Second man indicted in ‘Oz’ ruby slipper theft

a man is wheeled out of a court
Jerry Hal Saliterman, of Crystal, is wheeled out of U.S. District Court in St. Paul, Friday, after he made his initial appearance on charges connected to the 2005 theft of a pair of ruby slippers worn by Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.” The FBI recovered the slippers in 2018. Another man charged in the case has already pleaded guilty and was sentenced to time served because of his ailing health.
Steve Karnowski | AP

A federal grand jury has indicted a second person in connection with the theft nearly two decades ago of a pair of ruby slippers worn in “The Wizard of Oz.” Jerry Hal Saliterman, 76, of Crystal made his initial court appearance Friday in St. Paul.

The indictment, unsealed Sunday, does not include details about Saliterman’s alleged role in the theft, or how he may have been associated with Terry Jon Martin.

Martin admitted stealing a pair of the famous shoes from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, the hometown that he shared with the actor, who died in 1969. She wore several pairs of the red-sequinned shoes during the making of the 1939 film.

Saliterman is charged with a felony count of theft of a major artwork. He also faces a count of witness tampering for allegedly threatening to “distribute sex tapes” of a woman in an effort to prevent her “from communicating information to the FBI relating to the theft.”

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Person in wheelchair is pushed outside a courthouse
Terry Jon Martin, who pleaded guilty to stealing a pair of ruby red slippers worn by Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz," is wheeled out of the federal courthouse in Duluth after his sentencing hearing on Jan. 29 by his attorney, Dane DeKrey. Martin, who is chronically ill and only has a couple months to live, will not have to serve time in prison for the crime.
Dan Kraker | MPR News

In January, U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz sentenced Martin, who is receiving hospice care, to time served after the 77-year-old pleaded guilty to stealing the shoes.

Saliterman arrived in court late Friday afternoon in a wheelchair and used an oxygen tank to aid his breathing.

During the hearing Saliterman answered in the affirmative when Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Cowan Wright asked if he understood his rights and the terms of his release.

Saliterman was dressed in an orange jail uniform but left the federal courthouse in St. Paul with his attorney after promising to attend future hearings in the case. Prosecutors did not seek pretrial detention.

After the hearing, defense attorney John Brink said his client “hasn’t done anything wrong,” and plans to enter a not guilty plea.

Audio transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] CATHY WURZER: There's news in an old criminal case involving a set of famous shoes. In a secret ceremony last month, FBI agents returned a pair of ruby slippers stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota to their owner. Now, this is the latest twist in the tale of the sparkly shoes. And it came to light after a federal grand jury indicted a second person in connection with the 2005 theft. Reporter Matt Sepic has been following this case. He joins us right now. Wow.

MATT SEPIC: Hi, Cathy.

CATHY WURZER: Hi, Matt. I want to know why this return ceremony was kept so quiet. But first, let's talk about the latest criminal charges in the case.

MATT SEPIC: Well, I was in federal court in Saint Paul late Friday afternoon. That's when 76-year-old Jerry Hal Saliterman of Crystal, Minnesota made his first appearance. He is charged with theft of a major artwork, as well as witness tampering. The indictment for various bureaucratic and legal reasons that I won't bore you with was not unsealed until yesterday afternoon. I was keeping an eye out for it.

But unfortunately, the document does not include a lot of detail about Saliterman's alleged role in the theft. It's not what lawyers call a speaking indictment. It says only that he, quote, "received, concealed, and disposed of an object of cultural heritage." Saliterman is also charged with witness tampering for allegedly threatening to, quote, "distribute sex tapes of a woman" in an effort to prevent her from communicating information to the FBI related to the theft. There's not a lot of detail about that particular charge either.

Saliterman arrived in court in a wheelchair Friday and used an oxygen tank to help him breathe. He answered yes when Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Cowan Wright asked if he understood his rights and the terms of his release. Saliterman was wearing an orange jail uniform, but left court with his attorney after promising to attend future hearings in the case. Prosecutors did not seek pretrial detention. They typically don't for nonviolent crimes in the District of Minnesota. After the hearing, Defense Attorney John Brink told me that his client, quote, "hasn't done anything wrong" and plans to enter a not guilty plea.

CATHY WURZER: Now, who was the other person charged in the theft?

MATT SEPIC: Well, last year, 77-year-old Terry Jon Martin of Grand Rapids, where the Judy Garland Museum is, pleaded guilty to stealing the famous shoes from the museum. This is one of several pairs, by the way, that Judy Garland wore during the making of the 1939 classic. Martin's attorney Dane DeKrey said previously that his client believed the shoes were made of real gemstones. And not realizing the cultural significance of them, he told his accomplice that he didn't want them. Martin had the shoes for less than two days.

