‘Dream theft’ of 300-year-old Stradivarius pulled off by Milwaukee man, police say


The 300-year-old Stradivarius violin that was taken from the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra's concertmaster in an armed robbery is on display for the media after it was recently recovered, in Milwaukee, Feb. 6, 2014. (Darren Hauck/Reuters)
February 7

Many violinists dream of one day playing an instrument made by the legendary Antonio Stradivari. In Milwaukee, police say Salah Salahadyn, 41, was nurturing a different dream — which was no less ambitious, although it was completely illegal.

Salahadyn’s dream, authorities said, was to find one of those lucky violinists.

And then steal the violin right out of their hands.

“His dream theft was a Stradivarius violin,” a Milwaukee police detective wrote in charging papers released Friday, quoting an unnamed informant, “because of its potential value and the fact that it could be snatched from the hands of a musician as they walk down the street.”

On Jan. 27, police said, Salahadyn pulled off that dream theft.

He followed a renowned violinist leaving a concert, Tasered him in the parking lot, and got away with a 300-year-old Stradivarius worth an estimated $6 million, police said.

But the next part of Salahadyn’s alleged caper went a lot less well than the first part.

Police first traced down the Taser, using numbers on tiny slips of paper that fell out when the stun guns was fired. Then they tracked down Salahadyn, after one of his alleged accomplices talked about the crime with police. Finally, on Wednesday, Salahadyn himself led detectives to the violin, which was hidden in a suitcase in a Milwaukee attic.

A police spokesman said they have no evidence he tried to sell it.

“It appears we had a local criminal who had an interest in art theft and was smart enough to develop a plan for a robbery,” Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said, according to the Associated Press.

The documents filed Friday in a Milwaukee court charge Salahadyn and an alleged accomplice, Universal K. Allah, 36, with “robbery-party to a crime.” Both could face up to 15 years in prison and $50,000 in fines.

The two were scheduled to make their first court appearance Friday, according to media reports.

The documents released Friday provide the most details so far about the theft, which took place about 10:20 p.m. outside a concert hall at Wisconsin Lutheran College. Frank Almond, the concert master of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, had performed that night on the “Lipinski” Stradivarius, because it was once played by Polish violinist Karol Lipinski. The violin is on loan to Almond from its owner. It is one of only about 650 instruments left that were made in the workshop of Stradivari, an Italian craftsman.

On the night of the robbery, Almond was walking to his car while carrying the Stradivarius. As he opened his car door, police said, a man walked up and fired what police called a “flashlight style” Taser — sending probes into Almond’s wrist and chest, and incapacitating him with an electric current.

In the parking lot, a friend heard Almond scream.

“They got the violin!” Almond yelled, according to the papers. Beside the Stradivarius, the thief took a pair of 19th-century bows worth a total of $50,000, an iPad, and a cellphone.

But left behind in the parking lot was a crucial clue, police said: pieces of paper, as small as confetti, that had been fired out from the Taser. Written on them was an identifying number, which corresponded to a particular weapon.

Police learned the weapon with that number had been shipped last June to Allah, a Milwaukee barber. He later told police that he had ordered the stun gun at the behest of a friend, Salahadyn.

At first, he told investigators, Salahadyn had told him just to hold on to it.

“A few months later, Salahadyn told him that he needed the taser to acquire an ‘instrument’ that was rare and one of a kind. Allah said he knew that Salahadyn was going to rob someone of their ‘instrument’ by using the taser,” the charging documents say.

Allah told the police that on Jan. 25, two days before the robbery, Salahadyn had told him he needed the Taser.

He said he was going to get the instrument.

Police then focused on Salahadyn, who had been linked to the theft of a $25,000 sculpture called “Woman with Fruit” from a Milwaukee art gallery in 1995, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Salahadyn was convicted of receiving stolen property, after trying to sell the statute back to its owner four years later.

In this case, police searched Salahadyn’s apartment and said they found a binder full of research on Stradivarius violins, plus a notation on a business card that said “Taser.com $500-$1000.” Police also said they found marijuana at the scene.

On Wednesday, police said, Salahadyn led Milwaukee detectives Billy Ball and Gus Petropoulos to the house where the suitcase was stored in the attic. Its case had already been found separately: discarded on the side of a street, the day after the robbery.

Inside the suitcase was the violin, undamaged (officers used gloves to place it gingerly back in its original case, the Journal Sentinel reported).

Also inside — as if anything else could go wrong with Salahadyn’s dream theft — was an ID bearing Salahadyn’s own name.

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