The 18 Largest Ransoms Ever Paid

patty hearstPatty Hearst (#6) was ransomed for $6 million in 1974.


You hear in movies how authorities “don’t negotiate with kidnappers,” but the truth is that ransoms often get paid.We’ve ranked the biggest ransoms of the modern era (adjusted for inflation).

Wealthy heirs, wealthy businessmen, and oil tankers have all been targeted. An incredible number of these cases came during a few years in the early 70s, especially in Argentina.

This list is missing cases where the ransom was not made public. It also leaves off pre-modern ransoms, including literal king’s ransoms, due to limits of available records.

#18 Bobby Greenlease Jr.

Ransomed for $600,000 in 1953.

Equivalent to $5.1 million today.

The 6-year-old son of one of Kansas City's richest men, Greenlease was captured from school by a man whose girlfriend pretended to be his aunt. The boy was quickly killed and buried in the girlfriend's backyard, but the duo was still able to make off with a ransom of $600,000 in tens and twenties.

Kidnappers Carl Austin Hall and Bonnie Brown Heady were caught days later after attracting attention through free spending. They confessed and were executed within months.

Most of the ransom money had been spent or gone missing.

#17 Ronald Grove

Ransomed for $1 million in 1972.

Equivalent to $5.48 million today.

Grove, one of the top employees at the Vesty meat packing company, was one of the many individuals captured by Argentine guerrillas ERP in the 1970s. He was the first person in the country to command a seven-figure ransom price.

#16 Vincenzo Russo

Ransomed for $1 million in 1972.

Equivalent to $5.48 million today.

The Argentine terrorist group Montoneros captured Russo, an ITT exec, a few days after Grove's kidnapping and demanded the same amount.

#15 Virginia Piper

Ransomed for $1 million in 1972.

Equivalent to $5.5 million today.

Virginia Piper, the wife of retired investment banker Harry C. Piper, was kidnapped by masked men from her Orono County, Minn. home. After Piper paid the then-record ransom, she was found chained to a tree in Duluth.

Two men were later arrested and convicted for the kidnapping, but the verdict was overturned.

#14 The crew of the Maran Centaurus oil tanker

Ransomed for $7 million in 2010.

Equivalent to $7.3 million today.

The Maran Centaurus, an oil tanker carrying $150 million worth of crude oil, was hijacked by Somali pirates in November of 2009. The 28-man crew was freed two months later when up to $7 million was air-dropped onto the tanker.

#13 Antony Da Cruz

Ransomed for $1.5 million in 1973.

Equivalent to $7.7 million today.

Da Cruz, a 42-year-old Kodak executive in Buenos Aires, was captured by guerrilla terrorists for six days as part of a rash of kidnappings in the country at the time. He was reportedly treated well and released when the photography giant paid up.

#12 Francis Brimicombe

Ransomed for $1.7 million in 1973.

Equivalent to $8.7 million today.

Brimicombe, the 57-year-old executive of the British American Tobacco company, lived in Argentina for 30 years before he was captured by a native terrorst group outside his home as he was returning from a golf outing. The group reportedly captured him to 'finance their underground activities.'

#11 The crew of the Samho Dream

Ransomed for $9 million in 2010.

Equivalent to $9.4 million today.

A year after the record-breaking Maran Centaurus ransom, Somali pirates took over a Korean supertanker in the Indian Ocean. The pirates held the 24-crew ship for 217 days until they received a payment of around $9 million.

#10 Samuel Bronfman the 2nd

Ransomed for $2.3 million in 1975.

Equivalent to $11.2 million today.

The 21-year-old heir to the Seagram distillery company was kidnapped and held for more than a week before his father paid the $2.3 million ransom.

A day later, however, the FBI and NYPD raided a Brooklyn apartment to rescue the boy. A former limo driver and a former fireman were arrested, and the ransom money was recovered.

#9 John R Thompson

Ransomed for $3 million in 1974

Equivalent to $13.9 million today.

Thompson, the 50-year-old president of Firestone, was kidnapped by Argentine guerrillas ERP. He was captured on June 18 and released about 2 1/2 weeks later.

