Man pleads guilty to stealing ‘Wizard of Oz’ ruby slippers from Minnesota museum in 2005

The slippers, recovered in 2018 by the FBI, were insured for $1 million, but federal prosecutors put the current market value at about $3.5 million when they announced the indictment

The pair of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in the 'The Wizard of Oz.'
The pair of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in the 'The Wizard of Oz.'ACADEMY MUSEUM FOUNDATION

A man charged with the museum heist of a pair of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in the “The Wizard of Oz” pleaded guilty Friday, pulling back the curtain on a whodunit mystery dating back 18 years. Terry Jon Martin, 76, was indicted in May on one count of theft of a major artwork. The shoes from the film were stolen in 2005 from the Judy Garland Museum in the late actor’s hometown of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and recovered in 2018 by the FBI.

No one was arrested until Martin, who lives near Grand Rapids, was charged this year. Martin’s attorney, Dane DeKrey, said before the change-of-plea hearing in federal court in Duluth that his client, who is in poor health, has been cooperative with him, if not with authorities. “I think Terry is facing his own mortality, and I think when people are reaching that point in their life, they cut through the pleasantries and talk turkey,” DeKrey said in an interview.

The one-page indictment gave no details of the path that led investigators to Martin, who has a 1988 conviction for receiving stolen goods on his record. He remained free on his own recognizance after the hearing, pending sentencing. Much of the government’s evidence has been covered by a protective order prohibiting its public disclosure.

Garland wore several pairs of ruby slippers during filming of the classic 1939 musical, but only four authentic pairs are known to remain. The slippers were insured for $1 million, but federal prosecutors put the current market value at about $3.5 million when they announced the indictment.

The FBI said a man approached the insurer in 2017 and said he could help get them back. The slippers were recovered in an FBI art crime team sting operation in Minneapolis. They remained in the bureau’s custody.

DeKrey said he was grateful Schiltz agreed to hold the hearing in Duluth instead of making Martin travel to the Twin Cities. “My client is a sick man. He’s going to be on oxygen, and he’s going to be in a wheelchair,” DeKrey said. Video posted by WCCO-TV showed Martin entering the courthouse in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank between his legs, wearing a paper mask.

The slippers in question were on loan to the museum from Hollywood memorabilia collector Michael Shaw when someone climbed through a window and broke the display case. Three other pairs that Garland wore in the movie are held by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Smithsonian Museum of American History and a private collector. Several rewards were offered over the years in hopes of cracking the mystery. An anonymous donor from Arizona put up $1 million in 2015.

The ruby slippers were key props in the 1939 movie. Following a mysterious landing in the colorful Land of Oz after a tornado hits her farm in Kansas, Garland’s character, Dorothy, has to click the heels of her slippers three times and repeat “there’s no place like home” to return.

The slippers are made from about a dozen different materials, including wood pulp, silk thread, gelatin, plastic and glass. Most of the ruby color comes from sequins, but the bows of the shoes contain red glass beads.

Garland was born Frances Gumm in 1922. She lived in Grand Rapids, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) north of Minneapolis, until she was 4, when her family moved to Los Angeles. She died of a barbiturate overdose in 1969. The Judy Garland Museum, which opened in 1975 in the house where she lived, says it has the world’s largest collection of Garland and Wizard of Oz memorabilia.

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