Stolen Stradivarius returned after 35 years

'Its gorgeous voice will be heard again'

Updated: 
Stradivarius Violin Recovered After 35 Years

A highly valuable Stradivarius violin has been returned to its rightful owners - 35 years after it was snatched.

Known as the Ames Stradivarius, it was made by the famous Italian violin maker Antonio Stradivari in 1734.

The great Polish violinist Roman Totenberg bought it in 1943 for $15,000 - around $200,000 dollars in today's money. It was the only instrument he performed with until it was stolen in 1980 as he thanked his audience after a concert at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Totenberg always had his suspicions that a young musician, Philip Johnson was responsible, but the police felt there wasn't enough evidence to search his home.

Thirty-five years on, though, and Totenberg has been proved right. After Johnson died earlier this year, he left his ex-wife a locked case - and when she opened it, she saw it was a Stradivarius.

Stolen Stradivarius

When she got in touch with a violin expert, she was told that it was indeed one of only 550 Stradivariuses left in the world - but that it had been reported stolen.

"I got a call from FBI Special Agent Christopher McKeogh. 'We believe that the FBI has recovered your father's stolen violin',' he said," Totenberg's daughter Nina writes on the NPR website.

"I had a hard time actually believing it. I called my sisters right away and we were soon laughing and crying on the phone."

The violin will now be returned to Ms Totenberg and her two sisters, after the three agreed to pay back the $250,000 insurance money their father received after its theft.

The violin's value isn't known, although a Stradivarius violin sold for more than $15 million in 2011. The sisters say they do plan to sell, but not to a collector - it must be played, they say.

"I'm just glad that the violin, once it's restored to its full potential again, will eventually be in the hands of another great artist, and its gorgeous voice will be heard in concert halls around the country," says Nina.

Last year, a Stradivarius was ripped from the hands of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra's concertmaster at gunpoint after a performance. It was later recovered, and two men sentenced to prison.

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Stolen Stradivarius Violin Is Recovered After 35 Years