By Brendan O'Brien
MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - A rare Stradivarius violin worth millions of dollars that was stolen from a concert violinist in an armed robbery last week has been recovered from a Milwaukee residence, law enforcement officials said on Thursday.
Authorities discovered the prized string instrument inside a suitcase in the attic of a home on the city's south side late Wednesday night, Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said during a news conference at police headquarters.
The recovery of the violin came after the arrest on Monday of three unidentified suspects, one of whom police said has a history of stealing art in Milwaukee.
"At this point it appears we have a local criminal, who was very much interested in art theft and who was smart enough to identify this as a valuable instrument," Flynn said.
The 300-year-old instrument was being held at the city's police headquarters and will be returned to its anonymous owner on Thursday.
The so-called Lipinski Stradivarius had been on loan indefinitely to Milwaukee area concert musician Frank Almond, officials said.
Made in 1715, the instrument can be distinguished by unique striations on its back.
Early last week, thieves incapacitated Almond with a stun gun and took the violin following a concert in suburban Milwaukee, police said.
One of the three suspects arrested on Monday could be charged as soon as Friday, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said. Chisholm did not say whether the other two suspects would be charged.
Police traced the stun gun allegedly used in the robbery back to one of the trio of suspects, Flynn said.
The owner of the house where the instrument was found told authorities that one of the suspects had asked to leave the suitcase there and the homeowner agreed, unaware of what was inside, according to Flynn.
One of the suspects served time for stealing a $25,000 sculpture from an art gallery in 1995 and trying to sell it back to the owner four years later, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper.
Almond said in a statement he looked forward to having it back in his hands as soon as possible.
"We have very strong confidence that the violin is fine," said Mark Niehaus, the president and executive director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.
The violin has a fair replacement value of $5 million for insurance purposes, according to Darnton & Hersh Fine Violins, the designated curator of the instrument when it was loaned to Almond in 2008 by its owner.
The Lipinski is one of roughly 600 violins, violas and cellos still in existence that were built by famed Italian artisan Antonio Stradivari.
A similar Stradivarius violin sold at auction for $2.3 million in December, according to the BBC.
(Reporting By Brendan O'Brien; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Peter Galloway and Cynthia Osterman)