by Steve Ryfle
Letterman Scare Heightens Celeb Safety Fears
David Letterman's recent kidnap scare sent a shockwave through the entertainment world, with celebrities hiring more bodyguards and beefing up protection around their children. Unsavory types have threatened to abduct stars and their children for decades, but most of them have been foiled by Hollywood's penchant for elaborate security.
The alleged plan by a painter employed at Letterman's Montana ranch to kidnap the "Late Show" host's son and nanny is just the latest in a rash of star kidnap plots in recent years. And it's not just kids who have been threatened--the intended victims in some of these schemes include some names that may surprise you.
During the 2001 Oscar season, Russell Crowe should have been enjoying all the attention fawned upon him over "Gladiator," but instead he was worried sick over a plot to kidnap him. At the time, the news reports seemed like a joke, but it was no laughing matter. The FBI confirmed that it was investigating a serious threat to kidnap the New Zealand-born star, and tuxedo-clad security agents accompanied a glum-looking Crowe to the awards shows for protection. This month, Crowe named Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network as the source of the kidnap plot. In an interview published in Australia's GQ magazine, Crowe said FBI agents told him about it. "That was the first (time) I'd ever heard the phrase 'al Qaeda,' " Crowe said. "It was about -- and here's another little touch of irony -- taking iconographic Americans out of the picture as sort of a cultural destabilization plot."
In May 2004, Madonna
canceled a series of concerts in Israel after she received letters, reportedly from some unnamed Palestinian group, in which her two young children, Rocco and Lourdes, were threatened. The material mommy, who already had one hulking bodyguard on the payroll to guard the kids, "freaked out" after reading the letters, which contained intimate details about her kids and her personal staff, and she took the danger seriously.
Director Steven Spielberg was the target of a bizarre kidnap attempt by an obsessed fan in 1997. The fan, Jonathan Norman, had reportedly been stalking Spielberg for some time when he trespassed onto the fantasy film guru's Malibu estate and was nabbed by a guard. Police later found pictures of Spielberg and his family, duct tape, curtain rods, handcuffs and a utility knife in Norman's possession, and determined that he was planning to kidnap and rape the director. Norman, as it turned out, was a paranoid schizophrenic.
Victoria Beckham, a.k.a. Posh Spice, was the target of a 2002 kidnap-and-ransom plot that was foiled by British law enforcement, resulting in the arrest of five men. This was the second time Posh was targeted by kidnappers: another attempt to nab her, along with her son, Brooklyn, was foiled in 1999.
In 2001, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones hired ex-members of the U.S. and British special forces as bodyguards to protect their baby from a kidnapping threat. Douglas himself says that he was the intended victim in a kidnapping plot back in the 1950s, when he was just six years old. He told a British newspaper in 2001 that a couple of thugs once tried to nab him outside the New York apartment where he lived with dad Kirk Douglas, but he hid in the basement til the coast was clear.
Before the era of modern security, kidnappers actually succeeded in taking hostages once in a while-- sometimes with disastrous results.
Aviator Charles Lindbergh wasn't exactly a Hollywood star, but as the first guy to fly across the Atlantic, he was famous nonetheless, and the 1932 kidnapping of his infant son is one of the most infamous crimes in American history. The family paid the kidnappers a $70,000 ransom, but the kid was never returned as promised, and his dead body was later found about five miles from Lindbergh's New Jersey home.
Frank Sinatra Jr. was eating dinner in a Lake Tahoe hotel room when drug-crazed men kidnapped him at gunpoint, stuck him in the trunk of a car and then drove him to Los Angeles. Sinatra Sr. paid a $240,000 ransom and his son was freed, but the bumbling crooks were later caught and the money recovered. In court, the kidnappers claimed that Frank Jr. concocted the kidnap plan as a publicity stunt to boost his singing career; although the story was proven false, it dogged the son of the Chairman of the Board for years.
In 1973, 17-year-old Eugene Paul Getty II, son of billionaire Paul Getty and actress Gail Harris, was swiped by kidnappers while vacationing in Rome. At first, the boy's father refused to pay any ransom, not wanting to give in to extortionists. That changed when the crooks cut off one of the kid's ears and sent it to an Italian newspaper. Dad eventually paid an estimated $2 million ransom and the boy was returned, one ear missing.
Country music legend Tammy Wynette's kidnapping story has been doubted by even some of her fans. In 1978, Wynette was mysteriously abducted by a masked man outside a shopping center in Nashville. According to her version of events, she was locked in the trunk of her own car, driven 80 miles to some remote place, where she was beaten up and released. Some people speculate that the story was just a cover-up for a black eye that Wynette received from one of her many abusive husbands.
A few years ago, director John Waters spoofed celebrity kidnapping in "Cecil B. Demented," a humorous satire in which Melanie Griffith played an actress abducted by amateur filmmakers and forced to act in a low-budget movie. But in real-life Hollywood there's nothing funny about this potential danger, and stars are doing all they can to protect their families and themselves.