The Highest Ransoms Ever Paid To Bring A Human Being Home Safely

When it comes to horrific crimes, kidnapping often takes the lead. When someone is kidnapped, the ones left behind are faced with ghastly ideas of what could be happening to their loved one. Is the kidnapper torturing them? Is their loved one safe or is their life on the line? For those being held against their will, the effect is disastrous and can end up causing emotional wreckage that will last for years.

The Getty Ransom Debacle

John Paul Getty III, the grandson of the American industrialist, John Paul Getty, was a bit of a wild child. Having grown up in Rome in the late 1960s, JPG III caused ruckus after ruckus for his wealthy family. When he was kidnapped in 1973, his family initially ignored the $17 million ransom, assuming it was JPG III himself attempting to alleviate his financial issues. A second ransom note was sent by the kidnappers but was delayed due to a postal strike.

The Getty Ransom Debacle

Eventually, kidnappers mailed a lock of JPG III’s hair along with his mutilated ear and a lower ransom of just over $3 million. Realizing the threat was serious, the family paid the requested amount and JPG III was released.

Mary McElroy And A Case Of Stockholm Syndrome

Mary McElroy’s kidnapping and ransoming is a perfect example of Stockholm Syndrome, in which a kidnapping victim begins to empathize and even bond with their captors. McElroy was kidnapped from her home in 1933. While held in a basement of a farmhouse, McElroy remained in the kidnappers’ custody for only one day and night before her father paid a ransom of $30,000.

Mary McElroy And A Case Of Stockholm Syndrome

Three of the four men involved in the crime were arrested, with the ringleader of the pack being sentenced to death. McElroy was combative at trial, refusing to cooperate with police and even begged for mercy toward the ringleader upon sentencing. McElroy eventually committed suicide, stating the only people that understood her were her kidnappers.

Horror For The Greenlease Family

In 1953, the Greenlease family faced a horror no parent should have to endure. Their six-year-old son, Bobby Greenlease Jr, was abducted right from his elementary school by a woman who posed as his aunt.

Horror For The Greenlease Family

The kidnappers, Carl Austin Hall and Bonnie Brown Heady, demanded a ransom of $600,000 (equivalent to $5.1 million today) from his terrified parents. Hall and Heady were caught within days of receiving the ransom. Unfortunately, the dreadful couple had killed young Bobby before they had even requested the ransom. He was found buried in Heady’s backyard shortly after the duo confessed.

The Unfortunate Luck Of The Thornes

Bazil and Freda Thorne thought their lucky day had come when they won a lottery drawing in Austrailia during the 1960s. Their £100,000 pound prize (approximately $4.5 million today) was announced in the local newspaper, along with their details and home address.

The Unfortunate Luck Of The Thornes

Their good luck streak turned sour when their son, Graeme, was kidnapped a month later. The kidnapper, Hungarian native Stephen Bradley, demanded a £25,000 ransom. Police had already been on the scene by the time Bradley called in his request and they turned to the public for assistance, refusing to pay the ransom. Sadly, Graeme Thorne’s body was found five weeks later.

The ERP Guerrillas

During the 1970s, an Argentinian guerrilla group named the Marxist People’s Revolutionary Army (Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo or ERP) began kidnapping people in droves. The ERP was the armed section of the Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores (the Workers’ Revolutionary Party), which was launched to combat the 1969 military dictatorship of Argentina.

The ERP Guerrillas

One of their captives was Ronald Grove, a high-ranking employee of the Vest Meat Packing Company. Grove made history as the first person to fetch a seven-figure ransom payout in Argentina. He was ransomed for $1 million back in 1972, an amount which would equal $5.48 million today.

Following Suit – Argentinian Guerrillas

Not to be outdone, the Argentinian guerrilla group called the Montoneros (Movimiento Peronista Montonero-MPM) kidnapped Vincenzo Russo, an ITT executive, shortly after the ERP snatched Ronald Grove.

Following Suit – Argentinian Guerrillas

The leftist guerrilla group was founded in 1970 and consisted of Roman Catholics, social science university students, and supporters of Juan Domingo Perón. The group believed that democracies were a way of hiding fascist regimes and sought to force the governments to operate openly as such. Only days after Grove’s successful ransom by the ERP, the Montoneros group kidnapped Russo and demanded the same ransom: $1 million ($5.48 million today).

