paul Getty’s oldest son, who had worked on the Neutral Zone deal, was not only an executive vice-president at Getty Oil, he was also a director at Bank of America BAC +1.23% and at Douglas Aircraft. Still, he was also miserable at never receiving praise for his business success, rather, from Sutton Place Getty sent to Los Angeles a stream of sarcastic, highly critical memos designed to remind George that his father was watching constantly and without admiration. As he descended into depression, George remarried, but that wasn’t enough to change his fate. One day after coming back from work, Getty first shot a shotgun in the air, alerting his wife, then stabbed himself superficially in the chest with a BBQ knife and locked himself in a room as the police made an appearance. Having already ingested a lethal dose of pills, he passed away the following day at the Queen of Angels hospital in Los Angeles.

Back in Rome, J. Paul III, Getty’s grandson, had grown too crazy for his mother Gail to control, and following in his father’s footsteps made it into the Italian capital’s bohemian underground. When his mother received a phone call saying J. Paul III had been kidnapped in July 1973, the police and even her own family thought it was a hoax, put on by the so-called Golden Hippie, as the media had dubbed him, to get more money.

Trying to shake off the stigma of the family curse, the Gettys managed to remain out of the limelight for about a decade before the legal circus began. When he died in 1976, Getty left behind three living children and willed the bulk of his estate to the J. Paul Getty Museum, which contained his impressive collection of Western Art at the Villa in Pacific Palisades, Calif., a reconstruction of an ancient Roman country house. The family’s wealth came from the Sarah C. Getty Trust, established in the 1930s by J. Paul Getty’s mother, which also sat on a massive stake in the company her son built. By 1985, it held a 40% interest in Getty Oil.

The sole trustee, Gordon, one of Getty’s three remaining sons, first orchestrated the highly controversial sale of Getty Oil to Texaco in 1984 for more than $10 billion. As the family grew, Gordon Getty was increasingly in the legal crosshairs as his relatives sued over what they considered to be J. Paul  Getty’s arbitrary and unjust distribution of his fortune. Fresh off his victory over Getty Oil’s board, which allowed him to sell the company to Texaco, Gordon went further, prying open the family trust in 1985 to unlock a $4 billion fortune, $1 billion of which went to pay state and federal capital gains taxes. The final deal gave Gordon, his brother J. Paul, Jr., and George’s three daughters $750 million a piece. The estranged Jean Roland Getty, the oil baron’s eldest son, who was slated to receive only $3,000 a year, saw his descendants split the remaining $750 million along with other beneficiaries. Today Forbes estimates that the extended Getty family- about two dozen family members- has a fortune of some $5 billion.

Gordon Getty, deemed the family’s straight shooter, also turned out to have some of the family’s affinity for scandal. A well regarded San Francisco philanthropist with a passion for opera and wine, Gordon Getty was found in 1999 to have a hidden second family in Los Angeles. Gordon, who has four children with Ann, to whom he’s still married, was forced to acknowledge the three girls he had with Cynthia Beck.

One contemporary Getty seems to have broken the curse. In 1995, Mark—one of J. Paul, Jr.’s sons—joined forces with South African Jonathan Klein to launch an entrepreneurial venture that eventually became Getty Images. Seeing a fragmented market for stock photography, they engaged in an aggressive acquisition strategy and took on Microsoft MSFT +1.77%’s Corbis. Reportedly with the financial support of different branches of the family, Getty and Klein beat Bill Gates, who founded Corbis in 1989, becoming one of the largest players in the market, which resulted in a $2.4 billion private equity buyout in 2008 by private equity firm Hellman & Friedman. With both founders on board, the Carlyle Group acquired Getty Images in 2012 for $3.3 billion. That success might be dwindling, though, as pressure from lower cost competitors like Shutterstock SSTK +2.35% have created a cash squeeze which has seen Getty Images’ credit rating slashed to junk levels.

Much like his grandson Mark is now facing a new generation of competitors, J. Paul Getty, with all of his successes and failures, was a product of his environment. Born at the turn of the twentieth century in the U.S., Getty roared through life to become the most recognized symbol of absolute wealth, a place he both adored and derided. Yet he and his family fell prey to the temptations offered by unfathomable fortune, witnessing first-hand, physically and sentimentally, the steady decay of their family. In their tragedy, the Gettys unmasked wealth for what it is, proving that money, in of itself, cannot buy happiness.

