Being rich can get you into exclusive clubs. It can get you dinners and dates with the person of your choice. It can get your arrest record wiped clean. It can also get you kidnapped and held for ransom. While most of us focus on all the awesome that comes with being rich, the threat of having all that net worth used against you weighs heavily on the minds of many wealthy people. There is an entire industry devoted to security for the seriously well-off, and their need for protection is not actually that far-fetched. What's that old saying by Joseph Heller? "Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't after you." The ten wealthy families below learned this the hard way, when various family members were kidnapped and held for massive amounts of money. Here are their stories.
The Melchers Family
Family Worth: 460 Million Euros (approx. $573 million)
Ransom Amount: 660 Pounds of Cocaine
Claudia Melchers, the Dutch CEO of CMC Catering, was minding her own business in the house with her two children and a visiting neighbor, when three men burst into her home and grabbed her. It was September 12, 2005. The three men tied up her neighbor and Mrs. Melchers, jammed her into a plastic crate, and shoved her into a car. They left her neighbor, bound and gagged, and her children behind, and drove away with her. They reportedly took her to a bungalow park on the eastern side of the Netherlands, and demanded a ransom of 660 pounds of cocaine! It was believed that their ransom request was due to them needing a quick influx of cocaine, after a drug deal had gone south.
As the daughter of Hans Melchers, a successful Dutch businessman and the 36th richest person in the Netherlands, her kidnapping became the center of a major news frenzy. Interestingly, the kidnappers couldn't take the heat, and dropped her off, relatively unharmed, less than 48 hours later. The alleged kidnappers were later arrested and sentenced to up to 8 years in jail.
The Kaspersky Family
Family Worth: $700 Million
Ransom Amount: $4.5 Million
Ivan Kaspersky, the son of Evgeny Kaspersky, had aspirations to follow in his father's computer programming footsteps. Evgeny Kaspersky made his fortune in software development, and as the head of famed malware and anti-virus company, "Kaspersky", Evgeny Kaspersky was well known across the Russian Federation. In 2011, when Ivan was on his way to an internship, he was snatched by a group of men in a van. They held him captive, demanding $4.5 million for his release.
There are conflicting reports as to what happened next. Some have reported that Evgeny quietly paid the ransom off and handled most of the negotiation through his own security detail. The Russian police were only peripherally involved in the case. Other reports state that the Russian police and Evgeny's personal security team worked together to track Ivan down, and were able to rescue him. These reports say no ransom was paid. No matter which story is true, Ivan Kaspersky was eventually released, and returned home.
The Greenlease Family
Family Worth: $24 Million in 1953
Ransom Amount: $5.1 Million
Robert Greenlease, Sr. was the head of a major automobile empire. He had almost single-handedly introduced General Motors to middle America, and it had made him a very, very wealthy man. Mr. Greenlease and his wife had one adopted son, but then had a child of their own later in life. Their older son, Paul Robert Greenlease, attended Kemper Military School in Boonville, Missouri. One of his classmates at the military academy was a man named Carl Austin Hall. Hall saw the Greenlease family as an excellent way to change his lot in life, and began plotting a way to steal from them. Six-year-old Bobby Greenlease provided the perfect means.
A drug addict and alcoholic, Hall enlisted the help of his fellow addict and girlfriend, Bonnie Emily Brown Heady. Heady went to the Catholic school in Kansas City where Bobby was a student, Notre Dame de Sion, and met him outside after school. She told him and school administrators that she was his aunt and that his mother had suffered a heart attack. She was going to take him to his mother in the hospital. Bobby reportedly took her hand trustingly, and they walked off together. From there, Hall and Heady drove the boy out of Missouri to Johnson County, Kansas. There in a field, they attempted to strangle him. The rope was too short, so they ended up bludgeoning him into unconsciousness, and shooting him in the head. They then called his father and demand a $600,000 ransom ($5.1 million today). Greenlease, Sr. paid up, the largest sum paid for a kidnapping in history to that time. He then learned that his son was already dead. The pair of kidnappers were later apprehended, after they got cocky about spending their millions. Only half of the money was ever recovered, with many people speculating that local cops gave the money to the mob. Hall and Heady were executed via gas chamber on December 18, 1953.
