Jack Roland Murphy was an “enigma of fabled deeds and crimes,” as one writer put it. Better known as “Murph the Surf,” he purported to be a violin virtuoso, tennis star, two-time national surfing champion, and a daring — albeit clumsy — thief. Chiefly remembered for helping pull off the biggest jewel heist in New York City history in 1964, his checkered and complicated legacy also contains a much darker chapter.
This week on Endless Thread, we bring you a story told by Amory Sivertson for the brand new season of Last Seen, a genre-bending podcast about people, places, and things that have gone missing.
- Palm Beach Post archival footage
- The Sneak podcast
- Christian Family Outreach Center archival footage
- “Live a Little, Steal a Lot” Trailer
- CBS Miami archival footage
- Corey Kilgannon’s New York Times article
- 1960's hit sitcom Green Acres
- Murph in Vanity Fair
- New York Times obituary
- Murph in Sports Illustrated
Special thanks to Faith Salie, who convinced us to look into Murph. Check out Faith’s work at www.FaithSalie.com
Thanks also to journalists Corey Kilgannon from the New York Times and Nate Scott from USA Today for sharing their reporting on Murph.
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This content was originally created for audio. The transcript has been edited from our original script for clarity. Heads up that some elements (i.e. music, sound effects, tone) are harder to translate to text.
Nora Saks: Welcome to Last Seen, from WBUR - Boston’s NPR station. If you tuned into Season 1, you know it was about 13 priceless works of art that went missing from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum more than 30 years ago and were never seen again.
Now, Last Seen is back.
I’m Nora Saks, and I’ll be your host, or maybe curator is more fitting. Because in this new season of the show, we've got an anthology of stories that put a twist on the genre of true-crime. Ten new mysteries, told by 10 different contributors about unexpected people, places, and things that have gone missing.
This series explores what losing them means, why we keep searching, and whether or not they can — or even should — be found.
Nora: Faith Salie is someone who might sound familiar to public radio heads out there.
Faith Salie: My children, who are now 7 and 9, go to something called the Science and Nature Program at the American Museum of Natural History.
Nora: Faith is a regular panelist on NPR’s Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me. She’s also a contributor to CBS Sunday Morning. She just closed an Off-Broadway one-woman show, and she’s a mom who likes to get down-and-nerdy with her kids at the history museum.
Faith: So I get to dissect squid with my kids.
Nora: Last year, Faith’s daughter’s class at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City did a whole unit on treasures.
Faith: So it was treasures of the Earth, treasures of the sea, and treasures of the museum.
Nora: One day, the teacher mentioned something called the Hall of Gems.
Faith: It's everything from explaining the chemistry and science behind what makes a crystal, a crystal to an absolutely massive geode that looks like, I mean, it is as big and wide as like a silverback gorilla.
Nora: But this Hall of Gems? Closed for renovations. So instead, the teacher told the class a story. A tantalizing one.
Faith: Do you know that somebody once in the 60s stole many of the most famous gems?
Nora: Amory Sivertson is another person who might sound familiar to public radio heads. She’s a senior podcast producer at WBUR and the host of our show Endless Thread. And Amory has been thinking a ton about this story lately. About the man, the legend, behind it.
Amory Sivertson: His name is Jack Roland Murphy. At least, we think it’s Jack Roland Murphy. But most people just call him ‘Murph the Surf.’
Nora: If you read Murph’s obituary or the umpteen newspapers & magazines that have covered his story, you might remember him as something of a folk hero.
Amory: And what I wonder, Nora, is how does someone become a folk hero? Like how does that narrative get spun in the first place, and then what perpetuates it?
Nora: Right, because it turns out that Murphy’s legacy is actually dark and pretty twisted. And he did everything he could to tell it the way he wanted.
Amory: So to me, the question is what gets lost when the person at the center of a story is allowed to control it?
Nora: Amory Sivertson brings us episode 1.
Amory: If you’re here because you listened to season 1 of Last Seen, you’re OK if I kick off season 2 with a heist, right? The American Museum of Natural History, on the other hand, would probably rather I didn’t.
Faith: It is astonishing to me that I feel like I know this place so well and I have never heard this story.
Amory: Faith Salie wasn’t the only museum-regular surprised to learn about the scandal.
Corey Kilgannon: I had never heard of it, you know, and I've been covering New York for more than 20 years.
Amory: Corey Kilgannon covers New York for The New York Times.
