A riveting, on-the-edge-of-your-seat tale about the notorious 1978 kidnapping of Baron Édouard-Jean “Wado” Empain, intertwined with the story of his famous grandfather, the first baron and builder of the Paris Métro. A multigenerational saga told against the backdrops of both Belle Époque and 1970s high-fashion Paris.
What does it take to create a dynasty? What does it take to keep one going? And what does it take to save the life of the dazzling but flawed man who inherited it all? Launched in the 1880s by the first baron, the Empain industrial empire spread from Belgium and France to span more than a dozen countries. When Wado took over, he further expanded the company, became a key player in France’s nuclear sector, and, by the mid-1970s, was one of the country’s most powerful business leaders—a self-described “master of the universe.” But these were also the “years of lead,” marked by a rash of high-profile kidnappings around the globe, including the headline-grabbing seizure of American heiress Patty Hearst.
Wado’s vertiginous rise caught the eye of Alain Cailloll, a small-time gangster who had grown up in a wealthy family before embracing a life of crime. On January 23, 1978, Caillol and his confederates snatched the baron off the Paris streets, sure that they’d get the 80 million francs they demanded in ransom. To show they meant business, they chopped off Wado’s little finger and warned that more body parts would follow.
But nothing unfolded as the kidnappers, or Wado himself, expected. Would Empain’s company pay? Could his family afford this astronomical sum? How much was the life of a leader, a father, and a husband worth? Most important, could a determined police chief and his crack investigators outsmart the kidnappers? The answers to those questions unspooled over two months in a tangle of events leading to a bloody showdown whose consequences would prove fatal to the Empain dynasty.