Now, I should add that this new indictment against Jerry Saliterman does not detail how he may have been associated with Martin. In January, end of January, a judge sentenced Martin, who is in hospice care, to time served. The FBI recovered the slippers in 2018 during a sting operation in Minneapolis after somebody tried to claim insurance money.

CATHY WURZER: What a story. Where are the slippers now?

MATT SEPIC: I spoke this morning with the Judy Garland Museum's Founding Director and Curator John Kelsch. He wanted to point out something that a lot of people believe, but that's not true. The museum never did own these slippers. They were on loan. Michael Shaw, a private collector in Los Angeles, loaned them to the museum, actually, four separate times, starting back in 1989, when The Wizard of Oz was celebrating its 50th anniversary.

It was during the final loan in 2005 that Terry Martin broke in, August 27 at night, smashed the display case with a sledge hammer and took the shoes and left just a single red sequin behind. Shaw, the owner, filed an insurance claim and was eventually reimbursed for his loss. Kelsch tells me that Shaw bought the shoes back from the insurance company just last month. And that, Cathy, brings us to this secret ceremony on February 1 at the museum in Grand Rapids, where the FBI returned the shoes to Shaw.

CATHY WURZER: So Shaw has the shoes. Well, what the heck-- why was it kept so quiet?

MATT SEPIC: Well, Kelsch told me in an interview this morning that the FBI had planned to go public with the news of the shoes' return early last month, soon after the ceremony, but then backtracked and told everybody who was involved at the museum that day to keep their mouths shut.

JOHN KELSCH: It was going to be released that week or around that time. And then the FBI put an embargo on the news release and informed us not to say a word, which we did not do. We didn't tell anybody. They are even today telling us that it is still a very active case.

MATT SEPIC: And, Cathy, there was even more cloak and dagger maneuvering here. Kelsch says his own staff kept the return ceremony secret from him. And when he showed up at work that day last month and saw Shaw there along with FBI staff, he was really surprised. Now, the Bureau sent out a news release this morning, acknowledging the shoes' return to Shaw, along with photos from the ceremony at the Judy Garland Museum.

CATHY WURZER: This is quite a story. Is Mr. Shaw keeping the ruby shoes?

MATT SEPIC: Well, he's the owner, again, after buying them from the insurance company. And he still owns them. But he handed them over to a company called Heritage Auctions last month for safekeeping, for consignment, in fact. The Dallas-based auction house says in its own news release that it put out this morning that it's taking the shoes on an international tour before putting them up for bid at the end of this year in December.

CATHY WURZER: Is there a chance they'll return to Minnesota?

MATT SEPIC: That all depends on who the high bidder is. John Kelsch at the Judy Garland Museum says he's very much interested in putting them on display in Grand Rapids permanently, the hometown of Judy Garland, but with much better security. And there is a bill in the Minnesota Senate-- it was introduced last year-- that would set aside an unspecified amount of money from the Legacy Amendment to buy the shoes. The proposal would require that they be displayed publicly.

Now, Cathy, that bill goes before a Senate committee tomorrow. Brian Bakst has been keeping an eye on this and let me know about that this morning. Federal prosecutors have estimated the slippers' market value to be about $3.5 million. That's way too much money for a small museum to afford, hence the interest of state lawmakers in purchasing them. Kelsch says bringing the slippers to Minnesota would be, in his words, "rocket fuel" for the state's tourism marketing campaign. He expects that the Judy Garland Museum, at any rate, will have a ruby slipper crime exhibit at some point in the future.

JOHN KELSCH: The most asked question at the desk is, tell us about what happened. We want to see. Did you get them back? Of course most people assume that they belong to us.

MATT SEPIC: Now, Cathy, Kelsch said that the theft back in 2005 really cast a dark cloud over the museum. It put everyone there under suspicion and really hurt the small museum's reputation. He said his relationship with the owner, Shaw, was strained, and they lost touch over the last 19 years as this whole saga played out. But more good news, Cathy, the return of the shoes has meant that Kelsch says he and Shaw are friends once again.

CATHY WURZER: Wow. I think there's a movie in this somewhere, at least a book. Matt Sepic, thank you.

MATT SEPIC: You're welcome.

CATHY WURZER: We've been talking to MPR News Reporter Matt Sepic.

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