Virginia’s Horror

In 1972, Virginia Piper, wife of retired banker Harry Piper, was taken from her home in Orono County, Minnesota. Virginia was outside of her home gardening when she was snatched by two masked men. The kidnapping rocked the nation as it occurred in broad daylight in an affluent neighborhood, spreading terror throughout the general population.

Virginia’s Horror

Virginia was chained to a tree in a local state park for two nights before her kidnappers received their desired ransom: $1 million ($5.5 million today). At the time, it was the largest ransom ever paid. The two men were eventually arrested, but their conviction was overturned as the five-year statute of limitations expired just before their verdict.

Consternation For The Bronfmans

In 1975, Samuel Bronfman II, the heir to the Seagram Distillery Company, was abducted from a family-owned estate in New York. The 21-year-old was held for over a week before his father, Edgar Bronfman, agreed to pay the $2.3 million ($11.2 million today) ransom.

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The ransom was recovered when 24-hours later Bronfman’s kidnappers were located. Upon an FBI raid of a Brooklyn apartment, Bronfman was retrieved. He had been tied up with his mouth and eyes taped shut. The captors were eventually acquitted of kidnapping but did serve several years in a federal prison for extortion.

ERP Strikes Again

The Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo (or ERP) struck again in 1974 when they kidnapped the President of Firestone Tires. John R. Thompson, age 50, was abducted on June 18th, 1974. He was held captive for two and a half weeks total. His ransom was eventually paid, which prompted his release.

ERP Strikes Again

The Argentinian terrorist establishment garnered a total of $3 million for Thompson’s safe return, an amount which would be equivalent to approximately $13.9 million in today’s economy. It beat out their previous record-breaking ransom just two years earlier for Ronald Grove, which came in at $1 million.

Metz And Mercedes

Enrique Metz was an executive at the famed company Mercedes-Benz in the 1970s. He was captured by the highly-active Argentinian guerrilla group Montoneros. The guerrilla faction funded their group’s activities through their kidnap ransoms, which granted them easy access to millions of dollars each year.

Metz And Mercedes

Enrique Metz was held for two months before collecting their ransom of $5 million ($21.2 million today). In addition to collecting their ransom, they used Metz’s capture as a bargaining chip. The terrorist organization forced the auto giant to reinstate more than 100 factory workers who had previously been let go.

Media Giant Faces Fear

The Hearst family is well-known across the globe as the proprietors of an all-inclusive media conglomerate. It is for this reason that one of their own, Patty Hearst, would be targeted by a left-wing militant organization. The group, who called themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army (or the SLA), kidnapped the 19-year-old heiress while on her college campus in Berkley, California.

Media Giant Faces Fear

The organization sent word to the Hearst family that they were to disperse food to needy residents of California, which would have totaled an estimated $400 million, in exchange for Patty’s safety. The family did eventually disperse approximately $6 million worth of food.

Double Trouble For Lockwood

If getting kidnapped once is a life-altering experience, can you imagine being kidnapped twice? That’s what happened to Charles Lockwood, a Roberts executive. Lockwood was captured and held for ransom by the Argentinian group called ERB – not once, but twice, within a 26-month period. During his first imprisonment in 1973, Lockwood was ransomed for $2 million. When he was detained by the guerrilla organization again in 1975, the exec was granted safe return for the amount of $10 million.

Double Trouble For Lockwood

In today’s economy, the double ransom would equate to over $52 million, quite a large number for any company to shell out.

Danger In The Business

In 1974, the ERP guerrilla organization struck again. This time they struck oil with their captive, targeting Esso Argentina (an Argentinian subsidiary of the company Exxon). They kidnapped Victor Samuelson, an employee of the international company. Samuelson, who worked as a refinery manager, was held prisoner by the vicious group for 98 days.

Danger In The Business

The People’s Revolutionary Army, as the group’s name translates to in English, demanded an astronomical amount in exchange for Samuelson’s freedom, asking for $14.2 million ($69.4 million) from the colossal corporation. When the organization began threatening to execute Samuelson for the crimes of the multinational business, action had to be taken and the ransom was paid.

