1983: Technically, the 25th anniversary of Motown Records should have been celebrated in January 1984. That was only one of several details glossed over in staging the landmark television special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever. The special is perhaps best remembered for Michael Jackson’s performance of “Billie Jean,” which brought the house down and introduced much of the world to the “moonwalk.”
1986: Responding to a 911 call, police raid the Philadelphia home of Gary Heidnik and find an appalling crime scene. Six women were kidnapped and held in Heidnik’s basement. All were raped and tortured while the others were forced to watch. Heidnik had dismembered one of his victims, cooking parts of her body and feeding it to his other captives. He was found guilty and convicted of murder on July 1, 1988. He received the death sentence, and was executed on July 6, 1999. Heidnik was one the inspirations for the Buffalo Bill character in Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs.
1912: In Washington, D.C., Helen Taft, wife of President William Taft, and the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, plant two Yoshina cherry trees on the northern bank of the Potomac River, near the Jefferson Memorial. The event was held in celebration of a gift, by the Japanese government, of 3,020 cherry trees to the U.S. government.
1979: At 4 a.m., the worst accident in the history of the U.S. nuclear power industry begins when a pressure valve in the Unit-2 reactor at Three Mile Island fails to close. Cooling water, contaminated with radiation, drained from the open valve into adjoining buildings, and the core began to dangerously overheat. Human operators in the control room misread confusing and contradictory readings and shut off the emergency water system. The reactor was also shut down, but residual heat from the fission process was still being released. By early morning, the core had heated to over 4,000 degrees, just 1,000 degrees short of meltdown. In a meltdown scenario, the core melts, and deadly radiation drifts across the countryside, fatally sickening a potentially great number of people. Plant operators finally realized they needed to get water moving through the core again and restarted the pumps. The temperature began to drop, and pressure in the reactor was reduced. The reactor had come within less than an hour of a complete meltdown.
1973: Two months after the signing of the Vietnam peace agreement, the last U.S. combat troops leave South Vietnam as Hanoi frees the remaining American prisoners of war held in North Vietnam.
1981: John Hinckley, Jr. shoots President Ronald Reagan outside the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. Hinckley was armed with a .22 revolver with exploding bullets and was only 10 feet away from Reagan when he began shooting. Hinckley’s first shot hit press secretary James Brady and other shots wounded a police officer and a Secret Service agent. The final shot hit Reagan’s limo and then ricocheted into the President’s chest.
1995: Major League Baseball players are sent back to work after the longest strike in baseball history ends. Because of the strike, the 1994 World Series was cancelled. It was the first time baseball did not crown a champion in 89 years.