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  • Writer's pictureThe Big Magazine Staff

76-year-old man admits to stealing ‘Wizard of Oz’ ruby slippers in 2005

By The Big Magazine Staff

A man charged in the museum heist of a pair of ruby slippers that Judy Garland wore in the “The Wizard of Oz” pleaded guilty Friday in a deal that could keep him out of prison due to his failing health, but only cleared up some of the mystery that dates back 18 years.

76 year-old, Terry Jon Martin pleads guilty in a federal courthouse in Duluth, Minn., Friday, Oct. 13, 2023. Martin, charged with the museum heist of the Wizard of Oz famous ruby slipper wore by Judy Garland

76-year-old, Terry Jon Martin,plead guilty to a single count of theft of a major artwork. The shoes were stolen in 2005 from the Judy Garland Museum in the late actor’s hometown of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and recovered by the FBI in 2018.

No one was arrested until Martin, who lives near Grand Rapids, was charged this year. During his change-of-plea hearing in federal court in Duluth, Martin said he used a hammer to smash the glass of the museum door and display case to take the slippers. He said he thought the slippers had real rubies and that he had hoped to sell the gems. When he found out the rubies were glass, he claims to he got rid of the slippers.

Photo of stolen pair of Judy Garland's ruby slippers from "The Wizard of Oz," that were recovered, Terry Jon Martin pleads guilty to art theft. October 13, 2023 - The Big Magazine

Garland wore several pairs of ruby slippers during filming of the classic 1939 musical, but only four authentic pairs are known to remain. The stolen slippers were insured for $1 million, but federal prosecutors put the current market value at about $3.5 million. The slippers were on loan to the museum from Hollywood memorabilia collector Michael Shaw when Martin stole them.

Martin did not give details on how he got rid of the ruby slippers or to whom he gave them to, leaving the slippers’ whereabouts a mystery. He did say that the theft had nothing to do with trying to scam insurance money, as some rumors have circulated.

“Terry has no idea where they were and how they were recovered,” Martin’s attorney, Dane DeKrey, said. “His involvement was that two-day period in 2005.”

The FBI said a man approached the insurer in 2017 and said he could help get the slippers back. The slippers were recovered during an FBI sting in Minneapolis. The FBI has never disclosed how it tracked down the slippers, which remain in the agency’s custody.

Jeff Keene II, the son in-law of a distinguished Secret Service Agent (Ret.) Michael Rocco Insabella (1947-2022) has carefully crafted a book that is the exclusive true story of how his father in-law, once considered suspect in the recovery of the stolen pair of sentimental Americana, may be the unsung hero of their return. The book, Under the Rainbow (2022 – WordCrafts Press) provides riveting detail on how an FBI investigation for retrieval and theft information on the multi-million-dollar slippers tilted to a narrow lenses of insurance extortion.

Under the plea agreement, DeKrey and federal prosecutor Matt Greenley recommended that Martin not face any time behind bars because of his age and poor health. Martin, who appeared in court in a wheelchair with supplemental oxygen, has advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and struggles to breathe, DeKrey said. The proposed sentence would let Martin die at home, the attorney said.

Martin, who has a 1988 conviction for receiving stolen goods, remained free on his own recognizance after the hearing. U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz, the chief federal judge for Minnesota, said he’d likely schedule the sentencing for about 2 months from now.

According to Martin's lawyer, the nonbinding federal sentencing guidelines recommended eight to 10 years in similar cases. The U.S. attorney’s office said it would have no comment until after Martin is sentenced.

Three other pairs that Garland wore in the movie are held by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Smithsonian Museum of American History and a private collector.

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