Year
1989

The Queen of Mean is sentenced to the slammer

Leona Helmsley, nicknamed the “Queen of Mean” by the press, receives a four-year prison sentence, 750 hours of community service, and a $7.1 million tax fraud fine in New York. For many, Helmsley became the object of loathing and disgust when she quipped that “only the little people pay taxes.”

Leona’s husband, Harry, was one of the world’s wealthiest real estate moguls, with an estimated $5 billion to $10 billion in property holdings. The couple lived in a dazzling penthouse overlooking Central Park and also maintained an impressive mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut. Leona, who operated the Helmsley Palace on Madison Avenue, was severely disliked by her employees.

Though they lavishly furnished their homes and hotel, the Helmsleys were curiously diligent about evading the required payments and taxes for their purchases. Much of their personal furniture was written off as a business expense, and there were claims that the Helmsleys extorted free furnishings from their suppliers. Contractors were hardly ever paid on time-if at all-and many filed lawsuits to recover even just a portion of what they were owed. Leona reportedly also purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars of jewelry in New York City but insisted that empty boxes be sent to Connecticut so that she could avoid the sales tax.

Given her offensive personality, many were quite pleased by Leona’s legal troubles. Even celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz could not win her immunity from the law. Following her conviction, Federal Judge John Walker publicly reprimanded her, saying, “Your conduct was the product of naked greed [and] the arrogant belief that you were above the law.” Leona Helmsley was sent to jail in 1992 and was released in 1994. In 2002, Helmsley, whose husband Harry died in 1997, again found herself in court after being sued by Charles Bell, a former employee who accused Leona of firing him soley because he was homosexual. A jury ordered Helmsley to pay him more than $11 million in damages.

Helmsley died in August 2007 at age 87. She famously left $12 million to her dog, Trouble.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Da Vinci notebook sells for over 5 million

On this day in 1980, American oil tycoon Armand Hammer pays $5,126,000 at auction for a notebook containing writings by the legendary artist Leonardo da Vinci. The manuscript, written around 1508, was one of some 30 similar books da Vinci produced during his lifetime on a variety ...read more

Mona Lisa recovered in Florence

Two years after it was stolen from the Louvre Museum in Paris, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece The Mona Lisa is recovered inside Italian waiter Vincenzo Peruggia’s hotel room in Florence. Peruggia had previously worked at the Louvre and had participated in the heist with a group ...read more

French soldiers killed in train accident

More than 500 French soldiers are killed when their train derails in Modane, France, on this day in 1917. The troops were returning from fighting World War I in Italy. There was ample warning that the conditions were dangerous, but the French officers ignored the expert advice ...read more

USS Panay sunk by Japanese

During the battle for Nanking in the Sino-Japanese War, the U.S. gunboat Panay is attacked and sunk by Japanese warplanes in Chinese waters. The American vessel, neutral in the Chinese-Japanese conflict, was escorting U.S. evacuees and three Standard Oil barges away from Nanking, ...read more

Father Flanagan establishes Boys Town

In Omaha, Nebraska, Father Edward J. Flanagan, a 31-year-old Irish priest, opens the doors to a home for troubled and neglected children, and six boys enter to seek a better life. Flanagan, who previously ran the Workingmen’s Hotel, a haven for down-and-out workers in Omaha, ...read more

Philippine soldiers depart South Vietnam

The Philippine Civic Action Group, a 1,350-man contingent from the Army of the Philippines, departs South Vietnam. The contingent was part of the Free World Military Forces, an effort by President Lyndon B. Johnson to enlist allies for the United States and South Vietnam. By ...read more

JFK memorial album sets record for sales

On this day in 1963, a vinyl long-playing record (“LP”) called John Fitzgerald Kennedy: A Memorial Album sets a record for album sales. A total of 4 million copies sold in the first six days of its release. The album, released on the Premier label, included recordings of some of ...read more

Cattle pioneer Charles Goodnight dies

Charles Goodnight, co-founder of one of the most important southwestern cattle-drive trails, dies on this day. He was 93 years old. Born in Illinois in 1836, Goodnight came to Texas with his family when he was nine years old, and he thrived in the rugged frontier environment. ...read more

Flaubert is born

French novelist Gustave Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary, is born on this day in 1821 in Rouen, France. Flaubert, the son of the chief surgeon of the hospital in Rouen, France, began writing stories in his teens. In 1840, he went to Paris to study law but failed his exams. ...read more

A young murderer is indicted

Fourteen-year-old Michael Carneal is indicted as an adult on three counts of murder and five counts of attempted murder for the shooting of his classmates at Heath High School in West Paducah, Kentucky. On December 1, Carneal pulled out a pistol and fired 11 shots into a group of ...read more

Stand Watie born

On this day in 1806, Confederate General Stand Watie is born near Rome, Georgia. Watie, a Cherokee Indian, survived the tribe’s Trail of Tears in the 1830s and became the only Native American to achieve the rank of general during the Civil War. Watie came from an influential ...read more