MINNEAPOLIS — Actor Melissa McCarthy freaked out over them in a recent TV special promoting the opening of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. During his concert at Treasure Island Casino in Red Wing earlier this month, singer Christopher Cross joked that he contemplated stealing them from Liza Minnelli's house.
But few have been as obsessed with the ruby slippers from "The Wizard of Oz" as the two journalists behind a new podcast.
"There's No Place Like Home," an eight-part series from C13 Originals, focuses on the pair that went missing from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, in August 2005. The shoes then mysteriously reappeared 13 years later during an FBI sting operation.
Seyward Darby, editor-in-chief of the Atavist Magazine, was mesmerized when she heard about the recovery and wanted to dive deeper.
"I was looking for a true crime story that didn't involve murder and dead girls," Darby said a few weeks ago from her home in Brooklyn, New York. "There's nothing really salacious in the slipper story and yet, it still has the cat-and-mouse qualities that lend itself to storytelling."
She quickly reached out to freelancer Ariel Ramchandani. Three weeks later, the reporter was making her maiden voyage to Minnesota.
"It was a really great reporting trip," Ramchandani said. "I'm a real New York City kid. I don't even drive. I really had to rely on the kindness of sources."
Over the course of three years of reporting, Ramchandani and Darby discovered enough suspects to fill an Agatha Christie thriller. Did memorabilia owner Michael Shaw arrange the theft to collect on the insurance? Was the late Kent Anderson, brother of Emmy-winning comic Louie Anderson, among the burglars? What role, if any, did high-powered Minneapolis attorney Joe Friedberg play?
The podcast doesn't provide any concrete answers — but it does reveal a lot about our fascination with certain aspects of pop culture. The series often wanders off the trail to educate listeners about the legacy of Judy Garland, who spent the first four years of her life in Grand Rapids, 180 miles north of Minneapolis. Her superstar life eventually unraveled under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
"It's interesting that this came out around the time Britney Spears is in the news," said Darby. "Judy was Britney before there was Britney. She was so famous when she was so young and had her life scripted and directed for her. All these people are making money off her talent and drive."