John Paul Getty Jnr (1932 – 2003), son of the petroleum multimillionaire, with his second wife Talitha Pol (1940 – 1971) and their son Francesco attending a march in Rome in support of the Moratorium March in Washington. March 17, 1969. Photo Getty Images.

John Paul Getty Jnr (1932 – 2003), son of the petroleum multimillionaire, with his second wife Talitha Pol (1940 – 1971) and their son Francesco attending a march in Rome in support of the Moratorium March in Washington. March 17, 1969. Photo Getty Images.

J. Paul Getty. The story of the famed Getty family is one of the most obvious examples that money, cold hard cash, doesn’t buy happiness. Photo: Getty Images.

J. Paul Getty. The story of the famed Getty family is one of the most obvious examples that money, cold hard cash, doesn’t buy happiness. Photo: Getty Images.

Andrew Getty (l.) with his millionaire father Gordon Getty (r.) leaving the memorial service for Getty Oil founder J. Paul Getty, Gordon's father, in 1976.

Andrew Getty (l.) with his millionaire father Gordon Getty (r.) leaving the memorial service for Getty Oil founder J. Paul Getty, Gordon’s father, in 1976.

Paul Getty’s Notorious British Party

There were stories of gates being wrenched off their hinges, of lawns chewed into mud and covered with glassware. But what really happened at the 1960 event?

Paul Getty was named by Forbes in 1957, as the Richest American and a couple of years later he was described as the world’s richest private citizen by the Guinness Book of Records, so he thoroughly deserves to be called the first public billionaire.

Indeed it was a reputation that the Minnesota-born oilman, rather liked to play with, coming up with such choice one-liners as “But, remember, a billion dollars isn’t worth what it used to be,” and “The meek shall inherit the earth but not its mineral rights.”

So when the much-married Getty, an Anglophile, moved to the UK, namely Sutton Place, a 16th century country house in Guildford, Surrey, formerly the house of the Duke of Sutherland, and decided to give a house-warming on June 30th, 1960, it was a stone cold cert that it would be both a piping hot event, and scrutinized by the still fairly toothless gossip media.

There was a hefty guest list, 1200, and those were just the invited guests. A dance floor was installed in the walled garden alongside the swimming pool. Three orchestras were booked and such entertainments as a fortune teller were laid on. There was to be a dinner at eight thirty but the majority of guests were invited for ten.

It was a go. But it did not go too well, so far as the sniffy Brits were concerned.

“I have been to many gracious parties in the house in this house,” wrote Betty Kenward, the fearsome social diarist for Tatler magazine. “This was a complete contrast. First, it was far too crowded.”

She also hated the stands offering milkshakes and soft drinks around the swimming pool, and she paid particular attention to the ladies’ loos. These, she observed, were in creosote huts “which the ladies in their often very pale silks and satins were afraid to use.”

Kenward added pointedly that Getty had instructed that the grand bathrooms indoors be locked during the merrymaking.

This connected directly with Getty’s most media-infamous trait: his stinginess. Some felt this was partly a put-on.

Michael Pochna, a New York friend, whose father worked for Getty, on being taken to meet him as a child.

It was in a small suite in the London Ritz. Getty asked if he would like a glass of milk.

Yes.

Getty opened a window, brought in a milk bottle and rinsed a glass.

“Room service is very expensive here,” he said, gravely.

“He wasn’t cheap,” Pochna observed. “He just liked tweaking people.”

That said, Sutton Place was officially corporate, the HQ of Getty Oil. The house-warming was largely a tax write-off. Then there was the famous pay telephone. Thus had been installed in the hall when Getty had observed that visitors to Sutton Place were using the phone.

As Getty himself, a connoisseur of his reputation as—his phrase— “a penny-pincher,” would write in his autobiography:

A coin-box telephone was installed at Sutton Place. It was affixed to the wall of a smallish, but easily accessible, room on the ground floor of the house. A large (and, I’m afraid, garish and unsightly) enamelled metal sign bearing the legend PUBLIC TELEPHONE was even mounted on the outside of the door to the room.

