There are some downsides to being wealthy or coming from a wealthy family. Chief among them is that you become a target for criminal activities, including kidnappings. Kidnappers rarely target the head of the family, but instead, look for more vulnerable family members, such as children. Luckily most of the victims on our list were eventually released. Unfortunately, some were not so lucky. Usually, massive ransoms were paid to secure their release. We have compiled a list of the top ten families targeted by kidnapping and the amount in ransoms demanded and usually paid. For older cases, we adjusted the ransom to take into account inflation.
10. Claudia Melchers, Ransom demanded – 460 Pounds of Cocaine
In one of the most well-known kidnapping cases in recent years, Claudia Melchers was kidnapped in September of 2005 when three armed men broke into her house. They tied up her neighbor but left her children unharmed before packing Claudia in a plastic crate and carrying her to an awaiting car. Interestingly, the men did not ask for money with their ransom. Instead, they wanted 460 pounds of cocaine! Claudia was released unharmed within 48 hours when the story gained too much publicity.
9. Ivan Kaspersky, Ransom Demanded – $3.7 million
Ivan Kaspersky is the son of Evgeny Kaspersky, a software tycoon in Russia. In 2011, Ivan was kidnapped and kidnappers demanded about $3.7 million dollars in ransom money. Luckily for Ivan, his dad had the cash. Evengny is worth nearly $700 million dollars, and so was able to pay the ransom. Evgeny also made sure to keep police involvement to a minimum and quickly and quietly paid the ransom. That may have ultimately been what kept Ivan alive. Over 300 children are kidnapped in Russia each year, despite the high amounts of money spent on personal security.
8. Bobby Greenlease, Ransom Paid – $5.1 million (adjusted)
Perhaps the saddest story on this list, Bobby Greenlease didn’t survive his kidnapping in 1953, even though his father paid the ransom. His father was a wealthy auto dealer with an empire of dealerships stretching across the American heartland, from Texas to South Dakota. Bobby’s kidnapper, Bonnie Heady showed up at his school and claimed to be his aunt. She then took Bobby away because his mother had supposedly suffered a heart attack. His other kidnapper, Carl Austin Hall decided to shoot the boy.
7. Virginia Piper, Ransom Paid – $5.5 Million (adjusted)
The wife of a successful investor, in 1972 Virginia was kidnapped and her kidnappers demanded $1 million dollars in cash. This was a then-record ransom which Harry Piper quickly paid. She was found alive and chained to a tree. Two people were convicted in the kidnapping but this ruling was later overturned.
6. John Paul Getty III, Ransom Paid – $21.2 million dollars (adjusted)
Grandson to Jean Paul Getty, who was once considered the richest man in the world, John Paul Getty III comes in on the list not just for being from such a rich family, but also for having suffered one of the most gruesome experiences. His grandfather was known not just for his wealth, but also for being an extremely stingy man. When John was kidnapped in 1973, his grandfather initially refused to pay his kidnappers the ransom, so the kidnappers cut off one of his ears and mailed it to a news station, promising to send him bit-by-bit. Grandpa Jean relented but agreed to pay only $2 million of the $3.2 million ransom. He loaned an additional $800 thousand to John Paul’s father. John Paul was released and his kidnappers were eventually caught and convicted.
5. Patty Hearst, Ransom Demanded – $29.3 million dollars (adjusted)
The Patty Hearst kidnapping is perhaps the most infamous kidnapping of all time. It had all the trappings of a sensationalist headline making story. In 1973, the rich young girl was abducted by the left wing militant group, the SLA. Millions were demanded in exchange for her life. Her father quickly spent over $6 million feeding the poor to appease her kidnappers. Then things took a strange twist, Patty actually joined her kidnappers’ militant group and even helped rob a bank. She would later be arrested and sentenced to 35 years in jail, but President Carter commuted the sentence to two years.
4. Alfredo Harp Helu, Ransom Paid – $45 million (adjusted)
Usually kidnappers target family members, not the head of the household. Generally speaking, security tends to be less tight and it’s easier to leave the one holding the purse strings free so that they can pay the ransom. In the case of Alfredo Harp Helu, however, the kidnappers decided to go straight to the source. Alfredo was kidnapped and held for over 100 days in 1994. After his son and family lawyer appeared on TV and unconditionally accepted the terms of the ransom, Alfredo was released. He has since become a major advocate for preventing kidnappings.
3. Walter Kwok, Ransom Paid – $110 Million (adjusted)
Walter Kwok was kidnapped in 1997. He is the son of Kwok Tak Seng, one of Hong Kong’s most successful business men. Mr. Kwok was kidnapped by the infamous “Big Spender”, who will appear later in this list. Reportedly, Walter’s siblings didn’t want to pay the ransom but his father relented and gave up the cash. Walter was eventually found alive in a wooden box in rural China after the ransom was paid. The incident would lead to a falling out among the siblings and the famed Sun Hung Kai Properties would eventually splinter.
2. Victor Li, Ransom Paid – $200 million (adjusted)
Li Ka Shing is one of the richest people in the world with an estimated wealth of nearly $30 billion dollars. Unfortunately for Mr. Li, he didn’t invest enough money in his family’s security because his son, Victor Li, was kidnapped in 1996 by the notorious “Big Spender”, who demanded and received $134 million dollars in ransom.
1. Juan and Jorge Born, Ransom Paid – $292 million (adjusted)
Grain traders and agricultural titans from Argentina, Juan and Jorge Born top the list. Kidnapped in 1974 by far-left terrorist group Montonerros, the two were held for a total of nine months until the group received a ransom of some $60 million dollars. In today’s terms, that’s good for $293 million dollars. After the incident, the brothers moved to Brazil for security reasons.
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