This story originally appeared on the cover of the May 9th, 1974 issue of Rolling Stone.
It is a story told most starkly by a boy’s ear. A boy’s severed right ear – but no, “severed” is too sterile a word; “sliced off” is the truth. A prominent and delicately formed ear sliced from the head of a terrified and fully conscious 16-year-old boy with the same name as the Richest Man in the World, a boy whose adolescence had until then meandered aimlessly around teenage indulgences and post-pubescent vanities.
Cut from his head, the boy’s ear was stuffed into a plastic envelope along with a lock of his red hair and dropped in the mail to a newspaper in Rome. And while the boy lay bleeding, vomiting and in shock, his flesh was shuffled around dingy Duce-built post offices, delayed in its ghoulish transit by an interminable Italian postal strike.
The ear was but a tool, really, a grisly gambit packaged to convince the bot’s octogenarian grandfather to pay $2.9 million… before other plastic envelopes made their slow tortured way through the mails carrying other nightmarish mementos: fingers, toes, an eyeball maybe – and if nothing proved convincing enough, then perhaps a final package: a trunk, and in it… leftovers.
Most grandfathers, of course, don’t need sliced-off ears to convince them to pay for the lives of their grandchildren, but this grandfather is unlike any other. He is the croak-voiced and cadaverous oil billionaire Jean Paul Getty, 81 years old, the Richest Man in the World. And, tragically, also one of the most miserly. A semi-recluse who even keeps a pay telephone for the guests of his private castle, Sutton Place near London, once Henry VIII’s summer residence – still haunted (the boy says) by the wandering ghost of a headless Anne Bolelyn.
The ear was aimed at the grandfather and not the boy’s parents, because the parents have always claimed some comparative degree of poverty. They’ve had too many front-page problems of their own, victims both of private chaos. The boy’s father, Eugene Paul Getty, who now lives in London, has even banished himself from Rome – where he is still sought for questioning by the polizia in the bizarre sudden death of his second wife, Talitha Pol Getty, 31, a B-movie actress (“She wore the eyepatch in Barbarella,” the boy says) who died of a massive and mysterious overdose of heroin in August of 1971.
The boy’s mother, Gail Harris Getty Jeffries, 39, married B-actor Lang Jeffries after divorcing Getty and winning custody of Paul and their other three children: Aline, now 14; Mark, 13, and Ariadne, 11. Gail Getty (she still uses her husband’s name) lives in Rome, separated now from Jeffries (whom the boy sometimes sees feigning heroic deaths in spaghetti-gladiator movies).
One of the boy’s favorite relatives was his “Uncle George”: George F. Getty II, who committed suicide at the age of 48 (a Los Angeles coroner’s inquest determined in June of 1973 by taking an overdose of barbiturates and alcohol… after he failed to do the job with a knife. A self-inflicted, inch-deep stab wound which failed to penetrate the abdominal wall was found in his chest. At the time of his death George Getty, the billionaire’s oldest son, was the head of his father’s global oil empire, a corporate titan with a Bel Air palace of his own – which inspired a tabloid to call him “The World’s Richest Suicide.”
The boy without an ear camouflages his outrage these days with hair that dangles toward his thin neck. Now 17, he is a little over six feet tall, pale, lithe, and androgynous. He slinks with feline grace but his eyes lead a fitful existence of their own. They twitch furtively about like jangled nerve-endings, suspicious and scared, and subtly contradict the studied languor of his body poses. They are often bulged and bloodshot.
His real name is Eugene Paul Getty II. He is known to his friends as “Paul.” Most of the press had continually referred to him as “Jean Paul Getty III.” He is known in Rome as “The Golden Hippie” and “The Oil Prince.” “I’m not a hippie and I never was,” he says. “What is a hippie? Does anybody know what a hippie is? I don’t understand why they don’t call me the golden tomato or the golden grape of the golden balls. I don’t even have a gold watch.”
He routinely divides his life these days into two distinct periods: “Before the Ear” and “After the Ear.” The categorization makes perfect sense. The boy marks time, as do many, by a disaster – an assassination, an earthquake, a war. In his case, the disaster is acutely personal: the death of a part of himself.
Paul Getty lives with the knowledge that some people will always view him as a monstrous charlatan, the teenager who plotted his own kidnap and supervised his own mutilation to rob his own grandfather.
The backdrop is Rome, Roma, the eternal city, caput mundi, the romantic center of the universe… sleazed now in the spring of 1974 by an energy-gloomed darkness, by pickpockets, purse-snatchers, and the squalid slums of industrialization and madcap inflation. The Via Veneto is dim these nights; the Piazza Navona and the Piazza di Spagna are pitch black. And while it is still cornily true that you awake some mornings to high-tenor Italian love songs, it is equally true that you drift to sleep some nights accompanied by desperate scurrying feet and the wailsome lullabies of carabinieri sirens.
“I’m an awful snot,” he says. “I’m very rude. I don’t really like people very much. Most people don’t like me, either. I’ve always been distant from people, even as a small child. I don’t trust anybody in the world. Out of every two people, one person fucks me.”
Eugene Paul Getty II was born on the 4th of November, 1956, to Gail Harris, the socialite daughter of a San Francisco federal judge, and Eugene Paul Getty, heir to a billion-dollar fortune. “My mother and father knew each other since they were about six years old,” he says.
A year and a half after his birth the family moved to Italy – to Venice, Milan, then Rome. “From the time I was very young I was conscious of the Getty name,” he says. “I knew there was a difference between being born a Getty and being born a Smith. There are more Smiths in the world than Gettys. We had a Rolls-Royce in Rome and sometimes I would slink down in the seat so people couldn’t see me. I could see the envy in their eyes. It made me a little scared to go out.”
He treasures no childhood memories, remembers “stealing books and reading under the covers at night with a headband with a light on it. I used to love reading about flying, about Orville and Wilbur Wright. Then I fell in love with the ocean and for a while with the work of a famous oceanographer, until I found out… that, with all his love for the ocean, he had an interest in a harpoon company whose business was to murder fish.”
He didn’t know Eugene Getty, his father, “very well,” remembers doing nothing together with him and portrays him as a man who “fucked everything up… a very strange man who is a big opera fan, who binds books, is very closed, walks around unshaven, and freaks out when he notices people looking at him.”
His parents separated, then divorced, and in 1966 both remarried. Gail Getty married Lang Jeffries, “some B-film actor who played Skip on Rescue Eight. For a while he was the biggest gladiator film actor there was on this earth. He made about 40 movies.” Paul’s contact with his father, meanwhile, became more and more infrequent. “He sends me postcards and weird telegrams sometimes. I have perfect communication with him now because we never talk. That way we don’t have to fight, either.” He hasn’t seen his father since 1970.
After Gail Getty married her gladiator, she moved her children to Brentwood, an upper-crust Los Angeles suburb “where we lived in an imitation Roman villa,” Paul says. “Jeffries tired to communicate with me on a man-to-man tough-guy level, which was a disaster. My mother played a lot of tennis with her friends and I went off each day to Paul Revere Junior High School.
“I am embarrassed at being born an American. It’s such a lousy race. It makes me laugh when I’m there. Neon lights, placards, cheap dinky little building – which is really what the country is all about. Hamburgers, tacos, beer. It’s so strange – the American way of life. Some people call it the American way of death. Americans are so chummy, but it’s false. As soon as you turn your back, they call you a motherfucker. With the Italians, if they don’t like you, they call you a motherfucker to your face.”
“Altogether I was thrown out of seven or eight schools. That’s not all that much. Eleven or 20 would be much more impressive.”
After a year his mother separated from Lang Jeffries and moved the family back to Rome. Paul bounced from one school to another and sooner or later was bounced out of all of them. “I never got along well with authorities. I felt it cheeky that somebody could tell me to sit down. I used to vomit on the desk when I didn’t like a teacher. Or when one of them said something to me I didn’t like, I’d stick my finger down my throat and make myself throw up.