It was there for eighteen months, he added. Then he had it permanently removed.

It was, however, there for his house warming. Nicky Haslam, not yet an interior decorator, he was a guest at the Sutton Place shindig and he would later write: “An enormous marquee provided lavish food and drink, but what most people were fixated on was the fact that Getty was so ‘stingy’ that he didn’t provide cigarettes, and spent much of the evening circling his coin-operated phone box, conspicuous in the hall.

“My best friend decided to get his own back by spiriting away one of the table decorations as he left, but unhappily he chose a valuable 17th-century ewer (a vase or jug-shaped pitcher).”

At ten the bulk of guests began to arrive. And they included a veritable army of gatecrashers. So the party swelled, and wore on.

Some reports of the aftermath twang the heartstrings. There were stories of gates being wrenched off their hinges by the departing guests, of lawns chewed into mud and covered with glassware.

The statue of a nymph was described as carrying a champagne empty on one hand and a firework in another. Horrors!

As for the interior, it was said that cigarettes had burned into antique furniture, tapestries were smeared with ice-cream. And so on.

This was not confirmed by anything that emerged from Getty though, who wrote that he was pleased things had gone so well and that commentary had been so complimentary.

This suggests that some of the reports were expressing a degree of resentment, and Schadenfreude about the misfortunes of an unnecessarily rich American.

But as to the loss of the “table decoration,” well, that had been discovered, of course. And that was a wholly different situation.

I remember vividly the story zipping around the circle of the perp’s friends and acquaintances of the perp in London, myself included. These days it would have gone viral on the Internet in nano-seconds. It did make the papers but the perp was not identified by name and the “table decoration” was reported as having been a piece by Benvenuto Cellini.

Well, it was, in fact, by the only slightly less famous early 18th century London silversmith, Paul de Lamerie.

Haslam, who described the perp as having “a very discerning eye”, wrote that “when the fuss about it actually made the newspapers, he sheepishly returned it to Mr. Getty, alerting him to the fact he was leaving it in a phone box outside Harvey Nichols.” That’s the Knightsbridge department store and there was surely more to it than just parking venerable silver in a telephone kiosk. But, however, it happened.

Paul Getty never gave another grand party. He next made the media klieg light in 1973 when his grandson was kidnapped in Rome.

Gail Getty, the teenager's mother, meets the Italian press after announcing his kidnap. Photo Getty Images.

Gail Getty, the teenager’s mother, meets the Italian press after announcing his kidnap. Photo Getty Images.

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John Paul Getty III (right) with his mother. His father, John Paul Getty jnr, had moved to Italy to run the Italian division of the Getty family's oil business. In 1964, he had divorced his wife, Abigail, the mother of his four children, and married a model, Talitha Pol. They immersed themselves in the hippy lifestyle, spending much of their time in England and Morocco, until she died from a heroin overdose in 1971. When his father moved back to England, Paul Getty stayed behind in Italy, enjoying a party lifestyle fueled by alcohol and drugs. He posed naked for a sex magazine, crashed various cars and motorcycles and was arrested for throwing a Molotov cocktail during a political demonstration. After he was kidnapped, and the ransom demand was received, his rebellious nature and bohemian lifestyle initially led members of his family to suspect that he had faked his own kidnap to extract money from his notoriously mean grandfather.

John Paul Getty III (right) with his mother. His father, John Paul Getty jnr, had moved to Italy to run the Italian division of the Getty family’s oil business. In 1964, he had divorced his wife, Abigail, the mother of his four children, and married a model, Talitha Pol. They immersed themselves in the hippy lifestyle, spending much of their time in England and Morocco, until she died from a heroin overdose in 1971. When his father moved back to England, Paul Getty stayed behind in Italy, enjoying a party lifestyle fueled by alcohol and drugs. He posed naked for a sex magazine, crashed various cars and motorcycles and was arrested for throwing a Molotov cocktail during a political demonstration. 

