The man who stole Dorothy’s slippers thought the rubies were real

Nearly two decades after he broke into the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minn., and stole a pair of Dorothy’s ruby ​​slippers used in “The Wizard of Oz,” the man who committed the theft revealed why: He believed the slippers were decorated with real rubies.

Terry Martin, now 76, had never seen “The Wizard of Oz” and had “no idea” that the shoes were among the most recognizable cultural objects in American film when he stole them on the evening of Aug. 27, 2005, his attorney, Dane DeKrey, wrote in in court documents this month.

Instead, Mr. Martin believed the slippers must have been made of “genuine rubies” to justify their $1 million insured value, prosecutors said. He believed he would be able to shell the gems and sell them on the black market – a plan that backfired when a man who traded in the stolen gems informed him that the gems were made of glass.

On Monday, Mr. Martin was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Duluth, Minn. pleaded guilty in October on one count of theft of a major work of art, said Mr. DeKrey. He was also ordered to pay about $23,000 in restitution to the museum, Mr. DeKrey said.

Federal prosecutors and Mr. DeKrey agreed that Mr. Martin should be spared prison time because he has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, needs oxygen and is in hospice. He is not expected to live beyond the next six months, prosecutors said.

The motive for the theft was revealed in the sentencing memoranda submitted this month by Mr. DeKrey and prosecutors explaining more about the life story of Mr. Martin and his involvement in the robbery.

Mr. Martin trafficked in stolen jewels and spent time in prison for burglary, his lawyer said. But he had been out of prison for 10 years at the time of the 2005 theft and was living quietly in Grand Rapids, a small city 80 miles northwest of Duluth, when an “old mob associate” contacted him about “a job,” his attorney wrote.

Mr. Martin was initially reluctant to get involved, Mr. DeKrey wrote. But the “old Terry” got the better of the “new Terry,” and he succumbed to the temptation of “one last score,” his lawyer said.

“His intention was unique: he believed that the precious stones attached to the slippers were real rubies, so he hoped to steal the slippers, remove the rubies and sell them on the black market through the jewelry fence,” a person who buys and sells stolen gems, wrote is Mr. DeKrey.

Mr. Martin used a hammer to break two panes of glass in the door of the Garland Museum and smashed the Plexiglas box containing the shoes, leaving behind a single red tinsel and no fingerprints, according to court documents.

But less than two days later, when an unnamed person who traded in the stolen gems told Mr. Martin that the gems were worthless replicas, “Terry angrily decided to just cut his losses and move on,” Mr. DeKrey wrote. “He gave the slippers to the co-worker who hired him for the job and told the man he never wanted to see them again.”

Investigators had no credible leads in the search for the slippers until an unnamed person contacted the Grand Rapids Police Department, promising to help recover the shoes in exchange for a $200,000 reward, prosecutors said. Eventually, people connected to the theft tried to extort even more money from the insurance company that owned the shoes, saying that if their demands weren’t met, they would hold on to the slippers for 10 years and “explore other options,” prosecutors said.

FBI agents launched an operation to recover the slippers in Minneapolis on July 10, 2018. Federal officials said they had a market value of $3.5 million and were one of four known surviving pairs from “The Wizard of Oz.”

Prosecutors have not identified or charged anyone else in connection with the theft, including the mob associate Mr. Martin claimed solicited the heist or the people accused of trying to extort the insurance company. Mr. Martin refused to cooperate with investigators in any way other than to admit his behavior, Mr. wrote. DeKrey.

But Mr. DeKrey wrote that the people who tried to take advantage of the theft were not “some group of low-rent criminals trying to get paid. They were men of real juice, whose associations included organized crime and the federal government.”

If Mr. Martin “wanted a piece of this action, he could have easily reached out to the man who hired him for the job and demanded a taste,” wrote Mr. DeKrey. “He’s the one who stole the slippers after all. But it didn’t.”

Instead, Mr. Martin returned to a quiet life in Grand Rapids, Mr. DeKrey wrote. He reconnected with his children and began a new romance, he wrote.

“Terry Martin never intended to be a criminal celebrity,” Mr. DeKrey wrote. “He guessed when he broke two windows in the museum and stole a pair of red sequined slippers. He deeply regrets this decision and is ready to accept his punishment. But he’s not a monster. He is a dying man ready to meet his maker.”

Leave a Comment