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Top Five Most Astounding Musical Instrument Thefts

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It wasn't a priceless Stradivarius, but Alexandra Sopp, a New York Philharmonic flutist, had quite a scare nonetheless. The musician, having wrapped up the orchestra’s Contact series at Symphony Space, went to Dive Bar on Amsterdam Ave. to celebrate. When she got ready to leave at around 3 am, the bag holding her $25,000 flute and $8,000 piccolo was missing.

“It’s every musician’s worst nightmare,” she said in reports. The Police Department did recover her instruments, and Sopp now joins a long list of victimized musicians (the FBI keeps a tally of the unsolved crimes on its website). We've selected our favorite capers.

1. Joshua Bell's Gibson ex-Huberman Stradivarius

Joshua Bell’s Gibson ex-Huberman Strad spent 50 years disguised under grime and shoe polish after a New York fiddler swiped the instrument during its owner Bronislaw Huberman’s Carnegie Hall concert in 1936. Huberman was playing his other violin—a Guarneri—when the Julian Altman, a freelance violinist, conned his way backstage and took the Strad from Huberman’s violin case. It was the second time the violin was stolen from the Polish violinist. Albert confessed the crime on his deathbead, allowing his wife to collect the $263,000 reward. When the violin came up for sale in 2001 Bell bought it for $4 million.

2. The Davidoff Stradivarius

The Davidoff Stradivarius, crafted in 1727 and considered among the Cremona master’s best instruments, lies at the top of the unsolved musical instrument thefts list. For most of the 20th century, the violin remained under the care of Erica Morini—she received the violin as a 21st birthday gift from her father. When Morini died in 1995 at the age of 91, a friend discovered the violin (appraised at $3.5 million at the time) was missing from the musician’s Fifth Avenue apartment. Its whereabouts are still unknown. Morini's saga was recently turned into an Off-Broadway play.

3. The General Kyd Stradivarius

A clumsy thief didn’t know the worth of his booty when he swiped a cello off a Los Angeles porch in 2004. The instrument, the $3.5 million General Kyd Strad (one of 60 cellos Stradivarius made) belonged to the LA Phil’s Peter Stumpf, who had left the case outside overnight. A woman later found the cello on the street near a dumpster and brought it home, thinking her boyfriend could turn it into a quirky CD case. She later heard of the reported theft and returned the cello, saying, "Thank God my boyfriend doesn't work too quickly on things of mine."

4. Min-Jin Kym's Stradivarius

Sopp isn’t the only musician to be burgled while stopping for a bite. In 2010 the up-and-coming Korean violinist Min-Jin Kym, panicked when she noticed that her 314-year-old Stradivarius had been taken from her while she grabbed a sandwich at a London Pret a Manger. The three thieves were later spotted at an Internet café, searching the words Stradivarius and 1698 (the year the violin was constructed).

5. Tuba Thefts in California

One of the strangest cases of musical instrument crime is a string of tuba and sousaphone thefts from Southern California high schools. As of March, 23 of the brass instruments, priced at about $6,000 a piece, were taken, leaving high school marching bands woefully unbalanced. Authorities suspected the purloined goods were selling on a black market for banda ensembles, which require a strong tuba and percussion presence to anchor the traditional Mexican music.