Feds charge man with stealing ruby slippers from Judy Garland Museum
The famed artifacts were taken from the Grand Rapids museum in 2005 and recovered in 2018.
MINNEAPOLIS — Federal prosecutors have charged a man with stealing a pair of Judy Garland's famed ruby slippers from a Grand Rapids museum nearly 18 years ago.
A grand jury on Tuesday indicted Terry Jon Martin, 76, of rural Grand Rapids, in the 2005 heist of the iconic artifacts from the Judy Garland Museum, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office in North Dakota.
Martin is charged with one count of theft of major artwork. No further details were released on the circumstances that led to Martin's indictment or whether authorities are still pursuing other suspects.
The slippers were notoriously taken in the dark of night while on loan to Garland's birthplace museum in August 2005. They were recovered by the FBI and Grand Rapids Police Department in Minneapolis in July 2018, but the investigation at that time was said to be ongoing and authorities have remained tight-lipped.
The slippers are one of four surviving pairs worn by Garland in one of the most famous films of all time. They were insured at the time for $1 million, but federal agents said they are currently appraised at more than $3.5 million.
John Kelsch, founding executive director of the Judy Garland Museum and now its curator, told the News Tribune in 2022 that the heist "certainly got more publicity than anything else" at the museum. Visitors still come to see the spot where the slippers were on display before they were stolen, and Kelsch said "we'd like to get them back for Minnesota" someday.
"The phones are ringing off the hook," said Janie Heitz, executive director of the museum, when reached shortly after news of the indictment broke. "I'm speechless."
Heitz said that the museum's visitors would appreciate any closure this indictment brings regarding the longstanding mystery of the shoes' theft.
"It's the most-talked-about thing in our museum," she said. "Everybody wants to know where they are."
The ruby slippers were nearing the end of a 10-week loan to the Judy Garland Museum when they were stolen sometime overnight Aug. 27-28, 2005. Shattered glass and a red sequin were all that were left after an emergency exit door window was broken and the slippers' glass case was broken. It was later discovered that the museum's alarm system hadn't been set properly to notify a private security firm.
The brazen theft continued to captivate Garland's hometown, the state and the arts community for 13 years. The police department received tips from around the world, a dive team searched Tioga Mine Pit in 2015 and an anonymous fan offered a $1 million reward for information leading to the slippers' recovery.
While Grand Rapids police long tinkered with the investigation, the FBI said it became involved in 2017 when an extortion attempt was made against the insurance company that now owns the slippers.
The agency’s FBI division and Art Crime Team executed search warrants in both Minnesota and Florida and recovered the slippers in a “sting operation” in Minneapolis in July 2018.
The FBI said the recovered slippers were sent to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., where conservators confirmed their authenticity after an extensive examination of the slippers' construction, materials and wear.
Michael Shaw, a Los Angeles collector and acting coach, owned the slippers at the time of the theft. However, he later accepted an $880,000 payout from his insurer, the Markel Corp.
While filed in Minnesota, the case was assigned in 2018 to federal prosecutors in North Dakota. Authorities have not elaborated on why it was transferred to the neighboring jurisdiction.
It was not immediately clear when Martin would make a court appearance or if he had an attorney. A check of court records shows one felony conviction for receiving stolen goods in the 1980s, but Martin does not appear to otherwise have any significant criminal history.
The museum's annual Judy Garland Festival is coming up from June 8-11. "People are going to be ecstatic" about the news that the case may have been solved, said Heitz. She added that the museum hopes to have the slippers back on display in Minnesota again in the future.
This story was updated at 2:40p.m. May 17 with additional details on the indictment. It was originally posted at 1:21 p.m. May 17.