“I used to bring little electronic gadgets to school. Smoke bombs, little cameras, tape recorders, strobe lights. I liked history, but I wouldn’t go to the other classes. I’d steal examination papers. I was the first person in school they couldn’t control. I’d tell them – ‘I pay you to teach me and you’re screaming at me?’ They’d say – ‘This is the System and it’s been this way for a thousand years and you can’t come and change the world.’
“The other students liked me. I was funny and made people laugh. The teacher would hit me with a ruler and I’d get a ruler and hit him straight back. Once a teacher hit me with a ruler and I waited till he was eating. I sat down next to him and pulled out a ruler and went boom! I almost broke his knuckles.
“I went to an English boarding school for a year in Rome. It was like being a soldier. I was thrown out of there because I burned a billboard down. I had a new Zippo lighter. I was a little bit of a pyromaniac. I burned the billboard down and the whole school went smoky. I went to the teacher and I said – ‘Can you smell smoke? Something is burning.’ ‘Yes, by God, something is burning!’ he said. I said –’Let’s go find it.’ And then I made the stupid mistake of showing him where the fire was.
“They questioned me for something like four hours. I said –’No, I didn’t bloody well do it.’ At the end I was so tired I said – ‘Yeah, what the fuck, I did it.’ Then they threw me out. Altogether I was thrown out of seven or eight schools. That’s not all that much. Eleven or 20 would be much more impressive.”
His grandson discusses the Richest Man in the World: “My grandfather always liked me more for some reason than any of the other 14 grandchildren. He’d tell other people I was his favorite and they’d tell me. People say I’m exactly the same as my grandfather in terms of character – whatever that means.
“He doesn’t have very many relationships with family members – he’s probably closest to some of his aides. I was always very conscious of him but I’ve only seen him six or seven times. I first saw his castle when I was two or three years old. It seemed very big and very cold. He’s very regimented, you can’t just drop in on him. You have to have a formal invitation.
“Every time I saw him it was very formal, always for dinner. The butler was always there and you had to be very quiet. He’d come down for dinner. I’d help him with his chair and sit down. He’d talk during dinner and then he’d leave and I wouldn’t see him any more. That was it.
“After one of those meals was over, I’d usually go into the study and have coffee or something. He’d work. He didn’t tell me to go away but I’d know. He never tells you directly to do something. He doesn’t say – ‘Listen, get the fuck out of here!’ He never uses a word like ‘fuck.’ ‘Damn’ is about the worst thing he uses – ‘Well, I’ll be damned’ he’ll say. And he usually says that about once a year.
“He doesn’t like snotty little children and while I was snotty to everybody else I always made sure I was never snotty to him. With children less than seven or eight years old he doesn’t get along at all. He acts like W.C. Fields toward children that young.
“A few times when my father was there for dinner, too, my grandfather would ask questions. Did I know where Rio de Janeiro was? When I said ‘Brazil’ he’d go – ‘Hoog! Hoog! Hoog!’ He laughs like that.
“He’d laugh because when my father was the same age he’d asked him the same question and my father couldn’t answer it. So now after all the years he’d ask me that question just to make my father look bad.
“I’m proud of my grandfather. You have to be intelligent and clever to be what he is.”
“My father had a lot to do with the oil company until one day he suddenly left it. He and my grandfather were never never close but there was no open hostility until my father was about 30 years old. Then later my grandfather never agreed with my father’s second marriage to Talitha Pol. He thought my father was mad. I don’t know why he felt that way. She was a very beautiful woman. Maybe my grandfather was a little jealous. It’s impossible to tell what’s inside an old man’s head.
“I’m proud of my grandfather. You have to be intelligent and clever to be what he is. You can’t be drunk or something. I wish money wasn’t that important but it’s the most important thing in the world. Everything revolves around money. I wish things didn’t because it would be so much easier to go into a store and say – ‘Give me some of those eggs and some of that bread’ instead of saying – ‘Well, how much is that and how much is the tax?’
“I enjoyed going through his bookcases whenever I visited him. He has one bookcase which is about 150 yards long and another one in his study. All art books. He’s written some shitty books and articles himself. He was born at t he right time, coincidence was on his side, and he had an inheritance that he made work for him to start his empire. He wasn’t a garbage picker who came up from nothing.
“Sometimes when I’d go over there he’d talk to me about my long hair. I’d go over to his castle dressed up in star-spangled pants and Union Jack underwear with very long hair and he’d say – ‘Why do you dress like this? Why do you have such long hair?’ I’d say – ‘Why not have it?’
“I get gifts from him for my birthday and Christmas. Not from him, of course, but from some aide who’s been doing it for about 20 years. The aide would send money to my mother and she’d buy me a train set or a record and that would be my grandfather’s gift.
“He works very hard, about 12 hours a day, even though he’s so old. He’s still very productive even with the Parkinson’s that makes him shake. He’s very close to an assistant named Norris [Bramlett, Getty’s administrative assistant] and he used to be very close to my Uncle George. Norris and my Uncle George used to run the company. Now it’s almost all Norris. My grandfather is the person in the back, who kind of sits in a window and makes sure everything goes along.
“He doesn’t smoke, he drinks Bacardi and Coke about once a week, He doesn’t really relax, only when he sleeps. He watched TV a lot. Old movies. He’s very happy when there’s an old Garbo movie on. He knew them all, Garbo and all the big old stars. He used to own the Pierre Hotel in New York and saw them all the time.
“He’s very turned on by fame, by meeting famous people. There’s a room in his castle called the Red Room where where Anne Bolelyn, Henry VIII’s mistress, used to sleep. Strange things happen in that room and some people who’ve slept there say they’ve seen the ghost of Anne Bolelyn. Things move about at night. Objects. A seven-foot-high, four-foot-wide closet which needs three people to carry it. It is in once place at night and another in the morning. My grandfather takes great pride in that famous old ghost walking around his place. He’s never seen it, though. He says he’d like to but I don’t believe it.
“It would probably scare him. A lot of things scare him. That’s why he stays in his castle all the time dressed up in his three-piece suits and stuffed shirts. He’s got attack dogs patrolling his grounds and a pet lion named Nero stomping around and bodyguards and aides. The fences around the castle are electric with barbed wire on top of them. He’s even afraid of flying – so afraid he hasn’t been on a plane for about 30 years. Sometimes he’s even afraid of talking on the telephone. I don’t really understand why.”
“I mean, I was very young when I first balled a chick. Very, very young.”
While the Richest Man in the World urged him to pursue an education, his grandson blithely rejected the advice – “Who wants to be a rich old oil sheik anyway?” – and pursued excitement and danger in the corsos and piazzas of Rome.
“Anything you could break your neck with. After you live in Rome for a while the city itself doesn’t excite you. You find yourself not even looking at the fountains. I always sought adventure. Motorcycles and cars. I’ve had every kind of cycle from a litte 50 cc to 500 cc. I always wanted a Harley-Davidson chromed from head to toe.
“I was a real menace to Rome. I went really fast, had 20 or 30 accidents but have never really been badly hurt. The worst was a concussion. I went into a wall at 110 kilometers an hour. I wasn’t wearing a helmet.
“Another time in an underpass in Rome I turned over eight times, bike and all. And nothing happened to me. I got up and walked away. I had a leather jacket on and there was nothing left of the jacket. I loved the thrills. Some people like the drink, other people like to fix, I liked to go fast.”
He also started hanging around Rome’s disco scene, a celebrity groupie who learned quickly that his grandfather’s name gave him instant social entrance. “I didn’t have to introduce myself. Everybody knew who I was. There were a lot of film people there and I love films. The discos in Rome are small and refined. They don’t let anybody just walk in off the street. It was a very snobby scene and I loved it. Everything was so fitted in those discos. It was like a jigsaw puzzle and you knew immediately if one of the pieces wasn’t there some night. I liked the image of it. Image comes straight out of cinema and if everything is in the right place it’s a good scene. If it’s fuzzy it’s bad. It was pretty grotesque, too, but like a painting. A big show. Everybody was posing. The Greatest Show on Earth. Ringling Brothers would have freaked out.
