"Maria Grevesmuhl died with her most precious possession clutched in her hand -- a 300-year-old Stradivarius violin worth $1.2 million.
And as her life seeped out of her broken skull, her killer snatched up the rare, cherished instrument -- on which she had performed just a few hours before -- and disappeared into the night.
That was in October 1996, in a cold lonely railway station in the northern German town of Bremen. On Tuesday in Bonn, Grevesmuhl's former violin student sat before a judge, accused of arranging her tragic murder.
According to the testimony in the trial, reported Wednesday by The Times of London, Grevesmuhl died on her way home from a rehearsal with a chamber orchestra. The 60-year-old had just conducted the orchestra through Grieg's "Holberg Suite," her Stradivarius soaring through the complex passages of the piece. As she led, her prized student -- a young and talented Romanian immigrant named Vasile -- played first violin. After the rehearsal, the two reportedly had a quick conversation, and the 60-year-old teacher departed for home.
But when she got to the train station, someone was waiting for her.
Prosecutors claim that her star pupil, whose last name is being withheld by the German court, sent a thug to intercept her. The alleged killer, Marin, also a native of Romania, admits that he caught her at the station. It was there, he said, that Vasile told him to wait.
"Vasile showed me the steps at the station where Frau Grevesmühl would come. He described the place where I should give the woman a shove," the accused killer told the court, according to The Times. But he denied that he intended to hurt the celebrated violin teacher. He said he was just trying to get the violin.
Vasile was arrested soon afterward. His alleged accomplice was nabbed trying to sell the precious Strad.
Stradivarius violins are extremely rare instruments, and incredibly valuable. Less than a thousand are believed to have been made, of which only a few hundred have survived the ensuing three centuries. Built by the Italian Antonio Stradivari, they are regarded as the finest violins in the world. Millions of dollars have been spent -- using everything from x-rays to the wood of specially grown trees -- trying to re-create their pure, brilliant sound. Grevesmuhl's Strad was crafted in 1694.
In fact, the rarity of the Stradivarius is a key element of Valise's defense. His lawyers argued that young musician, just 21 at the time of Grevesmuhl's death, would have known that the violin would be nearly impossible to sell without getting caught. In court, Vasile bluntly denied having anything to do with Marin's plot to steal the Strad.
A relationship gone sour?
But prosecutors claim that there was more than money at work in Grevesmuhl's death. They said that Vasile had grown to resent his teacher and the instrument with which she had been blessed.
According to The Times, Grevesmuhl had taken Vasile under her wing several years before, when Vasile was working on the streets of German cities, hat in hand, playing Vivaldi and Romanian folk songs for passers-by. He had fled Romania in the company of smugglers, trekking to Germany in search of a better life.
Grevesmuhl was convinced of his talent and made him her student, giving him free lessons and getting him a better violin. She helped him land a spot in Bremen's Academy of Arts; he repaid the favor by rising to popularity and prominence in the school.
But then things began to fall apart, prosecutors said. They brought out a witness -- a fellow violinist -- who said that a rift was growing between them. "Sometimes it was like a secret power struggle between them," the violinist told the court, according to The Times.
And that, according to the prosecutors who want to end Vasile's musical career for good, was the beginning of the end."
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"The scroll was changed by Laurie in 1888. . . . Sold to Mr. Van de Weghe in 1891 along with the original scroll."
Stradivarius-Guarnerius del Gesù: Catalogue descriptif de leurs instruments, Charles-Eugène Gand, Stradivarius-Guarnerius del Gesù: Catalogue descriptif de leurs instruments (Facsimile of Gand's notes from 1870-91), Spa
The thief, a Rumanian student named Marin B., was apprehended two days after the theft. Marin B. explained that Grevesmühl's death was an accident, that she fell down the stairs while trying to protect her violin. Marin B. claimed that the theft was planned by a student of Grevesmühl's and his brother, both of whom were also arrested, but later released. Marin B. was sentenced to prison, but escaped after two months, and was then picked up in Belgium a couple weeks later.
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