Stolen Stradivarius recovered after 35 years

Share this article
Have your say

A Stradivarius which belonged to renowned violinist Roman Totenberg has been recovered after 35 years.

Totenberg left the violin in his office while greeting well-wishers after a concert in 1980 but 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 aged 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, received 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 said.

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 pounds at auction, including a record $15.9m (£10.2m) 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.

“It’s really one of a kind,” Mr Injeian said 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 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.

Mr Johnson’s obituary described him as “a noted violinist of 40 years”. Ms Totenberg said he was an aspiring violinist seen around her father’s office at the time of the theft.