Corey: The Times has a huge photograph morgue. You know, we call it the morgue.
Amory: And one day a couple years ago, the Times’ photograph mortician, so to speak, plops a fat folder of black and white photos on his desk.
Corey: And I'm like, what's this? And he's like, yeah, Murph the Surf. And I’m like, Murph the what?
Amory: Murph the Surf. Jack Roland Murphy. National surfing champion, and the architect of the American Museum of Natural History jewel heist. So it’s 2019 - the 150th anniversary of the American Museum of Natural History. The museum is touting its Teddy Roosevelt statue and its T-rex skeleton but there’s no mention of the jewel heist. So Corey decides he’s going to write about it. He reaches out to the museum, and they are not eager to comment.
Corey: Well, they're not exactly proud of the jewel heist, you know.
Amory: So, Corey, and Faith,
Faith: I had to do a little research because the museum doesn't like to talk about it.
Amory: They start doing their own digging. And eventually, they piece together how it all went down in the Fall of 1964. It starts with three men.
Corey: Jack Murphy (Murph the Surf), Allan Kuhn, and Roger Clark. These guys are buddies. They're down in Florida.
Faith: And all the thieves in this story are very, very tan, like no SPF, no sunscreen, no morals. OK.
Amory: Murph, Allan, and Roger are in their 20s at the time and eye-catchingly handsome. Murph especially, if you ask Faith.
Faith: He is kind of sexy.
Amory: Slick clothes, slicked back blonde hair, light, piercing eyes often hidden behind aviator sunglasses. Murph and his crew like parties. And women. And jewels. They’re robbing Miami hotel rooms and waterfront mansions. But in 1964, they set their sights on the Big Apple.
Faith: Get a Cadillac, drive up to New York City to see the 1964 World's Fair.
Corey: So they're hanging out in New York City, living the high life, partying. They rented a suite.
Faith: Penthouse on West 86th.
Corey: Actually a few blocks away from the Museum of Natural History.
Faith: They're going to jazz clubs.
Corey: And they were pulling off different heists in hotels and at one point, Allan Kuhn starts talking about these gems, these priceless gems that are held in the Museum of Natural History, and he wants to try to take them.
Faith: And they go to the American Museum of Natural History, they go into the Hall of Gems and they're standing around these three really famous gems.
Amory: These famous gems have names. There’s the fiery pinkish-red DeLong Star Ruby, coming in at 100 carats. The Midnight Star, the world’s largest black sapphire. And, the crown jewel of the museum’s jewel collection, the Star of India — the world’s largest sapphire, period. 563 carats of milky-blue magic. Three stars.
Faith: And when the light shines on them, there is a perfect bright six-point star.
Amory: And three thieves.
Faith: So the three guys are at the museum and as one of them said later, they all looked at each other, didn't say anything, but with their eyes, it was sort of like, can we do this?
Corey: And Murph describes Allan as saying, like, ‘they're talking to me. They're talking to me. They're begging to be taken to Miami and they're saying take us to Miami.’ And Murph says, OK. Let's take them to Miami.
Faith: On Oct. 29, 1964, they wait for a night where it's cloudy, low visibility. And, as Murph the Surf puts it, he wanted to look snazzy in case he was nabbed.
Corey: He told me that you've got to have a little flair if you get arrested and end up on the news. You don't want to look like a schlub.
Amory: Corey Kilgannon heard the story of the heist straight from Murph’s mouth.
Corey: Murph said on the night of the museum heist, he was in a dark green velour jacket, a turtleneck, corduroys, and tennis shoes.
Faith: They all bought new sneakers and they spray painted them black and they've already gone out to different hardware stores in town to get all the necessities one needs for a heist, right? So, we get rope at one place. You get glass cutters and duct tape in another place.
Amory: Ooh, very smart, OK.
Faith: Right. One of the guys, Roger Clark, drives around the block repeatedly in the Cadillac because he's going to be the getaway car. And Kuhn and Murph the Surf, they scale the walls in their fancy beatnik duds.
Corey: And, you know, walked along ledges and, you know, got spooked by a bunch of pigeons that, you know, kind of suddenly, you know, took flight when these guys stepped around a corner on the ledge and they managed to get up to the fourth floor where the Hall of Gems is and start to head towards these slightly open windows.
Faith: The window is freaking open. It's the museum. The window was open.