“And the chicks in there. I mean, I was very young when I first balled a chick. Very, very young, but with the chicks in that disco scene – if you balled one, they all knew everything about it. What you did and how you did it and if you were any good. And in the discos all you heard was – ‘Oh, how are you? What are you doing? Come to my swimming pool.’ Or you heard somebody say to someone – ‘Oh, you do the picture and I’ll give you $50,000 to start with.’ Or – ‘We want to do a movie for the kids. We want dope, sex and violence. The kids want that stuff so let’s give them what they want.’ I guess a lot of it was bullshit.”
He met and hung around with Andy Warhol (“he’s so straight”). Paul Morrissey, Jack Nicholson (“just the way he looks, oh, his eyes”), Faye Dunaway, Roman Polanski (“he’s really evil”) and Mick Jagger. “When I was about 12 my father had a house in Marrakech. My father went through a hip period then. He got into the Stones and they visited down there. That’s how I met Mick. I sat around all day in Marrakech with a camera just filming the Stones. Not that the experience of being together brought my father and I closer at all. I saw him more and he talked to me but how does a father really talk to his son? ‘Eat your peas and wipe your asshole.’ I loved the Stones and I’ve loved them since. They’re really sacred monsters – devils. I’d love to do what they do: Get on stage, hear all those screams. It must be fantastic.”
He moved into an apartment with two friends in 1972. “My mother didn’t hassle me or anything just because I was 15.” He hung around his pop people and played at being a star. “I played some extra parts in spaghetti westerns. In one of them I played six parts. It was the kind of picture everybody got into, even the director’s son. Then some friends and I made a movie we never finished, which was a takeoff on Luis Bunuel’s ‘The Last Supper’ [scene from Viridiana]. In our movie Jesus Christ was given electroshock treatments and died that way instead of being crucified. I played Jesus Christ, which was quite a takeoff right there.”
He was also hanging around Rome’s Piazza Navona and Piazza di Spagna, one longhair in a crowd of thousands, but he achieved his ambition. He was a small-pond superstar. He tried to sell some crude paintings to the tourists from Keokuck and Kalamazoo who isolated themselves at places like the hilltop Cavalieri Hilton and made occasional hurried taxi trips to the piazzas to taste (at armlength) the spice of Rome.
The Piazza Navona is a kind of Roman Washington Square, a place highlighted by fountains, the sit in papal Rome of fetes and races, surrounded by churches and 17th-century palaces. Colorfully dressed in carabinieri patrol the Piazza di Spagna, where seas of international longhairs converge to lounge and slouch against the travertine stone balustrade. It is a magical place of lore where in olden days even papal guards were forbidden to arrest the bandits, assassins, and fierce-eyed peasants who sought asylum there.
But Paul Getty wasn’t making much money off the tourists – and money was becoming more and more of a problem. While he could look forward to a trust fund at some point in the vague future, he was at the moment a penniless Getty playing expensive jetset games, mooching off his mother’s support payments and trying to pay for the flashy leather jackets and shiny gadgets he needed for his disco roles. He also had a new and steady girlfriend, Martine Zacher, a 24-year-old German actress he met through a friend who had a bit part in a film adaptation of De Sade’s “One Hundred Twenty Days of Sodom.” His girlfriend had a twin sister, Jutta, who accompanied them everywhere – and Jutta cost even more money.
The Italian public became very aware of him in January of 1973 when he was arrested and held in jail for a few days after a wild Roman demonstration protesting the death of a Milanese Communist slain by the police. He was held on suspicion of hurling a Molotov cocktail, then cleared and released.
“That was a silly charge. I don’t get involved with politics. I was never even interested in the anti-Vietnam war movement, for example. Fuck that. It wasn’t my war. Besides that, there is so much killing going on in the world that you gradually get used to it. Killing and death doesn’t particularly bother me. As far as the condition of the poor go, I feel guilty, yes, but I don’t do anything about it. It’s the way it is and it’s the way it always will be. When I walk down the street and see a beggar I throw him some money. You have to give the fuckers something or they follow you all over the place.”
He was arrested, he says, because the demonstration took place that day on his front doorstep, outside his mother’s rented home in the Trastevere section of Rome, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. “That demonstration was like the Second World War or something. Molotov cocktails all over the place and people running up and down the street. Hundreds of cops. It was quite a scene. I heard the noise and I went outside. I had sunglasses on and I even had a cup of tea in my hands. A row of about 50 cops was standing about 100 meters from me. I started walking toward them. I wasn’t scared. I hadn’t done anything wrong. When I was 50 meters from them, they started running toward me. All of them. They grabbed me and beat the fucking shit out of me with sandbags and with rubber hoses with wood inside. They beat you with those things so you don’t have any marks on your body and can’t sue them. My ribs got all fucked up.
“They kept me in jail for a few days. In Italy’s biggest jail. Rats were running all around, everyone was raping each other. It was a real school of crime. I had no trouble with the other prisoners because I went in there and I lied to them. I knew that if I told them I was picked up in a demonstration, they’d beat the fucking shit out of me. So I passed the word around that I had blown up a police station. They liked that. I was the most respected person in there.”
In June of 1973, Paul Getty spent his nights in the discos and piazzas of Rome, mostly in the company of his girlfriend, Martine. “I’d sleep all day and go out at night. I didn’t like daylight in my eyes.” He was spending a lot of time at Roman Polanski’s villa and Paul Morrissey told him he could have a part that summer in a movie he was planning. He was also doing occasional modeling, drawing on every resource to make a few thousand lire. At the discos he unveiled a new act. He sported a black leather motorcycle jacket and, trying to look like a Fifties greaser, he cut his hair.
It was a very severe and short haircut. “You could really see my ears,” he says.
Sometimes his mother would tell him to be careful prowling around Rome and he’d say – “Aww, leave me alone. I’m big enough to take care of myself.”
“I thought it was just bullshit. She didn’t tell me to be careful of getting kidnapped or anything, just to watch myself. I was never afraid of moving around the city. I never looked back over my shoulder to see if anybody was following me.”
On the 9th of July, 1973, he slept all day. He woke up late at night, went to see two friends, walked to the Piazza Navona, and from there to a nearby discotheque. “There were some people there from the Warhol crowd, but I didn’t stay long.
“I walked back to the Piazza Navona and after a while I saw this chick I knew. I was pretty drunk on Bacardi and Coke and I was really mad at her because of something that happened between us. So I started swearing at her loudly, telling her to fuck off.
“By this time it was around three o’clock in the morning. I stopped at a newsstand and bought some newspapers and a Mickey Mouse comic book. I was walking down this road, drunk with the comic book under my arm, a road called Via de Mascarone. At the end of the road there is a big sculptured mask. And I remember that damn thing smiled at me. Maybe it was because I was drunk or maybe because of the lighting, maybe it was an optical illusion, but I saw that mask smile.
“I was staring at it smiling when a big white car pulled up with four guys in it. One of the guys rolled down a window. He yelled ‘Via,’ which means ‘street,’ and suddenly the three other guys jumped out and got behind me. It was so quick I didn’t have a chance to think about anything. It took three or four seconds.
“I saw pistol butts come out and flash. I said – ‘Oh, please, what have I done?’ I didn’t know if I had fucked somebody’s chick or whether they were the cops or whatever.
“At least two of the guys hit me over the head with their pistol butts. At the same time another one jumped in front of me and put some kind of cloth over me that I think must have had chloroform on it. I had the quick feeling that I was falling forward and passed out. I think I hit my head on the car again when I passed out.
“I don’t know how long I was out. When I came to, I was in the back of this moving car and I had a thick cloth tied over my eyes at the back of my neck. I couldn’t see anything and I was also tied with rope around the wrists and ankles. I could feel the back of my head bleeding, the blood dripping heavily down the back of my neck.
“When they noticed I’d come around they asked for my documents. I didn’t have any documents on me. One of the guys asked me what my name was. I told him and he said in Italian – “If you want something ask for it; and if the answer’s yes, you’ll hear one clap. If the answer’s no, you’ll hear two claps. Remember this because nobody will speak to you again.’
