A Minnesota Man Has Pleaded Guilty to Stealing ‘The Wizard of Oz’ Ruby Slippers From the Judy Garland Museum

At the time of the theft in 2005, Terry Jon Martin believed that the slippers included actual rubies.

"The Wizard of Oz" Ruby Red Slippers worn by Judy Garland in 1939. Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images.

The mystery surrounding the theft of a pair of the ruby slippers that played a pivotal role in the iconic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz has come to a close. Terry Jon Martin, 76, pleaded guilty to taking them from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, where the actor once lived, in 2005, reported Minnesota Public Radio.

Martin used a sledgehammer to break through both the museum’s glass door and the display case before making off with the shoes. While they were recovered in an FBI sting in 2018 and have since been returned to their owner, a private Hollywood memorabilia collector who had loaned them to the museum, the thief’s identity had long remained uncertain.

Martin was indicted by a federal grand jury in May and maintained his innocence in June, but he finally pleaded guilty to the felony crime of theft of a major artwork on Friday, according to the Star Tribune. At the time of the crime he believed the shoes were made from actual gemstones, he said, and when he discovered their sparkle was mere Tinseltown magic, he ditched them.

“I didn’t want anything to do with them,” he told Chief Judge Patrick J. Schiltz. The shoes were insured for $1 million at the time; the FBI puts their value at $3.5 million now, according to Minnesota Public Radio. They are one of five known surviving pairs from the movie. Another is on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, in Washington, D.C.

Chief Schiltz accepted the plea and questioned Martin, who arrived to court in a wheelchair, wearing a mask and with an oxygen tank in tow. He was trying to ascertain, the Minnesota Press News reported, that Martin was of sound mind and understood the potential consequences of such a plea. According to his attorney, Dane DeKrey, Martin has advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and is currently under hospice care.

“So I think he wanted to take responsibility and move on with his life, what little life he has left,” DeKrey said. “A trial hanging over your head, or doing these things while you’re also trying to get your end of life affairs together, just didn’t seem like something that was worthwhile to him.”

Federal prosecutors agreed on a plea deal with Martin. While the details have not been made public, DeKrey noted that the deal avoids jail time for his client.

“I understand that there needs to be justice,” DeKrey said. “But the Terry that I know and met is not whoever Terry was when he used that little sledgehammer to break into the Judy Garland Museum.”

Asked why his client decided to plead guilty now, the attorney was blunt, telling the Star Tribune, “I think when someone is at the end of their life, they are making decisions that are right for their affairs.

“And, I mean, the short answer is because he’s guilty.”


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