Jack Murphy

Jack Murphy“Murph the Surf”


Bill Kurtis: Vibe to the South, Miami was where the 60s beach boys and girls spent their days on the water and their nights on the prowl. For many, the lifestyle consisted mostly of sex, parties, and above all, surfing. But in the fall of 1964, a trio of surfers left their boards in Miami and flew north to the chill of New York. They were Roger Frederick Clark, age 29, 26-year-old swimming instructor and diver, Alan Kuhn, and 27-year-old surfing champion, Jack Roland Murphy, also known as "Murph the Surf."

   They had dreamed, a crooked dream, down on the Miami's beaches. They had an idea of how to finance their lifestyle for life. Their target was the American Museum of Natural History, overlooking Central Park. Over the years, this museum had become home to one of the world's most dazzling collections of precious stones. The three beach boys checked into an expensive hotel about 10 blocks away. For several weeks, they cased out the museum, buying four plans and descriptions of the jewels at the gift shop, and perusing the galleries for the most tempting prizes. Then on the night of the 29th of October, they went to museum visiting again, but after it had closed. While one kept watch the other two scaled a 10-foot wall and forced open the door. From there, they went to a fifth floor office and climbed out the window.

   Using the cords from Venetian blinds, they lowered themselves into the gem gallery below, but the windows were routinely left two inches open. There, they help themselves to 24 of the choices stones and escaped, undetected. The robbery was only discovered the next day when a guard arrived for work. As the police descended on the museum officials, there were in an agony of embarrassment. They had to explain how robbers could have prowled through the museum, taking the jewels and escaped without a single alarm being sounded.

   As they searched for fingerprints, which were plentiful but confusing, New York City detectives were shocked to discover that the burglar alarm system had been disconnected several years earlier in an effort to save money. Ignoring the smaller stones, the thieves had cut a piece of glass from the case containing the richest jewels. They had put tape on the circle of glass to keep it from shattering. The police soon suggested to the media that the burglars' methods didn't seem to be those of professionals.

Man 2: This becomes a matter of conjecture, but it would appear that a professional burglar would have little better tools than we now find here. However, it's still a matter of conjecture this morning.

Bill: The police also believe that career jewel thieves wouldn't have chosen such a prominent selection of stones. These thieves had taken the Midnight Star Sapphire, 161 carats, shown on video on the left. The Delong Star Ruby, 100 carats; and the Star of India at 565 carats, the world's biggest Sapphire.

Reporter: This would be difficult for anyone to get rid of these jewels.

Man 2: It would be quite difficult sell because these are most important to art collectors and gem collectors, but these sizes and such would indicate to them that the price will having them presently wouldn't be in a position to own.

Bill: The police were right. The Star of India Sapphire, for example, was much too famous for even the shadiest collector to acquire. The smaller gems however were easier for the robbers to sell on the black market. In fact, the proceeds from the smaller stones would actually pay for the robbers legal fees.

Bill: As the New York police hunted for clues, the Museum of Natural History jewel thieves split up. Roger Clark headed north to his parents’ home in Connecticut. His partners, Allen Kuhn and Jack Murphy - "Murph the Surf," put the jewels into a locked briefcase. They asked a 19-year-old girl named Janet Florkiewicz, whom they had met and romanced at their Manhattan Hotel to take the suitcase to Florida for them. Then they flew down on the same flight as Florkiewicz, but pretended not to know her.

   The woman became suspicious after her arrival in Miami, and she telephoned a girlfriend back at the hotel in New York, "Something fishy is going on," she reported. The friend told another resident who remembered noticing a book called, "The Story of Gems" in the three men's hotel suite. The book had been published at the Museum of Natural History. They went to the police and within hours of the robbery, detectives in New York were ready to swoop down on the first of the three young men who'd pulled off one of the most daring jewel robberies of the century.