“When the said that I wasn’t very scared anymore. I knew that if they were going to communicate with me, they wouldn’t kill me. I knew that it wasn’t going to turn out to be the kind of movie scene where they take you out into the parking lot and fill you full of lead.
“I started suspecting, too, that it was a kidnap. We stayed in that moving car after that for about six hours. I kept thinking about this modeling appointment I was supposed to have the next day that I’d get money for, and I was pissed off because I knew there was no way I was going to make that.
“After about six hours they stopped the car and took me out of it. The cloth was still tied over my eyes and I was still tied around the ankles and wrists. They took me out like a potato sack. They said nothing. I didn’t say anything either; I figured it was better to say nothing, to ask no questions. I was playing on my knowledge of the simple Italian mentality. Mind your own business, ask no questions, think before you speak.
“When they took me out of the car I had a sudden notion they were going to throw me off a cliff. I felt a breeze and I was sure I was high up. I was scared stiff but again I didn’t dare do or say anything.
“They laid me down on the ground on top of a blanket. There was a warm breeze and it was really hot and I knew I had to be somewhere in the south of Italy. They told me to lie down, and after an hour they took the wrist and ankle ropes off. They taped the blindfold to my face with masking tape so it wouldn’t come off.
“A few hours passed and they moved me a couple hundred yards. I felt people around me all the time – movements and walking around and cars in the distance. That first day they moved me around four, five times – a few hundred yards each time. They picked me up when they wanted me to move and led me.
“I asked to piss or shit and they came and picked me up and took me. They wouldn’t even let me pull down my pants. They pulled my pants down for me. I could tell by the vibrations they were really scared, full-scale paranoia. Being blindfolded like that, your whole nervous system picks things up easier. It was like acid in a way, the vibrations were that clear.
“The second day they brought me coffee and cognac.They gave me all the booze I wanted and I got drunk, real pissed. They gave me pasta. It surprised me that it was hot because it indicated there was civilization around. The same routine kept up for a few days.
“After four or five days they took me for a walk and they put me in a car again and we drove around for a while. I was taken out of the car and walked downhill about 50 yards. They bent me down and let me drink some water from a fountain. Then one of them suddenly ripped my blindfold off. When they took it off it hurt and one of them yelled – ‘Don’t hurt him.’
“It was night. I saw a hut nearby with a corrugated roof. And I saw five men, all short, and all with full masks on. Woolen masks, the kind the shepherds use in Sicily, full masks like the Vikings always wear in those knight movies. (They never took their masks off for the whole five-month period.)
“One guy said in Italian – ‘Listen, kid, you’re going to be here for a long time. Don’t do anything stupid. Ask for whatever you want, we’ll try to get it for you. Don’t blame us, we’re paid men.’
“I was suddenly sorry they’d taken my blindfold off because I knew that if one of them forgot his mask or it slipped off somehow so I could see him … then they’d kill me.”
They had taken him, though he didn’t know it, deep into the outback, to the “toe” of Italy’s “boot,” Calabria – a barren and grim region shadowed by the steep and deserted slopes of the Sila Massif mountains, 400 kilometers south of Rome, 200 south of Naples.
Calabria is an arid and sterile land historically cursed by earthquakes, malaria, poverty and banditry. The peasants who live there are swarthy, haggard and scarecrow-like people who take great pride in yellow wide-gapped teeth: a sign of good fortune.
Its towns are dominated by faded village squares, baroque churches of sun-scorched limestone, listless unemployed men, discarded alabaster heaps and pathetically starved mules.
Calabria is the underside of Italy’s flashy and romantic charm: It is a land of disenchantment, melancholy and sudden fury, where everyone is resigned to the miseria and has given up even dreaming of la ricchezza.
Calabrians speak a machine-gun, monotone dialect but often communicate among themselves with a native sign language. A slowly raised chin means “I don’t know,” fingers moved back and forth under the chin mean “It’s none of my business.” Not surprisingly, they are the two expressions Calabrians use the most.
Calabria is mafia country – not “Mafia” in American underworld terms – but mafia in a more primeval sense: groups of men whose families have known each other for generations, men who rule the peasants, who punish the seduction of a peasant’s wife by cutting off a part of the seducer’s penis, who are at the same time polizia and oppressors demanding small amounts of “tax” from people who want to be left alone with their miseria.
These stone-age mafiosi are uomini rispettati among the peasants, honored men whose identities are forever guarded because the peasants know that to talk to the authorities is to commit the greatest crime, the Infamita.
In the bleakness that is Calabria, Infamita means the death sentence, and the sentence is always carried out.
To maintain his sanity and some sense of composure, he tried to microscope his limited world. His lighter became his best friend and he gazed at it for hours from “a million” new angles.
“It was much better when I was by myself and nobody tried to speak to me. I did weird things like play with my own fingers, make them dance, turn them into statues, contort them into people, make them ballet dancers.
“One day they put me into this little hut for a couple hours. One guy was in the hut with me. He was sitting across from me with his mask on. Besides that, it was night and I could just see his outline. Suddenly they decided they were going to move me out of the hut, but before we left they made me put my mask on again. I asked – “Will the mask always have to be on?’ And they said – ‘No, in the nighttime we can take it off.’ I said – ‘OK, fair enough.’
“The next night they moved me into another hut, built a fire and gave me my first proper meal. That’s the first time I saw them well. I mean, considering they kept those masks on all the time. They looked like very ignorant people, very poor, judging from the way they were dressed. They looked like Italians trying to look like they had money. Baggy suits with pastel colors cut very badly. The colors all clashed. Their shoes were loafers that didn’t fit well and their socks were too short. They all smoked Marlboros, which is always what Italian hoods smoke when they want to act like American tough guys.
“They showed me their guns. To scare me, I guess. They loaded them in front of me. They had pistols, rifles, one machine gun, sawed-off twin-barrel shotguns. They had Berettas all over the place. In all I saw about seven people with a whole arsenal of guns.
“Then, after they fed me, one of them asked me for the addresses. My grandfather’s, my mother’s, my father’s. They made me write a letter. They brought an envelope to me, a big envelope, and inside it was paper and a pen. I had to take them out, write the letters, wrap up the pen in paper, put it inside the envelope and put the letters inside the envelope too.
“Those letters and the other letters I wrote later were all dictated to me. Most people thought they were in my own words. I thought these letters, and the ones later, were all incredibly corny.
“I thought about trying some trick with the letters but then I realized I’d be a fool. I thought about trying to come up with some code like indenting certain words, but they were looking right at me. I thought about misspelling some words but I didn’t even do that. Only Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy, or Terry and the Pirates would have tried a stunt like that.
“When they asked me for my grandfather’s address, of course, I knew what the plot was. The thing is, I never thought my grandfather would pay any kind of ransom. Because of the way he is. Besides I realized I would probably do the same thing. Because I don’t believe that somebody should work for 60 years to make his money and then have some little criminal who’s too lazy to get a job take his money away from him. And anyway you have to show by example to criminals that they can’t get their way all the time.
“Every place they moved me to I looked right away to see how I could get out. There was usually a way in each place but the odds were only about 85 percent that I’d make it. I wasn’t going to try it unless I was 100 pergect sure I’d make it or 95 percent sure they’d kill me.
“I’d always plot my escape. I was in a hut one day and I had drilled a hole with a knife. All the sawdust that came out of the wood I put together with mud and spit and stuck back in. That way I constructed myself a peephole. I could see that the only thing behind the hut was dry grass and weeds. There was nobody inside the hut with me since it was the daytime. I was locked in. I had a pen that I’d filled up with the sulfur from matches and I figured if I lit that and shot the pen through the peephole like a dart I’d start a bonfire that half the countryside would see.
“Another time I stole a knife after they fed me. They asked me where it was and I created a big number – ‘Uh, I don’t know.’ They didn’t even search me, they just laughed. During the day I sharpened the knife on a wood stake. A guy slept right next to me in the hut at night so all I had to do to escape would have been to jump on him with the knife. It probably would have gone right through his heart. I never tried it though. As long as they weren’t threatening to kill me, I wasn’t going to risk anything like that. I’m a Getty. Gettys aren’t dumb. Late on I got so paranoid they’d find the knife and punish me that I threw the damn thing away.”