Paul Getty III’s Horrific Kidnapping

John Paul Getty III (4 November 1956 – 5 February 2011), also known as Paul Getty, was the eldest of the four children of John Paul Getty, Jr. and Abigail (née Harris), and the grandson of oil tycoon Jean Paul Getty. His son is actor Balthazar Getty.

JP Getty III, spent most of his childhood in Rome, Italy, while his father headed the Italian division for the Getty family’s oil business. His parents divorced in 1964 and his father married again in 1966 to model and actress Talitha Pol. They adopted a hippie lifestyle and spent much time in England and Morocco during the 1960s. Getty stayed in boarding school at St. George’s English School (later St. George’s British International School), in Rome. In early 1971, he was expelled from St. Georges after having painted the hallways of the school one night, taking inspiration from Charles Manson’s Helter Skelter. Later that year, his stepmother died of a heroin overdose in Rome. While his father moved back to England, he remained in Italy, where he lived a bohemian life, frequented nightclubs, and took part in left-wing demonstrations. Endowed with a considerable artistic inclination, he reportedly earned a living making jewelry, selling paintings and appearing as an extra in movies.

The then 16-year-old was kidnapped in Rome by members of an Italian mafia-like crew and held captive for five months in the Calabria Mountains.

The already stranger-than-fiction chain of events that followed—which began when Getty’s mother received a ransom request for $17 million. Divorced from Getty’s father at the time, she did not have the funds to pay the ransom.

On the night he seemingly vanished from the face of the earth, Paul Getty was wearing tight jeans, a glittery T-shirt and boots with a broken heel. And he was careering around the streets of Rome, blind drunk. You’d never have known it to look at him, but he was the grandson of the richest man on earth — the oil tycoon J. Paul Getty.

No matter that Paul was only 16: the Getty name was guaranteed to open doors. Thus his evening had started with drinks at a bar with — among others — Mick and Bianca Jagger, artist Andy Warhol and the film director Roman Polanski.

Later, walking off by himself, Paul stumbled across a woman friend, Danielle, and asked her to give him a lift. She refused and they had a shouting match in the street.

‘You’re nothing but a name!’ was Danielle’s cruel parting shot.

In Paul’s drunken state, the words kept echoing in his head. He walked on, stopping to gaze at a fountain in which water was spurting from the stone face of a boy.

The head seemed first to leer at him and then break into a smile.

Paul said much later. ‘As he did, I realised a car was stopping alongside me. These men were coming out of it. They grabbed me and wrestled me to the floor behind the front seats.

‘There were three guys, two in the front, one in the back — I could feel his heels resting on me. I slept and we drove south for hours. I woke feeling like s***, so thirsty. I said: “Water, water!”

‘They would only give me whisky. I must have drunk a bottle and a half on the trip. I didn’t realise at all what was going on. I was just so f drunk. I thought [they were] the cops.

‘When I woke again, the car had stopped. It was getting light. Outside, I heard them talking. They blindfolded me. I was carried out. Feet and hands. They laid me on to the grass.’

So began one of the most bizarre kidnappings of modern times, which would dominate headlines round the world for much of 1973 and end only after Paul’s abductors had severed one of his ears.

But was all quite as it seemed? The Italian police took a cynical view. It seemed just too much of a coincidence that Paul had recently mentioned to friends the idea of faking his own kidnap and pocketing the ransom

You might wonder why a billionaire’s scion would need the cash — but he had expensive tastes, and his grandfather was notoriously stingy.

Maybe it was just a teenage fantasy, but he’d talked of using the money to buy a palace in Morocco and make films with his girlfriend Martine, a glamorous German.

Certainly, the boy’s 80-year-old grandfather, known in the family as Old Paul, did not seem unduly alarmed when he vanished. The kidnappers, he announced from his Tudor manor house in Surrey, would not be receiving a penny from him.

That left Paul’s father to pick up the bill. But John Paul Getty II, known as Big Paul, was a heroin addict, then living in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. And he seemed to care more about his collection of rare books than he did about his flesh and blood. ‘Do you realise that if I have to pay the ransom, I’d have to sell my entire library for that useless son?’ he complained to his mistress.

By October that year, three months after young Paul’s kidnapping, no one was any closer to discovering where he was. Some doubted he was even in Italy: ransom demands were also arriving from gangs in Germany and Paraguay.