The Piper Family
Family Worth: $5.7 million in 1972 (approx. $32 million today)
Ransom Amount: $5.7 Million
Harry "Bobby" Piper was the Chairman and CEO of the successful investment firm, Piper, Jaffray, and Hopwood, Inc. The company had been around for nearly 70 years and had weathered wars and The Great Depression, still managing to come out on top. Piper was married to Virginia Piper, by all accounts, an intelligent, dignified, surprisingly spunky woman. In July of 1972, while gardening outside of their home in Orono County, Minnesota, Virginia Piper was kidnapped. Her kidnappers demanded an astronomical sum at the time, $1 million ($5.7 million today). It is still the largest kidnap-for-ransom crime in FBI history.
The kidnappers gave very detailed instructions as to how the money was to be delivered, and they were adamant that it had to be hand-delivered by someone close to the firm of Piper, Jaffray, and Hopwood. Bobby Piper volunteered, and his children were forced to wonder if they were ever going to see either of their parents again. He delivered the money, and three days later, Virginia Piper was found, chained to a tree in Duluth, Minnesota. Though a small group of people were tried for the kidnapping and convicted, they were later acquitted. The money was never found. To this day, it remains a largely unsolved case. A book called, "Stolen from the Garden: The Kidnapping of Virginia Piper", by reporter William Swanson, was released in the fall of 2014. The book uses interviews and records from both the police and the family to construct how the essentially perfect crime was committed.
The Getty Family
Family Worth: Approx. $2 billion in the 70s
Ransom Amount: $21.2 Million
John Paul Getty III was born into a wealthy family. His grandfather was oil baron, Jean Paul Getty, and Getty III was the oldest of four children. He was expected to carry on his grandfather's and father's footsteps, but he rebelled. He grew up in boarding schools in Rome and England, and was expelled as a teenager for painting the hallway walls. Rather than return to England, he chose to stay in Italy, where he basically lived like a hobo, selling art and occasionally appearing in Italian films in bit parts.
While hanging out in Rome in the wee hours of July 10, 1973, he was kidnapped by a group of men. They delivered a ransom note to his father, by post, requiring $17 million for Getty III's release. John Paul Getty, Jr., asked his father for the money, but was refused. Getty, Sr. didn't want it to seem like he would pay astronomical sums to get his family members back. He had 14 other grandchildren and he didn't want to set that precedent. After his refusal, a second letter arrived with hair and a human ear in it. The note accompanying the grisly items said, "This is Paul's ear. If we don't get some money within 10 days, then the other other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits." They demanded a reduced sum of $3.2 million. Getty, Sr. loaned his son $2.2 million (approx. $21.2 million today) with the understanding that he would be paid back at 4% interest. He was only willing to give $2.2 million, as that was the largest amount that was tax deductible. John Paul Getty III was subsequently released. Nine of his kidnappers were later captured, but only two served time.
The Hearst Family
Family Wealth: Tens of billions
Ransom Amount: $400 Million. Paid $29 Million.
Patricia Campbell "Patty" Hearst" was born in to one of the great literary families of the United States. The granddaughter of the notorious publishing magnate, William Randolph Hearst, Patty Hearst grew up surrounded by the finer things in life. On February 4, 1974, when she was 19-years old, she was kidnapped by a group that would later identify themselves as the urban guerilla group the Symbionese Liberation Army. They group demanded that the Hearst family distribute $70 worth of food to every needy family in California. The cost of this was estimated at $400 million. Instead, Patty Hearst's father donated $6 million (approx. $29 million today) worth of food to the poor in the Bay Area. His action was met with scorn. The food was deemed of "poor quality" and Patty Hearst was not released.
Two months later, Hearst issued a statement, saying that she had joined the Symbionese Liberation Movement, and had changed her name to Tania. She was later arrested, after taking part in an armed bank robbery at a bank that was actually owned by her good friend's family. Psychologists and various experts on prisoners of war call her one of the most clear victims of Stockholm Syndrome ever. She was allegedly kept blindfolded and tied up in a small closet during her captivity, and was systematically physically and sexually abused. Her captors essentially brainwashed her in much the same way as many prisoners of war. After the bank robbery, she was sentenced to 35 years in jail. This was later reduced to two years by President Jimmy Carter, and she was officially pardoned by President Bill Clinton in 2001.