The letter dated July 18th to his mother said: “Dear Mummy, I have fallen into the hands of kidnappers. Don’t let me be killed. Arrange things so that the police don’t intervene. You must absolutely not take this thing as a joke. Try and get in contact with the kidnappers in the manner and the way they tell you. Don’t let the public know about the negotiations if you don’t want me killed. I want to live and to be free again. Don’t publicize my kidnapping. Pay, I beg you, pay up as soon as possible if you wish me well. This is all you have to know. If you delay, it is very dangerous for me. I love you, Paul.”
The letter to his grandfather said: “I know that we haven’t been very close but I hope you know that I love you. Please do whatever you can to get me out of here. This is serious. Love, Paul.”
But unfortunately no one seemed to be taking it very seriously. Gail Getty got a phone call in Rome form a man with a “rough voice” who said that Paul had been kidnapped, and she promptly told the Italian press: “I think the phone call was some sort of joke.” She even mentioned publicly that her son might have “run off with a girl” but said she “couldn’t understand why he doesn’t call.”
The Rome police, informed by his mother of Paul’s disappearance, began an investigation that led to the Piazza Navona and to Paul’s girlfriend, Martine Zacher. A police official said – “The girl told us under questioning that Getty declared confidentially to her that he was penniless and that the only way of getting cash would be to simulate a kidnapping.” The official said Paul had told the girl “about a beautifully simulated kidnapping organized to perfection several months before his disappearance.” “I never told the police that,” Martine would say later, “they made it all up.”
On the Piazza Navona, the street-people Paul had spent much of his time with scoffed at the notion that he’d been kidnapped and offered other theories: Paul had split to Morocco to lay back and had spread the kidnapping story to get into the headlines … He’d gone to a secret Alpine hideaway with some of his jetset pals for a few weeks of debauchery.
The Italian press, meanwhile, quickly called reports that he’d been kidnapped a hoax plotted by “The Oil Prince” and his “sexy mother” and offered as evidence front-page revelations that Gail Getty had fallen behind paying her rent.
In London, the Richest Man in the World issued this statement: “Although I see my grandson infrequently and I am not particularly close to him, I love him nonetheless. However, I don’t believe in paying kidnappers. I have 14 other grandchildren and if I pay one penny now, then I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.”
When the man with the “rough voice” called Gail Getty back, she told him to deal directly with her lawyer, Giovanni Jacovoni, the well-groomed and respected Rome attorney who had helped clear Paul of the Molotov-cocktail charge.
Jacovoni kept detailed notes of his conversations. He got the first call on July 23rd. “This is a kidnapping,” the voice said. “We are serious. Do as you are told and prepare a ransom.” The caller hung up. Two days later Jacovoni received a letter in his office postmarked Taranto, an industrial town south of Naples, which said the kidnappers wanted ten billion lire ($17 million) for Paul’s return.
The next day he got another phone call.
“Did you get it?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Yes, I got it.”
“We want to be paid in very small notes. You will be told later where the exchange will be done. Either we’re paid or Paul is dead. Let us know on radio or TV if you agree to the terms.” That night, the 26th of July, Jacovoni held a press conference and said: “The request is unreasonable. They should ask for less.”
Four days later – “What do you mean you can’t pay that much? You want to find the boy dead somewhere?”
“There isn’t that much money in the whole world.”
“How much can you pay?”
“The most kidnappers in Italy ever got was 300 million lire” ($500,000).
“That is a joke. We’ve spent that much on expenses.”
“I’ll talk to the boy’s mother but I know she doesn’t have any money.”
“Tell her to get it form London.”
A week later – “Do you have the 300 million lire?”
“No. We can’t give you 3000 million lire. A friend of the boy’s mother is here from America with $100,000. That’s our offer.”
“It’s not enough. We now want three billion lire” ($5 million).
August 20th – “Are you ready to pay the three billion lire?”
“We only have the $100,000.”
“For $100,000, we’ll send you a photo of the boy missing an arm or leg.” The caller hung up.
The Rome police, in the Italian press’ words, continued to treat the case “as a joke.” “I ask you,” a police official said, “what kind of criminals would not be able to make up their minds about the money? First they say they want ten billion lire, then 300 million lire, then three billion lire.”
By late August, even Jacovoni, the faithful family friend, was publicly having doubts. “I’m having serious perplexities about the genuineness of this kidnapping,” he told The New York Times, “and his mother is also probably having doubts.” To another reporter the lawyer said bluntly: “There are moments I am sure it’s a hoax.”
One of the kidnappers did most of the talking and after a while Paul viewed him as his “friend,” a man who sat down with him at times and told him of his wife and children.
“He talked too much, of course, which he always realized too late, afterwards, but it was like he couldn’t stop himself. I was careful to remember in great detail the things he told me because I knew I could use the knowledge to get things I wanted form them. I played psychological games. It was like the rich man and the poor man. The rich man can always play with the poor man because of his money. I was the rich man and my treasure was the things he talked too much about.
“I started calling him Hey-You. Hey-You kept saying they’d kidnapped me because of a Cause, and in the beginning I kind of believed it – thought maybe they were terrorists or something – but then I realized that was just bullshit to sidetrack me so I wouldn’t think they were plain robbers.
“The whole operation felt to me like a big intricate plot, like somebody big was behind it. Because I figured it was costing a lot of money to pay a lot of men, give me food and cognac, have cars to move me around with.
“After ten days or so they gave me a transistor radio and I could hear all about the kidnapping and myself. That’s all the damn radio talked about. It some ways, until I had the radio, I didn’t realize how serious the whole situation was. They all acted very cool when they heard about what they’d done on that radio. They acted like they were sure they’d get their money.
“Just after the first letter I was taken outside without blindfolds. I saw fields and more fields and I heard the door to a car close. They heard it too and put the blindfolds on me fast. They put me into the car and drove me around for a while. Then they told me to get out and took my blindfolds off. We were standing by a mountain. They told me we’d have to climb it.
“It was an eight-hour walk. There was one guy in front of me and one guy behind me. They both had guns. The climb was a bitch. Big rocks, rough ground. Every half-hour or so they’d tell me to rest but instead of giving me water they gave me cognac. Near the end of that climb I was so drunk I could barely stand.
“Near the top of the mountain we came to a dirt road and there was another car waiting there for us. They drove me around for 15 minutes or so, then led me out blindfolded and took em into what felt like a man-made cave. Steps down – underground. I could hear horses and cows and noise and they noticed that I was listening to things.
“So one of them yelled – ‘Turn to the wall.’ I was scared shitless. I thought – ‘Oh, Christ, it ends here, they’re going to shoot me.’ They made me face the wall and touch it with my face. With my face against that cold wall one of them came up behind me and put his hand to my ears. Then he stuck something inside my ears – some wads – so I couldn’t hear any more.
“When they took my blindfolds off in there I realized I wasn’t in a cave. It was a bunker. An abandoned old Nazi bunker, very small, less than a dozen feet wide, so low that I had to be bent over all the time. They had food, blankets and Italian women’s magazines in there. They kept me in the bunker for two days and I kept reading and rereading those damn magazines.
“Each day they took me out for an hour to a little clearing where they let me smoke a cigarette and gave me more cognac. I didn’t see any other people in the area but I didn’t really look, either. I mean, they could have put me into a situation where I would have been staring directly into someone’s face and I would have close my eyes not to see them.
“They moved me from the bunker up a hill, then down the other side of it. They’d built a little hut on four stakes for me there. They chained me to one of the stakes on a ten-foot chain. I was in that hut on the chain for 50 days.
“II felt myself going nuts. I had to force myself to do something. Anything. Or I’d just sit back and start crying. So it became the biggest thing for me each day to put a scratch on a single rock. That scratch, on that ugly bare rock, was my whole, whole routine. My calendar. The only record that a person named Paul Getty was alive … even though he was chained up like somebody’s pet animal.”
