Ralph Frammolino: J. Paul Getty: Rich Man, Poor Man





[Ralph Frammolino, a former Los Angeles Times reporter, was a finalist, with Jason Felch, for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the Getty antiquities scandal. Their book about the scandal, "Chasing Aphrodite," will be published in May.]

In the fall of 1973, a package arrived in a Rome newsroom. Delayed by an Italian postal strike, its contents had begun to spoil. Inside were a lock of red hair and a piece of rotting flesh. It bore a telltale freckle. The flesh was an ear belonging to the grandson of J. Paul Getty.

One of the richest men in the world, Getty had publicly refused to negotiate with the men who had kidnapped the younger Getty in Rome three months before. Now the oilman agreed to pay $2.2 million, the most he claimed could be deducted from his taxes as a theft loss. Getty lent the rest of the nearly $3 million ransom to his son, the teenager's father — at 4% interest. Released, the grandson called to say thanks. The oilman refused to come to the phone.

The story of the severed ear made the rounds again last week in the obituaries for J. Paul Getty III, the grandson, who died Feb. 5 at age 54 after spending the last half of his life paralyzed and nearly blind from a 1981 drug- and alcohol-induced stroke. Even in death, the grandson's travails were overshadowed by his infamous grandfather's reputation as a hard-hearted patriarch....


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