At a news conference Tuesday, investigators unveiled the once-missing shoes, enclosed in a glass case on top of blue velvet linen.
“They’re more than just a pair of shoes, the slippers. They’re an enduring symbol of the power of belief,” Grand Rapids Police Chief Scott Johnson told reporters.
The search for the famous ruby heels, which Garland wore while playing Dorothy, has taken investigators to a collector’s mansion in San Diego, to a roadside diner in Missouri, and to the bottom of the Tioga Mine Pit, just outside Grand Rapids. Last summer, the Grand Rapids Police Department received a tip that took investigators outside of Minnesota, Johnson said.
Officials revealed little else about how and where the shoes were found, citing an ongoing investigation. Federal prosecutors in North Dakota are involved in the probe.
North Dakota U.S. Attorney Christopher Myers said investigators are still finding the person or people who stole the beloved movie memorabilia. He said his office will file charges “as appropriate and if appropriate at a later time.”
The Judy Garland Museum didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday.
Several pairs of ruby slippers were made for the 1939 MGM film, and at least four, including the stolen pair, are known to exist. One pair was found in the basement of MGM’s wardrobe department in 1970. An anonymous buyer bought those at an auction for $15,000 and donated the pair to the Smithsonian in 1979. The pair was removed from display in April 2017 to be preserved and will be back on display in October.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Steven Spielberg bought one other pair for display at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Another pair is owned by a private collector.
The once-missing slippers are owned by collector Michael Shaw, who lent the slippers to the Judy Garland Museum every year. Museum officials wanted to keep the slippers in a safe every night, but Shaw didn’t want other people touching the delicate artifact. So Shaw delivered the slippers himself and placed them in the plexiglass case.
“We kicked ourselves in the butt for not putting them in the safe,” Jon Miner, one of the museum’s board members, told The Washington Post’s Jessica Contrera in 2015. “Of course, the owner was dumbfounded. And so were we.”
That year, a wealthy fan of the movie volunteered to give $1 million to the person who could help find the missing slippers.
The shoes are famously connected to the line, “There’s no place like home.” Toward the end of the movie, Glinda the Good Witch revealed to Dorothy that her magic slippers could take her back home.
“Then close your eyes and tap your heels together three times. And think to yourself, ‘There’s no place like home,’ ” Glinda instructs Dorothy.
Dorothy does as she’s told, chants “There’s no place like home,” and wakes up in her home in Kansas.
Myers, the federal prosecutor, said there’s a “certain romance” and even sophistication to stealing such artifacts.
“But at the end of the day, it’s a theft . . . These types of offenses not only deprive the owner of the property, but all of us,” Myers said. “This type of cultural property is important to us as a society. It reflects our culture. It holds our memories. It holds our values.”
The FBI has recovered about 14,850 stolen artifacts valued at more than $165 million since 2004.
Jessica Contrera contributed to this report.