A guard ran into Getty’s hut one morning and said he was going to be taken out and shot.
“He was a new guy, all excited, almost out of control. Somehow his mask had slipped and he thought I had seen his face. It wasn’t true, but it was the exact situation I dreaded the most. ‘Now I’m going to kill you,’ he said.
“He walked me to a spot and he said – ‘Start running.’ I said no. ‘Start running!’ he yelled. I tried to stay as cool as possible. I asked him for a cigarette. After a moment he said yes. I smoked that cigarette and thought fast. I could tell from the vibration he was scared to do it and that he probably couldn’t do it because he wasn’t the boss. We stared at each other and I finished the cigarette and stomped it out. I just looked at him. ‘All right,’ he said, ‘turn around and go back.’ I guess he needed the time of me smoking a cigarette to think out what the fuck he was doing.
“In that hut for 50 days, I started losing my sense of time. I wasn’t eating very well. I used to get overjoyed each day to hear my favorite Italian melodrama on the radio. Or I’d be out of my head with happiness when there were three sausages in a can instead of two. The view from the hut was beautiful. A creek, mountains, and I tried to enjoy the nature as long as I could.
“There was sand by the creek and sometimes they’d let me off my chain and go to the sand with a stick and let me draw in it. I drew figures and crazy patterns. I was like a little kid playing with his sandcastles on the beach.
“When they saw I liked drawing in the sand they brought me watercolors. So I started painting rocks. If somebody would go down there now and find that place they’d find this little art gallery on the rocks. I’d paint scenes and psychedelic patterns and a lot of the time I’d paint myself.
“I painted myself because it was freaking me out not to see faces – just those damn masks all the time. I’d keep staring at Italian magazines they brought me just to see faces – smiles, expressions. I’d get spoons to eat with and stare at my expression in the spoons for hours.
“I could see how I was changing. My eyes were all baggy and I was puffy and my gums were always bleeding. It was especially scary because when you try to see yourself in a spoon, everything distorts a bit. I was losing weight and feeling my muscles die. My belly was getting a little puffy because I wasn’t eating very much.
“They’d let me bathe in a stream that was nearby. They’d lead me down there a couple times a week but the water was so cold I never got in it completely. I’d wash my feet, my hands, my face.
“Or when they wouldn’t take me to the stream and my hands got dirty somehow, I’d lick them. At least it was something to do and I really felt my hands clean from my own saliva.
“I started collecting my fingernails. Biting them off whenever they grew a little bit. Keeping the bitten-off nails in a matchbox, counting the nails and looking at my fingers each day to see if they’d grown any. Then biting them off again.
“They were watching me get destroy physically and mentally and only after a while did I realize what bastards they were. Because they just watched day after day. I think it’s almost easier to kill a person than destroy him that way. Watch him lick himself and collect his own nails.”
“I tried to put as much of my energy as possible into sleeping. I hoped each night that I would dream – create my own movie inside my head to entertain myself with.
“One day I was listening to my radio and I got really freaked out. The police found a burned body somewhere that looked exactly like me and all the cops and newsmen were sure it was me. ‘Paul Getty is dead,’ they said. I was listening to this stuff about me being dead and I laughed. I mean I didn’t know exactly what to do. ‘What the fucking hell do they mean I’m dead?’ – I thought. I’m alive. Alive! Alive! Alive! The guards sure weren’t laughing about it, though. They got all scared. They didn’t have any money yet and they didn’t want anybody to think the had slaughtered or burned their prize pigeon.
“Then, finally, after 50 days of being chained in that hut, they moved me. They were paranoid there were cops in the area.
“Then they started walking me up the mountain and near the top they put the blindfold on. It was about a six-hour walk, much worse than the other climb because I was so weak. I was spitting blood and coughing.
“There was a period of a week or so when they shuttled me from one place to the other in the mountains. They kept me in small cramped caves and alcoves.
“We finally arrived in a cave three feet wide and six feet long. They had a foam-rubber mattress for me to sleep on and brought me a book called My Prisons about captivity in the Austro-Hungarian empire. I could only read it outside during the day because the cave ws pitchblack. When they fed me, they brought a flashlight. I asked for my radio but they wouldn’t give it to me. They said it was broken.
“It was the worst kind of solitary confinement. It kept me up for a few weeks. My head was pretty fucked up anyway. I was doing crazy things. For good luck I touched certain rocks. I had a mania that if I was going to have good luck I had to touch the bread they gave me a certain way.
“Then, for the first time, they started threatening to cut pieces of me. One of them said – ‘Your grandfather better hurry or else we’ll cut one of your fingers off.’ I could tell this guy really enjoyed torturing me. He’d say – ‘We’ll send them a piece each month until they pay. We’ll cut you into little pieces for a whole year.’ Then they’d even start threatening to cut me up for little things. ‘If you don’t ask to sit before you sit we’ll cut something off,’ they’d say.
“I was scared to death, terrified, afraid to say anything at all. I tried not to think about being cut and at the same time I found myself wondering, like – ‘Which finger are they going to cut off? How will they do it?’
“One of them came to me one night and with a smile I won’t ever forget he said – ‘We’re all cannibals. No, we’re all worse than cannibals, you know.'”
“I knew they weren’t going to cut any of my fingers off. They were going to chop off one of my ears. And I knew they were going to do it soon.”
He stopped counting the days in the cave and tried to ignore the guard who now slept so close to him at night he could feel his every movement. He spent days crafting a cigarette holder from a bamboo shoot.
“Everything was very quiet. It was so quiet I could tell the vibe building up was ugly. I kept remembering their threats to cut pieces out of me.
“When they walked me, some of them kept asking me about chicks and getting laid. They seemed very frustrated, very horny. They asked me so much about sex that I formed this theory that the only reason they’d pulled the kidnapping was so they’d have money to pay women to fuck them.
“They’d say – ‘Tell us about some of your girlfriends.’ I’d make up all these dreadful lies, go into real porno detail to satisfy them and try to ease the vibe, talk about ‘quivering slithering cunts’ and things like that.
“Then one night they brought my radio back suddenly and I felt the chills run down my back. Because I knew now that they were planning to do something to me. I knew those guys would never just give me something to be nice. They were giving me the radio because they wanted something.
“I kept thinking about them threatening to cut me if they didn’t get the money and I thought – ‘Oh, Christ, they’re really gonna do it.’ I thought they’d cut one of my fingers off and I remember looking at my hands a lot of the night.
“I didn’t get very much sleep and in the morning they came in and told me in real good spirits to sit down and be calm, they were going to give me a haircut. They cut all my hair all the way around my head and they put alcohol where they’d cut the hair and cleaned all around my head. Then they told me it looked very good and I should go back to bed.
“I went back to bed, shivering, feeling my head where they’d cut my hair and as I felt around my head with my hands I knew they weren’t going to cut any of my fingers off. They were going to chop off one of my ears. And I knew they were going to do it soon before the scalp they’d cleaned with alcohol got dirty.
“About an hour later I heard movements outside. Instruments, the clanking of steel, lots of people. One guy came into the house and he said – ‘You’d better eat.’ He brought me five steaks. I tried to eat as much as slowly as I could – not because I was hungry but because the longer I ate the more time I’d have before they cut me.
“When I couldn’t eat anymore about eight or nine of them came in and one of them said – ‘Put on your blindfold.’ So I put it on and they sat me down on a block of wood in the room, what you might call a chopping block. They gave me a handkerchief and put it on my mouth and told me to bit down on it. They held my arms, my legs and my head.
“It happened very fast. It sounded like a pssst! He used a razor or a scalpel. I was fully conscious, but I didn’t scream. I didn’t pass out. I bit right through that wad of handkerchief and cried. The pain was so excruciating but when the pain is so hard, so intense, it goes very fast.
“They bandaged me up and put me to bed and I had the crazy thought – ‘It hurts now, but it will be all right tomorrow.’ But it wasn’t all right. I started bleeding from the ear, hemorrhaging very badly. I bled for three days.
