In August 2005, two of the most iconic pieces of Hollywood memorabilia — the Ruby Slippers worn by Dorothy in the 1939 MGM film, The Wizard of Oz — were snatched from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, MN, after closing time in a classic smash-and-grab event.
There was no surveillance video of the crime, and the only clue left behind was a single red sequin amidst a sea of busted plexiglass.
MGM’s chief costume designer Gilbert Adrian had created multiple pairs of Ruby Slippers to be worn by child star Garland during the filming, but only four pairs are known to still exist. Each of the pairs is believed to be worth $3 million or more if ever offered at auction.
The case finally broke in the summer of 2017, when an individual approached the company that had originally insured the slippers for $1 million and said he had information on how they could be returned.
After a yearlong investigation coordinated by FBI field offices in Chicago, Atlanta and Miami, the slippers were secured during an undercover operation in Minneapolis. Although the Ruby Slippers had been recovered, the investigation was classified as "ongoing" because the FBI was still seeking those responsible for the 2005 heist.
“We reached the first goal, the recovery, and it’s a great day,” North Dakota United States Attorney Christopher Myers said at the time. “But we’re not done.”
Now, federal authorities believe they've got their man.
Last week, a federal grand jury returned an indictment against 76-year-old Minnesota resident Terry Martin for the "theft of an object of cultural heritage from the care, custody, or control of a museum." Martin is charged with one count of theft of major artwork.
The indictment alleges that it was Martin who stole the authentic pair of ruby slippers from the Judy Garland Museum. The investigation has been conducted by the FBI’s Minneapolis Division.
Before announcing the recovery in 2018, the FBI had sent the sequined shoes to the Smithsonian for verification. As many people know, a similar pair Ruby Slippers has been one of the most popular attractions at the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.
The pair had been pulled from its exhibit in 2016 to undergo conservation care funded by a Kickstarter campaign. Smithsonian objects conservator Dawn Wallace had spent more than 200 hours examining the the slippers and was intimately familiar with every detail.
Wallace confirmed that the FBI’s pair was the real deal, but in a surprising turn of events revealed that the pair that had been donated anonymously to the Smithsonian in 1979 was mismatched. The left and right shoes were of different sizes. The heel caps and bows on each shoe were not identical.
What’s more striking is that the FBI’s recovered pair had the same issues. When the four shoes were laid side by side, two identical pairs were temporarily united.
The Smithsonian believes that the mix-up may have occurred in the run-up to a 1970 auction of MGM costumes and memorabilia. That’s when the Smithsonian’s pair was originally obtained and could have been confused with the other pair because all four shoes had felt bottoms and were intended for dance sequences.
Interestingly, there are no rubies on Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers. In fact, the bugle beads that prop designers used to simulate ruby proved to be too heavy. The solution was to replace most of the bugle beads with sequins, 2,300 on each slipper. The butterfly-shaped bow on the front of each shoe features red bugle beads outlined in red glass rhinestones in silver settings.
While the FBI maintains custody of the recovered pair of Ruby Slippers, the Smithsonian's pair is currently the centerpiece of an exhibit at the National Museum of American History called "Entertainment Nation." Other items in the exhibit include Prince’s guitar and Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves.
Credits: Images courtesy of Smithsonian.