But wherever he was, police had little doubt he was in on the hoax . . .

Paul’s parents, Big Paul and Gail, had both indulged in sexual affairs, splitting up when he was seven. After that, he was brought up mainly in Rome.

Although he saw his father only intermittently, he considered him the apogee of cool. After all, Dad supplied him with marijuana, while Dad’s mistress showed him how to snort cocaine. Paul was then just 14.

Not long afterwards, he simply told his mother he was leaving home. Incredibly, no one seems to have worried about how he’d support himself on the streets of Rome. ‘I got into dealing dope with my friend Richard,’ Paul said. ‘We sold dope to Elton John, Charles Bronson, Tony Curtis. We were kids. Full of money, [with] motorcycles; we became independent.’

At the time he was abducted, he’d been living partly with his girlfriend Martine, and partly with an Italian friend called Marcello.

‘At that point, Marcello’s place was crazy,’ he recalled. ‘A wild scene — people never slept,’ he said. ‘Coke, coke, coke. I was selling diamonds. We had machine-guns. We were starting to get into big drug deals.’

Whether these boasts were true or not, Paul clearly had an active fantasy life. It was true, he admitted later, that he’d talked of getting himself abducted to raise some cash.

Did this idea ferment in the minds of one or two of the unsavoury characters he associated with in Rome? Probably, because — despite those suspicions that it was a put-up job — J. Paul Getty III ended up being well and truly kidnapped.

The Italian gang took it as a matter of course that his loving family would soon cough up to get him back. Having taken Paul to a hut 400 miles south of Rome, they made him write a letter.“Dear Mummy,” his note began, “Since Monday I have fallen into the hands of kidnappers. Don’t let me be killed.”

It ended with a warning that his abductors were threatening to cut off a finger if the $18 million wasn’t paid.

The gang wanted $18 million. Something clearly needed to be done.

Privately, Paul’s grandfather contacted his heroin-addicted son, and offered to advance him part of the money — warning it would have to be deducted from his inheritance.

John Paul Getty II, however, had fallen out with his billionaire father (who strongly disapproved of the name of his latest grandchild: Gabriel Galaxy Gramophone Getty) and was no longer speaking to him. In any case, he had no intention of signing the necessary papers.

So the old man decided on another tactic. He dispatched an ex-CIA operative called Fletcher Chace to Rome, with the instruction: ‘Find my grandson.’ What happened next was beyond farcical. Chace went straight round to see the boy’s mother and made a pass at her.

As young Paul’s dysfunctional family floundered about, incapable of deciding what to do next, he was kept on the move by his kidnappers. For a time, he slept on twigs in a bunker built into the side of a hill, always watched by a changing cast of men wearing nylon stockings and ski masks.

At dawn one day, they marched him to the bottom of a gorge, where they made him build himself a basic hut. ‘I was chained near a stream,’ he recalled. ‘It was an incredibly long chain. There was a little beach of sand where I drew pictures with sticks. I made friends with this little bird. I left crumbs and it came every day. I liked that I could do something for someone.’

Weeks trickled past, and his mother Gail flew to London for talks with her ex-husband about the kidnapping — but she and John Paul Getty II ended up having a huge row because she’d brought her daughters with her.

‘How dare you bring uninvited people?’ he raged. The kidnapping wasn’t even discussed. As Gail recalled: ‘It was as though he didn’t even know who I was — or what was going on.’ He wasn’t the only one.

Gail had now been put under surveillance by ex-CIA man Chace, who suspected she might have something to do with the kidnap gang.

If that seemed surreal, the constant threats to kill Paul were not. He was again forced to write a letter, this time reducing the ransom demand to $5.5 million. ‘Mama and Papa,’ he added pathetically, ‘If you think of me, if you love me as I hope, take me out of this hell.’

His pleas made little difference. The family roused themselves only to offer $500,000. In the next letter Paul was forced to write, the kidnappers threatened to chop off his arm.

Yet there was no response from his family.

On the move again, the abductors dispensed with their masks and warned Paul that they’d kill him if he ever tried to look at them.