“They had a guy who came in each day and gave me about 15 shots per day. I must have gotten about 50 shots in all. Penicillin, vitamins. I was vomiting. I didn’t even move for about ten days. I pissed myself all the time.
“Then one day a few of them came in and held me up and they said – ‘Listen, you have to move. Maybe everything is coming to a halt. Maybe your body is dying.’ So they walked me – very slowly because my heart felt like it was coming out of my head.
“They were all acting more carefully about everything now. I noticed they were trying to disguise their accents, putting on these phony Northern dialects, trying to walk different even. And I was more careful, too. I didn’t say anything to them about what they’d done. I was afraid. If I said something like – ‘You rotten fucking bastards’ then they might have said to themselves – ‘Oh, we better kill me because he really hates us and he’ll come after us.’
“Then one day one of them said – ‘We’re going to another place because it will be closer to the road. You’re going home.’ But after three days instead of moving me home they moved me to the same cave I’d been in before the ear.
“They gave me two bottles of cheap whiskey and three of them came into the cave with a Polaroid. They undid all bandages, which had gone hard like a cast from the dried blood. There were three guys working on the pictures. It was a grotesque scene. Three black-masked men in a cave at sunset with someone whose ear has been cut off and suddenly out of the darkness there is a camera’s flash: Psssss! Psssss! ‘Turn the other way; pose!’
“They left with their camera and I thought about what had happened to me. I didn’t have a right ear anymore … but there was nothing I could do about that. What happened had happened. I kept thinking that I wouldn’t be able to wear sunglasses again. I love sunglasses and it destroyed me to think I couldn’t wear sunglasses because … how would I hook them on me?”
According to police estimates, on the 21st of October, 1973, more than three months after the boy’s capture, Paul Getty’s kidnappers sealed his right ear in a plastic envelope along with a few strands of bloodsoaked hair, wrapped the envelope into a tidy package, and dropped it in the mail near Naples. They waited for a response. They got none. They’d forgotten about the postal strike crippling Southern Italy.
Almost three weeks later, on November 10th, Giovanni Jacovnoi, the family lawyer, got a call from a reporter at Il Messaggero, one of Rome’s biggest dailies. The reporter was blunt. “We opened the mail this morning and found an ear in a package with some hair. A note says it’s the boy’s.”
Jacovoni and Gail Getty drove to the newspaper office in the center of Rome, just a block from the sidewalk cafes of the darkened Via Veneto, Gail Getty opened the plastic envelope and held the ear with her fingers against a light. She felt it and noted that it was freckled and said it was her son’s. Both the mother and the lawyer were completely convinced – finally – that the kidnapping was real. Newspapers ran gruesome blowups the next day of Paul Getty’s ear inside its container.
“We opened the mail this morning and found an ear in a package with some hair,” said the reporter. “A note says it’s the boy’s.”
The police, however, were still unconvinced. They took the ear to a laboratory. “We don’t even know if it’s human,” an official said, “maybe it was cut from a cadaver.” On November 5th, the Italian police announced the ear had been cut from a living human being and “all tests indicate it is probably Paul Getty’s.” That same day the Rome Police Department announced that the detective who’d been in charge of the case had been “Promoted.” A new man was in charge who hastily told a press conference he had no doubts the kidnapping was “real and bestial.”
On November 16th Jacovoni got another phone call from the Il Messaggero reporter. The kidnappers had called the newspaper and told a reporter to go to a spot near a highway where he would find “something interesting.” The reporter went and did find “something interesting” – the macabre Polaroid pictures of Paul Getty without his right ear. For the next few days, the front pages of Rome’s dailies displayed close-ups of Paul Getty’s jagged and shocking wound.
For the first time, Paul’s father, Eugene Getty, said in London that he was willing to pay a ransom of $1 million – with some curious strings attached, addressed as much to his ex-wife as to the kidnappers. In return for his million – “all I could raise” – he wanted the custody of all his children. The kidnappers called Jacovoni, rejected the father’s offer, and held out for $2.9 million.
It was at this fateful point – after the ear had been analyzed and the grisly photographs splashed through the world’s press – that the Richest Man in the World decided that he would, after all, pay the ransom.
An aide who’d flown in from Kuwait, Fletcher Chase – tall, silver-haired and distinguished, a pipe-smoking ex-CIA man who didn’t want to be photographed – handled the arrangements together with Jacovoni.
Almost two billion lire – $2.9 million – were gathered in small amounts. Chase himself handled the drop. On the 12th of December he drove to Calabria alone and left the packages of money near a highway. The money weighed more than a ton.
The radio told him that his ear had found its way to his mother and that, thanks to the pictures, the whole world now gawked at the way his captors had mutilated him.
“When the pictures came out in the papers they moved me to what felt like a house on stilts. It was a big barn and right in the middle of it there was a huge haystack. They made a passage in the middle of the haystack and stuck me into it. Being trapped in there, the claustrophobia was amazing, but smoking a cigarette was even worse. The whole place could have gone up from a single match and turned into my private funeral pyre.
“They kept me in that haystack about three days, which was enough. Once there was a big lightning storm and I was sure the hay was going to go on fire and I’d be incinerated because that lightning was knocking away at the roof. Everything was shaking.
“On one of those nights in the haystack behind a wall of hay, I could see they’d set candles up. They had music and they were dancing with each other. I felt sure, when I saw these reflections dancing, that they thought they’d be getting the money very soon.
“It was in that stack that I thought a lot about my grandfather and all his money and about the ear they’d cut off and I thought – ‘Oh, God, why couldn’t he have paid before that ear? He could have gotten that money here two days after I was kidnapped.’ But then I thought – ‘Oh, Jesus, you probably would have done the same thing. It probably would have taken an ear to convince you too.’
“The radio was saying that the money was being given and the guards were all acting very jolly, making me do push-ups, making me eat well, making me take long walks. They were being very nice to me – they brought me fresh batteries for my radio, all the booze I wanted.
“Then one day they told me – ‘The money’s been paid but we can’t free you today.’ It was a Sunday and there was no driving allowed anywhere because of the Italian gas shortage.
“So the next day about five in the afternoon they gave me a sweater and a blindfold. It was raining very heavily. They walked me down a path into a car. I sat up in the car and we drove a couple miles.
“We pulled off the road and I heard a whole bunch of cars pull off with us – five or six of them. They moved me into another car and laid me down on the back floor. After a four- or five-hour drive on the freeway they stopped and walked me out, over a fence, and sat me down with a blanket. They said – ‘Don’t move because somebody’s behind you, we’ll call your mother.’ I said – ‘OK.'”
“‘Ciao,’ they said. I said – ‘Goodbye.’
“I heard the revving of a lot of cars. When I didn’t hear any more motors I took the blindfold off. It looked to me like around 11 o’clock at night. When I was sure there was nobody watching me I started walking on the highway. I wasn’t going to wait around for them to change their minds and come back maybe.
“I must have looked like a sight on that highway. I had the bandages over my head and my face and eyes were puffed up and I was wearing flannel pants they’d give me, sneakers without socks, and the sweater. I started hitchhiking. Nobody would stop.
“I got down on the ground and acted like I was dead. Nobody stopped. They’d speed up when they thought I was dead. I walked to a gasoline station and asked a guy to use the phone to call the police. ‘No phone,’ he said, ‘go away.’
“It started to pour. I spent hours and hours hitchhiking and still nobody stopped. Then I walked off the freeway to a little road. There was a hut there with glass doors, an entrance to a factor. Nobody was there.
“I must have looked like a sight on that highway. I started hitchhiking. Nobody would stop.”
“After a while a truck came down the road and I waved him down. The driver rolled the window down and stared at me. ‘Listen, I’m Paul Getty,’ I said, “will you give me a ride to a police station?”
“And he said – ‘Ah, who are you? What do you want? You are mad dressed up like that.’ And off he drove.”
