ITALY: Minus One Ear

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Truck Driver Antonio Tedesco was heading toward Salerno on the Italian autostrada shortly before dawn. Suddenly in the driving rain he saw a lone figure wildly waving his arms by the side of the road. Tedesco pulled to a stop, and the young man, weeping and drenched to the skin, told him: "I am a kidnaping captive. I need to get to a telephone to call my mother in Rome."

Moments later, the carabinieri arrived. "I am Paul Getty," he told them. "May I have a cigarette, please?" The police immediately noticed what the truck driver had not: the youth's right ear was missing.

Thus ended late last week the bizarre kidnaping case of the 17-year-old grandson of American Oil Billionaire J. Paul Getty. Weak and hungry, young Getty told the police he had been released five hours earlier and had wandered around in the rain trying to wave down passing cars. He said his kidnapers had kept him blindfolded and moved him from one hiding place to another in the rugged mountain region of Calabria in southern Italy during five months of captivity.

When Getty disappeared after a late night out in Rome last July 10, police were skeptical that he was a kidnap victim. Nobody had actually seen him captured, and police learned that the fun-loving youth had joked with friends about how easy it would be to stage his own kidnaping. Then, early in November, an envelope was delivered to the Rome daily Il Messaggero. It contained a lock of reddish hair and a severed human ear. "This is Paul's first ear," read a typewritten note. "If within ten days the family still believes that this is a joke mounted by him, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits."

Forensic specialists confirmed that the ear was Paul's. The grim evidence apparently also convinced the elder Getty, who until then had adamantly refused to give any ransom. In the end, he reportedly sent his personal emissary, a former CIA man, to negotiate the ransom and release. The payoff was estimated to be $2.8 million, considerably less than the $17 million originally demanded. Young Getty was saying little publicly about his experience last week. As his mother, former Actress Gail Harris, said shortly before his release, "He will need time to learn to believe in love and affection once again."