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Stolen ruby slippers found 13 years after Minnesota museum theft

September 4, 2018

The thief left behind bits of broken glass and a single red sequin on the floor.

So began a 13-year-old mystery filled with wild tips and offers of lavish rewards in the hunt for two ruby slippers snatched from a museum in Judy Garland’s hometown of Grand Rapids, Minn.

Now homecoming heel clicks are ahead: Investigators have found the stolen slippers, bringing closure to an Oz-sized search for the most famous pair of shoes in movie history.

There’s no place like home.

Authorities plan to announce Tuesday afternoon that they’ve recovered the shoes. The slippers filched from the Judy Garland Museum were one of several pair donned by Garland in the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz” and one of only four known surviving pairs from the movie production that launched Garland’s meteoric fame.

The FBI plans to make the announcement at a news conference at 1 p.m. at its Minneapolis-area headquarters in Brooklyn Center.

Before the crushing theft in August 2005, the size 5 ½ slippers were on loan to the museum from Hollywood memorabilia collector Michael Shaw. Shaw told the Star Tribune in 2005 that he bought the slippers and other “Wizard of Oz” collectibles at an MGM auction, calling it “the deal of the millennium.”

Someone broke into the museum on Aug. 28, snatched the slippers and fled. Nothing else was taken.

Museum officials said at the time that an emergency exit had been tampered with.

Over the years, the hunt spurred pleas from surviving film performers and an offer of a $1 million reward on the 10th anniversary of the theft. Divers from the Itasca County Sheriff’s Office have even plunged into a watery quarry in their search for the shoes.

The slippers’ disappearance dealt a body blow to the small museum in Garland’s hometown, about 200 miles north of the Twin Cities. Garland, born Frances Gumm, lived in Grand Rapids until she was 4 ½, when her family moved to Los Angeles. She died of a barbiturate overdose in 1969.

The museum bills itself as offering the world’s largest collection of Garland and “Wizard of Oz” collectibles.

Museum officials say many of the thousands of visitors drawn there each year still ask what happened to the sparkling burgundy footwear.

“They’re the symbol of the longing for home — a symbol of a sense of place,” John Kelsch, the museum’s executive director, said in a 2016 interview. “Of any artifact from the movie, they touch that emotion in people.”

At the time of the theft, the slippers had been insured for a slick $1 million.

“France has the ‘Mona Lisa.’ America has ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ” Kelsch told the Star Tribune. “It’s our national masterpiece, so much a part of the American experience.”

Hannah Covington • 612-673-4751

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