But as the truck driver pulled away he heard something on his radio about the search for the “Golden Hippie.” He stopped at the police station in the next town, Lagonegro, and said he had just seen a crazy boy with a bandage wandering the highway claiming he was Paul Getty.
“I’d stopped another car,” Paul says, “and they weren’t letting me in either when I saw a bunch of blue police-lights on the horizon. It was dark on the highway and raining and those reflecting blue lights created an eerie scene. They pulled that typical kind of movie number. They came screeching up to me. The door in the lead car flew out right at me. This guy jumped out, the chief of police of Lagonegro, and he stuck his hand out and gave me a big booming ‘Hel-lo!’
“I shook his hand and noticed he didn’t have a finger. That kind of freaked me – the first person I shake hands with after my release – he doesn’t have a finger and I don’t have an ear.
“The police chief took me to his house and gave me a plate of spaghetti and all of his cops, dozens of them, were standing in the door looking, staring at me, staring at my bandages. Then they took me to the police station and I was really scared. They were treating me very weird, acting like they believed I was responsible for my own kidnapping, even with these bandages around my ears.
“The carabinieri came in, the military cops, and they started to interrogate me right away, asking all kinds of questions about my ear and what had happened. I really wasn’t up to it. I was crying and shaking. And then they said – ‘Look, why don’t you take these two little pills? They’ll make you calm.’ Expect that they lied. They gave me two very strong amphetamines.
“I was really strung out. If I would have had a gun I probably would have shot myself. I’d been in all that shit for so long and then I get out and it’s almost worse that what I’d been in.
“The room was just jammed with cops asking me questions and after a while, in the morning, my mother came in with Fletcher Chase and the chief of police in Rome. A big hassle developed between the carabinieri and the Roman cops because the carabinieri didn’t want to release me, they still wanted to keep interrogating me. So after a while Fletcher Chase went up to the cops and he said – ‘Let the boy go or I’ll make a bad scandal for you.’
“Chase gave me his trenchcoat and we walked out of the police station door. It was an incredible mob scene. Thousands of people were standing out there. Everybody was grabbing at me. Hundreds of photographers.
“We got into cop cars and headed for Rome. At the beginning there were about 30 cars behind us. Every time we stopped at a toll station, a photographer would try to get inside the door or on top of the car. By the time we got to Rome, we had a motorcycle escort. By the time we were a real caravan – there were about a hundred cars behind us – mostly photographers and the curious.
“My mother and Fletcher Case were in the backseat with me. My mother and I didn’t really say anything. The bandage was off my ear but my mother didn’t say anything about it. She showed no reaction. Why be a dramatist and show reaction?
“We had to go to the main police station in Rome. We drove in and it was madness. People were standing on top of each other – newsmen, photographers, people just looking. They were screaming, saying – ‘Let me look at him, too!’ They tried to get me into an elevator but so many people were holding onto it that it wouldn’t go up. After everything that had happened, it was absolute insanity.
“I never asked [my mother] about the money. Why it had taken so long to pay it. I mean – What’s the use?”
“After I was questioned there, my mother and Chase took me to a private clinic, a place well-guarded, where people like Sophia Loren stay. We took the whole penthouse suite there. I was there three days – they fed me, checked me, cleaned the wound. I got new clothes. A clothes shop came up and I picked out some sequined suits, electric-blue, high shoes, David Bowie clothes.
“Then I went to another apartment in Rome. I didn’t want to go home because our house was just around the corner from where I was kidnapped. I didn’t want to feel those vibes again. The Roman cops came and interrogated me again. They were very nice; their interest was just to get the kidnappers.
“Everytime I went somewhere in Rome, I had a police escort. Motorcycles, sirens. I really couldn’t go anywhere. Girls were screaming whenever they saw me. I was being treated like a rock star. I got hundreds of fan letters from all over the world. Some were just addressed to ‘Paul Getty, the Golden Hippie,’ without any address and still they got to me. All the letters basically said – ‘Give me your cock.’
“In the beginning, I felt it very difficult to talk, even to my family, because of everything that had happened. I said only essential things – ‘Pass the salt, pass the bread.’
“My mother and I talked a few times but didn’t say very much. I never asked her about the money. Why it had taken so long to pay it. I mean – ‘What’s the use? Why even ask?'”
Now, a few months later, in the spring of 1974, his hair almost covers his wound but he still takes pained care to keep that side of his face averted from strangers and cameras. He hasn’t been back to Rome much and he hasn’t revisited his old discos. “They don’t mean all that much to me any more,” he says. He is happiest that he was wrong about the sunglasses. Sometimes they fall off but he can wear them.
While he knows that he was worth $2.9 million, he still has to scramble for expense money. “I’m going to get a lot of money from a trust when I’m older,” he says, “but I don’t have any money right now.” He talks excitedly of a new movie about a Munich whorehouse in which he has been promised a small part.
He is still pale and weak, even after the months spent recuperating in the Tyrolian Alps, in Igls, Austria, the place his mother took him so he could rebuild his muscles. “I still like skiing,” he says, “but even with skiing the speed gets to me now. I find that I don’t like speedy anymore. It scares me. The other day I was in a taxi and the guy drove like a madman and I had to tell him to slow down.”
He has almost no interest in the police investigation of his case. Right after his release, he told the police and the press he couldn’t identify any of his kidnappers because they always wore masks. He tries to avoid the specificities of his captivity “because I don’t want to get killed. They have a rule: They kill the squealers.” He admits he fully shares the Calabrian peasants’ fear of the Infamita.
He knows, of course, that the Italian police have captured six men, all from Calabria, one of them a hospital orderly, for taking part in his abduction. Most of the arrests were made in pre-dawn raids on isolated Calabrian farmhouses. The police have privately told him they are “seeking at least 20 and perhaps as many as a hundred men”; all members or amici of the group they call the “Mainland” or “Calabrian mafia.” He knows, too, that only a few thousand of the $2.9 million ransom has been recovered. “I made some people a lot of money,” he says. In a more sardonic mood: “It was a high-priced ear.” He doesn’t think the rest of the money will ever be recovered. “I think it’s buried up there in one of those mountain caves somewhere; and with those people, I’m sure nobody’s going to talk.”
A few months after his release, Paul Getty still takes his reckless chances. He lives with his girlfriend, Martine, in friends’ apartments in Munich or Berlin or sometimes even Rome, sleeping for a few days or weeks in each place. He is surprisingly unafraid that one of his captors, fearing his courtroom testimony, will try to kill him.
He doesn’t like to talk about his five-month and five-day captivity – not even, he says, with his mother. “She keeps telling me that we have to sit down and talk about it all, but – Oh, what in the world for? Should we cry on each others’ shoulders?”
On a recent leaden and drab afternoon in Muninch, Martine’s hometown, he took her to see a movie. A theater owner was treating him to a special and private screening. The movie was titled – J. Paul Getty at Sutton Place and was made three years ago for a German television. The richest Man in the World was its star; Eugene Paul Getty II had a bit part.
Onscreen he fluttered about the old man, opened doors for him, held his chair has he sat down for dinner. He romped about Sutton Place playing kid-games with a golf cart, mugging for the camera.
He sat in the theater with Martine and a few friends and listened to his grandfather’s croaking voice, watched the old man’s face as he pontificated about the world, capitalism and utopia. And as the old man on the screen spoke, his mutilated grandson laughed at him. He laughed when the old man talked about the world, he laughed when he talked about capitalism, and he laughed when he talked about utopia.
When the old man said – “Money isn’t that important, I don’t feel rich” – his grandson blew him a raucously loud and long lip-fart that echoed crudely through the dark and empty hall.
On the way back to his apartment he said – “You know, I called my grandfather after I was released. I called up and an aide answered the phone. My grandfather didn’t come to the phone because he was afraid of it that day. He was afraid something was going to pop out of the phone and hurt him. So I talked to the aide and the aide talked to him. I told the aide that I wanted to thank him for paying the money, that I was grateful. The aide told him. The aide said my grandfather said I was welcome. I told the aide – thanks again. Then I told the aide goodbye. The aide told me my grandfather said good luck. And I hung up.”