When Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Frank Almond walked out the back door of a concert hall at Wisconsin Lutheran College early in 2014, a man walked up to him and fired a Taser at him. He scored a direct hit.
While Almond was briefly incapacitated by the attack, the thief grabbed what he was carrying – a precious violin called the “Lipinski Strad,” made by Antonio Stradvari in 1715. The thief ran to a waiting vehicle. That night Milwaukee police officers found the violin’s empty case by the side of a road.
Investigators initially assumed that the mugging was the work of professional art thieves and that the violin, valued at more than $5 million, would be moved first out of Wisconsin and then out of the United States.
Weapon buyer found
Early progress was made by investigators when they took a close look at the weapon used. With the help of evidence found at the crime scene, the weapon was quickly traced from the manufacturer to the buyer — a Milwaukee barber named Universal Knowledge Allah.
Now the investigation was gaining momentum. With the offer of a $100,000 reward on the table, police got a tip about Milwaukee resident Salah Salahaydn. A week after the robbery, Allah and Salahaydn were arrested and charged, but the violin and two valuable bows were still missing.
A big concern was how the instrument was being stored. The delicate violin could be seriously damaged by extreme cold or humidity, and could even be ruined beyond repair.
Wrapped up in a blanket
Nine days after the robbery, Salahaydn led investigators to a Milwaukee home. With a borrowed ladder from the SWAT team, an investigator climbed into the attic and found the violin and the bows wrapped in a blanket inside a suitcase.
The stolen violin was recovered in excellent condition.
In May 2014, Allah pleaded guilty to felony robbery for giving the stun gun to Salahaydn. He is serving a three-and-a-half-year prison term. In November 2014, Salahaydn was sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to the theft.
Almond, who has been playing the Lipinski since 2008 — on loan from an anonymous donor — was thrilled to get the violin back. “This was a fairly violent and traumatic event for me and my family,” he said. “But there were silver linings as well, in large part because of the unbelievable police work. I will be indebted to all of them for the rest of my life.”
Almond showed his gratitude to investigators who solved the case by playing the Lipinski for an audience of law enforcement officers and special guests.