Gang who stole 'Wizard of Oz' ruby ​​slippers escape jail

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A dying gang who confessed to stealing the iconic ruby ​​slippers worn in “The Wizard of Oz” has no place like home after being released from prison Monday.

Terry John Martin, 76, faced the Minnesota judge who sentenced him for the 2005 Rabbit Brain robbery, which saw the reformed thief enter the Judy Garland Museum on Grant and retire to take “one last score.” Rapids and swipes the bright red shoes the actress wore while portraying Dorothy.

Ailing Martin was stone-faced as the judge handed down the sentence – and was physically unable to fully rise from his chair by the end of the hearing.

His lawyer, Dan DeGrey, said the settlement of the case should bring closure to the government, the museum, the famous shoe collector and Martin.

“They will never be perfect in this case,” DeGrey said of the victims. “But they are more complete than they have been in the last 18 years.”

Retired mobster Terry John Martin, 76, stole Dorothy's ruby ​​slippers from the 1939 musical “The Wizard of Oz” in 2005. AP
Martin's attorney said he was convinced by a former partner to steal the slippers from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minn. AP

Martin remains in hospice care and is expected to die in the next few months. He also requires constant oxygen therapy for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Chief U.S. District Judge Patrick Shields accepted the prosecution's and defense's recommendation that Martin be sentenced because of his deteriorating health.

During the sentencing, the judge told the defendant, who spoke over the loud hum of his oxygen machine, that if it had been 2005 he would have been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

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As part of Martin's sentence, he must pay $300 a month in restitution of $23,500 to the museum.

The recovered ruby ​​sandals will be auctioned off, said John Kelsh, founding director of the Judy Garland Museum. AP

“I certainly don't want to minimize the seriousness of Mr. Martin's crime,” Shilts said. “Mr. Martin intends to steal and destroy an irreplaceable part of American culture.

The entire caper was based on a misunderstanding regarding the value of film props, Martin's attorney wrote in a court memo prior to his sentencing.

In the late 1990s, when Martin had given up a life of crime and was living as a law-abiding citizen, he was approached in 2005 by a former associate with ties to the mob, who told him about the ruby ​​slippers Garland wore in the 1939 classic. It had to be adorned with real gems to justify the $1 million insurance value.

“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,” DeGray wrote in the memo. “After much thought, Terry had a criminal relapse and decided to participate in the robbery.”

Martin was not charged with stealing the sequined and glass beaded shoes until last year.

Prosecutor Matthew Greenley said in court Monday that investigators zeroed in on Martin's phone records and used his wife's immigration status to search Martin's home to get him to confess to the burglary.

In October 2023, he pleaded guilty to theft of a large artwork, admitting to using a hammer to break the museum's door and display case glass.

Martin was mistakenly believed by a mob associate that the shoes were covered in real rubies. AP

Martin told the October hearing that he hoped to remove what he thought were real rubies from the shoes and sell them. But a man who deals in stolen goods, known as Veli, informs him that the jewels are not genuine.

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Martin removed the stolen slippers less than 48 hours later.

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

Instead, “Old Terry” pursued “New Terry,” who became a “contributing member of society” after his release from prison in 1996 and had a lifelong history of receiving stolen property, the memo said.

After learning that the rubies in the shoes were fake, DeGrey wrote, Martin gave them to his old partner and said he never wanted to see them again.

The FBI recovered the shoes during a raid in Minneapolis in 2018 after someone approached the bureau saying they could help locate the stolen artifacts in exchange for a $200,000 reward for their safe return.

Martin declined to identify any accomplices, and no one else has been charged in the robbery

The slippers are one of the most famous and recognizable props in cinema history, valued at $3.5 million. Everett Collection

Federal prosecutors put the sandals' market value at about $3.5 million.

In the beloved film, Dorothy, played by Garland, 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.

He wore several pairs during filming, but only four actual pairs are known to exist.

Hollywood memorabilia collector Michael Shaw had loaned a pair to a museum in Garland's hometown before 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.

John Kelsh, founding director of the Judy Garland Museum, said the slippers were returned to Shaw and are now being held by an auction house, which plans to sell them after a promotional tour.

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