The Helu Family
Family Worth: $1.5 Billion
Ransom Amount: $48 Million
Alfredo Harp Helu was born in Mexico City, and is known for being the former owner of Banamex, the biggest bank in Latin America. Citigroup bought Banamex in 2001, and he was paid $1 billion. He also owns Avantel, the 2nd largest telecommunications conglomerate in Mexico.
In 1994, a group of kidnappers captured him, and demanded a ransom of $30 million ($48 million today). They held him for 106 days. In order to negotiate his release, his son, the family lawyer, and a priest went on national television and agreed to pay the money and to meet all of the kidnappers demands. Helu was subsequently let go, and is heavily involved in lobbying for legislation and law enforcement practices to prevent kidnappings.
The Kwok Family
Family Worth: $17 Billion
Ransom Amount: $110 Million
The Kwok family made their fortune in real estate. The family company, Sun Hung Kai Properties is Hong Kong's largest real estate developer. On September 30, 1997, Kwok Ping-sheung, Walter, the oldest of the Kwok siblings, was kidnapped by Cheung Tze-keung. Cheung Tze-keung, also known as "Big Spender", was a prominent gangster in the Hong Kong underworld. He reportedly kept Kwok blindfolded and imprisoned inside a wooden container. He was fed roast pork and rice at regular intervals. In the meantime, "Big Spender" demanded that the Kwok family pay him a ransom of $600 million HK dollars ($110 million US). The ransom was subsequently paid and delivered in 20 large carrier bags filled with 1,000 dollar notes. The money was transported via two Mercedes saloon cars, and the trade-off was made on a quiet side street, 7 days after Kwok's abduction.
"Big Spender" was later captured and was executed in 1998. The kidnapping took a major emotional and mental toll on Kwok, and he was never the same again. He retained the title of Chairman and CEO of Sun Hung Kai until he was forced to step down in 2010. His family felt that his decisions regarding the company were not in line with the company's best interests, and were heavily influenced by his mistress. They pointed to his diagnosis of bipolar disorder as their reason for ousting him. In 2012, his younger brothers were arrested for bribery.
The Li Family
Family Worth: $31.9 Billion
Ransom Amount: $200 Million
Sir Li Ka-Shing holds the distinction of being the richest person in Asia. Li, whose companies make up 15% of the market cap of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, began his professional career as a salesman. He then moved into plastics manufacturing, real estate, electricity, retail, asset management, internet technology, and a host of other money-making ventures. For someone who seems to have "The Midas Touch", he lives a surprisingly frugal lifestyle. Though he lives in an opulent home, he is known for wearing simple black dress shoes and inexpensive, commonly available accessories. He is also a major philanthropist, and has given away nearly $1.5 billion to various charitable organizations.
In 1996, his son, Victor Li, was kidnapped by the same man who snatched Walter Kwok one year later, the gangster, "Big Spender". Li paid $1 billion Hong Kong dollars (approx. $200 million) for the return of his son. Victor Li was returned relatively unharmed and is now the chairman of multiple major companies, including Cheung Kong Infrastructure, CK Life Sciences, Int'l, and Husky Energy, Inc.
The Born Family
Family Worth: Unknown
Ransom Amount: $289 Million
Juan and Jorge Born grew to prominence as grain traders and agri-business executives. As part of the major conglomerate, Bunge y Born, the pair of brothers were some of the wealthiest men in Argentina in the 70s. The company was perpetually in flux, as various family members fought for power over their vast empire of domestic textile, paint, chemical, fertilizer, and food processing companies. In 1974, everyone was forced to unite, when Juan and Jorge were kidnapped by the far-left terrorist group known as the Montonerros. They were held for the next nine months. They were in fact held captive in a known Argentine State Intelligence safehouse, due to inside negotiation by all the involved parties.
They were released after a $60 million ransom was paid (approx. $289 million today). Soon after, the entire company moved its headquarters to Sao Paolo, Brazil, for safety reasons. The kidnapping of two of Argentina's most wealthy citizens was one of the catalysts for the March 1976 Argentine coup.