5 Celebrity Kidnapping Plots

Every kidnapping is a tragedy, but most involve people unfamiliar to the public. Occasionally, though, there are celebrity kidnappings on par with the Lindbergh baby and Patricia Hearst. Here are a few such crimes.

1. Shergar

Famous people haven't been the only targets of high-profile kidnappings; well-known animals aren't safe, either. Shergar was a dominant racehorse that won European Horse of the Year in 1981, the same year in which he won the prestigious Epsom Derby by a jaw-dropping 10 lengths. After he retired from racing and went out to stud, though, things got a little weird.

One morning in February 1983, a car rolled up outside the stallion's stable in County Kildare, Ireland. Six masked men jumped out and stuck guns in Shergar's handlers' faces. The group of men, some toting submachine guns, forced Shergar into a horse trailer and drove off. Cleverly, the kidnappers carried out the horse heist on the biggest livestock-trading day in Ireland, so it didn't look at all unusual for them to be hauling a horse trailer around.

The kidnappers called in hefty ransom demands, which only made sense given Shergar's 80,000-pound stud fee. The horse's ownership group didn't want to pay, though, since they felt forking over a ransom would only encourage future horse-nappings. After four days, the kidnappers quit calling, and despite a massive door-to-door hunt throughout Ireland no one ever saw Shergar again. The kidnappers have also eluded the police, although most observers agree that the IRA likely stole the horse and hoped to spend a five-million-pound ransom on guns.

2. Ruben Omar Romano

Professional athletes and their families are particularly high-profile kidnapping targets in poorer areas of the world. Ruben Omar Romano found out the hard way. Romano, a gifted midfielder who later became an embattled journeyman coach, was coaching Cruz Azul in Mexico when kidnappers dragged him into a car outside of the team's practice facility in July 2005.

Romano remained hostage in a dingy house in a low-rent district of Mexico City until September, when Mexico's Federal Investigative Agency rescued him and captured the kidnappers. Romano, for his part, took the whole ordeal in stride, saying, "The treatment was not bad. I'm not complaining. I was not mistreated."

His team wasn't quite as humane as the kidnappers, though. When Cruz Azul struggled upon Romano's return, the team gave him a pink slip in December after just 11 matches.

3. John Paul Getty III

Getty, the grandson of American oil tycoon John Paul Getty, spent a lot of time in Italy, where his father looked after the Italian parts of the family's oil interests. In 1973, the 17-year-old Getty was kidnapped and held for ransom. The elder Getty balked at paying the kidnappers, so they borrowed a tactic from Calabrian bandits of days gone by: they cut off Getty III's ear and mailed it to a newspaper in Rome, then sent photos of the boy missing his ear.

At this point, even the tight-fisted Getty squad decided they would pay the ransom lest the kidnappers follow through on their promise to send the boy back in pieces. John Paul III's dad secured the ransom money from the boy's grandfather, but only as a loan that he would have to pay back at 4% interest. (This was a typically classy move by Grandpa; the patriarch also remarked, "I have 14 other grandchildren. If I pay a penny of ransom, I'll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.") Once the kidnappers received the ransom, they released Getty, who was in fairly good shape with the exception of his missing ear. His son, actor Balthazar Getty, plays Tommy Walker on ABC's Brothers & Sisters, though it's been rumored that he may be dropped from the cast.

4. Adolph Coors III

Coors was the 45-year-old chairman of his family's brewing company when he disappeared on his way to his office in 1960. His hat and glasses were found near his abandoned still-running car outside of Denver, but there was no trace of Coors himself. The Coors family knew what it was like to be the focus of a kidnapping scheme; Adolph Coors II himself had been the intended target of kidnappers 27 years earlier. The family sat back and waited for the ransom demand to come in, as Coors II said, "They have something I want to buy "“ my son. The price is secondary."

Although the Coors family managed to stay calm, their story didn't have a happy ending. Seven months later Coors' body was discovered in the Rocky Mountain foothills, and police eventually caught his murderer, Joseph Corbett, Jr. Corbett, a former Fulbright scholar and escaped murderer from California, had spent two years planning to kidnap Coors and ransom him for $500,000. He ended up murdering Coors in the process, though, and when his typewriter and car were linked to the kidnapping and ransom notes, Corbett became one of the FBI's Most Wanted fugitives. He was finally apprehended in October 1960 in Vancouver.

5. Frank Sinatra, Jr.

In 1963, Sinatra, Jr. was working on following in his dad's footsteps, and he was actually having some success as a 19-year-old. He was traveling and playing shows with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra until kidnappers feigned a package delivery and abducted the young singer from his room at a Harrah's in Lake Tahoe.

The three-man gang of kidnappers wasn't going to win any awards for their brilliance, and the whole kidnapping was fairly farcical. The gang didn't have enough money for gas as they were ferreting Sinatra to their hideout in Burbank, California, so they had to borrow some cash from their hostage. Sinatra's father called a press conference and offered a million dollars for his son's return, but apparently the gang missed the message. When they called the elder Sinatra, they only asked for $240,000 in ransom.

Sinatra, Sr. paid them, and they released Sinatra, Jr. on the side of the road after two days of captivity. Once the boy got home, he was able to help investigators track the kidnappers by remembering what restaurants the food he'd been given came from and how many planes had flown over the safe house where he'd been held. Of course, the bumbling kidnappers didn't need any help getting caught. One of them, John Irwin, got so flustered that he confessed the whole thing to his brother, who talked Irwin into calling the police. Irwin then gave the police the scoop on his two accomplices, and all three spent time in jail.

