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The Case of the Lost Stradivarius Led to Sticky Fingers

May 15, 1987|ANN HEROLD

For almost 50 years, National Symphony Orchestra violinist Julian Altman prided himself on his playing, rarely giving credit to his instrument, which he treated almost casually, frequently forgetting where he put it and often leaving it behind at friends' homes. But the instrument he treated so lightly was no ordinary violin; it was a Stradivarius, stolen from internationally known musician Bronislaw Huberman in 1936. Altman confessed the theft to his wife two weeks before dying of stomach cancer in 1985, and she has since returned the violin, valued at $800,000, to its insurer, Lloyd's of London. Marcelle Hall, 69, who described her husband as a womanizer, con man and heavy drinker, said he told her he bought the instrument for $100 from a "sticky fingered" friend. Hall, of Bethel, Conn., married Altman in March, 1985, two days before he was to be sentenced for sexually molesting one of her granddaughters. She said she married him partly to regain property she had given him "out of love."

--When one Ridley stepped down as mayor of Smyrna, Tenn., on charges of misuse of city funds, the city simply brought in another Ridley to replace him. Shortly after Sam Ridley, 68, submitted his letter of resignation, city commissioners in this town near Nashville voted to appoint his identical twin brother, Knox Ridley, to serve the remaining two years of the mayor's term. A jury had ordered that the mayor be ousted on the basis of a civil lawsuit filed by the state in 1980, finding that Sam Ridley had used a city credit card for personal purchases and had benefited from transactions between Smyrna and the brothers' business, Ridley Chevrolet. Knox Ridley said he didn't intend to break any new ground as mayor: "We're identical twins, and we share the same thoughts. I have no new ideas. I plan to carry out Sam's wishes."

--France's Academy of Fine Arts has honored former President Richard M. Nixon for his assistance to French culture and elected him a foreign associate. Nixon, who resigned from the presidency in 1974 during the Watergate scandal, will be installed as the 300-year-old academy's 15th foreign associate in a ceremony Wednesday. He will join the company of Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali, Italian film director Federico Fellini and the late British sculptor Henry Moore. During his presidency, Nixon had introduced legislation allowing tax deductions for U.S. citizens who made donations to French museums.

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