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Jack Roland Murphy (or "Murph the Surf" or "Murf the Surf") (born 1938 in Los Angeles, California) was convicted of murder in 1969. He was also involved in the biggest jewel heist in American history, the 1964 burglary of the jewel collection of New York's American Museum of Natural History. Murphy is also known for being a surfing champion, musician, author, and artist.
Murphy was born in Oceanside, California. He was an only child and his father worked as a telephone company lineman. As a child, Murphy enjoyed the violin and surfing. His family moved to Pittsburgh when he was in high school. According to Murphy, he played violin with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and won a tennis scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh.
In 1955 he moved to Miami where he worked at hotels. He married Gloria Sostoc in 1957. They had two children together before divorcing in 1962. He remarried and opened a surf shop in Cocoa Beach, Florida.
Murphy was involved in the notorious burglary, on October 29, 1964, at New York's American Museum of Natural History, of 24 precious gems, including the Star of India, the Eagle Diamond and the DeLong Star Ruby. This heist was called the "Jewel Heist of the Century." It targeted the museum's J.P. Morgan jewel collection.
Murphy had cased the museum earlier and discovered that security was lax to non-existent. The burglar alarm system was non-operational, and the hall's 19 exterior windows were left open two inches overnight for ventilation. The thieves climbed in through the window and discovered that the display case alarms were non-functional as well. The stolen jewels were insured for more than $400,000.
Murphy and both his accomplices, Alan Kuhn and Roger Clark, were arrested two days later after being tipped off by staff members at the Cambridge House hotel where the three men had been staying and throwing lavish parties. The men were arrested and charged with first degree burglary and possession of burglary tools. Free on bail, the men returned to Florida. Months later, prosecutors charged Murphy and Kuhn with the unrelated robbery and assault of actress Eva Gabor. In response to the new charges, a judge raised their bail to $150,000 and the men were jailed. Kuhn offered to retrieve the jewels in exchange for a lighter sentence.
The uninsured Star of India was recovered in a foot locker at a Miami bus station. Most of the other gems were also recovered, except the Eagle Diamond, which has since been hypothesized to have been cut down into smaller stones. Richard Duncan Pearson was also convicted.
In April 1965, Murphy, Kuhn and Clark pleaded guilty to burglary and grand larceny and were sentenced to three years.
Writer Nora Ephron, then only 23, covered the story for the New York Post. The heist was the subject of the film Murph the Surf (1975), directed by Marvin Chomsky, and starring Robert Conrad, Burt Young, and Don Stroud (as Murphy).
Whiskey Creek Murders and other crimes
In 1967, in Broward County, Florida, the weighted-down bodies of Terry Rae Frank and Annelle Marie Mohn were found in Whiskey Creek Canal, near Hollywood, at the site of John U. Lloyd Beach State Park. The two women were former employees of the Los Angeles brokerage firm Rutner, Jackson & Gray. They were suspects in the theft of $488,732 worth of stocks (equivalent to approximately $3,747,433 in 2019 dollars).The loss of the stocks was not discovered until after the two women quit the firm and moved to Florida. Shortly after arriving in Florida, Frank and Mohn moved in with Murphy.
In 1968, Murphy was the getaway driver in the robbery of socialite Olive Wofford.
In 1969, Murphy and an accomplice, Jack Griffith, were tried in Fort Lauderdale for the murder of twenty-four year old Terry Rae Frank, one of two women whose bodies were found in the Whiskey Creek Canal. Murphy's attorney pleaded him not guilty of first-degree murder by reason of insanity. Murphy was committed to a mental hospital for several months before the judge ruled that he was fit to stand trial. In March 1969, he was sentenced to life in prison at hard labor. Griffith was convicted of second-degree murder, and received a 45-year sentence at hard labor.