‘Once, when he was crossing the stream, a man they called the Chipmunk thought I saw his face — but I hadn’t,’ said Paul. ‘He said: “You bastard, you looked at me! I’m gonna tell the others.” ’

Later, the other men interrogated the boy as he sat on a rock, with his back to them. Paul continued insisting he hadn’t seen the Chipmunk’s face — but thought at one point they were going to kill him.

The men finally left, then returned that evening to tell him that they’d disposed of the Chipmunk. His burnt and mutilated body was found on a beach in Naples the following day.

Paul’s next residence was a cave so small that he had to lie on his side to sleep. He was told it would be his final resting place.

‘The man I called Piccolo said to me: “Please try to escape. We can use that as an excuse to kill you, you f little rich smut.” ’

Moved a few days later to a bigger cave, Paul was given a new guard who hit him and fed him hard bread only every other day. Finally, he was taken to a small house with a dirt floor. There, he was made to write the open letter — sent to a newspaper — that changed everything.

‘The Getty family has 15 days to find the money,’ it said. ‘At the end of this period, maybe it will be you yourself who will open the letter containing an ear with a lock of hair from Paul . . .’

Contacted by the kidnappers on the phone, his mother Gail promised to find the money and meet them alone at a designated spot. But she didn’t turn up. Nor was there any sign of her the next day. When the bandits tracked her down, she told them she hadn’t come because she couldn’t trust them.

The kidnappers were furious. ‘OK, we’ll have to do it,’ they told Paul, adding that they needed a week to ‘get medical things together’.

The week came and went. Each day, they told him it would happen ‘tomorrow,’ and each day nothing happened. Then, on October 21, they roused him at 4 am and cooked him four steaks, telling him: ‘This is to help you.’

After he’d finished eating them, they told him to put on a blindfold and sit on a chopping-block. By then, there were seven people in the candle-lit room.

‘I was quite petrified,’ Paul told me. ‘I heard the clink of the surgical things and the plastic. I said: “Can I have a handkerchief?” I rolled it up and put it in my mouth like a gag. I said: “Is it going to hurt?” and Piccolo said: “Of course it’s going to hurt.”

‘Another man (I’d never heard his voice before) rested the razor on my ear. He played around and held it there. There was a sound like ripping paper. It was done in two strokes.

‘The noise was the worst thing. There was no pain and there wasn’t much blood. Everybody was saying: “Ah, you’re so brave, so brave.”’

After being bandaged, Paul was told to lie on his side. An hour and a half later, his wound began to bleed. Nothing would staunch the flow, and after 17 hours he could no longer even walk to the makeshift loo.

‘I freaked out,’ he continued. ‘I was incredibly weak. Everything was just vomiting, vomiting and screaming, screaming. I was absolutely mad from loss of blood.’

Attracted by the smell, rats came out at night to scrabble at his bandages. The bleeding continued for 36 hours, according to Paul, who was convinced he was about to die.

The kidnappers, meanwhile, had phoned his mother again.’ They kept calling, panic-stricken,’ she recalled. ‘They told me they’d cut off his ear, and he was haemorrhaging.’

But Gail simply didn’t believe them. Then, 28 days later, a parcel arrived. It was a little squashed and had been delayed by a postal strike.

When Gail opened it, she recognised the contents immediately. In a small plastic bag, there was a lock of her 16-year-old son’s auburn hair. And his ear. ‘The formaldehyde [preservative] had removed some of the colour— it was really a weird-looking thing,’ she said.

Her ex-husband — still in London — was less convinced. Gail, he said, ‘wouldn’t know the difference between an ear and a piece of prosciutto.’

When this was reported to Gail, she was beside herself with fury. ‘I wanted Paul’s father and grandfather to see every horrible detail,’ she said. ‘I had blow-ups made — poster-size photographs from different angles [of the ear]. Then I sent them. I wanted them to really hurt.’

Possibly it was these gruesome pictures that prompted John Paul Getty II’s next move.

If Gail put their other three children on a plane to London and granted him full custody, he told her, he’d let her have a million dollars towards the ransom. ‘I’ll take five million, and the children will be on the next plane,’ she replied.

