Stolen ‘Wizard of Oz’ ruby slippers worth at least US$1 million recovered by FBI
The shoes were stolen from a Minnesota museum in 2005; the search took investigators to a collector’s mansion in San Diego and to the bottom of a mine pit
A rare pair of red sequinned slippers that Judy Garland wore in the classic film The Wizard of Oz have been found, nearly 13 years after the iconic shoes were stolen from her birthplace, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation announced on Tuesday.
Prior to the theft, the shoes, estimated to be worth at least US$1 million, had been kept in a Plexiglas case atop a podium inside the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
On August 28, 2005, a burglar or burglars broke into the museum and smashed the case with a baseball bat. Investigators estimated that the theft took only seconds.
The search for the famous ruby heels, which Garland wore while playing Dorothy, has taken investigators to a collector’s mansion in San Diego, California, and to the bottom of the Tioga Mine Pit, just outside Grand Rapids.
But the slippers reported to have been in the collector’s mansion were phoneys, and divers found nothing at the bottom of the pit.
The FBI said a man approached the company that had insured the shoes about a year ago and said he had information about how the shoes could be returned. The FBI said it set up a sting operation and recovered the slippers.
The slippers’ authenticity was verified by comparing them with another pair at the Smithsonian Institution’s American history museum in Washington.
The FBI said it has multiple suspects in the extortion case and that the investigation continues.
Several pairs of ruby slippers were made for the 1939 MGM film, and at least four, including the stolen pair, are known to exist.
One pair was found in the basement of MGM’s wardrobe department in 1970. An anonymous buyer bought it at an auction for US$15,000 and donated it to the Smithsonian in 1979. The pair was removed from display in April 2017 to be preserved.
The Smithsonian raised nearly US$350,000 through a Kickstarter campaign to pay for the shoes’ restoration. They will be back on display in October.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Steven Spielberg bought one other pair for display at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Another pair is owned by a private collector.
The once-missing slippers are owned by Michael Shaw, a collector who lent the slippers to the Judy Garland Museum every year.
Museum officials wanted to keep the slippers in a safe every night, but Shaw did not want other people touching the delicate artefact. So Shaw delivered the slippers himself and placed them in the Plexiglas case.
“We kicked ourselves in the butt for not putting them in the safe,” said Jon Miner, one of the museum’s board members, in 2015. “Of course, the owner was dumbfounded. And so were we.”
That year, a wealthy fan of the movie volunteered to give US$1 million to the person who could help find the missing slippers.
The shoes are famously connected to the line, “There’s no place like home.” Toward the end of the movie, Glinda the Good Witch reveals to Dorothy that her magic slippers could take her back home.
“Then close your eyes and tap your heels together three times. And think to yourself, ‘There’s no place like home,’ ” Glinda instructs Dorothy.
Dorothy does as she is told, chants “There’s no place like home,” and wakes up in her family’s house in Kansas.
Additional reporting by Associated Press