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Stolen Stradivarius Possibly Recovered

Feb 6, 2014

A Milwaukee County assistant district attorney says three people have been arrested in connection with the theft of a multi-million dollar Stradivarius violin stolen last week from the concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

Police say that the investigation is ongoing and it’s not yet clear whether the violin was recovered. Experts are asked to determine whether the violin recovered is authentic.

Mitch Teich of WUWM joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson with the latest.


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This is HERE AND NOW from NPR and WBUR Boston. I'm Jeremy Hobson.

EDWARD FLYNN: Well, today, the Milwaukee Police Department is pleased and very proud to announce the safe recovery of the Lipinski Stradivarius violin that was stolen January 27.

HOBSON: That announcement coming earlier this afternoon from Edward Flynn, the chief of police in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And he's talking there about the 300-year-old Stradivarius stolen last month from the concert master of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Mitch Teich hosts "Lake Effect" on WUWM in Milwaukee, and he's with us now. Mitch, welcome.

MITCH TEICH, BYLINE: Thanks, Jeremy.

HOBSON: Well, so tell us more about what we learned today, and especially the news that the first break in the case had to do with the Taser that was used in the crime.

TEICH: That's right. It's a detail that jumped out at a lot of us who were at the news conference that the police chief and other law enforcement officials gave. You'll remember that January 27, the concertmaster at Milwaukee Symphony, Frank Almond, had just finished playing a concert at a local college. He had been playing the Stradivarius and was taking it back out to his car to leave for the night when he was approached by suspects. One of them pulled a Taser and shocked Frank Almond. He dropped the violin. The suspect grabbed the violin, took it to a waiting minivan and drove off.

We learned today that the police had worked with Taser International to track down the name of the person who had purchased the weapon. That person's name was Universal Knowledge Allah, and that person, Universal Knowledge Allah, is one of the suspects in the case. Another suspect named Salah Jones has been arrested in connection with it as well. There's a third suspect. They have not named that suspect yet. Charges are expected to be brought tomorrow morning.

HOBSON: Well, what more did we learn about these suspects and why they would've wanted this violin?

TEICH: Well, there's been a lot of speculation about why this valuable instrument, said to be worth $5 million, was stolen. A lot of people wondered if there was some international, nefarious conspiracy to steal it and deliver it to an art collector someplace else in the world. All along, local law enforcement officials and art theft experts had believed it was a locally-based crime with local criminals. The three people who are being charged in connection with the case - expected to be charged tomorrow - are in fact local people. One of them, Salah Jones, had been convicted 20 years ago in another art theft case in Milwaukee involving a stolen sculpture from a gallery at an upscale hotel in downtown Milwaukee.

HOBSON: And tell us more about the instrument itself. As we said, it's a 300-year-old violin.

TEICH: Well, it doesn't quite add up that far. It is merely 299 years old, built in 1715 by Antonio Stradivari. It's passed through the hands of many world class musicians since then, including Karol Lipinski, who was a Polish virtuoso in the early 19th century, and the instrument has been named for Karol Lipinski since then. It's been basically - it was out of commission for almost a decade until 2008 when a local collector who owned the instrument gave it on indefinite loan to Frank Almond. He has been playing it in his work with the Milwaukee Symphony ever since, along with a series of concerts he puts on, one of which was on January 27 when the instrument was stolen.

HOBSON: And of course, it would've been very difficult to resell this instrument without being caught, I would think.

TEICH: Well, that's right. Chief Flynn has talked about how this is a very valuable instrument but it's only very valuable to an extremely small group of people, and so it would have indeed been extremely difficult to sell it for anything near what it was worth.

HOBSON: Mitch Teich of WUWM in Milwaukee, thanks for joining us.

TEICH: Thanks for having me.

HOBSON: And let's take a listen now to that instrument being played by Frank Almond, who is the concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.