Being rich and famous is something that most of us can only dream of. While it may look like a walk in the park to have everything you could ever possibly want – it often comes at a price. If you’ve got something, there’s always someone that wants a piece of the pie, and they’re willing to do just about anything to get it.
Since the dawn of celebrity, there have been huge risks associated with being in the public eye. For a start, everyone knows that you have millions (sometimes billions) of dollars. Everyone also knows who is nearest and dearest to you. It doesn’t take long for criminals to realize that by staging a kidnapping, they can extort easy money from the families of those they hold captive in exchange for their safe return.
It’s the ugly side to being rich and famous that we don’t often talk about. Many wealthy families have endured hideous events at the hands of gangs or individuals looking to make a quick buck. While children are an obvious target, the kidnappings often turn to inescapable tragedy that no parent could ever recover from. We’ve done some research into the most-high profile cases of child abductions and adult abductions from some of the world’s wealthiest families. It’s not for the fainthearted.
15. IVAN KASPERSKY
If the name sounds familiar, then you’re right. Ivan Kaspersky is the son of the extraordinarily wealthy software developer, Eugene Kaspersky (think your Kaspersky Anti-Virus that keeps those pesky hackers away from your files). Six years ago in 2011, a gang of kidnappers looking to make a few million bucks managed to kidnap 20-year-old Ivan and held him for ransom in a Moscow home. Following a series of mistakes by his captors, he was found safe and well and the criminals were arrested. The police were able to trace their whereabouts by tracking a cell phone signal which they had called Kaspersky Sr. from. You’d think they would’ve thought of those details, wouldn’t you?
14. BOBBY GREENLEASE
Sometimes, there isn’t a happy ending. Sadly, this was the case for 6-year-old Bobby Greenlease, son of multi-millionaire automobile dealer Robert Cosgrove Greenlease. On September 28th 1953, drug addicts Carl Austin Hall and Bonnie Emily Brown Heady conspired to kidnap the innocent child. Heady pretended to be the boys aunt, and persuaded a nun at Bobby’s school to release him to her, stating a family emergency. Hall had been a prior classmate of Bobby’s father, and had been planning for years to victimize Greenlease’s family. The pair took Bobby across state lines into Kansas where they shot him dead with a revolver. After the killing, they demanded a ransom of $600,000 (that’s 5.6 million today). The Greenlease’s, desperate to save a son they didn’t know was already gone, paid the ransom. It didn’t take long for authorities to uncover the truth and the pair were tried and executed in 1953.
13. VIRGINIA PIPER
It’s not always children that are the target of ransom kidnappings, either. Often, the spouse or significant other is up for grabs too. In 1972, wife of Harry ‘Bobby’ Piper, (the CEO of the Minneapolis investment firm Piper, Jaffray and Hopwood) was taken when tending to the flowerbeds outside her home. Rather than being kept in a room or house somewhere, she was chained to a tree for two days straight in Jay Cooke State Park near Duluth. Kidnappers demanded $1,000,000 for Virginia’s safe release, which her husband paid. When the men received the money, they gave up her whereabouts. The assailants weren’t found until 1977, just days before the 5-year statute of limitations expired.
12. JOHN PAUL GETTY III
When trying to extort a few million dollars, some people will go to extreme lengths, this was the case with John Paul, grandson of Jean Paul Getty, the oil tycoon. In 1973 a then 16-year-old Getty was kidnapped from the Piazza Farnese in Rome. Kidnappers demanded a huge $17 million – just small change to Jean Paul, right? Unfortunately for the teenager, he was known for his rebellious nature and had even joked about staging his own kidnapping previously. With that in mind, his family didn’t take the ransom note seriously. When it became apparent that it wasn’t a joke, John Paul’s father asked Jean Paul for the money, but was refused. Becoming impatient, the kidnappers sliced the 16-year-old’s ear off and mailed it along with a lock of hair to a newspaper, with a note stating he would be mailed bit by bit until the ransom was paid. The ransom was paid and Getty was safely returned.
11. PATTY HEARST
Patty Hearst is the granddaughter of publishing powerhouse William Randolph Hearst. Being part of such a high-profile family often comes at a cost, and for Patty the price was feeding the poor. In 1974, the 19-year-old was beaten unconscious and taken from her apartment in California. A group called the SLA, a left-wing organization coordinated by a University of California professor, took responsibility for the kidnapping and demanded that Hearst’s family give $70 worth of food to every underprivileged family in California. The cost of that would’ve been around $400 million dollars. Patty’s father took out a loan and arranged a $2 million pound drop off of food to the Bay Area’s poor communities. However, this wasn’t enough for the assailants. In order to save herself, Patty agreed to become a member of the SLA, where she proceeded to operate with them. Eventually she was arrested and sentenced to 35 years for bank robbery. Quite the tale, isn’t it?
10. ALFREDO HARP HELU
It’s a risky business, kidnapping – it’s not an exact science. That being said, it’s generally a good idea that you avoid abducting the person who has main financial control over the estate (i.e. the money you want to get at). Assailants clearly didn’t think this was an issue when they went for Mexican businessman Alfredo Harp Helu. In 1994, Helu was held captive for 106 days in Mexico City. His release came after his son agreed in a televised broadcast to meet the demands of his captors. After his release, Helu became an advocate for putting an end to the kidnapping phenomenon in Mexico, as it was becoming more frequent.
9. WALTER KWOK
In 1990, Walter Kwok and his two brothers inherited the estate of Hong Kong’s largest real estate developer (and their father), sending him straight to the Forbes rich list. This didn’t go unnoticed by opportunists, and in 1997 Kwok was snatched by infamous gangster ‘Big Spender’ AKA Cheung Tze-keung. Kwok’s wife, Wendy managed to negotiate his release without police involvement. Although there was no official word of how much was paid from Kwok or his family, Tze-keung later claimed that he had been paid $600 million to release Kwok. Following his arrest for other crimes, he was executed in the People’s Republic of China in December 1998.
