A Godfather Delivers a Ransom Payment

‘An interesting sort of job.’

September 2023

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William Newsom III

THE FERRYMAN: Newsom. Courtesy Newsom Family

When John Paul Getty III was kidnapped in Italy in July 1973, his grandfather J. Paul Getty initially refused to pay for the teenager’s release. The oil tycoon agreed to turn over $2.2 million several months later and only after the kidnappers severed the boy’s ear and mailed it to the family. (J. Paul Getty Jr., the teen’s dad, paid an additional sum, which he borrowed from Getty Sr.) Getty Jr.’s good friend William Newsom III, JD ’61, MA ’63, then a lawyer in Tahoe City, Calif., helped deliver the ransom. Newsom was John Paul Getty III’s godfather, represented the boy’s parents in their divorce, and managed trusts for the Getty family. In an oral history, Newsom described the ransom delivery as “an interesting sort of job”; he went on to have others. Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him as a judge on the Placer County Superior Court in 1975 and to a California appellate court in 1978. (Newsom’s son, Gavin, would succeed Brown in 2019, after Brown’s second stint as California’s governor.) In 1995, Newsom retired to work full time for the Getty family, whom he described as “almost an extension of my own.” He died in 2018.

Rebecca Beyer is a Boston-area journalist. Email her at stanford.magazine@stanford.edu.

Vintage 1973 Collection

Stanford is 50! It turns out we’re not the only one. Walk with us down memory lane as we sample some of the wonders and horrors of the 1973–74 academic year on the Farm, and in the world around.

Start the Presses

Were Golden

89 Rodins Find a New Home

A Godfather Delivers a Ransom Payment

A Splashy Debut

The Winds of Freedom

SLE Club

‘Until the Birds Took Over the Singing’

The Poet and the Coup

Steps Toward Saving Salamanders Are Set in Motion

A Sequel for Supersonic Flight?

The First Stanford Astronaut Returns from Space

The End of the Nursing Education Era

Keepers of the Flame

50 Years After the Stanford Murders, Three of Four Families Have Answers

A Classic Is Released

A Young Lawyer Wins an Educational Equity Case

Joining the Force


The Axe Is Stolen One Last Time

Fit to Be Tried

For Commencement Speaker, a Watergate Special Prosecutor

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