Minnesota: When they smashed a back window, broke the plexiglass cube, grabbed Dorothy’s ruby-red slippers and ran, surely the assailants – still unknown and at large – knew they would leave Wizard of Oz fans in shock. They couldn’t have expected a war.

The Judy Garland Museum, in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, had the infamous sequin slippers on loan that fateful night back in August 2005. Garland clicked this very pair in the Wizard of Oz and while three other sets remain accounted for, it was still insured for $1m. The local bank had even given the museum a safe in which to store the shoes.

But there was no place like a plastic case in Minnesota for the owner of the ruby slippers on the run, who had specific instructions.

“He didn’t want anyone to touch the slippers – even with gloves – unless it was him,” museum spokesman Rob Feeney told the Guardian. “So that’s why they were not in the safe – and then the next morning, they were stolen.”

Despite police investigations, the slippers have remained lost for nearly a decade. Some said they had been flung, like Dorothy’s house swirling toward Technicolor, into a nearby mine pit. Last month, during the 40th annual Wizard of Oz Festival, volunteer divers searched it four times. Still no shoes.

Now, the Oz lovers are fighting back: word surfaced over the weekend that an anonymous fan has offered to pay up that $1m in exchange for the safe return of Hollywood’s most famous footwear.

“At first we sort of wrote it off: ‘Oh great one, a million dollars,’” Feeney said on Monday. “But they were serious about it. It was just hard to believe.”

After verifying the offer as legitimate, the museum would only reveal that the donor lives in Arizona and is a huge fan of Garland and the 1939 film classic.

The mystery man may be anonymous, but he is not alone in the merry old land of Oz obsessives, who are already redoubling their search.

“It’s had a huge emotional impact on just about everybody that’s seen it the past 76 years,” said Oz historian John Fricke, “and the shoes are magic.”

Feeney said “we were very serious” about the June search at the mine pit in nearby Cohasset – because Oz fans do not fool around. Museum employees “were in tears” when the slippers went missing, and they are no less emotional today.

“Whether a crazed, obsessed fan took them for a collection, or someone took them to sell them, they could never display them,” Karen Owens, membership chair for the International Wizard of Oz Club, surmised of the thieves’ current whereabouts.

“Why would you take away such a beautiful piece of movie history when you are just going to have to keep them on a shelf or throw them in the trash?”

There is no deadline for the $1m payout, and the shoes are worth an estimated $3m anyway. But with the 10-year anniversary of the heist approaching, Oz fans surely hope the assailants will find their hearts, just like the Tin Man did.

Courtesy The Guardian