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Dying mobster is spared jail for stealing Wizard of Oz slippers

The theif said he had no idea that the slippers had cultural value, claiming he had never seen ‘The Wizard of Oz’

Graig Graziosi
Tuesday 30 January 2024 18:58 GMT
Man who stole famous ‘Wizard of Oz’ slippers sentenced

The man who stole one of the last remaining pairs of Judy Garland’s Ruby Red Slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” will be spared jail time, as he has only months to live.

Terry Jon Martin, 76, was a reformed thief until he went back to his old ways for one last job — stealing Dorthy's slippers.

The scheme started with a misunderstanding about the value of the slippers, according to Martin's defence attorney.

Martin was involved in criminal activity in the 1990s. He eventually hung that hat up after a prison stint that ended in 1996, but a former associate with ties to the mob told him the famed Ruby Red Slippers were worth $1m because they were decorated with real gems.

“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,” Martin's defence attorney, Dane DeKrey, wrote. “After much contemplation, Terry had a criminal relapse and decided to participate in the theft.”

In reality, the movie prop was not adorned with priceless gems, but rather glass beads and sequins.

On the night of the heist, Martin reportedly climbed into the museum through a window, broke the display case housing the slippers, and fled the scene, according to ABC News.

The museum's alarm was tripped, but it failed to alert the local police, The Guardian reports.

Terry Jon Martin prepares to leave the federal courthouse in Duluth, Minnesota (MPR News. No sales, no redistribution.)

When Martin had the slippers appraised by a fence, he was told that there were no rubies on the shoes, and their only value would be on the collector's market. He got rid of the slippers after 48 hours, oblivious to their cultural value because he had never seen “The Wizard of Oz”, according to his attorney.

The slippers were insured for $1m, but had a collector's market value of about $3.5m.

In 2017, a source came forward and said he had information that could lead to slippers' recovery, according to the FBI. The agency launched a year-long investigation and ultimately used phone records to build a case against Martin.

Using his wife's immigration status as leverage to secure a search of his house, investigators eventually convinced Martin to confess and turn over the slippers.

Stolen Ruby Slippers (Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

He ultimately pleaded guilty to theft of a major artwork in October 2023.

Martin is currently in hospice care and is expected to die sometime in the next few months. He appeared in court connected to an oxygen tank, which he needs to help with his chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder.

While Chief US District Judge Patrick Schiltz said he did not want to "minimize the seriousness of Mr Martin's crime — noting that the man "intended to steal and destroy an irreplaceable part of American culture" — he ultimately agreed with the defence and prosecution's recommendations to issue a "time served" penalty on account of his condition.

Mr Schiltz told Martin that had he adjudicated the case in 2005, he'd have given him 10 years in prison.

Ultimately Martin will spend no time in jail, but will be required to pay a $23,500 restitution to the museum in $300 monthly payments.

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