Dying thief who stole ruby slippers from Minnesota museum will likely avoid prison


MINNEAPOLIS — A dying thief who confessed to stealing a pair of ruby slippers that Judy Garland wore in “The Wizard of Oz” because he wanted to pull off “one last score” is expected to stay out of prison after he’s sentenced Monday.

Terry Jon Martin, 76, stole the slippers in 2005 from the Judy Garland Museum in the late actor’s hometown of Grand Rapids, Minnesota. He gave into temptation after an old mob associate told him the shoes had to be adorned with real jewels to justify their $1 million insured value, his attorney revealed in a memo to the federal court ahead of his sentencing in Duluth.

The FBI recovered the shoes in 2018 when someone else tried to claim a reward. 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 defense attorney Dane DeKrey revealed it this month.

Martin, who lives near Grand Rapids, said at the October hearing that he hoped to remove what he thought were real rubies from the shoes and sell them. But a person who deals in stolen goods, known as a fence, informed him the rubies were glass, Martin said. So he got rid of the slippers.

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 ago.

“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. “After much contemplation, Terry had a criminal relapse and decided to participate in the theft.”

Both sides are recommending that Chief U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz sentence Martin to time served because he is housebound in hospice care and is expected to die within six months. He requires constant oxygen therapy for chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and was in a wheelchair when he pleaded guilty.

Federal sentencing guidelines would normally recommend a sentence of about 4 1/2 years to 6 years, though someone with Martin’s criminal history could get an even longer term. But his health “is simply too fragile,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing. Another prosecution filing said both sides agreed he should be ordered to pay $23,500 in restitution to the museum, even though he apparently does not have the money.

According to DeKrey, Martin had no idea about the cultural significance of the ruby slippers and had never seen “The Wizard of Oz.” 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.

After the fence told Martin the rubies were fake, DeKrey wrote, he gave the slippers to his old mob associate and told him he never wanted to see them again. The attorney said Martin never heard from the man again. Martin has refused to identify anyone else who was involved in the theft, and nobody else has ever been charged in the case.

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 $3.5 million.

In the classic 1939 musical, Garland’s character, Dorothy, had to click the heels of her ruby slippers three times and repeat, “There’s no place like home,” to return to Kansas from Oz. She wore several pairs during filming, but only four authentic pairs are known to remain.

Hollywood memorabilia collector Michael Shaw had loaned one pair to the museum when Martin stole them. The other three are held by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Smithsonian Museum of American History and a private collector.

Garland was born Frances Gumm in 1922. She lived in Grand Rapids, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) north of Minneapolis, until she was 4, when her family moved to Los Angeles. She died in 1969.

The Judy Garland Museum, located in the house where she lived, says it has the world’s largest collection of Garland and Wizard of Oz memorabilia.



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