Two Decades After They Were Stolen, Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers Returned to the Scene of the Crime. Will They Stay There?

Federal investigators have handed over the shoes to their rightful owner, who plans to sell them at auction later this year

Shaw and Slippers
Collector Michael Shaw was presented with the slippers he purchased in 1970 in a ceremony at the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Heritage Auctions

A pair of Dorothy’s ruby slippers—once donned by Judy Garland in 1939’s The Wizard Of Oz—were stolen nearly 20 years ago. Now, thanks to federal investigators who recovered them in 2018, the sequined heels have finally been reunited with their owner.

The FBI recently presented collector Michael Shaw with the crimson shoes at the location of their theft: the Judy Garland Museum, which is in the actress’ childhood home of Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Per a statement from the agency, Shaw compared the moment to “a heartfelt reunion with a long-lost friend.”

Shoes alone
Actress Judy Garland wore the slippers while filming The Wizard of Oz. Heritage Auctions

“Garland’s portrayal of Dorothy and her magical journey down the yellow brick road has captivated audiences for generations, making the ruby slippers an enduring symbol of American film history,” writes the FBI. The slippers’ disappearance in 2005 “left a void in both cinema history and the heart of a community proud to call itself Garland’s birthplace.”

While filming The Wizard of Oz, Garland wore multiple pairs of ruby slippers. As CNN’s Scottie Andrew reports, four sets are known to exist today: One is owned by a private collector, another by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and a third by Los Angeles’ Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Shaw, a collector of Oz memorabilia, bought his pair from a film costumer in 1970. In the decades that followed, he regularly lent the slippers to museums across the country, charging a fee he often donated to charity, wrote the New York Times’ Jennifer Medina in 2018. Per the FBI, Shaw’s slippers became known as the “traveling pair.”

Among those present at the return ceremony were (left to right) Heritage Auctions' Brian Chanes; Michael Shaw, the owner of the slippers; Christopher Dudley, an FBI special agent; and Andy Morgan, the Grand Rapids police chief. Heritage Auctions

Back in 2005, Shaw’s shoes were on display at the Judy Garland Museum when a man named Terry Martin broke in. He shattered the slippers’ plexiglass case and made off with the footwear, worth about $1 million at the time. He left behind a single red sequin. Over a decade later, after receiving a tip, law enforcement performed a sting operation and found the slippers, the thief and his accomplice, Jerry Hal Saliterman. Martin—now 76 and in hospice—was recently sentenced to “one year of supervised release,” per Smithsonian magazine’s Catherine Duncan.

As CNN reports, Martin and Saliterman had hatched their plan under the impression that the slippers were made with real rubies. In reality, they’re painted red and covered in red sequins. Still, Dorothy’s slippers are worth a pretty penny. As of 2023, they’re valued at $3.5 million. And by year’s end, they’ll have a new owner.

Shoes close up
The slippers aren't technically a true pair, as the two shoes differ slightly in size. Heritage Auctions

Shaw has consigned the shoes to Heritage Auctions, which will exhibit the pair on a world tour later this year, according to a statement. Then, in December, the slippers will go to the auction block. One buyer has already shown predictable interest: the Judy Garland Museum, where staffers are “working diligently” to raise funds to purchase the slippers for permanent display, reports news station KARE. Minnesota lawmakers have also expressed interest in bringing the slippers back to Grand Rapids, proposing that the state subsidize their purchase through the Minnesota Historical Society.

The museum’s founding director, John Kelsch, tells KARE that although the 2005 theft left a dark cloud over the Judy Garland Museum, it “survived the impact of this violation and is grateful to be a part of the homecoming.” Regardless of whether the institution will be able to acquire the slippers, the shoes’ recovery “promises a fresh start,” writes KARE.

“We continue to serve visitors from around the world,” Kelsch adds. “Expect a ruby slipper crime exhibit in our near future.”

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