"Back in 1987, Marcelle Hall, the widow of violinist Julian Altman and the executor of his estate, was considered a hero when she surrendered to Lloyd's of London a Stradivarius violin her husband had stolen a half century earlier.
She learned of the theft when her husband made the startling deathbed confession in 1985. He told her that in 1936 he took the violin from a dressing room in Carnegie Hall while the owner, the violinist Bronislaw Huberman, was on stage.
Now, two Connecticut courts and Mr. Altman's daughter from a previous marriage, Sherry Altman Schoenwetter, have all but branded Ms. Hall a thief herself for keeping a $263,000 "finder's fee" from Lloyd's, instead of including it in Altman's estate.
The case is now before the Connecticut Supreme Court. If Ms. Schoenwetter wins, Ms. Hall must return the finder's fee, plus interest. "
Booty's Beneficiaries, Tom Verde, The New York Times, New York
"Disaster struck on 28 February at Huberman’s only Carnegie Hall recital of the season, when his 1713 "Gibson" Stradivarius was stolen from his dressing room during the performance. Huberman had played the Stradivarius before the concert, and then placed it back in his double case, using the Guarnerius for the recital. Like the previous season, the performance started with a Bach concerto with chamber orchestra. After the intermission, while Huberman was playing the Franck sonata, his secretary Miss Ibbiken, noticed that the Stradivarius was missing, and told Huberman during the applause at the end of the piece. The police were immediately called, but Huberman carried on with the concert, and the audience remained unaware of the theft. Next days review did not mention the robbery, although a headline article “Huberman Violin Stolen At Carnegie” described how the thief had left 6 six bows valued at $1500 each untouched. Despite a large investigation (Milstein was apparently removed from a train the next day after he admitted he had a Stradivarius) the 20 year old thief, Julian Altman, was never caught, and Huberman eventually claimed his £8000 ($30 000) insurance from Lloyds of London.
Nearly 50 years later, Altman confessed on his death bed to his wife Marcelle Hall. She negotiated a finder’s fee with Lloyds pretending that Altman had bought it from the thief, and returned the violin in 1987 receiving $263 000 for her trouble. The Strad ran an article on the incident called “Lost and Found” reporting that Marcelle was “overjoyed at its return to legitimacy.” Altman’s daughter (and only surviving descendant) twice won a lower court ruling against her step-mother Marcelle for a share of the money, but by this time it was all apparently spent, and Marcelle was living in a caravan park."
Stolen Strad: huberman.info
"After Altman died on Aug. 12, 1985, Hall had the violin authenticated and approached the authorities with her story. The instrument was owned by Lloyd's of London, which had compensated Huberman $30,000 for his loss. Fifty years later, the violin was valued at $1.1 million.
Hall turned the Strad over to Lloyd's in 1988. Remarkably, the insurer paid her a $263,000 finder's fee. At last word, Hall, 79, had spent every cent and was living in a trailer park in New Hampshire."
A Fiddle Found, David Krajicek, The Daily News
"Finally the morning of 8 May 1987 found me acommpnaying Leo Fraser and another Lloyd's lawyer in a limousine bound for Bethel, Connecticut, all of us filled with anticipation and perhaps a little nervous. For the first time I learnt that the lady was called Marcelle Hall, and that she had lived with the violinist Julian Altman for twenty years before marrying him shortly before his death in prison....
Instead of just a lady and her lawyer we found that a party had been in progress more or less since the previous evening, and the fifteen or twenty people in the house included and NBC news television crew, Mrs. Hall turned out to be a warm-hearted, emotional, middle-aged lady, thrilled that the great day had finally come, and she had of course invited Rachel Goodkind to be present for the occasion. As I lifted the violin from its case I didn't appreciate that Mrs. Hall and her friends and family were still in doubt about the violin's identity. Very slowly I said 'No . . . problem', and it turned out that in the second or two between the two words Mrs. Hall almost died with disappointment. After that there was joy all round."
Lost and Found, Charles Beare, The Strad, December, 1987, London
". . .donne l'impression d'une belle copie du Messie par Vuillaume!!"
Sale Book, 1870-1936, The Jacques Francais Rare Violins, Inc. Photographic Archive and Business Records, 1844-1998, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Caressa & Francais Notebook (c1900 - 1936), part of the Jacques Francais Collection at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC