His father, John Paul Getty jnr, had moved to Italy to run the Italian division of the Getty family's oil business. In 1964, he had divorced his wife, Abigail, the mother of his four children, and married a model, Talitha Pol. They immersed themselves in the hippy lifestyle, spending much of their time in England and Morocco, until she died from a heroin overdose in 1971. When his father moved back to England, Paul Getty stayed behind in Italy, enjoying a party lifestyle fueled by alcohol and drugs. He posed naked for a sex magazine, crashed various cars and motorcycles and was arrested for throwing a Molotov cocktail during a political demonstration. After he was kidnapped, and the ransom demand was received, his rebellious nature and bohemian lifestyle initially led members of his family to suspect that he had faked his own kidnap to extract money from his notoriously mean grandfather.
In fact, he was being held by a gang of criminals, blindfolded and chained to a post, in a series of caves and dilapidated shacks somewhere in the southern regions of Italy. When a second ransom demand was received, Getty jnr asked his father to pay for his son's release. He famously refused, saying that if he did so, all of his other 14 grandchildren would be at risk of kidnap. Finally, three months after the kidnapping, a third demand for a reduced amount of $3.2m was received, accompanied by a lock of hair, a severed ear, and a threat of further body parts to follow. This time, Getty snr. relented, after a fashion, and agreed to pay $2.2 million, the maximum allowable for tax relief, lending the remainder to his son at 4% interest.
Finally, after five months and the payment of a $3m ransom, Paul Getty was released and found wandering alone by a lorry driver on the Salerno-Reggio Calabria motorway, near Lauria in Basilicata.
Nine members of the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta mafia organisation were eventually prosecuted for the kidnap. However, only two were convicted, and the others walked free due to a lack of evidence.