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The mystery of the stolen $3.5m ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in Wizard of Oz

 (AP)
(AP)

A man who confessed to stealing a pair of ruby slippers that Judy Garland wore in The Wizard of Oz was spared prison time at his sentencing hearing on Monday.

Terry Jon Martin, 76, stole the slippers in 2005 from the Judy Garland Museum in the late actor’s hometown Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

Martin was tempted to steal the shoes after an old mob associate told him the shoes were adorned with real ruby jewels, his attorney revealed in a memo to the federal court ahead of his sentencing in Duluth.

The FBI recovered the shoes in 2018 but Martin wasn’t charged with stealing them until last year. He pleaded guilty in October to theft of a major artwork, admitting to using a hammer to smash the glass of the museum door and display case to take the slippers. But his motivation remained mostly a mystery until defence attorney Dane DeKrey revealed it this month.

In the 1939 musical, Judy Garland’s iconic character, Dorothy, has to click the heels of her ruby slippers three times and repeat “there’s no place like home” to return to Kansas from Oz. While she wore several pairs during filming, there are only four pairs that remain.

According to DeKrey, Martin had no idea about the cultural significance of the ruby slippers and had never seen The Wizard of Oz before. Instead, DeKrey said, the “old Terry” with a lifelong history involving burglary and receiving stolen property beat out the “new Terry” who had become “a contributing member of society” after his 1996 release from prison.

DeKrey wrote in his memo that Martin’s unidentified former mob associate persuaded him to steal the slippers as “one last score”, even though Martin had seemed to have “finally put his demons to rest” after finishing his last prison term nearly 10 years prior.

“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,” DeKrey wrote, calling the theft a “criminal relapse”.

A pair of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz on display at the Academy Museum in 2021 (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
A pair of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz on display at the Academy Museum in 2021 (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Martin said during the October hearing that he had planned to remove what he thought were real rubies and sell them.

When he was informed by a person who deals in stolen goods that the “rubies” were actually made of glass, he got rid of the slippers, Martin said.

Both sides are recommending that Chief U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz sentence Martin to time served because he is housebound in and currently in end-of-life care. He requires constant oxygen therapy for chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and was in a wheelchair when he pleaded guilty.

The FBI never disclosed exactly how it tracked down the slippers. The bureau said a man approached the insurer in 2017 and claimed he could help recover them but demanded more than the $200,000 reward being offered. The slippers were recovered during an FBI sting in Minneapolis the next year.

Federal prosecutors have put the slippers’ market value at about $3.5m (£2.75m).

With additional reporting from AP news wire.