If there’s a way to make money from an illegal activity, you can bet the world’s criminal organizations have tried it. That includes kidnapping ransoms.
Child kidnappers usually share a few common traits, and some of those align with people who kidnap adults. It’s terrifying when kids are abducted, but at least there are ways to prepare and prevent it from happening. When it comes to adults with kidnapping ransoms, it’s a different story. When adults are kidnapped the captors are usually in it only for the money, hence the ‘ransom’ part of ‘kidnapping ransom.’
Most people never have to worry about paying a kidnapping ransom, which is a good thing when you look at these huge ransom payouts. We’ll take a look at some of the shocking ransom demands and then tell you how you can protect yourself.
10. John Paul Getty III
- Original ransom demand: $3 million
- Ransom in 2018 dollars: $16.6 million
In 1973, John Paul Getty III was abducted in Italy. The initial kidnapping ransom was $17 million and with an oil baron — J. Paul Getty — for a grandfather, payment was almost guaranteed. However, the elder Getty balked, the captors cut off and mailed the younger Getty’s ear, and eventually, he was released — months later — when the family paid close to $3 million.
Next: Argentine guerillas earn a nice payday.
9. Enrique Metz
- Original ransom demand: $5 million
- Ransom in 2018 dollars: $22.9 million
Mercedes Benz executive Enrique Metz was snatched by the Argentine guerrilla group Montoneros and ransomed. The name Montoneros looks like a mashup of the words ‘money’ and ‘dinero,’ and the group definitely got paid. The $5 million ransom paid by Mercedes equates to nearly $23 million in 2018. This isn’t the only time on this list we’ll read about the Montoneros. Another one of their kidnappings and its ridiculous payout pops up at No. 3 on our list.
Next: Another victim with wealthy relatives
8. Patty Hearst
- Original ransom demand: $6 million
- Ransom in 2018 dollars: $30 million
As we saw with John Paul Getty III in item No. 10 on our list, people who come from wealth are especially susceptible to kidnapping. Hearst, the granddaughter of publisher William Randolph Hearst, was abducted in Berkeley, Calif., in 1974 by the Symbionese Liberation Army. The SLA had her commit crimes on its behalf and demanded that the Hearst family donate food to needy people across California. The family did, but Hearst stayed with the SLA until she was arrested for her crimes in 1975.
Next: Intrigue and danger on the high seas.
7. Maran Centaurus tanker crew
- Original ransom demand: $7 million
- Ransom in 2018 dollars: $7.9 million
Strangely, the pirate hijacking made famous by the Tom Hanks movie Captain Phillips has nothing to do with this case. Somali pirates captured the Maran Centaurus oil tanker in late 2009. They occupied the ship for close to two months before collecting a kidnapping ransom of up to $7 million for the 28 crew members on board. That payment equates to nearly $8 million today.
Next: Let’s spin this record again.
6. Samho Dream tanker crew
- Original ransom demand: $9.5 million
- Ransom in 2018 dollars: $10.7 million
Where have we heard this one before? We just talked about the Maran Centaurus oil tanker being hijacked by Somali pirates. The same thing happened to the Samho Dream and its 24 crew members in April of 2010. The pirates occupied the ship until receiving a $9.5 million ransom payment months later.
Next: Kidnappers double-dip and get two huge ransoms.
5. Charles Lockwood
- Original ransom demand: $2 million and $10 million
- Ransom in 2018 dollars: $11.1 million and $45.8 million
No, you’re not reading that wrong.
British businessman Charles Lockwood was kidnapped twice by Argentina’s People’s Revolutionary Army, first in 1973 and again in 1975. In the first incident, his captors asked for $2 million. The second time the payoff was a massive $10 million. Add it all together and it’s nearly $57 million today.
Next: The People’s Revolutionary Army stayed busy in the 1970s.
4. Victor Samuelson
- Original ransom demand: $14.2 million
- Ransom in 2018 dollars: $71 million
Oil is big business, and demanding kidnapping ransoms for oil executives is a lucrative business for criminals. In 1974, Argentine guerrillas grabbed Victor Samuelson and held the Exxon executive for months. The captors released Samuelson when the company paid $10 million in cash and $4.2 million in supplies to the militants’ cause.
Next: Taking two brothers leads to astounding ransom payment for the Montoneros.
3. Jorge and Juan Born
- Original ransom demand: $60 million
- Ransom in 2018 dollars: $300.2 million
We saw how Argentina’s Montoneros group got a nice payday from kidnapping in item No. 9 on our list. That $3 million was nothing. The Montoneros kidnapped brothers Jorge and Juan Born, whose family business was an Argentina mainstay. The kidnapping happened in September of 1974 and the brothers were released nine months later after the $60 million was paid. That amount equates to more than $300 million today.
Next: Our kidnapping list heads to the eastern hemisphere.
2. Walter Kwok
- Original ransom demand: $77 million
- Ransom in 2018 dollars: $118.3 million
One man is responsible for the final two entries on our list. The Chinese gangster Big Spender earned a big ransom payment for the kidnapping at No. 1 on our list. He apparently liked that payday so much he later abducted billionaire Walter Kwok in Hong Kong and held him for a $77 million ransom in 1997. A few days later, Big Spender got his money, which equates to more than $118 million today.
Next: Big Spender gets a big suitcase full of cash with this kidnapping.
1. Victor Li
- Original ransom demand: $134 million
- Ransom in 2018 dollars: $210.6 million
We just saw how Chinese gangster Big Spender earned a tidy kidnapping ransom sum for the abduction of Walter Kwok in 1997. He made nearly twice as much a year earlier when he kidnapped Victor Li, the son of businessman Li Ka-shing. The kidnapping itself was brazen, but Big Spender apparently demanded the ransom in person at the elder Li’s house. The $1 billion in Hong Kong currency equaled $134 million then and more than $210 million today.
Next: Pay up ahead of time
How you can protect yourself
As we’ve seen, kidnapping ransoms can lead to some nice paydays for criminals. That’s great for the captors, but the captives and people paying probably wouldn’t agree. There are a few things anyone can do to reduce their kidnapping risk. The safest bet if you think you have a chance of being abducted? Kidnapping insurance. Almost every major insurer offers kidnapping insurance, including companies like AIG and Travelers. As we are about to see, however, even kidnapping insurance might not be enough protection in the 21st century.
Next: Why kidnapping insurance might not save you.
Kidnapping in the 21st century
With kidnappings, it used to be you abducted someone, demanded a ransom, and then collected (unless you were the kidnappers in The Big Lebowski). These days, the collection part is a lot different. Instead of getting a bag full of cash, criminals are demanding cryptocurrency payments. One kidnapping victim was ransomed for bitcoins in late 2017. With bitcoin and other virtual currencies gaining in popularity, some lawmakers expect more cryptocurrency kidnapping ransoms in the future.
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