Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Leona Helmsley: 'The Queen of Mean'

Striking Gold

Fifty-nine-year-old real estate mogul Harry Helmsley and proprietor of some of New York 's most reputable real estate companies had recently entered the residential market. Previously he had devoted most of his life to leasing and managing office space, one of his most famous business deals being the leasing and management of the Empire State Building. He also owned a handful of hotels, one of which included Manhattan 's exclusive Carlton House. However, in the mid 1960's he had become interested in cooperatives and the conversion of rental apartments into condos, since there was a great deal of money to be made in the area.

The Empire State Building
The Empire State Building

Leona was already a recognized pro in the selling and conversion of properties to cooperatives and condos and she decided to join one of Harry's residential real estate firms in 1969. She hoped that in taking the new position she might be able to make an even bigger dent in the real estate market. Moreover, she wanted to have access to the most prestigious properties that yielded the most money. It is believed that Leona also joined the firm so that she could get the chance to meet the "king of real estate" Harry Helmsley. Not surprisingly, Leona got her way. Although the accounts vary on how she actually met Harry, their introduction would forever change the course of both their lives.

According to Moss, the two would later claim that they met when Harry sought Leona out for her "fantastic selling techniques." However, Moss stated that it was more likely that Leona sought Harry out, being that she was the kind of person that would never wait for someone to come to her. In fact, it is believed that Leona actually arranged the meeting through a colleague of Harry's in early 1969.

Another version of the meeting between Leona and Harry is found in Ransdell Pierson's The Queen of Mean: On April 16, 1969, Leona went to the annual dinner of the Realty Foundation of New York, ostensibly determined to meet Harry Helmsley. She asked one of the other guests to point out Harry and within minutes, Harry "was leading Leona smoothly and gracefully across the dance floor in a perfect waltz."  A few weeks later she was working at a Helmsley subsidiary.

Video cover: The Queen of Mean
Video cover: The Queen of Mean

Regardless, Leona must have made an incredible impact on Harry. Shortly after their meeting Leona was propelled to the rank of senior vice president, putting her in control of cooperative sales. She would later prove to be invaluable to Harry in more ways than one.


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