Theft of ruby slippers from “Wizard of Oz” was reformed mobster’s “one last score,” court memo says

Theft of ruby slippers from "Wizard of Oz" was reformed mobster's "one last score," court memo says

Court records reveal why man stole ruby slippers from “Wizard of Oz”

Court records reveal why man stole ruby slippers from “Wizard of Oz”


MINNEAPOLIS — The aging reformed mobster who has admitted stealing a pair of ruby slippers that Judy Garland wore in “The Wizard of Oz” gave into the temptation of “one last score” after an old mob associate led him to believe the famous shoes must be adorned with real jewels to justify their $1 million insured value.

Terry Jon Martin’s defense attorney finally revealed the 76-year-old’s motive for the 2005 theft from the Judy Garland Museum in the late actor’s hometown of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, in a new memo filed ahead of his Jan. 29 sentencing in Duluth, Minnesota.

The FBI recovered the shoes in 2018 when someone else tried to claim an insurance reward on them, but Martin wasn’t charged with stealing them until last year.

Martin pleaded guilty in October to using a hammer to smash the glass of the museum door and display case to take the slippers. He had hoped to harvest real rubies from the shoes and sell them. But a fence, a person who deals in stolen goods, informed him the rubies were glass and Martin got rid of the slippers less than two days after he took them, he said.

Stolen Ruby Slippers
A pair of ruby slippers once worn by actress Judy Garland in the “The Wizard of Oz” sit on display at a news conference on Sept. 4, 2018, at the FBI office in Brooklyn Center, Minn.

Jeff Baenen / AP

Defense attorney Dane DeKrey said in his memo that an unidentified former mob associate tempted Martin to steal the shoes, even though he hadn’t committed a crime in nearly 10 years after his last prison stint.

“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.”

DeKrey and prosecutors are recommending the judge sentence Martin to time served because he is physically incapable of presenting a threat to society. Martin is in hospice care with a life expectancy of less than six months. He needs oxygen at all times because of his chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and was in a wheelchair at his most recent court appearance. Even if he were sentenced to prison, his poor health might be grounds for a compassionate release.

Martin had no idea about the cultural significance of the ruby slippers and had never seen the movie. Instead, DeKrey said he was just looking for one last big score, and the “old Terry” with a lifelong history of crimes like burglary and receiving stolen property beat out the “new Terry” who seemed to “finally put his demons to rest” after being released from prison in 1996 and became “a contributing member of society.”

DeKrey urged the judge to consider the major events of Martin’s life when deciding whether a lenient sentence is appropriate.

Martin suffered under a cruel stepmother who mistreated him and his three brothers so badly for several years that he left home at the age of 16 and began drinking and stealing.

While on parole from prison, Martin’s girlfriend became pregnant with twins, but he missed their birth after his parole was revoked. Right after his girlfriend brought the 1-month-old twins to prison to meet him, they died after a train struck her vehicle.

“This was truly the turning point in Terry’s life — his villain origin story — and the reason he not only went down his dark path but accelerated towards it,” DeKrey wrote. “His son said it best: ‘the twins’ death made (my dad) just give up on life; he decided on a life of crime.’”

Martin’s lawyer also said the judge should consider that Martin had not committed any other crimes in nearly a decade before stealing the slippers nor in the years since then. DeKrey said Martin didn’t even try to claim a slice of the insurance reward money when some of his former associates tried to collect.

In the filing, Martin’s son said he “is a good man and has a good heart. He just had a lot of trauma in his life, and some people just can’t recover from that.”

“He’s made peace with what he’s done in this life and is ready to accept whatever comes next,” Martin’s attorney wrote. “He’s righted as many wrongs as he can, and this guilty plea is the last step.”

Garland wore several pairs of ruby slippers during filming of the classic 1939 musical, but only four authentic pairs are known to remain. The stolen slippers were insured for $1 million, but federal prosecutors put the current market value at about $3.5 million.

The FBI 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 FBI has never disclosed how it tracked down the slippers, which remain in the agency’s custody.

The slippers were on loan to the museum from Hollywood memorabilia collector Michael Shaw when Martin stole them. Three other pairs worn by Garland in the movie are held by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Smithsonian Museum of American History and a private collector.

Several rewards were offered over the years in hopes of figuring out who stole the slippers, which were key props in the film. Garland’s character, Dorothy, has to click the heels of the slippers three times and repeat, “There’s no place like home,” to return to Kansas.

Garland was born Frances Gumm in 1922. She lived in Grand Rapids, about 200 miles 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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