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Dorothy’s ruby slippers from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ were stolen. Nineteen years later, they’re finally back home

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Posted at 8:21 AM, Mar 20, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-20 08:21:02-04

(CNN) — A pair of ruby slippers, famously donned by Judy Garland (in character as Dorothy Gale) in “The Wizard of Oz,” has been returned to its owner years after the shoes were stolen from a museum dedicated to the actress.

FBI agents on Monday reunited collector Michael Shaw with the shoes at the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. The agency said that Shaw “likened the experience to a heartfelt reunion with a long-lost friend.”

The reunion is short-lived, though: The shoes will embark on a whirlwind journey around the world in the coming months, courtesy of Heritage Auctions, before they’ll be sold and sent to their final home — Kansas, perhaps? The Garland Museum, for its part, told CNN affiliate KARE that it’s working to buy the shoes for display in the museum, which is housed in Garland’s restored childhood home.

The slippers were stolen from the museum in 2005, but were recovered in 2018 during a sting operation in Minneapolis, according to the US District Attorney’s Office of North Dakota. Terry Martin and Jerry Hal Saliterman, both in their 70s, were separately charged with the theft. Martin pleaded guilty last year, while Saliterman, who was charged just this week, maintains that he’s innocent. Before Saliterman was identified, Martin’s lawyer said Martin’s associate in the crime allegedly believed the slippers to have been made with actual rubies. (The shoes are merely painted red and covered in sequins, according to the Smithsonian.)

Though the slippers, which Garland’s Dorothy famously clicked together three times to send herself — and “her little dog too,” of course — back home from Oz, aren’t encrusted in gems, they’re extremely valuable: The US District Attorney’s Office of North Dakota estimated the shoes are currently worth around $3.5 million.

“The Wizard of Oz,” frequently cited as one of the greatest films of all time, ushered in a grand new era of studio filmmaking when it premiered in 1939 — and Dorothy’s ruby slippers, brought to life in glorious Technicolor onscreen, are among its enduring and most-beloved artifacts.

Only four pairs of the slippers used in the film are still known to exist, per the North Dakota attorney’s office. One pair is housed at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, though they were initially mismatched: Garland’s name was written on the inside of both shoes, but with different numbers, indicating that each shoe belonged to a different pair used throughout filming. (And though both shoes were covered in felt on the bottom to quiet the sound of Garland’s footsteps as she danced on set, one slipper also showed significantly more wear than the other.)

It wasn’t until Smithsonian experts were tasked by the FBI with confirming the authenticity of the stolen pair, after their recovery in 2018, that the museum’s slippers found their long-lost matches: The stolen shoes were respectively marked with “#1-” and “#6 Judy Garland,” just like the pair displayed at the Smithsonian. CNN has reached out to the Smithsonian to inquire whether the mismatched pairs were reunited with their actual other half.

Several of the known pairs have made the journey from Garland’s feet to fan collections: An MGM costumer discovered a few pairs of ruby slippers on the studio lot in 1970 — one pair was auctioned that year, and eventually donated to the Smithsonian — and he kept at least two pairs for himself, though Shaw later bought one of them. Another of the original pairs is on display at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ museum, donated by a group of benefactors including Leonardo DiCaprio. And in 1939, a lucky Tennessee teenager won slippers worn on-screen in a contest, which she kept until the late 1980s, when she sold them to a fellow movie fan.

Actor Debbie Reynolds, matriarch of another Hollywood dynasty, also bought a rare pair from the lucky MGM costumer — prototype slippers with curly toes that were never used in the film.