Amory: Once Murph and Allan are inside, you’d think they’d want to get as many jewels as they can as quickly as they can, and then get the hell outta there. But instead,
Corey: They just stood and they hid in the shadows and they waited to see when the guard came because like they felt they didn't have to rush this. This wasn't like a smash and grab.
Amory: They figure out the guard comes by about every 45 minutes. So once the guard’s finished his latest round of the Hall of Gems, Murph and Allan walk over to the glass cases of jewels and get to work.
Corey: First they scored the glass. They scored a circle in each case and then they put tape over it so it wouldn't shatter and make a loud noise. And then they took the mallet and they broke it.
Amory: But another pattern they became aware of while waiting in the shadows and timing the guard was a flight pattern — planes flying noisily over the museum to and from JFK and LaGuardia.
Corey: In order to, you know, shroud the sound of the cabinets breaking, they waited till a plane was flying overhead and then they smashed the glass.
Amory: Things seem to be going smoothly. And then, they go in for the Stars — the three largest, most coveted jewels in the collection. Again, they score the glass, tape it, break it, repeat that process for a second panel of glass. But when they reach in to grab the gems, they notice a little needle sticking up inside the case.
Faith: Which they realize, oh, that must be like the tripwire alarm system. We've got like five minutes to get out of here. They do notice that the batteries to the alarm system appear to be corroded, but they still think that needle is going to be their demise if they don't get out of there fast. So they, like put their arms in and they just scoop out all the jewels they can get at. It was about two dozen jewels in all.
Corey: The lot that they wound up taking was evaluated at what's today like maybe three and a half million dollars. But essentially they were priceless because they're historic, basically irreplaceable famous gems.
Amory: So once they have the gems in hand, how do they get out and where do they go?
Corey: Right, so this is where it actually gets almost comical.
Amory: Comical and maybe embellished, seeing as the play-by-play of the rest of the night comes straight from Murph. Allan Kuhn catches a cab. Murph has the jewels in a bag over his shoulder. He encounters some police officers on the street, but he plays it cool. Strikes up a conversation with a passerby to blend in, and carries on.
Corey: This is not a nervous guy, you know? This is not a prudent guy. This is a guy who, after he robs, pulls off the heist of the century, what the tabloids called the heist of the century in New York City. Instead of going back and doing the smart, cautious thing, he decides to go downtown and catch some jazz, you know, and have a drink or two.
Corey: The bands playing and Murph goes up to the bar with these jewels in a bag on his shoulder, and he orders a drink and he sits there and catches some music.
Amory: Wow. The hutzpah.
Corey: Yeah. The hutzpah.
Amory: So Murph and his comrades have gotten away. At least, for now. As for the bag of jewels,
Faith: By that morning, they had already fenced it. Somebody had come to assess how much they're going to get and where it's going to go. By the way, I don't know what the word fence means, do you? I just know that we're supposed to say that in this context.
Amory: If you, like Faith, or me, until very recently, don’t know what that means, fencing is selling stolen stuff. So, the jewels got fenced, and the thieves skipped town.
Faith: Two days later, the FBI arrests them in Miami. They've gotten tipped off by somebody who lived in that building who was like those three guys were really noisy and annoying and then they just took off.
Corey: So, the police respond to this and they get they find the identities of the three men.
Faith: So, the guys are arrested. But that's not the end of the story. There are no witnesses. There are no jewels. And there's only the slimmest circumstantial evidence, which was when the FBI went to the apartment they rented on the Upper West Side. There were some sneakers there with glass in the soles. That's all they got.
Amory: Allan and Murph make bail and go back to Miami pretty quickly, where they try their hand at lying to reporters. Here’s Murph speaking in archival footage from the Palm Beach Post.
[Palm Beach Post archival footage:
Jack Murphy: It is very embarrassing to be accused of something like this. And meanwhile, in New York, the jewel robberies continue to go on and on and they’re all down here trying to get something on us. We think it’s a shame that they don’t concentrate their efforts up there in the city where this happened — maybe they could catch the people who did this.]
Amory: But despite their denial, Murph and Allan have to keep coming back to New York for court appearances.
Corey: Every time they come back up for an appearance, a court appearance, you know, there's a media frenzy and they get their picture in the paper. And Murph takes out a cigar and holds court, and has a field day.
[Palm Beach Post archival footage:
Newscaster: The pair became the most photographed twosome in Miami for nearly a month. They came equipped with what every defendant should have: pretty girls and a big-time defense attorney, Harvey St. Jean.]
