Kidnapping Fact vs Fiction – K. J. Howe

Kimberley Howe

K. J. Howe, author of THE FREEDOM BROKER featuring kidnap and random expert Thea Paris, looks at kidnapping facts vs fiction.

Posted on February 23, 2017 in Guest Author
Tags: Freedom Broker, John Paul Getty III, K J Howe, Kidnap, Patty Hearst, Thrillerfest, thriller

I equate kidnapping to purgatory. When you’re a captive, you’re alive, but you’re not really living. You have no freedom to do as you wish, you can’t work towards your life goals or have any real life at all; you are at the mercy of others for absolutely everything. The reality is you need to find a way to endure the hardships of captivity, to combat the uncertainty and boredom, get through the days, weeks and potentially years until you are finally freed. That takes great patience, strength of character and determination.

Many literary experts expound that truth can be stranger than fiction, and to make fiction believable, one has to offer a logical reason for events. As the following real-life kidnapping cases demonstrate, sometimes there is no logic, no easy explanation for actual human behaviour.

John Paul Getty III

Getty Oil is an American-based company with operations across the world. John Paul Getty III grew up in Rome in the sixties, a rebellious young man who was expelled from his private school. His life changed instantly on 10 July 1973 when he was kidnapped.

Beware the boy who cried wolf. Getty had often joked that he should kidnap himself for financial reasons, so when the 17 million dollar ransom demand came in, many relatives scoffed at it thinking it had all been staged. The kidnappers sent another demand, but the Italian postal service went on strike and delayed its arrival. After several weeks, the family asked the patriarch, J. Paul, for the ransom, but he refused, worried that paying it could endanger his other grandchildren and make them targets.

Frustrated, the kidnappers send a lock of Getty’s hair and his severed ear, demanding a ransom of 3 million dollars along with a note that threatened to send the rebellious young man back to his family piece by piece. J. Paul finally agreed to pay, but only agreed to send 2 million dollars, the amount that was tax deductible. And he would only loan the money, expecting repayment with interest.

Getty was finally released the week before Christmas. Of the dozen kidnappers who were hiding him, only two were ever convicted. He had reconstructive surgery on his missing ear  but the experience scarred the young man forever. In the early eighties he was disabled as a result of a drug overdose, and he remained in poor health until he died in 2011.

He came from a wealthy family and became a target as a result. But when he was taken, no one believed it, and then no one wanted to part with the money. Only after extreme circumstances did he finally come home, but by then his life had been altered forever. Could a fiction writer get away with a story like this or would it be too incredulous?

Patty Hearst

The granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst, a newspaper magnate, Patty was kidnapped from the apartment she shared with her fiancée when she was nineteen in February 1974. Her kidnappers belonged to the Symbionese Liberation Army. The term symbionese refers to symbiosis, living together in interdependence and harmony – ironic, given the circumstances. The SLA wanted to trade Patty for the freedom of certain jailed SLA members. When this failed, they demanded that the Hearst family donate hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of food to the needy in California.

Patty’s family immediately donated 6 million dollars to groups that fed the poor in the Bay area. But the SLA refused to release Patty because they felt the food was of inferior quality. Two months later in April 1974, the SLA released a tape featuring Patty denouncing her former Western values and capitalism. She had now joined this militant group, and took on the name of ‘Tania’ after the name of Che Guevara’s comrade Tamara Bunke.

Later that month, Patty was caught on security footage participating in an SLA bank robbery in Los Angeles. The heiress toted an M1 carbine while shouting orders at bank customers who were now her captives. After a shootout and a police siege leading to the death of many SLA members, Patty was arrested in the autumn of 1975 along with several comrades. She served twenty-one months of a seven year sentence. President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence, and in 2001, she received a full pardon from President Bill Clinton. Hollywood even made a movie about Patty’s experience.

This case is a prime example of Stockholm syndrome, where captives develop trust, affection and empathy for their kidnappers. But would this story be believable to you as a reader? Could you imagine that an heiress with the world at her fingertips would turn on this gilded world to become a revolutionary in a few short months?

There are countless true stories of kidnappings that really stretch our imagination. But in fiction, are we hemmed in by tighter standards? Only the reader can be the judge.

The Freedom Broker K J Howe

K. J. Howe is the author of THE FREEDOM BROKER

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