8. ALDO MORO
Aldo Moro was an Italian politician, very prominent in the public eye thanks to his term as the 28th Prime Minister from 1963-1968. Moro held the distinction of being one of the longest serving Prime Ministers of Italy since the war and therefore held a great deal of political weight. Arguably one of the most popular politicians in Italian history, even the love of his people couldn’t save Moro from being targeted by a militant organisation called the Red Brigades. In March 1978, the group of hoodlums killed his five bodyguards and snatched Moro from a street in Rome. The Red Brigades demanded the release of 16 of their own in exchange for the former PM, but the government wouldn’t compromise. His captors shot Moro ten times in the back of a car and left him for dead when their demands weren’t met.
7. FRANK SINATRA JR
The son of crooner Frank Sinatra and his wife Nancy, Frank was just 19 years old at the time of his abduction in 1968. The teenager was targeted by three men, Barry Keenan, Johnny Irwin and Joe Amster, who managed to kidnap him from room 417 at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. Desperate to have his son back, Frank Sr paid the $240,000 ransom. After being held captive for two days, Frank Jr was safely returned. The case was so high-profile at the time, that it prompted worldwide speculation that it was actually a publicity stunt to help Frank Jr’s burgeoning music career – although this was later dismissed. The three men were soon arrested and found guilty, although the mastermind behind the crime, Keenan, was declared legally insane.
6. CHARLES LINDBERGH JR.
It was a shocking and tragic story that shook the world in 1932. Charles Lindbergh Jr was the 20-month-old son of famous aviator, military officer and author (among other things) Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh was prominent in the public eye and often dubbed as an ‘America’s Hero’. The innocent child was snatched while he slept from the family home in New Jersey. The kidnapper left a ransom riddled with spelling errors, demanding $50,000 in a specific denomination. It also warned against any publicity or police involvement – however, the news soon spread quickly. Despite assurances from the kidnappers of the child’s safety after the ransom was paid, the body of the ill-fated toddler was found in a wooded area, two months after his abduction. The police managed to track down the kidnapper via the serial numbers on the dollars. Richard Hauptmann was arrested and found guilty of kidnap and murder. He was electrocuted in 1936.
5. KIM KARDASHIAN
While not strictly a kidnapping, reality star Kim Kardashian was targeted by assailants during the Paris fashion week in October 2016. In a highly thought out operation, the gang managed to enter the luxury apartment after dressing as police. They handcuffed the porter, then made their way into Kim’s apartment while she slept. Kardashian was held at gunpoint, before the men tied her up and put her in the bathtub while they ransacked the residence and took $10-million-dollars of jewelry. In later interviews Kim said she pleaded with the attackers to let her live, telling them that she had a family. It was one of the biggest news stories of 2016, prompting Kardashian to reassess her social media strategy.
4. CINDY BIRDSONG
Famous singer of Patti LaBelle and the Bluebells and The Supremes, Cindy Birdsong was abducted by her neighbor in 1969. Birdsong had returned home with her boyfriend when Charles L. Collier attacked the group at knife point, forcing the singer to tie up her boyfriend and an accompanying friend. He then forced Cindy into his car, where he proceeded to drive around for the best part of an hour with her. In a move of sheer bravery, Birdsong grabbed the knife by the blade and leaped from the car, as it drove at 40 miles per hour. Despite suffering some cuts and bruises, she managed to get away and call the police. Collier was caught four days later.
3. GEORGE CLOONEY
Taking a trip to war torn Sudan is risky at the best of times. Factor in that you’re a famous multi-millionaire actor, and you may as well walk around wearing a target. While filming A Journey to Darfur with his father, a group of children ambushed the group, carrying AK47’s. The group were held by force in their car as they went through a checkpoint, while the gang of youths searched the vehicle and the individuals, taking everything they wanted. While it may not have been an extended kidnapping, Clooney was left shaken by the experience. He later said he didn’t think the children recognized him, joking ‘they don’t have great TV out there.’
2. JENNIFER HUDSON’S FAMILY
Jennifer Hudson became an overnight sensation when she starred on American Idol in 2004. Although she came seventh, the star has gained widespread recognition for her talents. In 2008, Hudson suffered a great loss when her 57-year-old mother Darnell, 29-year-old brother Jason and 7-year-old nephew, Julian, were held hostage and then shot dead. The perpetrator was close to home – the killer, William Belfour was her sister’s estranged husband. He was arrested and charged with three counts of first-degree murder and home invasion, sentenced to three life terms and an additional 120 years. Desperate to see something positive come from the horrific events, Hudson and her family created The Hudson-King Foundation for Families of Slain Victims.
1. MEENAKSHI THAPAR
During April of 2012, Bollywood star Meenakshi Thapar was on the set of her latest film, Heroine. Amit Jaiswal and his girlfriend Preeti Surin were also working on the film when they overheard the Nepali beauty discussing the wealth of her family. They soon devised a plan to kidnap the actress and hold her for ransom. They demanded 1.5 million rupees for her return, approximately $29,000. Negotiating with her mother, they threatened to force Thapar into the porn industry if the money wasn’t paid. Desperate to see her daughter again, Thapar’s mother paid all that she had, 60,000 rupees. The claims Thapar had made regarding the wealth of her family were false. Once Jaiswal and Surin realized this, they killed Thapar. The two killers were identified and arrested when Thapar’s sim card was found in their possession.
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