Her ex-husband dug in his heels. ‘No. One million and the children.’

While these ludicrous negotiations were going on, the kidnappers threatened to cut off Paul’s other ear.

Frantic with worry, Gail wrote a letter to American President Richard Nixon, appealing for help — an odd decision; given that Paul had been kidnapped in Italy and his father and grandfather lived in the UK.

Did Nixon apply pressure on the old man? Nobody knows. But two days after the letter was made public, he decided to stump up $2.8 million.

Arrangements were made for old CIA hand Chace to drive the cash (in three sacks weighing 67lb each) southwards. He’d know when to stop, he was told, when the kidnappers threw gravel at his windscreen.

After driving several hundred miles, and failing to encounter any gravel, he simply turned around and went back. That night, he and Gail had a screaming match, accusing each other of messing up.

Fortunately, another ‘drop’ was arranged and it went according to plan: in broad daylight, a man who looked as if he was suffering from rickets waved Chace down with a gun, the sacks were unloaded and a few ruffians emerged from bushes to take them away.

Two days later, the kidnappers prepared Paul for his release.

To the boy’s surprise, they dressed him up in expensive new clothes: flannel trousers, blue socks, a white shirt and thick white sweater.

‘It shows you the Italian mentality,’ he remarked later. ‘Italians are like that; you have to be at least presentable when you go home.’

Five or six of the men accompanied him to a car. It took three hours to walk just one Kilometre, because Paul was still weak from the loss of blood.

‘Now, don’t talk — promise not to talk,’ one of them said, handing him over to some men he’d never met before. He couldn’t see a thing: they made him put on a balaclava, and then turned it backwards.

After seven hours, they changed cars. Paul remembered: ‘The one who wasn’t driving said: “Don’t talk, or else we’ll cut your tongue out.”

‘The driver then said: “Maybe we shouldn’t let him off — I promise you in six months, he’ll talk.”’

Evidently, the driver lost the argument. Paul was given some blankets and dumped on a freezing hillside.

‘I got up, took the mask off,’ he remembered. ‘It was dark. I walked down across a field and up a road to a petrol station. I went in and asked to use the phone.

‘I didn’t have any shoes on and my head was all bandaged up. There were about three people inside and they just looked at me and didn’t say anything. I obviously freaked them out.

‘They wouldn’t give me anything, so I left. I walked on, knocked on [a few] doors, Nothing. Then I walked up a mile and lay in the middle of the motorway, looking dead. A few cars and people stopped, but then they’d go off again.

‘Finally a truck stopped. I told the driver: “I’m Paul Getty.”

‘He said: “You are, aren’t you?” Then he drove off.’

Nevertheless, this cautious truck driver called the police, who eventually found the boy.

‘You know,’ said the police officer who picked him up, ‘nobody thought that you were kidnapped — until just now.’

John Paul Getty III (1956 - 2011), the grandson of American oil tycoon Jean Paul Getty, with a police officer after his kidnapping, Italy, December 1973. Getty's ear was cut off by his kidnappers during his five months in captivity.

John Paul Getty III (1956 – 2011), the grandson of American oil tycoon Jean Paul Getty, with a police officer after his kidnapping, Italy, December 1973. Getty’s ear was cut off by his kidnappers during his five months in captivity.

A bewildered John Paul faces the world at an Italian police station in January 1974 shortly after being freed as a hostage.

A bewildered John Paul faces the world at an Italian police station in January 1974 shortly after being freed as a hostage.

Nine men eventually were arrested. Two were convicted and sent to prison; the others, including the man prosecutors said was the head of the Calabrian Mafia and the mastermind behind the abduction, were acquitted for lack of evidence.

The aftermath of the ordeal left Mr. Getty as a reckless personality; the year after his release he married a German photographer whose name has been variously reported as Gisela Zacher and Martine Zacher. They lived for a time in New York, where they consorted with the art crowd of Andy Warhol. Mr. Getty became a drug user and a heavy drinker. His grandfather had died in 1976, and after his overdose, he sued his father for $28,000 a month to pay for his medical needs.