#8 John Paul Getty III

Ransomed for $3 million in 1973.

Equivalent to $15.9 million today.

As a 16-year-old grandson of an oil baron, Getty was living a luxurious life in Italy when he was captured by Italian gangsters. They demanded a $17 million ransom for the boy. When that price was not met, Getty's captors cut off one of the teen's ears and mailed it to the Italian press.

When the kidnappers reduced the price to $3 million, the Getty family paid. Patriarch John Paul Getty reportedly paid only $2.2 million himself, which was the maximum amount that would be tax deductible, while his son paid for the rest.

#7 Enrique Metz

Ransomed in 1975 for $5 million.

Equivalent to $21.2 million today.

It wasn't quite the score the Argentine guerrilla group Montoneros got when it captured the Borns (see later) but this Mercedes Benz executive was still worth a fortune.

#6 Patty Hearst

Ransomed for $6 million in 1974.

Equivalent to $29.3 million today.

A sophomore at Cal Berkeley, the 19-year-old heiress to the Hearst media conglomerate and her boyfriend were kidnapped by left-wing militants known as the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA).

The SLA demanded that her family distribute $70 worth of food to every needy Californian, which would have cost an estimated $400 million. Hearst's father eventually distributed $6 million in food, but the kidnappers were unsatisfied, claiming the food was of low quality, and they refused to release his daughter

Later Patty would join the SLA, becoming the poster child for Stockholm Syndrome. And she'd get arrested (see attached mugshot).

#5 Charles Lockwood

Ransomed for $2 million in 1973 and for $10 million in 1975.

Equivalent to $52.9 million today.

Lockwood, a Roberts executive, was captured by the ERB Argentine group TWICE in a 26 month span, netting more than $50 million in today's money. Can you imagine what the company went through the second time he got captured?

#4 Victor Samuelson

Ransomed for $14.2 million in 1974.

Equivalent to $69.4 million today.

Esso Argentina (a subsidiary of Exxon) paid $14.2 million to rescue refinery manager Victor Samuelson from Marxist rebels after 98 days. The rebels, called the People's Revolutionary Army, had threatened to execute him for the 'crimes' of multinational corporations.

#3 Walter Kwok

Ransomed for nearly $77 million in 1997.

Equivalent to $110 million today.

The son of one of China's richest businessmen, Kwok was kidnapped by the notorious gangster known as the Big Spender. After the ransom was paid, Kwok was found alive in a wooden box in a village house.

rumours circulated that Kwok's younger brothers did not want to pay the ransom. Years later the family would splinter in a fight to control Sun Hung Kai Properties.

#2 Victor Li

Ransomed for $134 million in 1996.

Equivalent to $197 million today.

Victor Li, son of the Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka Shing, was kidnapped by--you guessed it--'Big Spender' Cheung Chi Keung. He was released after a nominal record payment of $134 million.

The gangster who kidnapped him would be arrested and executed in 2000.

#1 Jorge and Juan Born

Ransomed for $60 million in 1974.

Equivalent to $293 million today.

Wealthy Argentine grain traders and brothers Jorge and Juan Born were kidnapped by the far-left terrorist group Montonerros. Nine months later they were released after payment of a huge $60 million ransom.

Their company Bunge y Born relocated shortly to Sao Paolo, Brazil to escape domestic strife.


We're not counting pre-modern ransoms due to limited records and various complications, but we had to mention King Richard the Lionheart.

Ransomed for 150,000 marks in 1190.

Equivalent to $3.3 billion today*

King Richard was sailing back from the Crusades when bad weather forced him to land in unfriendly territory at Corfu. Richard and his men disguised as Knights Templar and made their way back to central Europe. But while passing through Vienna he was identified either by his expensive ring or his insistence on eating roast chicken and captured by the unfriendly Leopold V, Duke of Austria.

The Duke demanded a ransom of 150,000 marks, 2-3 times the annual revenue of England. Around one year later the ransom was paid.

This sort of stuff was common in the era.

*Based on the estimate of historian John Hudson and converted to dollars and adjusted for inflation.

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