A Stradivarius violin stolen last month from the concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra has been recovered seemingly unharmed, authorities in Milwaukee said Thursday.
“There are good days and there are bad days,” Mayor Tom Barrett said at a news conference, praising cooperation between the FBI and local law enforcement. “Today is a good day.”
The rare instrument, which dates from 1715 and has been valued at $5 million, was recovered late Wednesday, after the police searched a residence in Milwaukee, led there by one of three suspects recently arrested in the case, said Edward Flynn, the Milwaukee chief of police.
Officers found the violin in a suitcase in an attic. Flynn described the home as owned by a friend of a suspect, but said that person was believed to have had no knowledge of what he had been asked to store.
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“This is just one more unbelievable chapter in that violin’s life,” said Frank Almond, the concertmaster.
Known as the Lipinski Strad, after one of its early owners, the violin was stolen from Almond as he left a chamber-concert performance Jan. 27. As he reached his car, someone attacked him with a stun gun and grabbed the instrument, driving off in a minivan as Almond screamed: “They got the violin! They got the violin!” The instrument case was found hours later, dumped a few miles away.
In an interview Thursday evening, Almond, who was out of town when the police found the Stradivarius, said he thought he would never see it again and was shocked when he heard it was not damaged. He expected to use it at a concert in Milwaukee next week.
Milwaukee police said Wednesday that they had arrested two men and a woman in connection with the theft. On Thursday, officials identified two suspects as Universal Knowledge Allah, 36, a barber who is being accused of providing the stun gun used against Almond; and Salah Ibin Jones, 41, whom the police described as their primary suspect. The third suspect, a 32-year-old woman, was not identified but is believed to have been driving the getaway vehicle.
John Chisholm, the Milwaukee County district attorney, said he expected to file a criminal complaint, which would include at least one felony robbery charge.
The police have confirmed reports that Jones was previously convicted of possessing a stolen sculpture after it disappeared from a gallery at Milwaukee’s posh Pfister Hotel in 1995.
“This individual has done fairly high-end art theft in the past, and the last time his plan was to keep it in a safe place for a number of years and then bring it out of hiding and do something with it,” Flynn said. “So theoretically it’s plausible that might have been his plan here: to keep it off the market and out of sight for a number of years.”
He said the violin was being kept in a secure place and would soon be returned to the owner, who has remained anonymous and was letting Almond, who also teaches music at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., play the instrument on permanent loan. A $100,000 reward was being offered to anyone with information that brought the violin back safely.
Such arrangements are common in classical music, in part because most artists can’t afford instruments worth millions of dollars. The owners benefit because use keeps the instruments in good shape and can add to their value.
Stefan Hersh, a violin expert who appraised the instrument in 2012, said he had been contacted by the FBI and went to Milwaukee on Thursday to authenticate the instrument. Seeing no damage, he performed a piece by Bach on the 300-year-old Stradivarius, a private concert for the police.
The violin, which was built in 1715 by renowned Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari, was known as the Lipinski Stradivarius because it was once played by Polish violinist Karol Lipinski.
It has value as a musical instrument and as a work of art, said David Bonsey, a New York-based violin maker and appraiser who appears on the PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow.”
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 say 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.
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.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.