Museum Security Network

Case of the stolen $6 million Stradivarius violin ends happily ever after

 – In the underbelly of St. Paul’s Park Square Theatre it’s 30 minutes until show time and violinist Frank Almond is just getting warmed up.

As Concertmaster for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Frank often travels the country accompanied by a 300-year-old, $6 million Stradivarius violin. He’s had it on loan for nine years, and he performed in St. Paul recently not as a culmination of the nine years they’ve spent together, but because of the nine days of hell they spent apart.

A few years ago the instrument was stolen in Milwaukee, making international headlines; it was the first known armed robbery of fine art.

Now the FBI and the Milwaukee police are releasing behind the scenes details and crime scene images, giving us a look into the one of the most riveting art crimes in history.

It was January 2014. Frank was walking to his car after a concert in Milwaukee, Stradivarius in hand, when he was ambushed with a Taser. He remembers it all too well.

“I was down long enough for him to get the violin and get in the van but I was up fast enough to watch the van drive off,” he said. “It was like a Coen Brothers movie where you’re trying to explain to these beat cops or a dispatcher that a multi-million dollar instrument has been stolen in a robbery.”

Despite the shaky start, investigators gained traction quickly. Within 48 hours there were two major clues: a traceable Taser cartridge and the discarded violin case.

Then, in a timeline only seen in Hollywood movies, investigators keyed on a local street criminal who had been plotting the Stradivarius heist for years. They broke him down, cut a deal and he took them to the goods.

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