'Priceless' violin stolen in violent robbery

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Photo: Video by tmj4.com

'Priceless' violin stolen in violent robbery

By James Kust and Steve Chamraz. CREATED Jan 28, 2014 - UPDATED: Jan 28, 2014

MILWAUKEE - Local and federal law enforcement are on the hunt for a 300-year-old Stradivarius violin stolen Monday in a violent armed robbery.

The so-called Lipinski Stradivarius was on permanent loan from its anonymous owners to Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Frank Almond.

Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said Almond was attacked after a concert Monday night on the campus of Wisconsin Lutheran College. According to Flynn, an attacker hit Almond with a stun gun and grabbed the violin as it fell to the ground. The thief escaped in a maroon minivan driven by an accomplice.

"The artistic heritage of Milwaukee was assaulted and robbed last night," Flynn told reporters in a Tuesday afternoon news conference.

Only 650 such violins are known to exist, according to Stradivarius.org. The violin has no set value, but similar specimens have sold for more than $3 million. Experts suggest the "Lipinski Strad" could fetch a sum close to $10 million.

Chief Flynn said making any money off this theft would be extremely difficult.

"It can't be easily sold for even a fraction of its value," he said. "These are wildly valuable to a tiny slice of the art world."

Those who know violins were stunned by news of the theft. Korinthia Klein teaches and repairs violins from her shop in Bay View and had the rare opportunity to hold the Lipinski in her hands.

"Frank asked me - I was not going to be so presumptuous as to say can I hold the Strad - but he asked me," Klein said, recalling her encounter with the instrument. "I said, oh, sure."

With an instrument this old lost into the bitter cold and bone dry Wisconsin night, Klein is naturally worried. A 300-year-old instrument can quickly fall to pieces.

"The glue can come undone, there's any number of things that need to be monitored," she said.

Investigators from the FBI joined the search on Tuesday, as there is the very real possibility the violin could be on its way - or is already - out of the country.

"This is a potentially international crime," Flynn said.