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For decades, renowned violinist Erica Morini thrilled music lovers around the globe. In her hands was one of the most prized possessions in the world of music: a Stradivarius violin which would be valued today at more than $3 million.

It would be, that is, if anyone could find it.

Just days before Morini died in 1995, the violin was stolen from her 5th Avenue apartment in New York City.

The instrument was kept in a closet, which was also used to store other household items. Someone would only need the lock's skeleton key to get inside.

And, it appears, that's exactly what someone did.

With no sign of forced entry and no physical evidence to go on, all eyes soon turned to the small collection of people in Morini's life.

It was a list of characters straight out of an Agatha Christie novel.

'A master engineer'



What's known as the Davidoff Stradivarius is a violin created in 1727 by Antonio Stradivari, a master craftsman from Italy who is widely regarded as the greatest violin maker who ever lived.

"He was a master engineer, master businessman. He put a lot of violin makers out of business," said violinist Frank Almond, who plays on a Stradivarius.

To this day, a Stradivarius violin is coveted among musicians.

"It's tempting to think this is my violin," Almond said. "But it's really the other way around. It's just a thing that's going through a series of people."

'One of the greats'



Erica Morini was a Jewish Austrian violinist born in 1904 and soon proved to be a child prodigy. She began touring in the United States in 1921 and, at just 17 years old, made her debut in Chicago's Orchestra Hall.

"People that saw her were amazed at what she can do," said violin dealer

Brian Skarstad. "Back in the old days there were no women in orchestras."

Her recordings remain celebrated to this day.

"She's one of the greatest," Almond said. "Such a tragic story in the end, but at the pinnacle of her career she was equal to anyone out there."

In 1924, just a few years after her arrival in the United States, Morini's father bought the Davidoff Stradivarius for $10,000.

'We can't tell her'



After a stay in the hospital in the fall of 1995, Erica Morini was sent home to spend her final days in her apartment. That's where the Davidoff Stradivarius was kept in a closet. The only security was a lock with an old-fashioned skeleton key.

Those close to her urged her to put it someplace safe, but Morini wouldn't hear of it. She wanted her precious instrument nearby.

"So when it got stolen I thought, well, if I had been more forceful or had really advised her better I could have protected that violin," he said.

Morini died without ever knowing the violin had been stolen.

"We can't tell her," Valerie Bradford recalled saying at the time. "We just can't tell her."

FBI agent Jim Wynne said the investigation involved interviews with the people who were close to Morini.

"You have like six or seven people around the victim, you have an unexplained circumstance, you have something gone missing, and who is responsible?" Wynne said. "There is very little or no evidence."

"They would go... 'I wonder why I'm a suspect?'"

Amy Dickinson reported on the stolen violin for the Washington Post in 1999. She described it as a story with a "true cast of characters."

"If you could lock all of these people onto a cruise ship you would have the most amazing play," she said. "It was quite amazing."

Dickinson said all of those characters were willing to talk to her.

"Which I think was part of what makes the story so colorful: every single character is very happy to talk about it," she said. "And they all indicted themselves."

She said the interview subjects would "say the most damning things about their contact with Erica Morini."

"And then they would go, like, 'I wonder why I'm a suspect?" she said.

'You can't make another one'



"Stolen" brings you the story of some of the people who were close to Morini, in their own words. We talk to several experts who break down the most likely scenarios as to the fate of the Davidoff Stradivarius... and whether its sound will ever be heard again.

"When one disappears you don't get another one back, you can't make another one," Almond said. "It's singular. They're really, really special things."

INFORMATION


If you have any knowledge of the whereabouts of the Davidoff-Morini Stradivarius, please send tips to NYArtCrime@FBI.gov.