Thief Who Stole Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers Avoids Prison

Terry Martin has been sentenced to one year of supervised release for swiping the iconic “Wizard of Oz” shoes from the Judy Garland Museum in 2005

The recovered pair of ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz FBI

Terry Martin, the thief who stole a pair of ruby slippers that Dorothy wore in The Wizard of Oz from the Judy Garland Museum in 2005, received no prison time at a sentencing hearing this week. Instead, Martin, currently in hospice care, will serve one year of supervised release.

The 76-year-old Minnesota resident pleaded guilty to one count of theft of a major artwork in October, ending a nearly two-decade-long investigation. However, details regarding his motivations were not revealed until last month.

Long before the ruby slippers’ theft, Martin had an extensive criminal history. He appeared to have retired from crime by 2005—until an associate convinced him to steal the iconic slippers as “one last score,” as his attorney, Dane DeKrey, writes in a court memo, per Steve Karnowski of the Associated Press (AP).

“At first, Terry declined the invitation to participate in the heist. But old habits die hard, and the thought of a ‘final score’ kept him up at night,” the memo continues. “After much contemplation, Terry had a criminal relapse and decided to participate in the theft.”

Martin broke into the museum and used a hammer to shatter the glass surrounding the slippers. Nothing but a single red sequin remained in the empty display case.

According to DeKrey, Martin had never seen The Wizard of Oz and was utterly unaware of the shoes’ historic Hollywood status. He knew they had a $1 million insured value, which he attributed to the slippers’ rubies rather than their cultural significance.

“His intent was singular: He believed the gemstones affixed to the slippers were real rubies, and so he hoped to steal the slippers, remove the rubies and sell them on the black market through a jewelry-fence,” writes DeKrey, per the New York Times’ Michael Levenson.

However, the fence (someone who buys and sells stolen goods) informed Martin that the gems were merely glass. Martin “angrily decided to simply cut his losses and move on,” handing off the slippers to his associates, writes DeKrey. The stolen shoes were in his hands for only a matter of days.

The FBI recovered the missing slippers in a 2018 sting operation when they were involved in a failed extortion attempt. But no arrests were made until last year, when investigators tracked down Martin using phone records, reports the AP. They searched his home and eventually heard his confession.

Martin, who uses oxygen therapy for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at all times, is expected to live only a few more months. Following the prosecutors’ recommendation, Chief U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz held that Martin should avoid incarceration, though he emphasized Martin’s culpability.

“I certainly do not want to minimize the seriousness of Mr. Martin’s crime,” he said. “Mr. Martin intended to steal and destroy an irreplaceable part of American culture.”

Now valued at $3.5 million, the slippers Judy Garland used to click her heels together in the 1939 film are “among the most recognizable memorabilia in American film history,” according to a statement from federal prosecutors.

Multiple pairs of the shoes were used throughout production, but the stolen slippers are thought to be one of only four authentic pairs left. One of those pairs is held by a private collector, while the other two are in the collections of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Back in 2018, Smithsonian conservators helped the FBI confirm the authenticity of the seized shoes. For several days, they analyzed the artifact’s physical and light damage through non-destructive methods to determine whether the level of deterioration of the stolen shoes was consistent with the museum’s pair.

The stolen shoes belonged to private collector Michael Shaw, who had loaned them to the Judy Garland Museum. The theft cost the Minnesota institution “a significant amount of credibility,” according to a court statement by the museum’s executive director, Janie Heitz.

Martin will also be required to pay $23,500 in restitution to the museum, which he will deliver in monthly installments of $300. He has not given up the names of anyone else involved in the heist. Following the theft, he withdrew to Grand Rapids, Minnesota, reuniting with his children and entering a new romance, according to the Times.

“Terry Martin never meant to be a criminal celebrity,” writes DeKrey in court papers. “He happened upon it when he broke two panes of glass in a museum and stole a pair of red sequined slippers. He deeply regrets this decision and is ready to accept his punishment. But he’s no monster. He’s a dying man ready to meet his maker.”

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