13 years after they were stolen, Dorothy’s ruby slippers have been found, the FBI says
(CNN) — Glinda, the Good Witch in “The Wizard of Oz,” says it best when she describes the appeal of those ruby red slippers to the Wicked Witch of the West:
“Their magic must be very powerful, or she wouldn’t want them so badly.”
And so, for 13 years, the fate of a missing pair of red sequined slippers worn by actress Judy Garland as Dorothy has eluded law enforcement. But there’s no place like home, as they say, and the shoes have been found, according to the FBI.
On Tuesday afternoon, authorities intend to reveal details of the shoes’ recovery at the FBI Minneapolis headquarters. It’s unclear if anyone will be charged or where they could end up next.
The shoes are one of four known pairs that Garland wore as Dorothy in the 1939 film. They disappeared in the middle of the night in August 2005 from the Judy Garland Museum in the actress’ hometown of Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
A 2017 tip to Detective Brian Mattson led to “connections outside of Minnesota,” the Grand Rapids Police Department said, explaining why the FBI took the lead in the probe.
The shoes were recovered in Minneapolis earlier this summer, Sgt. Robert Stein said in a statement, declining to provide details because the investigation remains active.
‘We were literally crying’
“Sometime between 5:45 PM on August 27th and 9:45 Am on August 28th, a burglar broke a window in the museum’s back door and entered,” the Grand Rapids Police Department said in a news release. “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 dollars. The alarm did not sound to a central dispatch station. No fingerprints were left behind.”
Investigators had no evidence, aside from a single sequin that had fallen off one of the slippers, Stein said in a statement. Tips flowed in over the years — including one from a psychic just last month — but they led either nowhere or to counterfeits.
Police worried that the culprit might destroy the slippers if she or he sensed police were closing in, so investigators declined to dispel rumors, including one that local rapscallions had tossed them in the Mississippi River or into an ore pit in the area.
“We believed that information would eventually surface and knew we were in this for the long haul,” Stein said.
Museum co-founder Jon Miner told CNN affiliate KQDS in 2015 that the theft was “the biggest thing that ever happened to our museum.”
“We were literally crying,” he told the station.
Museum denied rumors of inside job
Since then, rumors swirled among residents and memorabilia collectors about where over the rainbow they could be. Valued at $2 million to $3 million and thought to be worth as much as $5 million at auction, they would be hard to sell on the black market — and even harder to hide.
“Whoever has them, illicitly, has their hands full with them,” journalist Rhys Thomas said in the 2016 documentary, “The Slippers.”
“One way or another, over the course of time, the shoes will out you,” said Thomas, who tracked down several pairs of the famed shoes for a Los Angeles Times article published in 1988.
Memorabilia collector Michael Shaw loaned the slippers to the Judy Garland Museum for Grand Rapids’ annual “Wizard of Oz” festival in 2005. Shaw rejected the museum’s offer to store them in a vault each night because he didn’t want people handling the delicate shoes by moving them daily, he said in the documentary.
“But most importantly, I was assured that the museum had security,” Shaw said in the film.
Museum staff arrived in the morning to find the shoes missing from the smashed glass case. An alarm had been tripped but no signal was sent to police dispatch, museum co-founder John Kelsch said in the documentary. Miner and Kelsch vehemently denied rumors of an inside job.
“We’re the ones that want to find them because they were entrusted to us,” Miner said.
“Our people, they love the museum. They wouldn’t have done that. These are honest people,” Kelsch said.
Ten years later, the museum worked with the Itasca County Sheriff’s Dive Team to address the theory that someone had thrown the slippers in a nearby lake. During the 40th Annual “Wizard of Oz” Festival, divers scoured the depths of the Tioga Mine Pit Lake but came up empty-handed.
In the documentary, Shaw says he bought the shoes from a Hollywood costume designer who found them in MGM Studios’ backlot property in Culver City, California. As the story goes, Kent Warner found several pairs on a dusty shelf and took one to the famed MGM Studios auction in 1970. He kept the rest for himself — the exact number is not clear — selling them off to collectors, including Shaw.
Meanwhile, a Tennessee schoolteacher won another pair in a contest in 1940. She sold them at auction in 1988 to a private collector for $165,000.
Another pair has been on display in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington since 1979. In 2016, the organization launched an online campaign to raise money to restore their luster.
In 2012, Leonardo DiCaprio led a group of donors in purchasing a pair to be displayed at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, set to open this year in Los Angeles.