The Truth About The Aldi Owner's Kidnapping

Because history loves punny coincidences, the first link in the AldI supermarket chain was built in a city that's literally synonymous with food. Founded in 1913 by Anna Albrecht, per Business Insider, Aldi began in the German city of Essen, whose name means both "to eat" and "food." The name Aldi comes from "Albrecht Discount." Unfortunately, the store's origin story isn't all rainbows and charming semantics. The tale of Aldi and the Albrechts is punctuated by hardship, pragmatic sacrifice, and the daunting drawbacks of success.

Anna opened Aldi because her husband, a coal miner named Karl, developed debilitating emphysema, according to the Guardian. After WWII, it became a go-to grocery for cash-strapped Germans. Anna's two sons, Theo and Karl, took the reins in 1948 and took Aldi to the next level. The Albrechts kept prices low by buying items in bulk from little-known sellers and selling fewer items than their competition to minimize waste. Aided by Germany's belt-tightening consumers, Aldi expanded to 15 locations by 1950. As business boomed, danger loomed, and in 1971 that danger abducted Theo Albrecht.

Dime-store abductors

As detailed by Today in History, in November 1971, Cilly Albricht, the wife of then-Aldi co-owner Theo Albricht, received a nightmarish demand over the phone. A voice informed her that her husband had been kidnapped and would later demand that the family fork over 7 million Deutschmarks — the equivalent of more than $3.9 million – to buy Theo's freedom. The Albrecht family surmised that a professional gang was behind the caper and police assembled their own gang of 70 investigators. Law enforcement laid low during the negotiations and the family handed over the cash as demanded.

This wasn't the work of a dangerous gang, though. The culprits turned out to be the Wet Bandits of abduction: convicted burglar Paul Kron, a.k.a. "Diamond Paul," and his former lawyer, Heinz Joachim Ollenburg, who had a bogus high school diploma. Per the Guardian, the kidnappers kept Theo in a wardrobe in Dusseldorf for 17 days and released him after their payday and split the cash.

Clearly still a diamond in the rough, Kron paid off his debts at an electrical appliance shop with some of the ransom money while Ollenburg fled to Mexico. They were caught, thanks to recordings of their voices played over the radio. However, millions of Deutschmarks were never recovered. Theo might never have fully recovered, either. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that he became a recluse after the kidnapping.