Ruby slipper thief: Senior mobster avoids prison sentence but must pay $300 a month

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 get “one last score” was not sentenced to prison at Monday’s sentencing hearing.

Terry Jon Martin, 76, stole the slippers decorated with sequins and glass beads in 2005 from the Judy Garland Museum in the late actor’s hometown of Grand Rapids, Minnesota. He succumbed to temptation after an old associate with mob ties told him the shoes had to be adorned with real jewels to justify their $1 million insured value, his lawyer revealed in a federal court filing earlier of his sentence in Duluth.

Martin showed little emotion as the judge handed down the sentence and was physically unable to fully rise from his chair as the judge adjourned the hearing. He refused to address the court. But defense attorney Dane DeKrey said resolution of the case should bring some measure of closure to the government, the museum, the owner of the slippers and Martin himself.

The government was able to hold one person accountable, DeKrey said, while the museum and the collector who owned the slippers found out what happened. And Martin managed to close this chapter in the final months of his life instead of taking his secret to the grave.

“They will never be healed in this case,” the victims’ lawyer said. “But they are more intact than they have been in the last 18 years.”

The FBI recovered the shoes in 2018 when someone else tried to claim a reward. Martin wasn’t accused of stealing them until last year. Prosecutor Matthew Greenley said in court Monday that investigators used phone records to locate Martin and used his wife’s immigration status as leverage to search Martin’s home and get him to confess.

In October he pleaded guilty to the theft of a major work of art, admitting he used a hammer to break the glass of the museum door and display case to get the slippers. But his motives remained mostly a mystery until DeKrey revealed them in a court document 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 that the rubies were not real, Martin said. So he got rid of the slippers.

DeKrey wrote in his memo that an unidentified former associate of Martin convinced him to steal the slippers as a “last score,” even though Martin appeared to have “finally put his demons to rest” after finishing his latest prison sentence nearly 10 years earlier.

«At first Terry declined the invitation to participate in the robbery. But old habits die hard, and the thought of a ‘final score’ kept him up at night,” DeKrey wrote. “After much deliberation, Terry had a criminal relapse and decided to participate in the robbery.”

Chief U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz accepted both sides’ recommendation that Martin serve time because he is homebound in hospice care and expected to die within the next few months. He requires constant oxygen therapy for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and had to be wheeled into the courtroom in a wheelchair. The loud hum of his oxygen machine echoed through the classroom.

Schiltz told Martin he probably would have sentenced him to 10 years in prison if it were still 2005. The judge also accepted both sides’ recommendation that Martin pay $23,500 in restitution to the museum and ordered him to pay $300 a month .

“I certainly don’t want to downplay the seriousness of Mr. Martin’s crime,” the judge said. “Mr. Martin intended to steal and destroy an irreplaceable part of American culture.”

According to DeKrey’s memo, Martin had no idea of ​​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 of burglaries and receiving stolen property beat out the “new Terry” who had become “a contributing member of society” after his release from prison in 1996. .

After the fence told Martin the rubies were fake, DeKrey wrote, he gave the slippers to his old partner and told him he never wanted to see them again. The lawyer said Martin never heard from the man again. Martin refused to identify anyone else involved in the theft, and no one else was ever charged in the case.

The FBI has never revealed exactly how it tracked down the slippers. The bureau said a man approached the insurer in 2017 and said he could help recover them, but demanded more than the $200,000 reward offered. The slippers were recovered during an FBI operation in Minneapolis the following year.

Federal prosecutors estimated the street value of the slippers 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 a pair to the museum 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.

According to John Kelsh, founding director of the Judy Garland Museum, the slippers were returned to Shaw and are being held by an auction house that plans to sell them after a promotional tour. He told reporters that he doubts they will ever return to Grand Rapids.

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, claims to have the world’s largest collection of Garland and “Wizard of Oz” memorabilia. The museum’s executive director, Janie Heitz, said in court that the theft cost him “a significant amount of credibility” and made it harder to borrow other items related to Garland and the film, as well as harmed visitors.

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