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Jack Roland Murphy: Murph the Surf

Crime Files
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. 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 dreamed 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.


29 October 1964 - Murphy steals The Star of India gem1967 - Associated with the Whiskey Creek Murders1969 - Murders 24 year old Terry Rae Frank2000 - Murphy released from Florida State Prison

The Key Figures

Allan Kuhn - Murphy’s accomplice and the man who introduced Murphy to crimeTerry Rae Frank - Murphy admits to killing him in 1969

The Aftermath

Milat was incarcerated in the maximum-security wing of Goulburn Prison, near Sydney. Milat has always maintained his innocence, and later staged self-mutilation attacks, and hunger strikes, in a bid to get his appeals heard.In May 1997 authorities foiled a well-planned jailbreak attempt masterminded by Milat. His accomplice was found hanged in his cell the next morning.In July 2001 his initial appeal against his sentence was denied.Police maintain that Milat may have been involved in many more murders than the seven of which he was convicted. In the summer of 2001, Milat was ordered to give evidence at an inquest into the disappearances of three other female backpackers, but no case has been brought against him, due to lack of evidence. Similar inquiries were launched in 2003, in relation to the disappearance of two nurses and again in 2005, relating to the disappearance of hitchhiker Anette Briffa, but no charges have resulted.On 8th November 2004 Ivan Milat gave a televised interview, in which he denied that any of his family had been implicated in the seven murders.On 18th July 2005, Milat’s former lawyer, John Marsden, who had been fired before the murder trial, made a deathbed statement, in which he claimed that Milat had been assisted by an unknown woman, in the killings of the two British backpackers.On 7th September 2005 his final appeal was refused, and Milat is likely to remain in prison for the rest of his natural life.

The Crimes

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 29th October 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 the 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’.Murder 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 didn't cooperate 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 "I cut myself shaving."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.