Jack Roland Murphy (Murph the Surf)
In late October 1964, thieves stole 22 gems from New York City’s Museum of Natural History. Three of the stones were so famous they would be impossible to sell.
Within 48 hours, aided by confidential police sources, two men in New York and another two in Miami were arrested. One of those men, Jack Murphy, was a legendary surfer and beach boy. Later, he was to commit, apart from murder, the biggest jewel heist in American history. Today his moniker ‘Murph the Surf’ still haunts him, despite his efforts of rehabilitation and becoming a Born Again Christian and preacher...Read more...
In late October 1964, thieves stole 22 gems from New York City’s Museum of Natural History. Three of the stones were so famous they would be impossible to sell. Within 48 hours, aided by confidential police sources, two men in New York and another two in Miami were arrested. One of those men, Jack Murphy, was a legendary surfer and beach boy. Later, he was to commit, apart from murder, the biggest jewel heist in American history. Today his moniker ‘Murph the Surf’ still haunts him, despite his efforts of rehabilitation and becoming a Born Again Christian and preacher.
Jack Roland Murphy was born in Los Angeles, California before the family moved to Pennsylvania. He was the A1 student and the boy every parent dreams of, showing an aptitude for sport and ability in most subjects. A passionate surfer, he was named the state’s top surfer in 1963, winning the National Hurricane Surfing championship twice. More incredibly at 15 years of age he was playing with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
Throughout his colourful career it is claimed that he has been a concert violinist, tennis pro, movie stunt man, high-tower circus diver, a jewel thief and a convicted murderer, who was even the subject of a 1974 feature film, ‘Murph the Surf’, starring Robert Conrad.
His audacious crime of the stealing the Star of India, a 563.35 carat star sapphire, wasn’t something he benefited from. Two days later he was arrested with his accomplices.
But the main question is what turned a high achieving young man with accolades and women at his feet into a violent criminal? A psychologist who examined him after an arrest in 1968 said “he’s top notch at everything he does”.
One probable answer is that he experienced a vicarious thrill from danger and getting away with criminal acts. The thrill of the chase and participating in a high powered heist, no doubt gave him the kind of emotional high or kick that he failed to get from other areas in his life. The principle character who introduced him to a life of crime was swimming instructor and ladies man, Allan Kuhn. The wealthy Kuhn epitomised the glamorous gangster, with his yacht, 50-knot speedboat and a Cadillac convertible.
Taking up the risky and dangerous world of stealing with Kuhn, Murphy loved the getaway scenarios that felt like something straight out of an action film. There was the thrill of escaping the law by boat or car and this was part of a glamorous package that included an affluent lifestyle made up of swanky parties, upmarket apartments, even safe houses in Hawaii and yachts around the Caribbean. But the crime that was to immortalise his name in hall of infamy was to become known as the greatest jewel heist of the 20th century.
Los Angeles, California
29/10/1964: Murphy steals The Star of India gem.
1967: Associated with the Whiskey Creek Murders.
1969: Murders 24 year old Terry Rae Frank.
2000: Murphy released from Florida State Prison.
The Star of India, one of the most precious jewels in the world, was exhibited along with other valuable gems in what was known as the J.P. Morgan Collection in New York’s Museum of Natural History.
On the evening of October 29, 1964, Murphy and his cohorts climbed through a bathroom window they had unlocked during opening hours. The Star sapphire was the only gem in the collection protected by an alarm. Luckily for them the battery operating the alarm was dead. Murphy managed to steal stones, including the sapphire worth around $400,000.
The high he must have experienced from such an audacious robbery that involved no violence, was short lived when Murphy was arrested along with his accomplices just two days later. The Star of India was recovered in a Miami bus station locker. Most of the other gems were also found.
The one thing that gave them away was the lavish parties they had held at the Cambridge Hotel while planning the heist.
Murphy received 21 months in jail. When he came out it appeared that his experiences had hardened him for he is quoted as saying that when he came out of New York’s Rikers Island prison he didn’t give a ‘damn’ about ‘anything or anyone’.
1968 was to see a turning point in Murphy’s style and image as a glamorous cat burglar.
Murphy acted as look-out and getaway driver when he and two partners broke into the huge mansion of Olive Wofford, a Miami Beach socialite. Wofford later told police, the thieves held a pistol to her and also threatened to pour boiling water over her eight year-old niece if she didnsinglecodet co-operate and open the safe.
Murphy was later tracked down by the police, which involved a high-powered chase, where he drove his vehicle through a pair of French doors. When apprehended and found to be swathed in bandages Murphy quipped doublecodeI cut myself shaving.doublecode
But worse to come was the discovery that two Californian secretaries had died at his hands in 1967 despite Murphy denying he had anything to do with the killings. Later to be known as the Whiskey Creek murders, the two women had been shot, bludgeoned to death and then dumped in a creek near Hollywood, Florida.
Concrete weights had also been tied to their necks to sink them. The victims had allegedly been brutally killed in a dispute over nearly half a million dollars worth of securities stolen from a Los Angeles brokerage. Murphy was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Despite denying he was involved in the Whiskey Creek murders, Murphy was convicted of killing Terry Rae Frank, 24, in 1969 and sentenced to life in prison. In 1970, he received a second life sentence, plus 20 years, for conspiracy and assault to commit robbery against Olive Wofford.
Due to becoming a model prisoner, a Christian and showing remorse for his past Murphy was paroled from the Florida State Prison in 1986. Rehabilitation
After 19 years, Murphy was released from Florida State Prison in 2000, mainly because of his exemplary behaviour. During his time in prison he had become religious and taken on a role assisting the prisonsinglecodes chaplain and counselling young offenders. The Florida Parole Board saw fit to terminate his lifetime parole.
Today Murphy acts as an Evangelist style preacher visiting the prisons as a ‘messenger of God’ with the aim of helping rehabilitate other felons through religion. He says of his villainous and murderous past
“To this day, that era pains me. Isinglecodem not at all pleased with my past or the terrible mistakes that I did, the hurt that I caused people. I am ashamed and embarrassed by all of that.doublecode