In 1939, Judy Garland wore several pairs of red sequin slippers while filming the Wizard of Oz. Two of the shoes are owned by a private collector, two are on display at the National Smithsonian Museum, two will be displayed at the Academy’s Museum of Motion Pictures opening in late 2019, and two were recently recovered by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigations.
In order to learn the story of how the FBI ended up with a pair of Dorothy’s ruby slippers, one must travel back in time to 1970 when MGM Studio held a lot auction. Two pairs of Dorothy’s slippers were up for grabs, but someone made a horrible mistake while preparing for the auction. They accidentally took shoes from two different pairs and combined them. Therefore, when the shoes were sold at auction, one set contained two right shoes and one set contained two left shoes.
Several years past, and one of the sets of shoes were donated to the Smithsonian Institute while the other set was donated to the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In August 2005, someone smashed the glass in the window of the museum, and they made off with the ruby slippers. For 13 long years, no one knew where the slippers were located. The Grand Rapids Police Department, however, continued to look for them. A Garland fan even put up a $1 million reward. Following leads, a local group of volunteers dove in the nearby mining pit looking for the shoes, but no one could find them. Finally, the Markel Corporation who had insured the shoes paid $800,000 to the owner of Dorothy’s traveling shoes.
In 2017, a man contacted Markel Corporation saying that he knew where the missing shoes were located, but he wanted $1 million for their safe return. The corporation contacted the police for guidance. The FBI working with the Grand Rapids Police Department undertook a sting operation. Working with officers in Chicago, Atlanta, and Miami, they were able to recover what they believed were the shoes.
Still, the FBI had a problem. They were not sure how to prove that these were really Dorothy’s infamous slippers. They contacted the Smithsonian Institute who agreed to study the shoes. They compared the recovered shoes to the ones in their collection. They realized that they both had a few painted glass beads on them that were different from most of the beads on the shoes. They also realized that the sequins on the shoes were made from the same material. The conclusive evidence, however, came when the shoes were placed side-by-side as they suddenly made two pairs again.
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