For decades, renowned violinist Erica Morini has delighted music lovers the world over. In his hands was one of the most prized possessions in the music world: a Stradivarius violin that today is valued at more than $3 million.
That would be, that is, if anyone could find it.
A few days before Morini’s death in 1995, the violin was stolen from his apartment on 5th Avenue in New York.
The instrument was kept in a cupboard, which also served to store other household items. Someone would only need the lock’s master key to get in.
And, it seems, that’s exactly what someone did.
With no sign of forced entry and no physical evidence to proceed, all eyes quickly turned to the small group of people in Morini’s life.
It was a list of characters straight out of an Agatha Christie novel.
“A Master Engineer”
What is called the Davidoff Stradivarius is a violin created in 1727 by Antonio Stradivari, an Italian master craftsman widely regarded as the greatest luthier of all time.
“He was a master engineer, a master businessman. He put a lot of luthiers out of business,” said violinist Frank Almond, who plays a Stradivarius.
To this day, a Stradivarius violin is coveted among musicians.
“It’s tempting to think it’s my fiddle,” Almond said. “But it’s really the other way around. It’s just a thing that goes through a series of people.”
“One of the greatest”
Erica Morini was an Austrian-Jewish violinist born in 1904 and quickly proved to be a child prodigy. She began touring the United States in 1921 and, at just 17, made her Orchestra Hall debut in Chicago.
“People who have seen her have been amazed at what she can do,” said the violin dealer
Brian Skarstad. “Before, there were no women in orchestras.”
His recordings remain celebrated to this day.
“She’s one of the greatest,” Almond said. “Such a tragic story at the end, but at the height of her career, she was equal to anyone.”
In 1924, just a few years after arriving in the United States, Morini’s father purchased the Davidoff Stradivarius for $10,000.
“We can’t tell him”
After a hospital stay in the fall of 1995, Erica Morini was sent home to spend her last days in her apartment. This is where the Davidoff Stradivarius was stored in a cupboard. The only security was a lock with an old fashioned master key.
Her relatives urged her to put it in a safe place, but Morini did not hear of it. She wanted her precious instrument nearby.
“So when it was stolen, I thought, well, if I had been more forceful or really advised her better, I could have protected that violin,” he said.
Morini died never knowing that the violin had been stolen.
“We can’t tell him,” Valerie Bradford recalled saying at the time. “We just can’t tell him.
FBI agent Jim Wynne said the investigation involved interviews with people close to Morini.
“You have six or seven people around the victim, you have an unexplained circumstance, you have something that is missing, and who is responsible?” Wyn said. “There is very little or no evidence.”
“They would say… ‘I wonder why am I a suspect?'”
Amy Dickinson reported on the Stolen Violin for The Washington Post in 1999. She described it as a story with a “real cast of characters”.
“If you could squeeze all of these people on a cruise ship, you’d have the most amazing game,” she said. “It was pretty amazing.”
Dickinson said all of these characters were ready to talk to him.
“What I think is part of what makes the story so colorful: every character is very happy to talk about it,” she said. “And they all impeached themselves.”
She said those interviewed “would say the most damning things about their contact with Erica Morini”.
“And then they would say, like, ‘I wonder why I’m a suspect?’ she said.
“You Can’t Make Another”
“Stolen” tells you the story of some of the people who were close to Morini, in their own words. We speak with several experts who break down the most likely scenarios as to the fate of the Davidoff Stradivarius…and if its sound will ever be heard again.
“When one disappears, you don’t get another one back, you can’t create another one,” Almond said. “It’s singular. These are really, really special things.”
If you know where the Davidoff-Morini Stradivarius is located, please send information to NYArtCrime@FBI.gov.