Thu. 8:32 p.m.: Stolen Stradivarius violin is recovered after 35 years
WASHINGTON – Renowned violinist Roman Totenberg left his beloved Stradivarius in his office while greeting well-wishers after a concert in 1980. When he returned, it was gone.
Its case was later found in the basement of the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he taught. But Totenberg, who died three years ago at age 101, never saw the instrument again.
Totenberg thought he knew who stole the violin, but there was never enough evidence to pursue a suspect.
The trail went cold until this June, when his eldest daughter, Nina Totenberg, got a phone call from an FBI agent.
The agent said he was looking at the violin, which was in federal custody.
“I really could hardly believe it at the time,” Nina Totenberg, the legal affairs correspondent for NPR, told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday. “I said, ‘I have to call my sisters. I’ll tell them not to get their hopes up,’ but he said, ‘You don’t have to do that. This is the violin.'”
The violin, known as the Ames Stradivarius, was made in Italy in 1734 by Antonio Stradivari and is one of roughly 550 Stradivarius instruments known to exist. They can fetch millions of dollars at auction, including a record $15.9 million in 2011.
The violin surfaced in June when a woman brought it to New York to have it appraised. The appraiser, Phillip Injeian, immediately contacted authorities. He said the violin has characteristic markings on the wood grain that are “like a fingerprint.”
“It’s really one of a kind,” Injeian said today at a news conference in Manhattan, where authorities announced the recovery of the violin. “When I saw this one, it was a Eureka moment.”
The woman who sought the appraisal is the former wife of Philip S. Johnson, who died in California in 2011. She declined to comment to The Associated Press and asked that her name not be published. She has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
According to court documents, the woman voluntarily returned the violin to the Totenberg family and told investigators she did not know it was stolen. It had been stored for many years in a case with a combination lock. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said today that there was “no open investigation” related to the violin’s disappearance.