Faith: The press falls in love with them. They are so handsome. They are so audacious. They are so brazen. They dress to the nines. And a twenty-three-year-old Wellesley graduate named Nora Ephron.
Amory: Yes, that Nora Ephron.
Faith: It's her first cover story for the New York Post and she even says they belong, they should have their own ABC show. Like everybody's in love with these two obnoxious, handsome Beach Boys.
Amory: These two, not three, obnoxious Beach Boys because, by this point, Roger — the getaway car guy — he starts spilling the beans about how the heist went down. But Murph?
Corey: Murph thought he could beat it. Murph thought that they could beat the charges, you know?
[Palm Beach Post archival footage:
Newscaster: And now they say they may open a Miami Beach nightclub to cash in on the publicity, appropriately naming the club the Star of India.]
Amory: But where is this confidence coming from? This ego, this swagger? Who is Jack Roland Murphy?
Corey: If you were to take Murph at his word, you know, he played violin in a symphony orchestra in Pittsburgh.
Faith: Like a first-class violinist.
Corey: He played, you know, high-level competitive tennis. He helped start surfing on the East Coast.
Faith: World champion surfer.
Amory: Ehhh, national champion, as far as I can tell, but Murph the Surf took to hyperbole like he did to waves.
Corey: And he came to Florida and he became instantly an expert in trick diving and, uh, a lot of different water sports at beach clubs and that type of thing. It was like almost like there's nothing he couldn't do, you know.
Amory: Nothing except get away with stealing the world’s most precious jewels.
Corey: He did not.
Amory: In part because he got Gabor’d. Eva Gabor’d. Eva Gabor as in the sister of Zsa Zsa Gabor? As in the star of the 60s sitcom Green Acres?
Corey: You know, dah-ling, that's how she talked.
[Excerpt from Green Acres:
Eva Gabor: Dah-ling don’t get so excited, I’m only trying to make the place livable.]
Corey: And so she claimed that those guys you arrested whose picture was in the paper, these guys held me up at gunpoint and took my jewels, a necklace or something
[Palm Beach Post archival footage:
Gabor: So then this other guy pointed this gun at me and I, with my terrible temper, went after him. I thwacked him but I didn’t hurt him. And then he hit me, this ungentlemanly bum.]
Faith: So the prosecutors are like, now we got you, now we got you because Eva Gabor just identified you. So they go to jail. And while they go to jail, that's when each of them starts turning on the other and confesses the crime. Now we got to find these jewels.
Amory: Now this is where the story of the Gardner Museum art heist and the Museum of Natural History jewel heist diverge in a big way. Because the most precious items taken from the Hall of Gems in 1964 were recovered. Including the Stars, those three monster gems. In part because the thieves cooperated in helping get them back. And thanks to a determined assistant district attorney and an elaborate plan involving a snorkel, a Miami bus terminal, an airline barf bag used to transport the jewels, and a $25,000 ransom for the DeLong Star Ruby paid for by John D. MacArthur, the jewels mostly found their way back to New York. As for the three thieves, they found themselves on Rikers Island. Behind bars. Miraculously, they only spent two years there. Maybe because the evidence against them was mostly circumstantial. Maybe because of their role in helping get the jewels back. Whatever the reason, they did their time. And after that,
Corey: The other two fellows basically went straight and Murph did not go straight.
Amory: Coming up,
Nate Scott: I just saw this kind of almost tossed aside mention of a murder.
Amory: More in a minute.
Amory: How did you first hear about Murph the surf?
Nate: My mom, actually.
Amory: Nate Scott is a reporter. It runs in the family.
Nate: My mom is a former journalist and is always sending me story ideas and I usually say, oh, Mom, but--
Amory: But, like a good son, Nate humors his mom and surfs the web for the jewel heist.
Nate: And then I saw that The New York Times had written about it recently.
Amory: Corey Kilgannon’s piece.
Nate: And Vanity Fair had covered it and I thought no, it's been done too much, but then--
Amory: Then, Nate notices a brief mention in both of those pieces of something more sinister. Something that doesn't fit the colorful, folk hero narrative of Murph the Surf.
Nate: It just was a more confusing story, a harder story to tell, a more violent and grisly story. And so it just kind of was in part able to be kind of brushed under the rug a little bit.