Amazon's Best Cyber Monday Deals on Tablets, Wireless Headphones, Kitchen Appliances, and More

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Amazon

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11 Fascinating Facts About Mark Twain

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Mark Twain is widely considered the author of the first great American novel—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—but his rollicking tales aren’t the only legacy he left behind. His poignant quotes and witticisms have been told and retold (sometimes erroneously) over the last century and a half, and his volume of work speaks for itself. Over the course of his legendary career, Twain—real name Samuel Langhorne Clemens—wrote more than a dozen novels plus countless short stories and essays and still found time to invent new products, hang out with famous scientists, and look after a house full of cats.

1. Mark Twain is a nautical reference.

Like many of history’s literary greats, Mark Twain (né Samuel Langhorne Clemens) decided to assume an alias early on in his writing career. He tried out a few different names—Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, Sergeant Fathom, and, more plainly, Josh—before settling on Mark Twain, which means two fathoms (12 feet) deep in boating jargon. He got the idea while working as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River—a job he held for four years until the Civil War broke out in 1861, putting a halt to commerce. (However, another popular theory holds that he earned the nickname in a bar. According to reports in a couple of 19th-century newspapers, he’d walk into a pub and call out “mark twain!,” prompting the bartender to take a piece of chalk and make two marks on a wall for twain—two—drinks. Twain denied this version of events, though.)

2. In addition to being a steamboat pilot, Mark Twain also worked as a miner.

Shortly after his stint on The Big Muddy, Twain headed west with his brother to avoid having to fight in the war. He took up work as a miner in Virginia City, Nevada, but the job wasn't for him. (He described it as "hard and long and dismal.") Fortunately for Twain, he didn’t have to work there long. In 1862, he was offered his first writing job for Virginia City’s Territorial Enterprise newspaper, where he covered crime, politics, mining, and culture.

3. A story Mark Twain heard in a bar led to his “big break.”

Historic American Buildings Survey (Library of Congress), Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1864, Twain headed to Calaveras County, California in hopes of striking gold as a prospector (he didn’t). However, it was during his time here that he heard the bartender of the Angels Hotel in Angels Camp share an incredulous story about a frog-jumping contest. Twain recounted the tale in his own words in The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. It was published in 1865 in The New York Saturday Press and went on to receive national acclaim.

4. It took Mark Twain seven years to write The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Twain started writing the sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876, but he wasn’t too pleased with his progress. After writing about 400 pages, he told a friend he liked it "only tolerably well, as far as I have got, and may possibly pigeonhole or burn" the manuscript. He put the project on the back burner for several years and finally finished it in 1883 following a burst of inspiration.

5. Mark Twain invented a board game.

While Twain was putting off writing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he was busy working on a game he dubbed Memory Builder. It was originally supposed to be an outdoor game to help his children learn about England’s monarchs, but he ended up turning it into a board game to improve its chances of selling. However, after two years of work, it was still too convoluted to be marketable and required a vast knowledge of historical facts and dates. That didn’t stop him from patenting the game, though.

6. Mark Twain created "improved" scrapbooks and suspenders.

Memory Builder wasn't Twain's only invention; he also patented two other products. One was inspired by his love of scrapbooking, while the other came about from his hatred of suspenders. He designed a self-adhesive scrapbook that works like an envelope, which netted him about $50,000 in profits. His “improvement in adjustable and detachable straps for garments” also ended up being useful, but for an entirely different purpose than Twain originally intended. According to The Atlantic, “This clever invention only caught on for one snug garment: the bra. For those with little brassiere experience, not a button, nor a snap, but a clasp is all that secures that elastic band, which holds up women's breasts. So not-so-dexterous ladies and gents, you can thank Mark Twain for that."

7. Thomas Edison filmed Twain at home.

Only one video of Twain exists, and it was shot by none other than his close friend Thomas Edison. The footage was captured in 1909—one year before the author died—at Twain’s estate in Redding, Connecticut. He’s seen sporting a light-colored suit and his usual walrus mustache, and one scene shows him with his daughters, Clara and Jean. On a separate occasion that same year, Edison recorded Twain as he read stories into a phonograph, but those audio clips were destroyed in a fire. No other recording of Twain’s voice exists.

8. Mark Twain did wear white suits, but not as often as you might think.

Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

When you think of Mark Twain, you probably picture him in an all-white suit with a cigar or pipe hanging from his lips. It’s true that he was photographed in a white suit on several occasions, but he didn’t start this habit until later in life. According to The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, “In December 1906, he wore a white suit while appearing before a congressional committee regarding copyright. He did this for dramatic emphasis. Several times after that he wore white out of season for effect.” He also refused to trade his white clothes for “shapeless and degrading black ones” in the winter, no matter how cold it got. So take that, people who subscribe to the “no white after Labor Day” rule.

9. At one point, Mark Twain had 19 cats.

Twain really, really liked cats—so much so that he had 19 of them at one time. And if he was traveling, he would “rent” cats to keep him company. In fact, he had a much higher opinion of felines than humans, remarking, “If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.” He also had a talent for coming up with some great cat names; Beelzebub, Blatherskite, Buffalo Bill, Sour Mash, Zoroaster, Soapy Sal, Pestilence, Bambino, and Satan were just a few of the kitties in his brood.

10. Mark Twain probably didn’t say that thing you think he said.

Twain is one of the most misquoted authors in history. According to one quote wrongfully attributed to him, “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.” What Twain actually said was, “[He] was endowed with a stupidity which by the least little stretch would go around the globe four times and tie.” There are many, many examples of these.

11. Mark Twain accurately predicted when he would die.

When he was born on November 30, 1835, Halley’s Comet was visible from Earth. It appears roughly every 75 years, and Twain predicted he would die the next time it graced the sky. As he put it in 1909, “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’ Oh, I am looking forward to that.” He ended up passing away at his Connecticut home on April 21, 1910, one day after Halley’s Comet appeared in the sky once again.

This story has been updated for 2020.