- Wealth and prominence can render a person an attractive target for kidnappers seeking ransom or notoriety.
- Over the years, abductions of rich business magnates and famous executives have generated a burst of media coverage.
- Here are a few examples of high-profile people who became kidnapping victims.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
There’s a reason that kidnapping insurance is a thing.
Whether a kidnapper’s motive revolves around money or notoriety, the rich and famous often prove to be tempting targets for abduction.
Some of the people on this list survived their ordeals, either because of successful ransom payments, police raids, or circumstances that prompted their captors to release them. Unfortunately, others were senselessly killed, and a few have never been found.
Here’s a look at some of the most infamous kidnappings of millionaires and top executives:
A French industrialist gave his captors ‘Stockholm syndrome in reverse’
Baron Édouard-Jean Empain was a man who gave his kidnappers “Stockholm syndrome in reverse,” the BBC reported. That’s according to Alain Caillol, one of the men who kidnapped the multimillionaire in 1978.
The New York Times reported that the kidnappers sprung a trap on Empain – who ran the French‐Belgian Empain‐Schneider industrial group – in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe. The group of abductors blocked Empain’s limousine with a truck, van, and motorcycle, and grabbed their target.
Despite the fact that he garnered sympathy from kidnappers, Empain’s captivity was reportedly brutal. According to France 24, he was tortured, starved, and kept chained in a basement in the suburbs of Paris. The kidnappers even sent his daughter the bloody tip of his finger, The Times reported.
The businessman was freed after Caillol was captured and another abductor was killed by police during a botched ransom pickup. Caillol persuaded the rest of the kidnapping gang to release Empain unharmed, according to the BBC.
Empain was found wandering the streets of Paris in a disoriented state after 63 days of captivity.
The head of one of Hong Kong’s most powerful companies has never been found
The Hong Kong business magnate Teddy Wang survived a number of kidnappings over the course of his career, according to Post Magazine.
Wang was the chairman of Chinachem Group, a powerful real-estate-development firm. His wealth – Post Magazine estimates that his net worth was about $US7.5 billion at the time – put him at risk for kidnappers seeking a major payout.
But when a group seized the businessman from his Mercedes on April 10, 1999, they reportedly did not keep him alive in order to barter for a ransom. Forbes reported that the gang of abductors bundled Wang onto a sampan and threw him into the sea, bound and gagged.
Wang’s body was never found, and he was declared legally dead in 1999. However, his wife, Nina, who replaced her husband as the chair of Chinachem, reportedly never gave up searching for Wang.
Post Magazine reported that she funded a search that endured long after she died in 2007.
A kidnapper tormented the family of a top Dutch grocery executive for months
Gerrit Jan Heijn was an integral member of his family’s multimillion-dollar business.
Heijn’s grandfather Albert Heijn had founded a Dutch grocery store in 1887, which would ultimately spawn the retail giant Ahold. Today, the holding company owns US grocers such as Food Lion, Giant, and Stop & Shop.
The founder’s grandsons took on leadership roles within the company. Albert Heijn Jr. became CEO, while Gerrit Jan Heijn took on the role of vice president.
On September 9, 1987, a man named Ferdi Elsas kidnapped Heijn outside of his Haarlem, Netherlands, home. Over several months, Elsas accrued $US4 million in ransom payments from the family and even mailed Heijn’s loved ones a severed finger as proof of life, according to The Associated Press.
In January 1988, police captured Elsas by tracing the guilder notes used in the ransom payment. But it was too late to save Heijn. On the day of the abduction, Elsas drove his victim out into a remote forest, shot him in the head, and hid the body.
The Born brothers — both executives for a food-processing giant — were kidnapped in Argentina
Brothers Jorge and Juan Born were top-level executives for their family’s Buenos Aires-based multinational corporation in the 1970s.
Bunge & Born – now known as Bunge Limited – was an Argentine corporation that focused on processed foods, cereal exports, and commodity futures trading.
Because Jorge and Juan were sons of the company’s chairman, they were both the targets of a far-left Argentine terrorist group known as the Montoneros, which was known to kidnap businessmen.
The New York Times reported that the brothers – “heirs to one of the greatest Argentine fortunes” – were seized by the Montoneros on September 19, 1974. A Bunge & Born manager and a chauffeur were killed during the abduction.
The brothers were released only after the group received a $US60 million ransom.
Jorge, who was 41 at the time, and his younger brother Juan, who was then 40, were ultimately released unharmed. The kidnappings spurred the company to move its headquarters to Brazil and prompted family members to relocate elsewhere in South America and Europe, according to “The Impact of Globalization on Argentina and Chile.”
A German multimillionaire was abducted a few years after his nephew was kidnapped for ransom
The German businessman Jakub Fiszman was not the first person in his family to undergo the ordeal of a kidnapping. Just five years before his own disappearance, his nephew was abducted and held for ransom, The Guardian reported.
