‘There’s No Place Like Home:’ FBI Special Agent Dudley ’96 Assists in Return of Iconic Ruby Slippers to Rightful Owner

Category: Grad News
Class Years:

The Minneapolis FBI and Grand Rapids Police Department announced on March 18, 2024, that a pair of ruby slippers featured in the classic 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz” and stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, in 2005, was returned to the rightful owner, collector Michael Shaw.  

Special Agent Christopher Dudley ’96 of FBI Minneapolis and Grand Rapids Police Department Chief Andy Morgan dedicated countless hours to the case and ensured the safe return of the iconic slippers. Dudley surprised Shaw by not only returning the ruby slippers but also presenting him with the single red sequin that was left at the scene of the crime almost 20 years ago.

“It was incredibly rewarding and fitting to see Mr. Shaw reunited with the ruby slippers at Judy Garland’s home [the Judy Garland Museum], accompanied by his friends on the museum staff,” Dudley said. “It is a privilege for the FBI and our Art Crime Team to work alongside law enforcement partners who truly value the importance of protecting our nation’s cultural heritage.”

Judy Garland immortalized as Dorothy Gale in the beloved movie danced her way down the yellow brick road in several pairs of red slippers during the film’s production. Garland’s portrayal of Dorothy and her magical journey down the yellow brick road has captivated audiences for generations, making the ruby slippers an enduring symbol of American film history.

These sequined shoes, known as the “traveling pair,” were one of the last remaining sets used in the 1939 film, and their disappearance in 2005 from the Judy Garland Museum, in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, left a void in both cinema history and the heart of a community proud to call itself Garland’s birthplace.

The star’s childhood house in Grand Rapids was turned into a museum in 1975 and remains a repository of “The Wizard of Oz” artifacts and memorabilia. The slippers disappeared from there in the early morning hours of August 28, 2005, and the crime has weighed heavily on the community, whose identity is proudly associated with Garland’s birthplace.

Despite a vigorous investigation by local authorities at the time, the slippers were not located, and no arrests were made. When the theft occurred, said Grand Rapids Police Department Chief Scott Johnson during today’s announcement, “the thieves not only took the slippers, they took a piece of history that will be forever connected to Grand Rapids and one of our city’s most famous children.”

In the summer of 2018, 13 years after the theft, Grand Rapids police and a large FBI team recovered the slippers during an undercover operation in Minneapolis. FBI agents transported the recovered slippers to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.—where another pair of the ruby slippers has been on display since 1979—for analysis and comparison.

Dawn Wallace, a Smithsonian conservator, said a careful analysis led to the conclusion that the recovered shoes were similar in construction, materials, and condition to the museum’s pair. And it turns out the recovered shoes and the pair in the museum’s collection were mismatched twins.

Nearly 20 years after the theft, the return ceremony, held at the Judy Garland Museum, was a restoration of justice, healing the wounds inflicted on both Shaw and the museum itself.

“The Judy Garland Museum survived the impact of this violation and is grateful to be a part of the homecoming,” said John Kelsh, founding director of the Judy Garland Museum. “We continue to serve visitors from around the world; expect a Ruby Slipper Crime exhibit in our future.”

During the ceremony, the iconic ruby slippers were placed on their original pedestal, reclaiming not just an artifact but rekindling the museum’s identity as a guardian of Garland’s legacy. When Shaw, accompanied by his niece, laid eyes on the slippers for the first time in nearly two decades, he likened the experience to a heartfelt reunion with a long-lost friend.

“We are incredibly honored to return the ruby slippers to their rightful owner,” said Alvin M. Winston Sr., special agent in charge of the Minneapolis Division of the FBI. “Beyond the glittering allure of the shoes lies a testament to the FBI’s unyielding commitment to preserving the everlasting legacy of cherished memorabilia. This piece of cinematic history has been returned to Mr. Shaw through the diligent efforts of our dedicated agents, professional staff, and invaluable partners.”

“Recovering a cultural item of this importance is significant,” Dudley noted. “So many people of all ages around the world have seen “The Wizard of Oz” and in that way have some connection to the slippers. That’s one of the things that makes this case resonate with so many.”

Read more.

Grad News

Subscribe to get grad news or cadet news delivered to your inbox daily around 4:30 EST when a new story is posted. We use Feedblitz for email delivery, which is separate from the WPAOG email system and preferences.

More News