DULUTH, Minn. – A pair of ruby slippers considered to be “The Holy Grail,” of all Hollywood memorabilia has been stolen.

A rare pair of the ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in the classic movie “Wizard of Oz” were stolen during the weekend in what appears to be a targeted burglary at the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minn.

Insured for $1 million, the shoes are one of four pairs known to exist that were used in the 1939 movie, said their owner, Michael Shaw, a North Hollywood movie memorabilia collector.

“It’s the worst nightmare for me,” he said. “The theft is not only a crime against me, but against children. Those shoes have been used to raise money for AIDS, for helping get kids off the street, reading programs, and for children with Downs syndrome and autism.”

According to the movie Web site www.IMDb.com, each pair has an estimated value of $1.5 million, making them the most valuable piece of Hollywood memorabilia.

Shaw, himself a childhood actor, has owned the slippers since 1969.

The slippers, he says, had been on display three other times in Grand Rapids.

This summer, the slippers were in the ninth week of a 10-week loan to the museum.

The slippers were stolen sometime between 5:45 p.m. Saturday and 9:45 a.m. Sunday, when an employee discovered the break-in, said John Kelsch, Judy Garland Museum director.

Grand Rapids Police say an emergency exit door window was broken. A glass case that contained the ruby slippers was broken and the slippers removed.

The two-year-old building has the best alarm system available, Kelsch said. It should warn a security firm when doors or windows are opened, or if motion is detected. But International Dispatch, the private firm, received no signal, and the system was being tested Monday.

“As director, I am devastated,” Kelsch said. “Michael Shaw is a friend of this museum and has been a guest at the Judy Garland Festival for years. The slippers are a major attraction for our museum. It’s our hope that the slippers can be recovered immediately.”

Other “Wizard of Oz,” memorabilia within the museum such as jeweled gloves and original movie programs were untouched.

That leads Shaw to believe that the slippers were the only target.

“You wouldn’t believe it when you go around to some of these festivals,” said Shaw. “Some people are fanatic about them – they are obsessed with these shoes. To me, it was well planned. Some fanatic may have even paid someone to take them.”

Inez, a shoe company that years ago went out of business, manufactured the delicately sequined leather pumps, said Shaw.

One of the four known pair is on display at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., he said. Private collectors own the others.

According to the www.IMDb.com Web site, seven pairs may exist, of which the whereabouts of five are known. Because of their value, the Web site says some have dubbed the slippers as “The Holy Grail” of all Hollywood memorabilia.

In October, Shaw planned to display the slippers at a children’s fund-raiser at the Oz Museum in Wamego, Kan.

“I’m hoping and praying that whoever it was will have an attack of conscience and mail then back to the museum,” said Shaw. I’m hoping they will come back and be able to do the good work that they’ve been doing at these marvelous functions. I always felt not just like their owner, but their protector, and this is the way my generosity is re-paid. I’m just hoping that the novelty will wear off for whoever took them when they realize they can’t do anything with them. I just want them back – no repercussions – just send them back to the museum.”

The museum is along Highway 169 south in Grand Rapids.

(c) 2005, Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.).

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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