There are several documented stories of stolen Stradivarius violins, but one of the most interesting was reported in the New York Times in 1996.
The violin thief, sitting in jail for having assaulted a child, told his wife to get his violin from a friend, and read the paper inside. She did, and it was an article about a Polish violinist whose Stradivarius violin had been taken from his Carnegie Hall dressing room while he performed on another instrument. The thief’s wife asked if that was the stolen violin. He said it was, but that he had bought it for $100. Later, he confessed to having stolen it himself. He had frequented the entrance doors of the concert hall, and made friends with the doormen by offering to take their place while they went for a smoke. He told his wife that his mother had taught him how to hide a violin in his coat, and that she had always wanted him to be a famous violinist.
When the thief died, his wife returned the violin to Lloyd’s of London and received a finder’s fee of $263,000 dollars.
The thief’s daughter, by his first marriage, was heir to her father’s estate. She sued the thief’s wife and won in court. The judge agreed that the finder’s fee should have been part of the estate.
By that time, the wife was living in a trailer and had spent all the money. She paid her attorney 10% for negotiating the finder’s fee. The rest was given to her family and the IRS.
Lloyd’s sold it for $1.2 million in 1988, and more recently, Joshua Bell, the violinist who made the soundtrack for The Red Violin, paid $4 million for the treasured Stradivarius violin that had seen so many owners.