Stolen Stradivarius Owned By Roman Totenberg Recovered After 35 Years

stolen stradivarius

A stolen stradivarius has been recovered after 35 years.

Roman Totenberg, an American concert violinist and music professor, was playing a concert in Boston in 1980 when the priceless Stradivarius was stolen out of his office. The instrument’s case was later discovered in the basement of the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but the instrument itself was never found — until now.

Roman, who died three years ago at the age of 101, always thought he knew who stole his beloved Stradivarius, but he never had enough evidence to pursue a suspect. It wasn’t until this June that the FBI finally had a lead, and they contacted Totenberg’s daughter, NPR public radio justice reporter Nina Totenberg, to let her know that they had finally found her father’s violin he lost so many years ago.

“I really could hardly believe it at the time,” Nina said, during an interview on Wednesday August 5, Fox News reports. ‘I said, ‘I have to call my sisters. I’ll tell them not to get their hopes up,’ but he said, ‘You don’t have to do that. This is the violin.’ ”

The violin, known as the Ames Stradivarius, was made in Italy in 1734 by Antonio Stradivari, and is one of only a few hundred that still exist. The instruments can be worth millions, and in fact, one sold in 2011 for $15.9 million.

Totenberg’s Stradivarius was discovered after a woman, who asked to remain unidentified, took it to be appraised in New York. While she was excited to find out that the instrument was real, she was shocked after being told it was stolen more than 30 years ago. The woman is the widow of musician Phillip Johnson, who died in 2011, and found the violin in a locked case in her home.

“The appraiser looks at her and says, ‘Well, I have some good news and some bad news,’ ” Nina recalled. ” ‘The good news is that this is a real Stradivarius. And the bad news is it was stolen, 35, 36 years ago from Roman Totenberg, and I have to report it right away.’ And within two hours, two agents from the FBI art theft team were there.”

Johnson’s obituary described him as “a noted violinist of 40 years,” and Nina says he was an aspiring violinist, seen around her father’s office at the time of the theft, according to the Daily Mail. Nina said her father purchased the stradivarius in 1943 for $15,000, and it was the only instrument he played until it was stolen. He later purchased another violin and moved on with his life.

“This loss for my father was, as he said when it happened, it was like losing an arm,” Roman’s daughter, Jill Totenberg, a public relations executive in New York, said. “To have it come back, three years after he died, to us, it’s like having him come alive again.”

[Photo by Tom Lynn / Getty Images]