Amory: Nate hosts a true-crime podcast for USA Today called The Sneak. And he didn’t know it then, but his mom had just sent him the story idea that would become the whole next season of his podcast. Because there was another chapter to Jack Roland Murphy’s life story, waiting to be told. And Nate wanted to hear it from Murph himself.
Nate: It was a bit bizarre because I had heard from reporter after reporter that he's prickly. He'll cut you off like you won't even know. I called him up. He answered in Home Depot. I said I'd love to come down to Crystal River, Florida, and meet him. He said, alright, come on down.
Amory: So in early 2020, Nate and his co-producer, do just that.
[Excerpt from The Sneak
Jack Murphy: You ready? Are we on? My name is Jack Murphy, and we’re taking you on a trip that has already been in the papers and the magazines]
Amory: They spend 4 days in Florida with Jack Murphy, who — at this point — is in his early 80s.
Nate: Still handsome. Hawaiian shirt, buttoned-down, tan, charming, flirting with the waitress. And dominating.
Amory: As we know, Murph loved media attention. But only if the media loved him.
Nate: He asked us many, many times, are you here to tell my story the right way or the wrong way? And then he'd kind of laugh and kind of give us a punch on the shoulder. But then he'd stare, making you feel uneasy, just to make you feel uneasy, like that was that was it. There was a lot of that.
Amory: There was good reason to feel uneasy around Murph. He could be threatening. Nate’s first night in town, Jack drove him and his colleague off the road and to the water’s edge late at night, unannounced.
Nate: We sat there in silence, staring out over the water. And then he turned the car back on and drove us back to the hotel.
Amory: What? Did he say anything?
Nate: No words were exchanged.
Amory: So do you think that was, like, an intimidation tactic? Kind of like, I’m in control?
Nate: I think so.
Amory: But Nate was also uneasy because of what he knew about Murph, after his time at Rikers. Within a year of getting out, Jack went from moving jewels, to drugs, to moving millions of dollars. And finally, to committing his most violent and heinous act.
Amory: A heads up that this next part of Jack Murphy’s story is pretty upsetting. It’s also very murky. Lots of allegations and he-said-he-saids. But, here’s what we think happens. In 1967, Jack Murphy conspires with two secretaries at an L.A. brokerage firm to steal about half a million dollars in stocks and bonds. After the theft, these two secretaries — Terry Rae Kent Frank, and Annelie Marie Mohn, both women in their early 20s — they flee to Miami, where Murph offers them a place to hideout. But when it comes to getting Murph’s help turning those stocks and bonds into tangible money, things go awry. Jack Murphy and an associate take the two women out on a boat to discuss the deal. But at least one of the women isn’t happy with it, and they threaten to go to the authorities.
Nate: And the next day they were discovered in the waters off of Whiskey Creek off the coast of Florida. The coroner testified that both women had been struck in the head and then thrown overboard where they kept fighting. It was at this moment that Annelie Marie Mohn they believe was shot. And the two women were still fighting after that and the actual cause of death for both women was drowning.
Amory: The women’s stomachs were slashed to prevent their bodies from rising to the water’s surface. A concrete block was attached to Terry Rae Kent Frank’s neck with wire. It was brutal. It was ruthless. And it seemed worlds away from the beach boy jewel thief the media had fallen in love with in New York just three years prior, and even from the crime that had gotten him that attention. Jack Murphy denied killing the women, and would later claim there was a fifth person on the boat who was responsible. He admitted to helping dispose of their bodies, but there were eyewitnesses who said they saw just Murphy and the three others on the boat. In 1969, Murph the Surf became Murph the convicted murderer.
Nate: He received, uh, double life sentence plus 20. It was for one of the murders and then another burglary he committed even after he was under arrest for murder, he actually got out on parole and then committed another burglary.
Amory: Two life sentences, plus an additional 20 years, could have essentially been the end of Murph’s story, as he faded from the public’s consciousness into incarcerated obscurity. But then, about 5 years into his sentence, Murph meets someone in prison. Or maybe, finds is a more appropriate word. Someone even more charismatic and beloved than him.
[CHOIR OF ANGELS MUSIC]
Faith: He finds Jesus hard. He is evangelical.
Amory: Faith Salie again.
Faith: And I am not here to say that Jack Roland Murphy did not fall on his knees and accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior. And I'm not here to say that Jesus didn't change his life. Jesus, in fact, very much changed his life.
