One of four surviving pairs of the iconic Ruby Red slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz have been found 13 years after they were stolen from The Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
The museum occupies the house where Judy Garland was born and lived until she was four. It was fully restored before the museum opened in 1975 and today boasts the world’s largest collection of Judy Garland memorabilia with a particular focus on Wizard of Oz memorabilia. The ruby slippers were loaned to the museum by collector Michael Shaw. The museum wanted to put the shoes in the safe every night, but Shaw refused. The slippers were too fragile to be handled by anyone other than himself, he believed, so he put the slippers in a Plexiglass case on a podium 15 feet from a window.
It was a daring crime. In the wee hours of August 28th, 2005, a person or persons unknown smashed open the window with a baseball bat, smashed the Plexiglass display and made off with the slippers. The entire break-in, robbery and escape took less than a minute. The alarm never went off and the security cameras were not functioning. No fingerprints were left behind. The only clue, if you can call it that, was a single red sequin that had fallen off the shoes during the robbery.
The community, which takes great pride in the town’s claim to fame as Judy Garland’s birthplace, was shocked by the brazen heist. Rumors circulated that it was the boldly stupid act of teenagers on a dare, that the shoes were hidden away in a cellar, that they’d been thrown down one of the area’s empty mine pits.
Hoping that the thieves would willingly return the slippers in exchange for cash, the museum offered a $250,000 reward. There were no takers. Over the years the rumors proliferated. In 2011, police searched the home of a San Diego collector. In 2015, Scuba divers explored the Tioga Mine Pit and came up empty. That same year a Wizard of Oz superfan offered a $1,000,000 reward for anyone who could identify the thief and the location of the slippers. Again, there were no takers, although plenty of people from psychics to frauds to weirdos tried to claim the reward with an avalanche of cockamamie stories.
The police continued to investigate, hoping that the wild goose chases would at least keep the real perpetrators from thinking the authorities were on their tails. Last year, there was finally a break in the case.
The FBI said a man approached the insurer in summer 2017 and said he could help get them back. Grand Rapids police asked for the FBI’s help and after a nearly year-long investigation, the slippers were recovered in July during a sting operation in Minneapolis.
The FBI said no one has yet been arrested or charged in the case, but they have “multiple suspects” and continue to investigate. As they unveiled the recovered slippers at a news conference Tuesday, they asked anyone with information about the theft to contact them.
“We’re not done. We have a lot of work to do,” Christopher Myers, the U.S. attorney for North Dakota, said.