Nearly two decades after he broke into the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota and stole a pair of Dorothy's ruby slippers used in “The Wizard of Oz,” the man who committed the theft has revealed the Reason: He believed that the slippers were stolen and decorated with real rubies.
Terry Martin, now 76, had never seen “The Wizard of Oz” and had “no idea” that the shoes were among the most iconic cultural artifacts in American film when he stole them on the evening of August 27, 2005, according to his lawyer. Dane DeKrey wrote in court papers this month.
Instead, Mr. Martin believed the slippers must have been made from “genuine rubies” to justify their $1 million insurance value, prosecutors said. He believed he could redeem the gems and sell them on the black market – a plan that backfired when a man dealing in stolen jewelry told him that the gems were made of glass.
On Monday, in U.S. District Court in Duluth, Minnesota, Mr. Martin was sentenced to prison and a year of probation for stealing the slippers after pleading guilty in October to stealing a major work of art, Mr. DeKrey said. He was also ordered to pay about $23,000 to the museum, Mr. DeKrey said.
Federal prosecutors and Mr. DeKrey agreed that Mr. Martin should be spared prison time because he suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, requires oxygen and is in hospice care. He is not expected to live longer than the next six months, prosecutors said.
The motive for the theft was revealed in sentencing memoranda filed by Mr. DeKrey and prosecutors this month, which explained more about Mr. Martin's life story and his involvement in the robbery.
Mr. Martin dealt in stolen jewelry and was in prison for burglary, his lawyer said. But he had already been out of prison for 10 years at the time of the 2005 theft and was living quietly in Grand Rapids, a small city 80 miles northwest of Duluth, when an “old Mafia boss” contacted him about “a job.” wrote his lawyer.
Mr. Martin was initially hesitant to get involved, Mr. DeKrey wrote. But “the old Terry” got the better of the “new Terry” and he gave in to the temptation to “score one last time,” his lawyer said.
“His intention was unique: he believed the gemstones attached to the slippers were real rubies, and so he hoped to steal the slippers, remove the rubies and sell them on the black market over a jewelry fence,” one person said That buys and sells stolen jewelry, Mr. DeKrey wrote.
Mr. Martin used a hammer to break two windows in a door at the Garland Museum and broke open a Plexiglas case containing the shoes. What remained was a single red sequin and no fingerprints, court documents say.
But less than two days later, when the unnamed person dealing in stolen jewelry told Mr. Martin that the gems were worthless replicas, “Terry angrily decided to simply cut his losses and move on,” wrote Mr. DeKrey. “He gave the slippers to the employee who hired him for the job and told the man he never wanted to see them again.”
Investigators had no credible leads in the search for the slippers until an unnamed person contacted Grand Rapids police and promised to help return the shoes in exchange for a $200,000 reward, prosecutors said. Ultimately, those associated with the theft attempted to extort even more money from the insurance company that owned the shoes, saying that if their demands were not met they would keep the slippers for ten years and “explore other options.” said the public prosecutor.
FBI agents conducted an undercover operation in Minneapolis on July 10, 2018, during which the slippers were recovered. Federal officials said they had a market value of $3.5 million and were one of four known surviving couples from “The Wizard of Oz.”
Prosecutors have not identified or charged anyone in connection with the theft, including the Mafia associate who Mr. Martin claimed instigated the robbery or the people accused of trying to extort the insurance company. Mr. Martin has refused to cooperate with investigators in any way other than admitting his own behavior, Mr. DeKrey wrote.
But Mr. DeKrey wrote that the people who tried to capitalize on the theft were not “a group of low-rent criminals trying to get paid.” They were people with real talent whose connections included organized crime and the federal government.”
If Mr. Martin “had wanted a piece of this action, he could have easily contacted the man who hired him for the job and asked for a taste,” Mr. DeKrey wrote. “He’s the one who stole the slippers, after all. But he didn’t do that.”
Instead, Mr. Martin went back to living quietly in Grand Rapids, Mr. DeKrey wrote. He wrote that he had reconnected with his children and begun a new romance.
“Terry Martin never intended to become a criminal celebrity,” Mr. DeKrey wrote. “He came across 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 not a monster. He is a dying man ready to meet his Creator.”