Bill Glass, Roger Staubach, and McCoy McLemore, world champion athletes and local businessmen, visited the Florida State prison in 1974. Murphy was impressed by these visitors and decided to change his life. At that time, Murphy's earliest parole date was November 2005. Murphy began participating in the prison chaplaincy program, leading Bible studies, and mentoring other men in prison. His parole date was moved up progressively because of good behavior. The Florida Parole Board voted to release Murphy, effective November 1986. Some conditions of his parole included making a $2500 donation to Meals on Wheels, and a restriction on returning to Dade and Broward counties, where the crimes were committed.
Life after prison
In 1986, Murphy began visiting prisons and jails all over the U.S. as a part of his prison ministry. He was hired by Bill Glass Champions for Life in 1986. Murphy has also been a featured speaker for Kairos, Coalition of Prison Evangelists, International Network of Prison Ministries, Time for Freedom, and Good News Jail & Prison Ministry. After visiting over 1,200 prisons, and recognizing the change apparent in Murphy's life, the Florida Parole Board terminated his "lifetime parole" in 2000.
Murphy was the keynote speaker in Jerusalem during the 1st World Conference on Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation through Religion. He is a frequent guest on Christian television and radio programs. Murphy has also appeared on CNN's Larry King Live.
As of August 2011, Murphy had been serving as a Vice-President of International Network of Prison Ministries, visiting prisons, jails, and youth detention facilities all over the world. Murphy wrote a book about his experience and testimony entitled Jewels for the Journey. He carried campaign signs for Bernie Decastro for sheriff in 2012.
In 2012, Murphy's bid for clemency was denied by the state of Florida. Former Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Louie L. Wainwright spoke on Murphy's behalf about the prison ministry work he has done since his 1986 release from prison. According to reports, Governor Rick Scott was willing to restore Murphy's rights but did not have the additional two votes from cabinet members required under Florida law.
Murphy has been featured in the following films:
- Murph the Surf (1975)
- Great Crimes and Trials of the Twentieth Century - Murf the Surf: The Boston Brink's Robbery (1992)
- Do's and Don'ts of Prison Ministry (2008)
In a 2019 New York Times feature story on the 1964 jewel heist, Murphy, the only survivor among the robbers, was quoted at length from his home in Florida.
- Meryl Gordon, "The 50th Anniversary of New York's Most Sensational Jewel Heist," Vanity Fair, October 29, 2014.
- David Sears, "How Three Amateur Jewel Thieves Made Off With New York’s Most Precious Gems," Smithsonian, February 25, 2014.
- Preston, Douglas J. (1994). Dinosaurs in the Attic: an Excursion into the American Museum of Natural History (1st pbk. ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 210–219. ISBN 0312104561.
- "Gem-Theft Figure is Found Guilty. Received Part of Ransom for the De Long Ruby". Associated Press in New York Times. December 12, 1965. Retrieved 2008-04-28.
Richard Duncan Pearson was found guilty today of having been involved in the ransoming of the 104-carat De Long ruby, one of several gems stolen from the American Museum of Natural History in October, 1964.
- Paul, Louis (2008). Tales from the Cult Film Trenches: Interviews with 36 Actors from Horror, Science Fiction and Exploitation Cinema. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. p. 247. ISBN 9780786429943.
- Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Retrieved January 1, 2020.
- "Jury convicts Murf the Surf and Griffith; jewel thief sentenced to life term". Chicago Tribune. 2 March 1969. p. 18. Retrieved 26 December 2016.,
- "Florida won't restore rights of famed jewel thief," Associated Press, December 14, 2012.
- Campbell, Douglas S. (1994). Free Press v. Fair Trial: Supreme Court Decisions since 1807 (1. publ. ed.). Westport, Conn. [u.a.]: Praeger. pp. 133–134. ISBN 0275942775.
- Tracy, Dan (November 11, 1986). "'Murph the Surf' Starts His Parole Jewel Thief To Counsel Convicts At Halfway House As Lay Minister". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 4 February 2013.
- Susskind, Jonathan (October 23, 1986). "Board Grants Parole to 'Murph the Surf'". Sun Sentinel. Retrieved 4 February 2013.
- Corey Kilgannon (October 17, 2019). "How a Band of Surfer Dudes Pulled Off the Biggest Jewel Heist in New York City". The New York Times.