The Top 15 Most Famous Kidnappings

When kidnapping cases do capture the public eye, too often they are sensationalized rather than studied. Here are 15 of the most famous kidnappings.

One of the worst aspects of one of society’s worst crimes is kidnapping and how often incidents fail to achieve significant recognition in the public eye. We seem more concerned with a celebrity’s divorce or a politician’s philandering than we do with the actual drama of a family’s missing child or an adult’s sudden disappearance.

Who outside of Cleveland knew of the plight of those three women missing for all those years until after their dramatic escape, for example? Just consider these most famous kidnapping cases.

Here are the 15 most famous kidnappings of all time. 

15.) The 1976 Chowchilla School Bus Kidnapping

a group of young children getting on the schoolbus

Stuart Monk / Shutterstock

On July 15, 1975, three men in their 20s kidnapped a bus with 26 school kids in Chowchilla, California. The men demanded $5 million in ransom.

The driver emerged the hero as he rallied children to their escape.

14.) John Paul Getty III

john paul getty iii


Paul Getty’s 16-year-old grandson John Paul Getty III was kidnapped off the street of Rome on July 10, 1973.

Getty refund to pay $17 million for his return which resulted in his grandson being held captive for 5 months.

13.) Samuel Bronfman

samuel bronfman


In 1975  Samuel Bronfman, the son of Seagram tycoon Edgar Bronfman, Sr. was kidnapped by Mel Patrick Lynch. Samual Bronfman then delivered his own ransom demand via audiotape.

His father paid the $2.3 million ransom, but Dominic Byrne claimed that the kidnapping was a setup so that Lynch and Bronfman could extract money from his father.


12.) Aldo Moro

aldo moro


In 1978, Aldo Moro, a distinguished Italian politician, was abducted by a revolutionary group known as the Red Brigades.

After demands weren’t met, Moro was wrapped up in a blanket, shot ten times, and dumped in the trunk of a Renault.


11.) Michelle Knight

michelle knight


Michelle Knight was kidnapped from Cleveland by  Ariel Castro.

Casto took Knight to his home and lued her into the basement where he retrained her. In May 2013 she was freed along with 2 other women.

10.) Amanda Berry

Amanda Berry


Another victim of Castro was Amanda Berry. Amanda was kidnapped in April 2003 when she was only 16.

Berry gave birth to a daughter in the home and DNA evidence confirmed that Castro was the father.

9.) Colleen Stan

colleen stan


Colleen Stan was 20 years old when Cameron and Janice Hooker kidnaped her.

Stan was held captive for over 7 years and kept as a sex slave.

8.) Adam Walsh

adam walsh


At just 6 years old, Adam Walsh was kidnapped while shopping with his mother at a mall near their home in Hollywood, Florida.

2 weeks later a body was found in a canal in Ver Beach Florida, 120 miles away. The dental records confirmed it was Adam’s remains.

7.) Frank Sinatra, Jr.

frank sinatra jr.


After a night drenched in alcohol and Percodan, Barry Keenan kidnapped Frank Sinatra Jr from a hotel room in Lake, Nevada in 1963.

His father paid the $240,000 ransom, and an FBI agent dropped it off between two parked school buses in LA.

6.) Patty Hearst

Patty Hearst

kai hecker / Shutterstock

A group called the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) kidnapped 19-year-old publishing heiress Patty Hearst in 1974. Hearst was taken from her apartment in Berkeley, California.

Two months after the kidnapping, the SLA released a video to say that Hearst had joined their cause.

5.)  Ariel Castro, the Cleveland Kidnapper

ariel castro, the cleveland kidnapper


Fortunately for society at large, Ariel Castro is going to be spending the rest of his life in prison. He received an additional 1,000 years, just for good measure. That punishment is far from overly harsh for this monster, a man who kept three women imprisoned in his home for over a decade.

The victims, Michelle Knight, Georgina DeJesus and Amanda Berry, all escaped alive and are committed to moving on from their harrowing ordeal, but one can only imagine the permanent psychic damage this kidnapping rapist inflicted on these innocent people.

4.) Little Charley Ross

little charley ross


Charley Ross disappeared on July 1st, 1874, never to be seen again, but to briefly hold the hearts and minds of people all across America and even beyond. His kidnapping was the first widely sensationalized abduction in modern history.

Charley and his brother were lured into a carriage by men promising candy and other treats. The brother eventually hopped down from the carriage, but it was too late for little Charley. Soon ransom notes began arriving at the Ross home, demanding $20,000, a fortune at the time.

Mr. Ross went to the police for help, and the story soon leaked to the press, becoming a national story. Two men were killed during a burglary the next year and are considered the likely culprits, but Charley was never found and the case never really concluded.

3.) Jaycee Lee Dugard

jaycee dugard


Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped and held prisoner by Phillip and Nancy Garrido, two monsters now thankfully rotting in jail. Phillip Garrido snatched an 11-year-old Jaycee off the streets of Lake Tahoe, CA, in 1991. She was not seen again until 2009. During that time, Jaycee gave birth to two children fathered by her captor.

The Garrido’s story before Jaycee’s kidnapping bears mentioning: Phillip was a man with multiple convictions for both sexual and drug crimes. Nancy met and subsequently married him even though he was incarcerated at Leavenworth Penitentiary.

2.) Elizabeth Smart

elizabeth smart


Of all the remarkable details surrounding Elizabeth Smart’s kidnapping is that she seems to have been able to truly move on from her ordeal and blossom into a balanced, happy human being. Smart was kidnapped at the age of 14 and held for nearly a year by Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee (how do these people keep finding each other?).

Smart’s kidnapping ended when an alert viewer of the show America’s Most Wanted spotted her suspected captors—and Elizabeth herself, forced to wear a strange disguise—and alerted the police.

1.) The Lindbergh Baby

the lindbergh baby


The kidnapping of famous aviator Charles Lindbergh’s child captivated America in a way that few stories before it ever had. Charles Lindbergh Jr. was just shy of two years old when he went missing from the Lindbergh home in March of 1932.

Word soon spread about the case and everyone from politicians to known mobsters chimed in with advice and tips. Sadly, when Charles Jr. turned up two months later, he had already been dead for some time. A German ex-pat named Bruno Hauptmann was eventually charged with the kidnapping and murder and was executed in 1936, still claiming to be innocent of the crimes.