The Grand Rapids Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced Tuesday the recovery of the “Ruby Red Slippers.” The slippers, one of at least three other known existing pairs used in the filming of “The Wizard of Oz,” were stolen in 2005 from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, the birthplace of Frances Gumm whose stage name was Judy Garland. Garland starred as Dorothy in the 1939 film. The slippers were on loan to the museum by a private collector, Michael Shaw, as part of a ten-week traveling tour when they were stolen. The FBI announced Tuesday that they were seized in a sting operation in Minneapolis earlier this summer.
Sometime between 5:45 p.m. on Aug. 27 and 9:45 a.m. on Aug. 28, a burglar broke a window in the museum’s back door and entered. The thief smashed a Plexiglas case resting on a wooden podium in the museum’s gallery and made off with the slippers that were insured for $1 million. The alarm did not sound to a central dispatch station. No fingerprints were left behind.
“The police department really had no evidence and no clues to work with,” said Grand Rapids Police Sergeant Robert Stein. “All we had was a single sequin that had fallen off one of the slippers. The investigator assigned to the case was fearful that the thief might destroy the slippers if he believed the police were on his trail. Therefore, when rumors developed that local wayward youth were most likely responsible for the theft and had tossed the slippers into the Mississippi River or in one of the many water filled iron ore pits that dot the landscape, we did little to dispel it. We believed that information would eventually surface and knew we were in this for the long haul,” said Stein. “Over the years, our officers investigated numerous tips as they came in, eliminating each one. The problem is that there are a great many reproductions out there and people believed that these were the stolen slippers. Each proved not to be the missing slippers. As recently as two weeks ago, we received a telephone call from a psychic telling us that she was sure she knew where the slippers were.”
The break in the case came in the summer of 2017 when Grand Rapids Police Detective Brian Mattson received information regarding the slippers. This information led to connections outside of Minnesota. “Minnesota law enforcement agencies don’t have jurisdiction outside the state and most, including our department, lack the necessary resources to conduct a major out of state investigation. Therefore, we reached out to our partners in the FBI. They became the lead investigative agency,” said Mattson.
Working with the FBI, earlier this summer the missing Ruby Red Slippers were recovered in Minneapolis. They are now in the possession of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “The exact details of the investigation are not being released at this time as this remains an active investigation,” said Sergeant Stein.
“We are most grateful for the expertise and effort the dedicated agents of the FBI put into this case. If it wasn’t for their hard work, the slippers would not have been recovered,” added Grand Rapids Assistant Police Chief Steve Schaar.
During the press conference Tuesday at FBI headquarters in Minneapolis, Jill Sanborn, Special Agent in Charge of the Minneapolis Division of the FBI said suspects were identified and multiple search warrants were executed in Minnesota and Florida in connection with the investigation. Sanborn asked for the public's help to identify all parties associated with the initial theft and the more recent scheme to defraud and extort the Markel Corporation, the owner of the slippers. The Grand Rapids Police Department requested FBI assistance in 2017 when the extortion plot against Markel Corporation surfaced. Agents from the Minneapolis Division worked closely with the FBI's Art Crime Team throughout the investigation, which is ongoing.
After the recovery in July, the FBI transported the slippers to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., where conservators were able to conduct an in-depth examination and analysis, including evidence of wear and details unique to their use in the 1939 film. Examination of the recovered shoes showed that their construction, materials, and wear are consistent with the pair in the museum's collection, which were donated to the museum by an anonymous donor in 1979.
"At the heart of nearly every art crime, we see greed woven into the fabric of the scheme - greed to take it, and greed to profit from its return," said Sunburn. "Dorothy's slippers are a treasured piece of Americana, and we are hoping members of the public can help us better fill in the details that will finish the script of this mystery so we can hold accountable all those who were behind the scheme."
“Twenty five years ago I was privileged to attend the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia,” stated Grand Rapids Police Chief Scott Johnson.“ Before we walked out of the Academy doors for the last time we were told, 'If you ever need help from the FBI, just ask. We will pull out all the stops for you.' Twice, during my career as a Minnesota Police Chief, I have asked for that help. Each time the FBI has come through.”
“When the slippers were snatched in that early morning burglary, the thief not only took the slippers but also a piece of history that will be forever connected to Grand Rapids and one of our city’s most famous children," continued Chief Johnson. "We knew this day would eventually come and we are grateful to the FBI and all those that worked so hard to bring this piece of cinematic treasure out of the shadows and into the light. After all, ‘There’s no place like home!'”
"There's a certain romance in these types of schemes but at the end of the day, it's theft," commented Sanborn who said there are approximately 8,000 pieces of significant art currently on the FBI's list of theft.
"This type of cultural property affects us all because it reflects our values," added Sanborn.
Investigators from the GRPD were present for the FBI press conference Tuesday afternoon in Minneapolis, along with GRPD Chief Johnson.
The case has been assigned to the United States Attorney's Office for North Dakota. Anyone with information surrounding the theft or the extortion plot is encouraged to contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI (225-5324) or submit information via the FBI's website at tips.fbi.gov. Tips can be anonymous.