A Minnesota man has been indicted on charges that he stole a pair of the famed ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz,” from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minn., the actress’s hometown, nearly 18 years ago.
The red-sequined pumps were recovered in a sting operation that ended in Minneapolis in 2018, but the authorities said at the time that their investigation was continuing and they did not name any suspects.
On Tuesday, a federal indictment in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota charged Terry Jon Martin of Minnesota with stealing an authentic pair of the slippers, which officials estimated have a market value of $3.5 million, from the museum sometime between Aug. 27 and Aug. 28 of 2005. Mr. Martin was indicted on one count of theft of a major artwork.
The one-page indictment did not provide any further details about the case. It was not immediately clear if Mr. Martin had a lawyer and he could not be reached at numbers listed under his name. Mr. Martin told The Minneapolis Star Tribune on Wednesday that he had to go to trial, and added: “I don’t want to talk to you.” The newspaper reported that Mr. Martin lived about 12 miles south of the museum.
Janie Heitz, executive director of the Judy Garland Museum, said in an interview on Wednesday that she was researching to find out if Mr. Martin had any connection to the museum, although she was certain that he had not been an employee.
“It’s a break in the case, which is good,” she said. “We are excited, speechless, anxious.”
The slippers were stolen by someone who had broken in through a back entrance and smashed the plexiglass display case holding the shoes. With no fingerprints or security camera footage to go by, the police were left with few clues. The only thing left behind was a lone red sequin.
Federal, local and private investigators pursued a variety of theories over the years, and eventually a private donor offered a $1 million reward for locating the shoes, which were among several worn by Garland in filming the 1939 movie. Three other pairs used in filming were known to survive.
A break in the search came in 2018 when someone approached the insurance company that owned the shoes, claiming to have information about the slippers and how they could be returned. It quickly became clear, officials said, that the person was trying to extort money from the company.
Investigators from the F.B.I.’s art crime unit, along with other federal agents in Chicago, Atlanta and Miami, organized a sting operation to recover the slippers. The authorities said they had not paid any reward money.
Seyward Darby, a co-host of “No Place Like Home,” a podcast about the theft, said that Mr. Martin’s name had not come in her reporting.
“However, as our podcast discusses, there was a strong suspicion that there was a ‘local connection’ to the crime — someone with knowledge of the museum, the fact that the slippers were on loan there in the summer of 2005, and how easy they were to steal,” Ms. Darby said in an email. “What’s interesting is that Martin is just one piece of the puzzle. Over the 13 years the slippers were missing, it is possible — likely, even — that they exchanged hands.”
The indictment, Ms. Darby said, raised questions about whether Mr. Martin might have acted alone or whether he might have been commissioned by a criminal syndicate.
“Much like ‘The Wizard of Oz’ itself, this story keeps on giving,” she said. “Every time there’s a new development, there are more mysteries.”
Rhys Thomas, the author of “The Ruby Slippers of Oz,” a book about the shoes used in the film, said that Mr. Martin “certainly wasn’t on my radar.”
“I have a feeling this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Mr. Thomas said. “I don’t think a single individual would have opportunistically grabbed the shoes and then sat on them for 13 years and then gotten himself involved in an extortion case.”
When the shoes were stolen, they belonged to a collector in North Hollywood, Calif., and were on loan to the museum, which opened in 1975 in the house where Garland lived as a young child.
The Judy Garland Museum had put the shoes on display in 2005 during an annual festival celebrating the actress. Strictly speaking, they are not a pair; the left and right shoes are slightly different sizes, and are considered to be the mates of the left and right shoes housed at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
In “The Wizard of Oz,” Ms. Garland, playing Dorothy, clicks the heels of the ruby slippers three times and utters the words, “There’s no place like home,” magically transporting herself back home to Kansas.
Ms. Heitz said on Wednesday that, although the shoes had been recovered in 2018, they had remained in federal custody, as evidence in the case. She said she hoped that they could one day be returned to the museum and displayed again. They are widely considered to be among the most recognizable cultural objects in American film.
“It’s just such an iconic item that means so much to so many people,” Ms. Heitz said, adding that, to many, the slippers represent home and a sense of place. “It would be a shame for them to stay in a locked case for the rest of time.”