Special Report

Biggest Ransoms Ever Paid

Source: Jamie Squire / Getty Images

Kidnapping of John R. Thompson
> Year of kidnapping: 1973
> Victim’s occupation: President of Firestone
> Ransom amount: $3 million ($19 million in today’s money)
> Kidnapper: ERP revolutionary group

Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. executive John R. Thompson was abducted by the ERP – People’s Revolutionary Army – in Buenos Aires, in June of 1973 on his way to his office. He had been the fifth American executive kidnapped in Argentina in 1973. The guerrilla group asked for, and got, about $3 million, and Thompson was freed two-and-a-half weeks later.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Kidnapping of Patty Hearst
> Year of kidnapping: 1974
> Victim’s occupation: Heiress to the Hearst media conglomerate
> Ransom amount: $6 million ($34.2 million in today’s money)
> Kidnapper: Symbionese Liberation Army (Left-wing militants)

In one of the most famous kidnapping cases in U.S. history, Patty Hearst, heiress to the Hearst media fortune, was grabbed by the radical Symbionese Liberation Army in February of 1974. In lieu of cash ransom, the SLA demanded $70 worth of food be delivered to every needy Californian, which would have cost about $400 million (about $2.3 billion today). The Hearst family countered with a donation of food worth $2 million (about $11.4 million today) in the Bay Area. The SLA asked for another $6 million more in food, but this was never delivered.

During that time, the group brainwashed Hearst and she joined them. She took the nom de guerre Tania, and even participated in bank robberies. This was one of the first examples of Stockholm syndrome, in which kidnapped victims sympathize with their captors. The SLA’s leader and five members of the group were killed by police on May 17. Hearst eluded capture for more than a year but was eventually arrested in September of 1975. She was found guilty of bank robbery and sentenced to seven years. President Carter commuted her sentence after she served 21 months.

Source: Nathan Stirk / Getty Images

Kidnapping of Victor Samuelson
> Year of kidnapping: 1973
> Victim’s occupation: Refinery manager at Esso Argentina
> Ransom amount: $14.2 million ($69.4 million in today’s money)
> Kidnapper: ERP revolutionary group

Victor Samuelson, a refinery manager at the Exxon unit of Esso Argentina, was kidnapped by the People’s Revolutionary Army in December of 1973. After Exxon paid the ransom in March of 1974, Samuelson was freed on April 29.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Kidnapping of Jorge and Juan Born
> Year of kidnapping: 1974
> Victim’s occupation: Grain traders
> Ransom amount: $60 million ($293 million in today’s money)
> Kidnapper: Montoneros (Argentine terrorist group)

Left-wing guerrilla groups were very active in South America in the 1970s. Among them were the Argentine terrorists the Montoneros, a spinoff of the Peronist movement. They abducted brothers Jorge and Juan Born, wealthy grain traders, in September of 1974, and held them for several months before the ransom was paid. A driver and business associate were killed during the abduction. Mario Firmenich, leader of the group, fled the country, living in various places in Europe and Latin America before being captured in Brazil and extradited to Argentina. In 1987, he was found guilty in the kidnapping-murder case and sentenced to life in prison, but was pardoned in 1990. He is now a history teacher at the University of Barcelona.

Source: Bettmann / Bettmann via Getty Images

Kidnapping of Samuel Bronfman II
> Year of kidnapping: 1975
> Victim’s occupation: Heir to the Seagram distillery company
> Ransom amount: $2.3 million ($12 million in today’s money)
> Kidnapper: A former limo driver and a fireman

The kidnapping of Samuel Bronfman II, heir to the Seagram’s distillery fortune, was one of the most sensational episodes of the 1970s. He was abducted by two men who vowed to kill Bronfman’s father with cyanide bullets if the plan went awry. After the men were caught, they were cleared of kidnapping based on the testimony of one of the defendants, Mel Patrick Lynch, who said he and Samuel Bronfmam were lovers and that the younger Bronfman staged the abduction. In 2021, Peter DeBlasio, attorney for Lynch co-defendent Dominic Byrne, published a memoir in which he admitted that he’d known the defense strategy to be based on a lie.

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