10 Highest Ransoms Ever Paid
Hollywood may have you believe that the best course of action is to never negotiate with terrorists or kidnappers, but sometimes there just is no other way. In the case of loved ones or VIPs, sometimes there is no fee too big to guarantee their survival and safety. In this Top 10 list, we will look at the highest ransoms ever paid. (Some pictures are reenactments or "visuals" of the original victims)
Jorge and Juan Born
Chalk another heavy haul for the Montonerros with the kidnapping of Jorge and Juan Born. The two brothers earned their own keep by grain trading in Argentina, becoming quite wealthy through their venture. The Montonerros took notice to the sibling’s wealth and decided to act on Sept 19th, 1974. The leftists killed the Born’s driver and a business associate and kidnapped the two. After nine months, the brothers were released when the Montonerros received a ransom of 60 million dollars, or $302.8 million by today’s standards, making it the largest ransom ever paid in recorded history.
Much like Walter Kwok, Victor Li was the son of a wealthy businessman in China. Also like Kwok, though a year earlier, Li would find himself as a captor of notorious China gangster, the Big Spender. Beyond his father’s money, Li held no specific significance to the Big Spender, but he did net the gangster a ransom of 134 million dollars, a whopping 201 million dollars in today’s market. In 2006, Li was reported to have a net worth of 730 million dollars. Surely, had he not been executed in 2000, the Big Spender may have taken an interest in Li once again.
For a whopping 77 million dollars in 1997 – roughly 110 million dollars by today’s standard, Walter Kwok was released from the grip of a notorious Chinese gangster Cheung Chi Keung, also known as the Big Spender. Kwok himself held no significance, besides that he was the son of one of China’s wealthiest businessmen, Kwok Tak-Sang. After his kidnapping, Walter’s psychological state brought him to step away from the family’s company, Sun Hung Kai Properties. Speculation has it that he was ousted from the company, which lead to him providing authorities with information regarding the companies more illegal dealings.
In 1974, oil refinery manager, Victor Samuelson, fell into the hands of Argentina’s infamous People’s Revolutionary Army. After 98 days of holding Samuelson captive, the manager’s employer, Esso Argentina, a subsidiary of the oil and gas corporation Exxon, doled out a ransom of 14.2 million dollars after threats to execute their captive came from the PRA. At the time, the amount, which equals 68 million dollars today, broke records as the highest ransom paid.
Talk about having bad luck. Over a span of 26 months, Charles Lockwood, a Roberts executive, found himself in the hands of the People’s Revolutionary Army of Argentina. The activist had a long list of accomplishments, but they stand to be the only group to kidnap the same person twice. In June of 1973, Charles was picked up and released after a 2 million dollar ransom was paid. A little over two years later in July of 1975, the executive was kidnapped again. This time, his ransom was increased to 10 million dollars. A total of $12 million, or $52.9 million by today’s numbers, was paid to have Lockwood released from his captors.
Not every ransom paid has a happy ending. In 1974, Patty Hearst, the heiress to the Hearst media conglomerate, and her boyfriend, Steven Weed, were kidnapped by the left-wing Symbionese Liberation Army. Initial demands by the SLA were that Patty’s father, Randolph Hearst, distribute an exorbitant amount of food to the poor people of California. Randolph responded with a program of food distribution, “People in Need”, that cost 6 million dollars or 28.7 million today, to implement. Rather than release Patty, though, the SLA kept their captive, eventually turning her into one of their own.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s, Argentina played host to the Montonerros, a leftist urban guerrilla group that were responsible for their fare share of kidnappings with high price tags. Amongst one of their scores in 1975 was Enrique Metz, the Executive Manager of luxury car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz. Like the People’s Revolution Army, the Montonerros sought high-profile targets to guarantee high-dollar ransoms. In the case of Enrique Metz, the Montonerros walked away with 5 million dollars – 21.9 million dollars today.
John Paul Getty III
At the age of 16 in 1973, John Paul Getty III found himself in the hands of Calabrian bandits. As the grandson of the oil baron, Jean Paul Getty, it can be assumed that an exorbitant amount of money could be had from his kidnapping. Ironically, Getty’s capture was met with speculation and indifference. It was thought Getty faked his kidnapping to con money from his parents; that is until his severed ear was received by a Roman newspaper. The baron’s lowered the ransom from 17 million to 3, and Getty’s grandfather was only willing to pay 2.2 million, the maximum tax-deductible amount. The rest of the money came as a loan from Getty’s grandfather to his father with an interest rate of 4%. Today, Getty’s release would have cost 15.9 million dollars.
John R. Thompson
The People’s Revolutionary Army, a branch of the Argentinian Worker’s Revolutionary Party, has been responsible for many kidnappings over time. They often targeted politicians, foreign officials, and security forces to make statements of their power, but they were also known to go after heavy hitters in the trade industries. In June of 1973, they kidnapped the President and General Manager of Firestone Tire and Rubber Company’s Buenos Aires subsidiary, John R. Thompson, demanding a ransom equal to about 12.4 million today. The ransom was paid, adding to the plethora of money that the party had already accumulated.
Samuel Bronfman II
On the morning of Saturday, August 9th, 1975, Edgar M. Bronfman, head of the Seagrams distillery and North American chairman of the World Jewish Congress, received a phone call from his son, Samuel Bronfman the 2nd, saying that he had been kidnapped. Initial speculation would assume that his son’s kidnapping was in direct relation to his position at the WJC, but sometimes it really is just about the money. Initially asking for 4.6 million dollars, Bronfman’s captors lowered the ransom to 2.3 million dollars – approximately 11 million dollars by today’s standards. Edgar paid, but the money was returned shortly after New York City police and the FBI raided a Brooklyn apartment to find Samuel and his captors, a former fireman and former limousine operator.