On Aug. 28, 2005, as most of the nation was riveted to news of Hurricane Katrina making landfall in New Orleans, a thief – or thieves – smashed a rear-door window at the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and walked away with one of Hollywood's most dazzling icons.
The ruby red slippers – one of four pairs worn by Garland's beloved character Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz," and valued at $2 million – haven't been seen since.
But there have been big breaks in the case in recent days, a spokesman for a Minneapolis agency that has two private investigators working the case told BringMeTheNews.
After trails ran cold in the search for what has been called the "holy grail of movie memorabilia," it had been several years since the investigation was considered active. But the museum hired Alexander & Associates to re-open the case last summer.
"We have two prime suspects in place," agency spokesman Rob Feeney told BringMeTheNews. "On top of that, we've made major strides in the last two weeks in the investigation."
Feeney declined to say who the suspects are or describe the case breaks, adding that the agency would be prepared to offer a bit more information in an announcement Friday.
Feeney said there are "a lot" of people who know exactly who took the slippers, but few are talking.
In eight years, the glittery slippers have been the subject of much speculation, especially in wide circles of movie fans, Hollywood memorabilia collectors, passionate lovers of "The Wizard of Oz," and members of the cult of Judy Garland.
One theory: It was an inside job. "No question," one of just a few surviving "munchkin" actors from the movie told Minnesota Monthly Magazine in a lengthy 2009 examination of the theft.
But other theories center on the fans – some of them truly consumed with Garland and the movie – observers of the case have said. “Some fanatic has paid to have the slippers stolen,” the owner of the slippers, Michael Shaw, told Minnesota Monthly. “People are obsessed with these shoes.”
At the time of the theft, the 75-year-old slippers, which in real life are a somewhat shabby-looking, sequin-covered pair of size-5 1/2 pumps, were on loan from Shaw to the Garland museum in her hometown. He later received an insurance settlement.
The theft itself was somewhat shabby, not much more than a smash-and-grab that took a minute or two. A hammer was likely used to break the glass in an emergency-exit door and the Plexiglass case that held what is likely one of the most valuable pairs of shoes in the world, investigators said. A security camera was not operating. No fingerprints were found.
The chief investigator at the Grand Rapids Police Department in 2008 told Forbes magazine that there had been leads, but all led nowhere. Bennett said then that he had narrowed a suspect list to four local residents, but he didn't have the evidence to pursue charges.
So for the moment, the theft case of Hollywood's shiniest icon remains unsolved. Will they find their way back home, as Dorothy did?
"It's just a classic whodunnit mystery," Feeney said.
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