A 2017 tip to Detective Brian Mattson led to “connections outside of Minnesota,” the Grand Rapids Police Department said, explaining why the FBI took the lead in the probe.
The shoes were recovered in Minneapolis earlier this summer, Sgt. Robert Stein said in a statement, declining to provide details because the investigation remains active.
‘We were literally crying’
“Sometime between 5:45 PM on August 27th and 9:45 Am on August 28th, a burglar broke a window in the museum’s back door and entered,” the Grand Rapids Police Department said in a news release. “The thief smashed a Plexiglas case resting on a wooden podium in the museum’s gallery and made off with the slippers that were insured for 1 million dollars. The alarm did not sound to a central dispatch station. No fingerprints were left behind.”
Investigators had no evidence, aside from a single sequin that had fallen off one of the slippers, Stein said in a statement. Tips flowed in over the years — including one from a psychic just last month — but they led either nowhere or to counterfeits.
Police worried that the culprit might destroy the slippers if she or he sensed police were closing in, so investigators declined to dispel rumors, including one that local rapscallions had tossed them in the Mississippi River or into an ore pit in the area.
“We believed that information would eventually surface and knew we were in this for the long haul,” Stein said.
Museum co-founder Jon Miner told CNN affiliate KQDS in 2015 that the theft was “the biggest thing that ever happened to our museum.”
“We were literally crying,” he told the station.
Museum denied rumors of inside job
Since then, rumors swirled among residents and memorabilia collectors about where over the rainbow they could be. Valued at $2 million to $3 million and thought to be worth as much as $5 million at auction, they would be hard to sell on the black market — and even harder to hide.
“Whoever has them, illicitly, has their hands full with them,” journalist Rhys Thomas said in the 2016 documentary, “The Slippers.”
“One way or another, over the course of time, the shoes will out you,” said Thomas, who tracked down several pairs of the famed shoes for a Los Angeles Times article published in 1988.
Memorabilia collector Michael Shaw loaned the slippers to the Judy Garland Museum for Grand Rapids’ annual “Wizard of Oz” festival in 2005. Shaw rejected the museum’s offer to store them in a vault each night because he didn’t want people handling the delicate shoes by moving them daily, he said in the documentary.
“But most importantly, I was assured that the museum had security,” Shaw said in the film.
Museum staff arrived in the morning to find the shoes missing from the smashed glass case. An alarm had been tripped but no signal was sent to police dispatch, museum co-founder John Kelsch said in the documentary. Miner and Kelsch vehemently denied rumors of an inside job.
“We’re the ones that want to find them because they were entrusted to us,” Miner said.
“Our people, they love the museum. They wouldn’t have done that. These are honest people,” Kelsch said.
Ten years later, the museum worked with the Itasca County Sheriff’s Dive Team to address the theory that someone had thrown the slippers in a nearby lake. During the 40th Annual “Wizard of Oz” Festival, divers scoured the depths of the Tioga Mine Pit Lake but came up empty-handed.