FBI: Extortion plot led to recovery of 'Oz' ruby slippers

Law enforcement officials recovered the stolen ruby slippers.
Law enforcement officials recovered one of four known surviving pairs of ruby slippers worn by actress Judy Garland in the 1939 movie "The Wizard of Oz," pictured here at a press conference Sept. 4, 2018. This pair had been missing since August of 2005, when they were stolen in a smash-and-grab burglary at the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minn.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Updated: 3:42 p.m. | Posted: 2:32 p.m.

The FBI said an extortion plot led investigators to recover a pair of Wizard of Oz slippers stolen in northern Minnesota more than a decade ago.

The slippers were stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in her birthplace of Grand Rapids in August 2005. They were unveiled at a press conference in Brooklyn Center for the first time Tuesday.

But the thieves were not.

FBI Special Agent Christopher Dudley, who led the investigation, said although authorities have multiple suspects: "We are still working to ensure that we have identified all parties involved in both the initial theft and the more recent extortion attempt for their return.

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"This is very much an active investigation."

Summer sting operation leads to recovery

The FBI says that the Markel Corp., which owns the slippers, was contacted last year in an apparent extortion scheme. Police in Grand Rapids asked for the FBI's help and conducted a sting operation this summer.

The slippers are widely considered to be one of the most recognizable pieces of memorabilia in American film history and are estimated to be worth several million dollars, according to the FBI.

Grand Rapids police chief Scott Johnson said his officers never gave up on the effort to recover the treasure.

They're an enduring symbol of the power of belief," Johnson said. "And I know that I speak for everyone in the Grand Rapids community when I say that we are very, very pleased that the public, again, has the potential opportunity to view this piece of our most treasured piece of our nation's film history."

Federal investigators have conducted searches in Florida and Minnesota in connection with the theft, although there's no indication that any criminal charges have been filed yet.

Discovery leads to another plot twist

Charges could come later, said U.S. Attorney for North Dakota Chris Myers.

"There's information out there that could help this investigation move forward. This affects a number of jurisdictions and we hope that people come forward and provide us additional information, so we can reach that next step of this particular case," Myers said.

According to the FBI:

Agents from its Minneapolis office took the recovered nearly 80-year-old slippers to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., where another pair of the ruby slippers has been on display since 1979, for analysis and comparison.

Dawn Wallace analyzes one of the recovered slippers.
Dawn Wallace, a conservator for the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History, analyzes one of the recovered slippers at the Smithsonian's Conservation Lab in Washington, D.C.
Courtesy of the Smithsonian

Dawn Wallace, a Smithsonian conservator working for the past two years to conserve the museum's ruby slippers, said a careful analysis found that the recovered shoes were similar in construction, materials and condition to the museum's pair.

And as it turned out the recovered shoes and the Smithsonian pair are mismatched twins.

Smithsonian curator Ryan said the Smithsonian's ruby slippers "are among the most requested objects by visitors to the museum. There is an emotional response that visitors have," he said. "People's eyes light up."

Anyone with additional information regarding the theft of the ruby slippers or the extortion plot is encouraged to contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI (225-5324) or submit information online at tips.fbi.gov.