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Stolen Stradivarius recovered in Milwaukee

300-Year-Old Stolen Violin Worth $6M Found

MILWAUKEE (AP) - The mystery of what happened to a multimillion-dollar Stradivarius violin stolen in a stun gun attack was answered Thursday when Milwaukee police recovered the instrument and blamed the heist at least in part on an art thief who once stole a statue from a gallery and then tried to sell it back.

The violin, which was built in 1715 by the renowned Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari and valued at $5 million, was found hidden in a suitcase in the attic of a man who police said was unaware the instrument was in his home.

Three people have been arrested in the case, and Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said there was no evidence of other "shadowy" figures from the art world behind the theft.

"It appears we had a local criminal who had an interest in art theft and was smart enough to develop a plan for a robbery," Flynn said. "Beyond that, we don't know what his motive was."

The violin, which police said appeared to be in good condition, was stolen late last month from a concert violinist who was shocked with a stun gun. His attacker grabbed the violin and hopped into a waiting vehicle.

Police traced the stun gun to Universal Knowledge Allah, a 36-year-old barber, while a citizen's tip led them to Salah Jones, the 41-year-old man convicted of stealing a $25,000 statue from a gallery at Milwaukee's posh Pfister Hotel in 1995. Officers had the men under surveillance before arresting them Monday, along with a 32-year-old woman police have not yet identified.

Police also have not said what role each suspect had in the heist.

Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm said Thursday that he expected to charge at least one of the suspects Friday. He said charges were delayed while prosecutors negotiated with one suspect for the return of the violin.

The suspect led police Wednesday night to the home of an acquaintance, who had allowed the suspect to store a suitcase in his attic.

It's not clear what the suspects planned to do with the violin. Such high-value instruments are almost always well-documented with photographs and easily identified, said David Bonsey, a New York-based violin maker and appraiser who appears on the Public Broadcasting Service's "Antiques Roadshow."

"There's virtually no place that a violin like this can be taken and fenced," Bonsey said. "You can't take it to a pawn shop."

Some art collectors will buy stolen objects that they keep hidden for their own enjoyment, Bonsey said. But Flynn said there was no indication in this case of "shadowy figures in the art world that were trying to purchase this" violin.

The violin, known in musical circles as the "Lipinski" Stradivarius because it was once played by Polish violinist Karol Lipinski, has been appraised for insurance purposes at $5 million.

It has value as a musical instrument and as a work of art, Bonsey said.

The violin is "part of a body of work from someone whose work just cannot be imitated," he said. "A lot of people do sculptures, but there's only one Michelangelo and there'll never be another one. There's never going to be another Stradivarius."

Experts estimate 600 to 650 Stradivarius instruments remain - about half of what the master produced.

One of the most famous is the Gibson Strad, now owned by virtuoso Joshua Bell. It was stolen from Carnegie Hall in 1936 and not found until the violinist who stole it died in the 1980s.

FBI special agent David Bass, an expert in art crime, said Stradivarius thefts are reported every few years but most instruments are found - some quickly and in good condition.

A Stradivarius stolen from a South Korean musician in 2010 while she ate at a London sandwich shop was found about three years later at a property in central England. Three people were convicted in that theft.

The Lipinski Stradivarius was taken from Frank Almond, concertmaster for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, as he walked to his car after a Jan. 27 performance at Wisconsin Lutheran College.

Mark Niehaus, the orchestra's president and executive director, said the instrument appeared in good shape, but Almond, who also teaches music at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., was out of town and still needed to inspect it.

The violin was on loan to Almond by its owner. Such arrangements are common in classical music in part because most artists can't afford instruments worth millions of dollars. The owners benefit as well because use keeps the instruments in good shape and can add to their value.

"When famous people play these instruments it builds what we call the instrument's provenance," Bonsey said. "It adds to the value of the instrument down the road."

Join the discussion

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eturoel February 07 2014 at 4:45 AM

Andre Rieu of the famous Johann Strauss Orchestra owns a Stradivarius and plays it as only a virtuoso, that he is, can play.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
blkcontessa February 06 2014 at 11:30 PM

Its Jack Benny's violin.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Ghetto Cat February 06 2014 at 11:32 PM

In the fictious 'Fallout 3' it winds up as a side mission in a nuclear wasteland. Ha ha. An old lady wants you to get it from a fallout shelter but terror lies within! The people were subjected to musical mind control that made them psycho. Wuhaha!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
DOUG Ghetto Cat February 06 2014 at 11:38 PM

OK, your clearly a goof. And this has to do with the theft of a violin how? Feel free to to return to your blow up girlfriend and bottle of booze

Flag Reply +1 rate up
DIAMONDHORSESHOE February 06 2014 at 11:37 PM

Individuals who steal musical instruments need a special kind of punishment. Bludegeoning with a banjo.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
vanremog DIAMONDHORSESHOE February 07 2014 at 12:45 AM

Or maybe just having to listen to banjo music...

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Gigi February 06 2014 at 11:41 PM

I hope they all rot in jail

Flag Reply +1 rate up
mwdiegs February 07 2014 at 2:29 PM

Universal Knowledge Allah? Is suppose it would be racist to make any guess to his ethnicity. With Allah in his name I'm sure he's innocent and it is all a misunderstanding. Try his stun gun on him a few times.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
Ghetto Cat February 06 2014 at 11:44 PM

My mother used to have a replica. She sold it for ten thousand.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
1 reply
mclkarim Ghetto Cat February 07 2014 at 11:33 AM

I commented earlier that I also used a replica that was lent to me by a cousin. When we moved across country I returned it to her. It was a beautiful piece. I wonder what ever happened to it.

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mcamamis February 06 2014 at 11:57 PM

Just think for a moment about the history of that violin. So thrilled it is back where it belongs - with someone who knows its true value - and to respect and cherish it.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
1 reply
mason12297 mcamamis February 07 2014 at 12:28 AM

Watch the movie "The Red Violin."

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gailnwark February 07 2014 at 12:30 AM

It's wonderful they were able to recover this rare masterpiece undamaged in such a short time. My sister in-law is a master violin maker and I've seen the time and work that goes into creating such beautiful instruments. Anyone who's interested in seeing her work can google 'Anne Cole master violin maker'. Until this article, I never knew there were so many of the Stradivarius violins made! It really is amazing for so many to have been made from back in the 1700's!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
birds2nv February 07 2014 at 12:46 AM

Guess those thieves will have to face the music!

Flag Reply +10 rate up
1 reply
mclkarim birds2nv February 07 2014 at 11:29 AM

Very good! Maybe someone could play that masterpiece at their trial.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
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