Judy Garland Museum is raising money to bid on stolen ruby slippers
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Judy Garland Museum is raising money to bid on stolen ruby slippers
An undated photo provided by Heritage Auctions shows The famed ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz” that will be sold at auction in December. Judy Garland Museum is raising money to bid on stolen ruby slippers; valued at $3.5 million, the famed slippers were stolen from the museum in Garland’s hometown in Minnesota in 2005 and recovered in 2018. (Heritage Auctions via The New York Times)

by Michael Levenson

NEW YORK, NY.- In 2018, the FBI recovered a pair of the famed ruby slippers Judy Garland wore in “The Wizard of Oz” that had been stolen in a brazen robbery from a museum in the actress’s hometown, Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

Now, the museum says, there is no place like home for the stolen slippers.

The Judy Garland Museum says it is starting a fundraising campaign to try to buy the slippers at auction in December. The Minnesota Legislature recently approved $100,000 to help the effort. But the museum still has a long way to go.

Janie Heitz, executive director of the museum, noted that the Justice Department had estimated that the slippers could be worth $3.5 million.

Heritage Auctions plans to sell the slippers Dec. 7., on behalf of their owner, Michael Shaw, a collector, who had lent them to the museum before they were stolen Aug. 27, 2005. The slippers are one of four known surviving pairs worn by Garland in the 1939 “Oz” movie, and they are considered to be among the most recognizable cultural objects in American film.

Heitz said she hoped to put the shoes on permanent display at the museum, which includes the house where Garland lived until she was 4.

“It would be a Hollywood happy ending to this ruby slippers saga,” she said. “This would be a good final home for them, which is what Dorothy was searching for in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ so it’s a full-circle story for the slippers.”

Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, has expressed support for the effort.

“And we’re buying Judy Garland’s damn slippers to make sure they remain safe at home in Grand Rapids — on display for all to enjoy — under 24/7, Ocean’s 11-proof security,” he wrote on social media last month.

Heitz said that fundraising would begin at the annual Judy Garland Festival in Grand Rapids, which kicked off Thursday, and includes a 5-kilometer walk and run called the Dash for the Ruby Slippers.

Heritage Auctions, which plans to take the slippers on a four-city tour — to Tokyo, New York, London and Dallas — before the auction, has not yet set a price for the opening bid.

“They could sell for $1 million; they could sell for $10 million,” Joe Maddalena, the auction house’s executive vice president, told Minnesota Public Radio. “They’re priceless.”

The mayor of Grand Rapids, Tasha Connelly, said that raising enough money to buy the slippers would be difficult. But she added, “It would mean a lot to our community to have this iconic memorabilia returned to us.”

Although the theft spawned many wild theories, federal prosecutors said last year that the slippers had been stolen by a Minnesota man, Terry Martin, who believed they must have been made with “real rubies” to justify their $1 million insured value, court documents said.

After Martin stole the shoes, a man who dealt in stolen jewels told him that the gems were made of glass, foiling his plan to sell them on the black market, court documents said. Martin gave the slippers to an “associate” who had recruited him for the theft and told the man that “he never wanted to see them again,” Martin’s lawyer wrote in court papers.

Investigators had no credible leads in the search for the slippers until an unnamed person contacted the Grand Rapids Police Department, promising to help return the shoes in exchange for a $200,000 reward, prosecutors said. Ultimately, people connected to the theft sought to extort even more money from the insurance company that owned the shoes at the time, saying that if their demands weren’t met that they would hold onto the slippers for 10 years and “explore other options,” prosecutors said.

FBI agents set up a sting operation that recovered the slippers in Minneapolis on July 10, 2018. Martin was indicted last year and pleaded guilty in October to one count of theft of a major artwork.

In January, he was sentenced to one year of supervised release and was ordered to pay $23,500 in restitution to the Judy Garland Museum. Heitz said that Martin had paid most of that sum, which the museum would put toward its bid on the slippers.

Federal agents returned the slippers to Shaw in a private ceremony at the museum Feb. 1, according to Heritage Auctions.

In March, the case took another turn when a second man, Jerry Hal Saliterman, of Hennepin County, Minnesota, was charged in connection with the theft. According to an indictment, Saliterman “received, concealed, and disposed” of the slippers between August 2005 and July 2018.

Last year, Saliterman tried to intimidate an unidentified woman by threatening to reveal a sex tape of her to her family if she spoke with the FBI about the theft, the indictment said.

Saliterman’s lawyer said in March that his client had “done nothing wrong.” Saliterman’s trial is scheduled to begin in September.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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