Unfortunately, while Fiszman’s nephew was released alive, Fiszman himself was not so lucky. The businessman was seized just outside his office in 1996, leaving behind traces of blood and a wristwatch, according to the Deseret News.
His family paid a $US2.6 million ransom, but Fiszman did not turn up.
Rainer Koerppen and his son, Sven Koerppen, were arrested and charged with the businessman’s murder, and his body was discovered in the mountains outside of Frankfurt.
An American candy multimillionaire vanished after a trip to the Mayo Clinic
The animal lover and philanthropist Helen Brach became a multimillionaire by marrying into the family that owned the E. J. Brach & Sons Candy Co. The New York Times reported that her estate was estimated to be worth as much as $US30 million in 1984.
After visiting the Mayo Clinic on February 17, 1977, the 65-year-old vanished without a trace. She was reportedly not seen on the flight she was supposed to take back home to Chicago.
Her disappearance – and likely abduction and killing – was later linked to the horse-killing scandal, according to The New York Times. This fraud involved stable owners killing expensive horses to collect insurance money.
The stable owner Richard Bailey had attempted to woo Brach into investing in horses. He was convicted for defrauding Brach and sentenced to 30 years in jail.
Police rescued the CEO of Heineken International in 1983
Heineken International CEO and chairman Freddy Heineken endured 21 days chained in an underground cell before police swooped in, according to The New York Times.
A gang of 24 Dutch people – all belonging to the same family – had seized the beer magnate and his chauffeur on November 9, 1983, at Heineken’s headquarters.
According to the New York Times, Heineken was abducted just after hosting a luncheon “given for policemen who foiled an attempt to extort millions from his brewery.”
The kidnappers had reportedly demanded a ransom of $US10 million for his release.
A husband and wife abducted and murdered an Exxon VP in 1992
Sidney Reso followed his usual morning routine on April 29, 1992.
According to the New York Daily News, the top Exxon International executive always took a moment to drive up to his mailbox and grab the newspaper at the start of the day.
But that morning, Reso was driving into an ambush. Arthur and Irene Seale grabbed Reso and pulled him into a van. Arthur shot the executive in the arm when he resisted.
The New York Times reported that the couple left Reso bound and gagged in a box in a self-storage facility. He died there four days later.
The Seales demanded $US18.5 million in ransom but never arrived to pick up the money. The FBI tracked the couple through a rental-car agency, and Reso’s body was discovered on June 28.
Arthur Seale was sentenced to 95 years in jail, according to the New York Daily News. His wife was released from prison in 2009.
Billionaire businessman and former Sears CEO Eddie Lampert talked his kidnappers into releasing him
On January 10, 2003, then Sears CEO Eddie Lampert was seized by four men in the garage of his Connecticut office.
His four kidnappers handcuffed him and held him in a Days Inn, according to Vanity Fair.
During Lampert’s captivity, his abductors reportedly spun a bizarre story that they were working at the behest of AutoZone executives. Lampert had previously taken a major stake in the auto-parts company and even pushed for a director position, according to The Street.
After negotiating a $US5 million ransom, Lampert somehow convinced his abductors to free him, promising to get them the money. According to Vanity Fair, the top Sears executive then walked into the nearest police station.
The four kidnappers were promptly arrested.
Gangster ‘Machine Gun Kelly’ abducted an oil tycoon from his weekly bridge game
“Machine Gun” George Kelly was one of the most infamous criminals of the Great Depression.
On July 12, 1933, Kelly launched one of his most brazen crimes when he drove up to the home of Charles F. Urschel, one of the richest men in Oklahoma at the time. Urschel, who’d made his fortune in oil, was playing a game of bridge with his wife and another couple.
According to the FBI’s recap of the case, Kelly and accomplices accosted the group and kidnapped the oil tycoon and his friend Walter Jarrett after they refused to reveal which one of them was, in fact, Urschel.
The Kelly gang let Jarrett go after checking Urschel’s wallet. A few weeks later, on July 30, Urschel was also released after his family paid a $US200,000 ransom.
Urschel had been blindfolded for much of the ordeal, but he was able to give the FBI crucial details about the gang’s hideout.
As the investigation heated up, Kelly and his wife, Kathryn, began sending the Urschel family threatening notes, but the FBI ultimately captured the couple on September 26 in Memphis.
The heir of the Coors fortune disappeared while heading to work
Adolph Coors III – who was called “Ad” by friends – was both the chairman and CEO of the beer giant Coors.
On February 9, 1960, escaped murderer Joseph Corbett Jr. confronted the beer magnate, who was on his way to work.
According to the book “The Death of an Heir,” Corbett planned to kidnap the CEO and father of four for ransom. But Coors fought back.
Corbett shot him to death in the struggle but still penned a letter demanding a $US500,000 ransom in exchange for Coors’ release. The ruse fell apart when Coors’ remains were discovered on September 11, 1960, according to the FBI.
Corbett was arrested that year and convicted of murder. He was released in 1980 and maintained his innocence until his death in 2009.