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Helmsley Home Has Brought Bad Luck To Its Owners

April 19, 1988

GREENWICH, Conn. (AP) _ A 28-room mansion built as a wedding gift has gained a reputation of bringing bad luck to those who live there: Three of its residents have faced criminal charges, two have lost their fortunes and one killed himself.

The latest owners of Dunnellen Hall are real estate tycoons Harry and Leona Helmsley, who were indicted last week on New York state and federal tax charges.

″It wasn’t the happiest home,″ said Marjorie Rowe, president of Preferred Properties Inc., who handled two of the sales of the mansion. ″It seems as if some very wealthy people who lived there lost their fortunes. If the walls could talk ...″

The house sits on 26 acres in Greenwich, hometown to such notables as Donald Trump and Diana Ross. The average price of a home here is about $1 million, real estate agents say.

It was built in 1918 at a cost of $1 million for Daniel Grey Reid, president of the American Tin Plate Co., as a wedding gift for his daughter, Rhea. She married Henry J. Topping, son of John A. Topping, president of Republic Steel.

The estate, referred to locally as the ″Topping House,″ was named Dunnellen Hall by Rhea Reid Topping for her mother, Ella Dunn.

It was sold for the first time in 1950 to Loring Washburn, president of S.H. Pormeroy & Co., a steel fabricating company. But he suffered financial troubles and lost the house in 1963.

Others who have had trouble after they moved into the house were:

-Daniel Moran, a former New York City policeman who was married to Gregg Sherwood Dodge, a heiress to the Dodge automobile fortune. Moran shot and killed a busboy who apparently was trying to climb into the bedroom window of their Florida home in 1968. The slaying was ruled justifiable homicide.

Moran killed himself in 1977, although a judge would not say whether the shooting was intentional or accidental.

-Investor Jack Dick. He was indicted by a New York City grand jury on 46 counts of grand larceny and forgery for allegedly stealing $840,000 through the use of false documents to obtain a loan.

He pleaded innocent in 1971. The case was pending when he died suddenly in 1974 at the age of 46 while being driven to the estate by his chauffeur.

-Ravi Tikkoo, owner of the one of the world’s largest oil supertankers. He lost the bulk of his fortune during the OPEC oil embargo and petroleum shortages in the mid-1970s.

The Helmsleys, one of the world’s wealthiest couples at an estimated $1.4 billion and with a stake in the Empire State Building, bought the estate in 1983 for $11 million.

The Helmsleys pleaded innocent last week to charges in a 188-count New York state tax evasion indictment. They are accused by New York officials of avoiding taxes by claiming about $4 million in renovations to Dunnellen Hall as business expenses at their hotels.

The couple also face a 47-count federal indictment on similar charges.

Phyllis Parizek, a spokeswoman for the Connecticut Department of Revenue Services, said Monday that two auditors had been assigned to examine the Helmsleys’ finances.

Last week, Timothy F. Bannon, state commisioner of revenue services, said his investigators were taking a close look at the New York charges to determine if any Connecticut taxes were owed on items at the estate.

One of the Helmsley’s attorneys, Stephen Kaufman, said Monday that he thought the couple would not fall victim to the curse.

″I’m sure the Helmsley’s have broken the bad luck streak at Dunnnellen,″ Kaufman said.

Louis Duff, president of Duff Associates Inc., which handled the sale of the estate for Lynda Dick, widow of Jack Dick, said the property had been compared to a famous gem with a bad reputation.

″She (Lynda) said this place is like the Hope Diamond - everyone who ever owned it and lived here had bad luck,″ Duff said Monday. ″I argued with Lynda at the time, but I wouldn’t argue with her today.″

According to the book ″Diamonds Eternal,″ by Victor Argenzio, the gem was owned by Louis XVI, who went to guillotine with his wife. A Dutch cutter who changed the stone’s appearance had the stone stolen from him by his own son who later killed himself.

Turkish sultan Abdul Hamid II, lost his throne and had to abdicate shortly after aquiring stone in 1908, the book said.

Later, after Edward and Evalyn McLean acquired the stone, their first son was killed in an auto crash, and McLean was implicated in the Teapot Dome scandal and died in mental institution.

After Mrs. McLean’s death in 1947, the diamond was purchased by Harry Winston, who gave it to the current owner, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

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