13 years ago, a call was placed to the FBI to investigate a peculiar crime: Someone, quite inexplicably, had stolen the ruby red slippers worn by Judy Garland in the classic film The Wizard of Oz from their display in Grand Rapids Minnesota.
The shoes were on display at the Judy Garland Museum, housed in what was originally Garland’s actual childhood home, about three hours north of the Twin Cities. In 1975, the city turned the house into a museum showcasing The Wizard of Oz memorabilia and film artifacts. And of course, included in the display were Garland’s famous red, sequined shoes – one of four known pairs in existence today as the studio made multiple pairs for the film. The slippers were insured for $1 million, though it’s believe that they’re actually worth much more than that.
Dorothy’s ruby red slippers went missing in 2005
It’s believed the suspect (or suspects) broke in through the museum’s back emergency window, where there were no security cameras. Motion detectors failed to alert authorities. They then smashed the glass display case holding the slippers, and then ran off without a trace. The entire theft is thought to have taken seconds.
With no tangible evidence or clues to go off on, the police and FBI followed tips that led them on an underwater search, a $1 million reward, and what seemed like an endless stream of dead ends.
Just this past week, however, the FBI announced the recovery of the stolen ruby slippers from an undercover sting operation in Minneapolis this past summer. The police followed what turned out to be a credible lead when an individual approached the company that insured the famous shoes, and in an attempt to extort the owners of the shoes, claimed they had information about the slippers’ whereabouts.
Special Agent Christopher Dudley from the FBI Minneapolis Division stated to the public, “We are still working to ensure that we have identified all parties involved in both the initial theft and the more recent extortion attempt for their return. This is very much an active investigation.”
Indeed, even though the slippers are safe, the case is far from over.
The recovered slippers were taken to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. for analysis making sure they were an authentic pair from the classic film. The Smithsonian currently houses another pair of Garland’s red slippers that has been on display since 1979. Smithsonian conservator, Dawn Wallace, used the Smithsonian’s pair of red slippers to compare with the stolen ones, carefully analyzing the construction, materials, and condition. Wallace concluded that they were certainly authentic and in fact, the stolen slippers and the pair at the Smithsonian are mismatched twins. Over the years, the left and right shoes had somehow gotten mixed up.
And while the shoes are currently locked up as evidence, the people of Grand Rapids are certainly excited and relieved that the iconic shoes have finally been recovered. They’ll hopefully soon be returned to display, as there’s no place like home for such an important piece of pop culture history.
As Grand Rapids Police Chief Scott Johnson told reporters at the press conference, “They’re more than just a pair of shoes, the slippers. They’re an enduring symbol of the power of belief.”
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