'Murph the Surf' Jack Murphy, figure in NYC jewel heist, dies at 83

Sept. 15 (UPI) -- Convicted killer and jewel thief Jack Roland "Murph the Surf" Murphy, best known for an infamous 1964 New York City jewelry heist, has died at the age of 83.

Murphy's family said he died at his Crystal River, Fla., home on Saturday. His wife Kitten said the cause was heart and organ failure.


Murphy was 27 when he stole the iconic Star of India sapphire and nearly two dozen other expensive jewels on Oct. 29, 1964, with accomplices Allan Kuhn and Roger Clark at Manhattan's American Museum of Natural History. The crime netted goods worth $3 million in 2020 dollars.

Murphy was captured two days later after two detectives followed a trail of clues and he ultimately spent 21 months in jail for the heist.

His career as a thief turned darker in 1969 when he was convicted of murder stemming from the deaths of two California secretaries whose bodies were later found in a South Florida canal. They died during an argument over how to dispose of $400,000 in securities they had stolen from a Los Angeles brokerage house.

He'd also been accused of robbing and pistol-whipping "Green Acres" actress Eva Gabor, who ultimately declined to testify against him and the case was dropped.


Although he was sentenced life in prison, Murphy was paroled after just 16 years in 1986, due to good behavior. He told reporters he'd been paroled by God, who wanted him to join the lecture circuit.

"I believe, as God says, that all things pass away and all things become new," he said with a wink at news conference after his release in 1986.

"[Parole] was a day I didn't believe would ever occur, but God had a sense of humor, a style of his own."

Jack Griffith, Murphy's accomplice in the murders, didn't get out of prison until years later. He told UPI in 1985 both men had "paid their dues."

"Murphy deserves to get out," he said at the time.

Murphy went on to write a memoir, Jewels for the Journey, in 1989 and became a pop culture icon with the 1975 movie Murph the Surf, which fictionalized his infamous jewel heist.

He became known as "Murph the Surf" because he was twice a Florida surfing champion, winning the state's longboard titles in 1962 and 1963. He was friends with Hall of Fame surfer Dick Catri and the pair worked as pool boys in Miami Beach during the 1950s. They were even partly credited with spurring the vibrant surfing culture in Brevard County.


"Everybody focuses on the jewel heist and the [Florida] murders, but if you look, he was one of the early surfing pioneers and then was involved in prison ministries the rest of his life," said John Hughes, executive director of the Florida Surf Museum in Cocoa Beach, Fla.

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