Trouble In China

In 1997, a Chinese power family faced their own kidnapping ordeal when Walter Kwok was held for ransom. The son of one of China’s richest families, and heir to Sun Hung Kai Properties, Kwok was kidnapped by the infamous Chinese gangster, Cheung Tze-Keung, who went by the street name “Big Spender.”

Trouble In China

Kwok was held for seven days. He was kept locked in a wooden box but, luckily, was fed regular meals of pork and rice to keep him alive. During the containment period, Kwok was kept blindfolded and unaware of his surroundings. Ransom negotiations were led mostly by his wife and the figure surmounted to a grand total of $77 million ($110 million today).

Hong Kong Horror

The kidnapping of Walter Kwok was not Big Spender’s first rodeo. He first tried his hand at kidnapping the son of Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-Shing, Victor Li. Already a notorious gangster, Big Spender brazenly kidnapped Li while he was returning home from his office one evening.

Hong Kong Horror

Li was tied and bound, and his mouth was covered with heavy adhesive tape. He was eventually handcuffed and blindfolded; his legs were restrained with steel chains. It is said that Li was only held for one night before his parents quickly paid his ransom. Big Spender walked away from the deal with $134 million ($197 million today).

The King’s Ransom

One of the oldest ransoms to date, and perhaps the beginning of the Robin Hood legend, took place in 1192 in England. King Richard was captured by his enemy, Duke Leopold V of Austria. The Austrian Duke held the King responsible for the murder of a family member and seized an opportunity to exact his revenge as the English Monarch traveled through his lands.

The King’s Ransom

Duke Leopold held King Richard ransom, sending word to the English Court that he would release him upon receipt of 150,000 marks. It took the English Court over two years to gather the sum and King Richard was released in 1194.

Brothers At Arms

Two brothers belonging to one of the wealthiest Argentinian families were kidnapped while driving through a suburb of Buenos Aires in 1974. Jorge and Juan Born, brothers and wealthy grain traders, were taken hostage by the infamous terrorist group Montonerros. The far-left militant guerrilla group held the two brothers for over nine months.

Brothers At Arms

The far-left militant guerrilla group held the two brothers for over nine months in an Argentine State Intelligence warehouse. During that time, they sent word to the brothers’ company, Bunge & Born, that they were demanding a ransom of $60 million dollars ($293 million today). The ransom was eventually paid and the pair was set free.

Greatest Ransom In History

To date, there is one ransom which stands above all the rest. According to the Guinness World Records, the greatest ransom ever to be paid took place back in 1532 in Peru. On November 16th, 1532, Atahualpa, the Lord of the Incan Empire, met with a brigade of Spaniards who had crossed into his territory. The band of 160 Spanish Conquistadors, under the command of Francisco Pizarro, attacked and kidnapped the native Incan Emperor.

Greatest Ransom In History

To secure his release, Atahualpa promised the Spaniards a substantial award. Keeping his word, the Conquistadors were granted an unsurpassable amount of gold and silver. The estimated worth of the ransom is said to be $1.5 billion today.

Terror On The Seas

In 2009, a ship transporting over $150 million in crude oil to the U.S. from Saudia Arabia was hijacked by Somali pirates. The ship, named the Maran Centaurus, was one of the larger oil ships in operation. It had a capacity to carry approximately 300,000 tons of the precious cargo and had a crew of 28 people onboard.

Terror On The Seas

While approximately 800 miles off the Somalian coast, the ship was attacked and boarded by pirates. Shortly after, the ship was attacked again by a rival band of pirates. Two months into the ship’s detainment, $7 million was dropped onto the ship’s deck by helicopter and the crew was released.

Photograph Of Dread

Anthony Da Cruz was a 42-year-old executive at Kodak. While living in Buenos Aires, Da Cruz was kidnapped by a guerrilla terrorist group. Da Cruz was one of many that had been plucked from the streets of Buenos Aires at the time, as kidnapping was at a high in the area during the early 1970s.

Photograph Of Dread

Da Cruz was held for six days. Luckily for him, it was said that he was treated well and was released unharmed upon receipt of his ransom. Kodak fronted Da Cruz’s release fund which totaled to $1.5 million. That amount would equal $7.7 million in today’s economy.