Mr. Getty’s marriage ended in divorce. Beside his son, survivors include his mother, who cared for him after his stroke; a brother, Mark; two sisters, Aileen and Ariadne; a stepdaughter, Anna Getty; and six grandchildren and step grandchildren.

Some time after Mr. Getty’s release, his mother suggested that he call his grandfather to thank him for paying the ransom, which he did. The eldest Mr. Getty declined to come to the phone.

Paul’s grandfather—possibly the richest man in the world—[was] marooned in a Tudor mansion in the English countryside surrounded by five mistresses and a pet lion.

Postscript: Nine men were subsequently arrested, but only two were convicted. Just $85,000 of the  $2.8 million ransom was recovered.

As for Paul himself, a drug overdose in 1981 resulted in a stroke that left him quadriplegic, all but speechless and nearly blind.

He died in 2011, aged 54.

The Getty horrors were not close to being done with. The same year that John Paul III was kidnapped, George Getty, Paul Getty Senior’s son by his first marriage, died a curious death. He fell twice on a barbecue fork.

Twice? Yes.”

Was it suicide?

Well, we don’t know. He went to the bathroom. They broke down the door. And they got an ambulance. And he was taken to the hospital. They took him to a discreet place, which was out of the way, where they could put him in under a false name or something. And they just looked at the perforations of his stomach. They didn’t look at anything else. And he was lying there with a massive overdose of sleeping pills. And died of them.”

John Paul leaves the memorial mass held for his father Sir John Paul Getty in London, who died of a chest infection in April 2003 at age 70.

John Paul leaves the memorial mass held for his father Sir John Paul Getty in London, who died of a chest infection in April 2003 at age 70.

John Paul and his chauffeur leave the memorial mass held for his father Sir John Paul Getty in London, who died of a chest infection in April 2003 at age 70.

John Paul and his chauffeur leave the memorial mass held for his father Sir John Paul Getty in London, who died of a chest infection in April 2003 at age 70.

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Andrew Getty

Andrew Getty was found dead in his LA home in 2015.

Andrew Getty was found dead in his LA home in 2015.

Andrew Getty

According to those who knew him best, Andrew Getty rarely spoke about his famous family. He didn’t really have a great relationship with his family, he was pretty much a loner and a bit of a recluse.”

For more than a decade, Getty had been working on The Storyteller, an almost completed horror film that would have been his directorial debut. He had a collection of vintage cars and liked to tinker. Along with a couple of Picassos on the wall, his 1920s Spanish villa was filled with bits of animatronics and other gadgets he was working on.

Contrary to his skinflint grandfather, who famously installed pay phones in his English country estate because he didn’t want his workers running up exorbitant bills, friends describe Andrew Getty as generous and always willing to help out. And if he was as unhealthy as the police describe him, he did an excellent job hiding it.

Andrew Getty, the grandson of J. Paul Getty, died of an accidental gastrointestinal hemorrhage and also had a toxic level of methamphetamine in his system. The drugs, a duodenal ulcer and heart disease contributed to the death of the 47-year-old heir to the Getty oil fortune.

Getty was found dead on March 31, 2015, at his Hollywood Hills home. The Los Angeles Times reported that he was found on the bathroom floor by his girlfriend Lanessa DeJonge.

The reclusive Getty had said in recent court documents he was battling a “serious medical condition” that could endanger his life. He obtained a restraining order earlier this year against DeJonge, noting her behaviour and arguments between them, and expressing concern that “heated arguments can cause my blood pressure to rise dangerously”.

“She has exploited this information to demand money and property from me, refusing to leave my house,” he wrote. “Recently she was released from jail. She asked if she could stop by my house to pick up some belongings. She arrived and has since refused to leave.” In a restraining order he filed two weeks before his death, Getty claimed DeJonge sprayed him with pepper spray after an argument, and had to be removed from his property “by the LAPD on numerous occasions.”

Friends say Getty didn’t like to be alone and was always surrounded by beautiful women who he dated or were friends. They did not think he could be alone for long, He was that type. He always had someone around him. I think he wanted to get married underneath it all but reality hit and there were so many girls he liked.
He created his own world that was comfortable to him but he also attracted the wrong girls, too. I don’t think he was that good at getting rid of people because he was too nice.

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