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UES Socialite Held Hostage in 81st Street Mansion

An 88-year-old socialite and oil heiress is allegedly being held hostage in her East 81st Street home by her daughter, who also happens to be Uma Thurman’s half-sister, according to a bizarre lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court.

Once crowned “New York’s coolest grande dame,” Christophe de Menil was born in France and fled Europe when she was eight years old after the Nazis invaded. She ended up in New York by way of Houston, Texas, where the family’s personal collection of art is available for public viewing at the museum her mother Dominique opened in 1987, The Menil Collection.

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De Menil grew to become a notable East Side socialite, artist, jewelry designer, and friends with the likes of Merce Cunningham, Andy Warhol and Willem de Kooning. She married author Robert Thurman in the 1950s, but the couple divorced shortly after their daughter Taya Thurman was born in 1960.

Robert Thurman

Robert Thurman in 2014, by Christopher Michel

But today, de Menil is a prisoner in her own home. At least that is what Alina Morini – a “dear friend, confidant, and moral supporter [of de Menil for] over fifteen years” – claims.

Morini’s side of events is worth a read. She reportedly lived with de Menil at her home at 18 East 81st Street (The Seymour Strauss Mansion) for six years before being evicted by Thurman in February 2021. She returned to the home about a month later, at de Menil’s request, only to be arrested for trespassing after Thurman and her attorney “used personal influence with police brass to have Plaintiff [Morini] falsely arrested and imprisoned.”

Seymour Strauss Mansion Upper East Side

18 East 81st Street (Google Maps)

Morini is seeking $5 million in damages, “plus prejudgment interest, punitive damages, costs and disbursements of the action” for “damages including emotional distress, humiliation, and embarrassment.” And she may have some evidence to back her claims.

The lawsuit was filed with three exhibits. Two are handwritten notes purported to be written by de Menil. One note sought to revoke a power of attorney granted to Thurman. The other was written on the date Morini was arrested and states that de Menil wants Morini to live with her at the 81st Street address.

The third exhibit is a June 3, 2021 email from Nico Iliev, another friend of de Menil. The email was sent to “the Adult Protective Services office” and two investigators in the office of the Manhattan District attorney. It maintains that de Menil was forced into isolation at Thurman’s hand when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the city.

Fearing the deterioration of de Menil’s health, Iliev believes that his friend was coerced in April 2020 to change her will to include the once-estranged Thurman. Subsequently, all household staff members were dismissed, locks and door codes changed, laptop taken away, cameras installed, and phones disabled. “No one is allowed to visit Christophe (as we all call her) nor is she allowed to step outside of the house.”

Thurman’s attorney Sheila Tendy called Morini’s allegations “absolutely false,” according to the New York Post.
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