   The FBI was waiting at the hotel when Roger Clark drove back into Manhattan to collect his belongings, which included burglary tools and photographs of parts of the museum. Meanwhile, down in Miami, agents hammered on the door of the apartment where the other two robbers lived.
Murph the Surf was home with two girlfriends for company. Wearing only a pair of shorts, he had no chance to make a getaway. "I was supposed to be on my way to Hawaii to surf," he complained. This has fouled the whole thing up. Minutes later, Alan Kuhn walked in and was quickly handcuffed by the FBI. It was Kuhn who had recruited the informer, Janet Florkiewicz. And now he's startled aligned worthy of James Cagney. That's what happens he said when you fool around with square broads.

   On the 18th of November, the thieves flew voluntarily back to New York to face charges. A deal had already been worked out with their lawyers offering bail in exchange for cooperation. The New York DA's office had made recovery of the irreplaceable gems which was made a priority in the case. So as long as the trio could keep the police guessing where the jewels were, they had a bargaining chip and they knew it.

   Murphy and Kuhn flew in as celebrities, suntanned, athletic, and supremely confident. They were portrayed by the media as daring idol playboys who had succeeded in making off with treasures that should have been as well, guarded, as Fort Knox. Although it was Alan Kuhn who was really the brains behind the outfit, Jack "Murph The Surf" Murphy was the one who caught the public imagination, claiming as he did, he had single-handedly brought the sport of surfing from Hawaii to Miami, and launched the sport on the mainland. A large crowd of reporters waited at Kennedy Airport to see him and Kuhn arrived to post bail. Two men were so confident of getting released the same day, they hadn't brought any luggage. Murphy and Kuhn took turns to correct reporters who described them as Beach Bums. They explained there was a world of difference between beach boys, which they said they were, and Beach Bums who were parasites.

   They gave the impression of being rich, young men playing a game, but the truth did not match the appearances. In fact, the Miami police had been watching them for months. Up to six months before the robbery, they had been Beach Bums, picked up several times for vagrancy. But that spring, they had sailed to the Caribbean and while they were in the Bahamas, there was a robbery of jewels that amounted to three-quarters of a million dollars, and the robbery was not solved. The Miami Beach chief of police perhaps overreacted when he was quoted as saying, "They are cracked jewel thieves, and we've been trying to pin something on them for a long time."

   They got their promised bail, which was set at 32,000 dollars and were able to fly back to Miami that same night as they had predicted. The most famous jewel thieves of the decade were free to walk the streets, but soon, their shady pasts began to catch up with them. Other robbery charges were brought in Miami. Then on January 4th 1965, Murphy and Kuhn were arrested again after renewing their bail at a New York Court House. This time the charge involved a paltry 250 dollars. The desk clerk at New York's Algonquin Hotel identified Murphy as one of the men who had pistol-whipped him during a holdup.

   The next day, the husband of actress Eva Gabor identified Murphy and Kuhn as the men who had beaten his wife and stolen $50,000 worth of her jewelry. These additional charges against the trio were a result of exhaustive research by prosecutor, Maurice Nadjari. Then, an assistant district attorney with the New York DA's office. The jury is now semi-retired from private practice.

Maurice Nadjari: My feeling was that these free spirits could not tolerate jail time.


   While in prison, I heard from a number of speakers, including football players Roger Staubach and Bill Glass, along with a chaplain who spoke about a young criminal who was set up by the authorities.

   "He said, ‘But this young man here, the judge caved in, they took him out and they executed him on death row and he rose up from the grave and his name is Jesus," and as I’m sitting on the back row thinking, ‘That’s about the craziest story I ever heard.’"

At first, "prison religion" didn't have much effect on me.

   But the words slowly had an effect on me, and I began working in the prison ministry and mentoring fellow inmates. After serving 21 years, I was paroled in 1986 and began visiting prisons and jails all over the world, sharing his story of redemption.

Jack's Hearing His Voice Testimony

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