A 76-year-old man has been charged with the 2005 theft of an iconic pair of ruby slippers from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minn. — the ones the actress wore in "The Wizard of Oz" and that remained missing until they were recovered 13 years later.
Terry J. Martin, who lives about 12 miles south of the museum named for the hometown hero, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Minnesota on a charge of theft of major artwork in connection with breaking in overnight, smashing a Plexiglas case and taking the size-5 ½ slippers that were then on loan to the museum from a Hollywood collector.
The one-page indictment offered no other clues about how the theft was carried out, where the shoes had been for the years before their recovery or how the FBI determined that Martin was responsible.
Reached by phone Wednesday at his home, Martin told the Star Tribune, "I gotta go on trial. I don't want to talk to you."
The museum's executive director, Janie Heitz, said Wednesday afternoon that she found out about someone being charged "literally one minute ago" from news reporters.
Heitz said Martin's name "doesn't ring a bell with any of us" at the museum.
Martin's first court appearance has yet to be scheduled. State court records show that he was convicted in Hennepin County and sent to prison in 1988 for receiving stolen property.
Filings in a parallel federal case against Martin implicated him in the stealing of prescription drugs while burglarizing pharmacies in Frazee, Minn., and New Hope. It also noted a long criminal history that includes convictions in the 1960s and 1970s for aggravated assault, robbery and burglary.
He also was charged in federal court with stealing dozens of fur coats from Cedric's in Edina in 1985, but his attorney at the time said Wednesday that Martin was acquitted based on entrapment during a law enforcement sting operation.
"I'd be happy to represent him again,'' said attorney Craig Cascarano.
At the time they were stolen, the slippers were insured for $1 million. Current fair market appraisal values the slippers at $3.5 million, the U.S. Attorney's Office in North Dakota said in a statement announcing the indictment.
The case is being handled by federal prosecutors in North Dakota. A spokeswoman for the the U.S. Attorney's Office in Minnesota said recusal was necessary for a reason she did not disclose.
The slippers were among several pairs donned by Garland in the 1939 classic and one of only four known to survive from the movie that launched Garland's career.
Born Frances Gumm in 1922, Garland lived in Grand Rapids until she was 4 ½, when her family moved to Los Angeles. She died in 1969.
The slippers were found during a sting operation in Minneapolis carried out by the FBI's art crime team, about a year after Grand Rapids police fielded a tip that proved more fruitful than past rumors of the slippers being tossed in a flooded iron ore pit or turning up at a roadside diner in Missouri.
In a May 2019 article, the Washington Post cited a "source close to the investigation" who said prominent Minneapolis defense attorney Joe Friedberg negotiated the recovery of the slippers and had them in his possession at some point.
Friedberg declined to comment to the Star Tribune about Martin's indictment other than to say, "I have never met the man, nor have I heard of him."
Among the people most obsessed with the slippers have been two journalists behind "There's No Place Like Home," an eight-part podcast that dropped in 2021.
Seyward Darby, editor-in-chief of the Atavist Magazine, was mesmerized when she heard about the recovery and wanted to dive deeper. Over the course of three years of reporting, Darby and New York freelancer Ariel Ramchandani discovered numerous potential suspects.
This is an "exciting day for those of us who've been following this story since 2018," Darby said. "There was a strong suspicion that there was a local connection to the crime — someone with knowledge of the museum, the fact that the slippers were on loan there in the summer of 2005, and how easy they were to steal."
Darby added that "much like 'The Wizard of Oz' itself, this story keeps on giving. Every time there's a new development, there are more mysteries."
As for where the slippers are now, the museum's Heitz said federal officials still have them. "We've been waiting to get them back," she said, revealing that a replica pair is on display in the meantime.
Staff writer Stephen Montemayor contributed to this report.