Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Murph the Surf

Jack Murphy was a violin, tennis and chess prodigy who threw it all away to become a Florida surfer dude. He started a surfboard company, became famous as Murph the Surf when his copmany skyrocketed, and then lost it all to bad business dealings. He soon became involved in petty robberies in Florida.

He came to New York in October 1964 to visit the World's Fair, without any plans to rob anything. On the night of October 29, he was staying with a friend on 75th street as a mid-autumn thunderstorm lashed Manhattan. Murph and the friend drunkenly got the idea to steal the jewels from the American Museum of Natural History around the corner.

Nowadays, the jewel exhibit is in a walled off enclosure deep in the center of the museum, but in those days the jewels were kept in a third floor gallery overlooking 77th street. Murph and his friend climbed up the cragged rock wall of the museum and opened the window to the jewel room. Later investigation revealed that the fuse to the window alarm had been accidentally blown by the lightning; as a result, the guards were not alerted.

However, the guards patrolled the building on regular 20 minute rounds, and Murph and his friend happened to climb through the window just as a guard was entering the third floor gallery. They managed to close the window and hide without being detected by the guard. When the coast was clear, Murph walked over to the Star of India sapphire, lifted off its plexiglass cover, and pried the stone out of its setting. Both the cover and the stone sat on pressure sensors tied to separate alarm systems, but these were battery powered, and later investigation revealed that the batteries were dead. The pair pocketed 26 other gems, including the 16.25 carat Eagle Diamond, the Midnight Sapphire, and the de Long Ruby.

Murph and his friend climbed out the window, down the rock wall, and stashed most of the jewels in the 75th street apartment. Badly in need of some more alcohol, they hit a neighborhood bar, where Murph tried to pick up two young women by bragging that he was a jewel thief. He produced the Eagle Diamond as proof, but no one believed his story, or that the gem was real, and he and his pal wound up going home alone.

Of course, the next day the robbery made the afternoon news. The two women remembered their inept lothario from the night before, and alerted the police. Meanwhile Murph, realizing how hot he was, decided to head back to Miami. By all accounts he left the apartment a few minutes before the police arrived.

After a week-long manhunt, Jack Murphy was arrested in Florida. The jewels, except for the Eagle Diamond, were recovered from a locker in a Miami bus depot. Murph the Surf served two years for the robbery.

No comments: