US$5m Stradivarius violin found in Milwaukee attic after suspects held | South China Morning Post
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  • Jan 27, 2015
  • Updated: 10:08am

US$5m Stradivarius violin found in Milwaukee attic after suspects held

Police recover US$5 million violin from attic after arresting three suspects in stun gun robbery

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 February, 2014, 8:06pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 February, 2014, 5:51am

The mystery of the US$5 million Stradivarius violin stolen in a stun gun attack has at last been solved.

Police in Milwaukee, in the US state of Wisconsin, recovered the instrument and linked the robbery to an art thief who once stole a statue from a local gallery and then tried to sell it back.

The violin, built in 1715 by the renowned Italian instrument maker Antonio Stradivari, was found hidden in a suitcase.

It was in the attic of a man who police said was unaware the instrument was in his home.

Three people have been arrested in the case and Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said there was no evidence of other "shadowy" figures from the art world behind the theft.

"It appears we had a local criminal who had an interest in art theft and was smart enough to develop a plan for a robbery," Flynn said. "Beyond that, we don't know what his motive was."

The violin, which police said appeared to be in good condition, was stolen last month from a concert violinist who was shocked with a stun gun.

His attacker snatched the violin, hopped into a waiting vehicle and escaped.

Police traced the stun gun to Universal Knowledge Allah, an unusually named 36-year-old barber, while a tip-off led them to Salah Jones, the 41-year-old man convicted of stealing a US$25,000 statue from a gallery at Milwaukee's Pfister Hotel in 1995.

Officers put the men under surveillance before arresting them on Monday, along with a 32-year-old woman who was later released.

Police did not say what role each suspect had in the theft.

Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm said he expected to charge at least one of the suspects yesterday.

He said charges were delayed while prosecutors negotiated with one suspect for the return of the violin. On Wednesday night, the suspect led police to the home of an acquaintance, who allowed the suspect to store a suitcase in his attic.

There’s no place a violin like this can be fenced. You can’t take it to a pawn shop

It is not clear what the suspects planned to do with the violin. Such high-value instruments are almost always well documented with photographs and easily identified, said David Bonsey, a New York-based violin maker and appraiser.

"There's virtually no place a violin like this can be taken and fenced," Bonsey said. "You can't take it to a pawn shop." Some art collectors will buy stolen objects that they keep hidden for their own enjoyment, Bonsey said.

But Flynn said there was no indication in this case that any "shadowy figures in the art world" were trying to buy the instrument.

The violin, known in musical circles as the "Lipinski" Stradivarius because it was once played by Polish violinist Karol Lipinski, has been appraised for insurance purposes at US$5 million.

Experts estimate 600 to 650 Stradivarius instruments remain - about half of what the master produced.

The "Lipinski" Stradivarius was taken from Frank Almond, concertmaster for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, as he walked to his car after a performance on January 27 at Wisconsin Lutheran College.

Mark Niehaus, the orchestra's president and executive director, said the instrument appeared in good shape, but Almond, who also teaches music at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, was out of town and still needed to inspect it.

The violin was on loan to Almond by its owner.

Such arrangements are common in classical music, in part because most artists can't afford instruments worth millions of dollars. The owners benefit as well because use keeps the instruments in good shape and can add to their value.

"When famous people play these instruments it builds what we call the instrument's provenance," Bonsey said.

"It adds to the value of the instrument down the road."


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