The Kidnapping of John Paul Getty III: Background information when reading The Good Mothers

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Good Mothers

The Story of the Three Women Who Took on the World's Most Powerful Mafia

by Alex Perry

The Good Mothers by Alex Perry X
The Good Mothers by Alex Perry
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jun 2018, 352 pages

    Aug 2019, 352 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
Buy This Book

About this Book

The Kidnapping of John Paul Getty III

This article relates to The Good Mothers

Print Review

John Paul Getty IIIAlex Perry's book, The Good Mothers, focuses on an Italian mafia family known as the 'Ndrangheta. This organization was behind the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III.

The story of Getty's kidnapping begins with the 16-year-old's grandfather, J. Paul Getty (1892-1976), founder of the Getty Oil Company in the 1940s. In spite of being vastly wealthy (Forbes named him the richest living person in 1957), he was a notorious cheapskate. Anecdotes abound regarding his penny-pinching: He did his own laundry because he didn't want to pay someone to do it; he installed a pay phone in one of his houses for guests to use; he took a group of friends to a dog show but, finding out that half-price tickets were available after 5:00, made them walk around London until they could take advantage of the offer. Getty married and divorced five times, and had five sons between all of the marriages. His third child, Eugene Paul Getty (1932-2003), was the son of wife number four; he changed his name to John Paul Getty Jr. before marrying his first wife, Gail Harris. Together they had four children, the eldest of whom was John Paul Getty III (1956-2011), who went by Paul. When John Paul and Gail divorced, John Paul moved to Rome, placing Paul in a boarding school there where he was soon expelled. John Paul returned to England, but Paul remained on his own in Rome, living a Bohemian lifestyle and becoming known among his friends as "The Golden Hippie."

Paul mysteriously disappeared in the wee hours of July 10, 1973. His mother received a letter two days later in her son's handwriting that said in part, "Dear Mother: I have fallen into the hands of kidnapers [sic]. Don't let me be killed! Make sure that the police do not interfere. You must absolutely not take this as a joke…Don't give publicity to my kidnaping." Soon thereafter the demand came for $17 million. Gail appealed to the boy's grandfather for help, but the old man refused to assist, famously replying, "I have 14 other grandchildren. If I pay one penny, I'll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren." In addition, Paul had joked to friends that the only way he could pry money out of his grandfather would be to stage his own kidnapping, so there was some doubt as to whether the boy was truly in danger.

The kidnappers eventually lost patience, and in November they cut off Paul's ear and sent it to a newspaper in Rome along with a note: "This is Paul's ear. If we don't get some money within 10 days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits." Grandfather Getty finally decided to take the situation seriously and opened negotiations with the mobsters, talking them down to $2.9 million. He agreed to pay $2.2 million personally (because that was the maximum amount he could deduct from his taxes) and loaned the remainder to his son (Paul's father) at 4% interest.

He arranged for a business associate, Fletcher Chase, to take the money to the kidnappers in a car, which was followed by undercover police. When Chase pulled over the car to exchange the money, the officers also pulled over a short distance away, pretending to be tourists photographing the Italian countryside but all the while surveilling the criminals. Paul was released after the money exchange, on December 15 at a gas station, and was able to flag a passing car for a lift to a phone. Later, he called his grandfather to thank him for his help, but Getty refused to come to the phone.

Arrests began in January 1974, and nine members of the 'Ndrangheta were jailed (including Girolama Piromalli, the 58-year-old top-ranking mafia boss). Two individuals were convicted of kidnapping, and another five were imprisoned on unrelated drug and weapons charges.

Two recent portrayals of these events have reached modern culture. All the Money in the World, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Michelle Williams and Christopher Plummer, was released in 2017. FX released a 10-part limited-series drama called Trust in 2018 directed by Danny Boyle and starring Hilary Swank and Donald Sutherland. The two dramas take different tacks, with the latter indicating that Paul instigated his own kidnapping, only later becoming a victim as negotiations with J. Paul Getty deteriorated.

Filed under People, Eras & Events

Article by Kim Kovacs

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Good Mothers. It originally ran in August 2018 and has been updated for the August 2019 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Moonrise Over New Jessup
    Moonrise Over New Jessup
    by Jamila Minnicks
    Jamila Minnicks' debut novel Moonrise Over New Jessup received the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially...
  • Book Jacket
    The Magician's Daughter
    by H.G. Parry
    "Magic isn't there to be hoarded like dragon's treasure. Magic is kind. It comes into ...
  • Book Jacket: The Great Displacement
    The Great Displacement
    by Jake Bittle
    On August 4, 2021, California's largest single wildfire to date torched through the small mountain ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Island of Missing Trees
    by Elif Shafak
    The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak tells a tale of generational trauma, explores identity ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Nurse's Secret
by Amanda Skenandore
A fascinating historical novel based on the little-known story of America's first nursing school.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Lost English Girl
    by Julia Kelly

    A story of love, betrayal, and motherhood set against the backdrop of World War II and the early 1960s.

  • Book Jacket

    Once We Were Home
    by Jennifer Rosner

    From the author of The Yellow Bird Sings, a novel based on the true stories of children stolen in the wake of World War II.

Who Said...

Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!


Solve this clue:

R Peter T P P

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.