Amory: Enter, Murph the minister. Jack Murphy is born again. He starts preaching to his fellow inmates.
Corey: To accept Jesus Christ and to go straight and to, you know, like kind of forsake their lot, their criminal lives.
Amory: Corey Kilgannon again.
Corey: And he caught the attention of some big shots on the outside. Some rich guys who developed, helped him develop a ministry and helped persuade the authorities to parole him. And he got out earlier than he would have.
Amory: Now, to get out at all is earlier than he would have. But Murph was paroled after just 19 years. It was… a miracle?
[Christian Family Outreach Center archival footage:
Murphy: Well what was happening right then, the holy spirit had moved into my cell. And the holy spirit was giving me some sense that I didn’t have.]
Amory: Jack Murphy traveled widely as a minister, preaching to prisoners, giving talks. But Nate Scott says he had countless people under his spell.
Nate: Jack did get to give big, important speeches in front of like very wealthy people and meet famous athletes and meet, as he put it, Hollywood stars galore. That was his expression.
Faith: He has that swagger when he tells his story. There are countless videos of him being interviewed on Christian television and giving speeches and being like a keynote speaker at Christian men's breakfasts.
[Christian Family Outreach Center archival footage:
Murphy: And with this issue of Jesus Christ, the most important of all issues, you have got to have some serious help, and that’s what we’re called to do! This is not a spectator’s sport.]
Amory: Maybe most importantly, Jack’s spiritual calling — the greatest transformation in his life — also marked the greatest shift in how his story was told and would continue to be told. His past misdeeds, the burglaries, the jewel heist, even the murder conviction… those were in the past.
Nate: This guy gets caught up. He's doing the debonair thing he does the heist, he goes to prison, he comes out hard and then things went south until Jesus came. You know, that's kind of the narrative. It was a lot more complicated than that.
Amory: But in the eyes of mainstream society, Jack had been redeemed.
Faith: What is disturbing to me, Amory, is that he not only loves telling his redemption tale because you can tell he's reveling in the crazy stuff that he did. Right? In the same way that I told you the story. It's kind of a fun story to tell. And he tells it with like zero remorse. He relishes it.
[Christian Family Outreach Center archival footage:
Murphy: A gentleman and his wife approached me at a banquet in Pennsylvania recently, and he said, ‘I’ve always wanted to meet you again.’ I said, ‘Again?’ He said, ‘Yes, I was a 20-year-old security guard at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City the night that you stole the Star of India and the JP Morgan gem collection. And I said to him, ‘Caught you sleepin’, didn’t I?’]
Amory: And Jack Murphy wrote it all down in his 1989 memoir, “Jewels for the Journey.” On the outside, you see a James Bond lookin’ photo of Murph — tan as ever in a cream-colored suit with a sparkling diamond just over his shoulder. On the inside, Nate says,
Nate: It is not a great read. I can't recommend it, but the murders are not mentioned, not one word.
Amory: Now, it’s not surprising that a convicted murderer might leave out the gruesome double homicide chapter of his colorful, self-serving narrative — maybe not one who’s supposedly found Jesus — but, why have the rest of us left it out? Why did the 1975 film “Live a Little, Steal a Lot,” which billed itself as “The True Story of Murph the Surf,” only tell the story of the jewel heist?
[Excerpt from “Live a Little, Steal a Lot” Trailer:
Murph the Surf: Can you imagine the largest ruby in the world, the largest sapphire in the world, the largest black sapphire in the world. It’s incredible, people don’t even realize what’s in this place.]
Amory: Why have the murders of Terry Rae Kent Frank and Annelie Marie Mohn been, more or less, a footnote in Murph’s story? In his podcast The Sneak, Nate Scott tried to change that. He reached out to Terry and Annelie’s families, who mostly didn’t want to talk. And, despite Murphy’s claims of innocence and redemption, Nate held his feet to the fire and called him out on inconsistencies in the story.
Nate: And Jack just absolutely lost it on me.
[Excerpt from The Sneak
Nate: I just want the truth, Jack.
Nate: Because that’s what I do. I’m a reporter.
Jack: For who? You want the truth for what? What are you gonna do with the truth?
Nate: You don’t… So, so are you telling me that you’re not telling me – what are you saying here?
Jack: I’m saying that you’re, it’s like I’m sitting in an interrogation room for every little this, every little that, everything. Move on!]
Nate: For 30 years, I have talked to dignitaries and traveled the world preaching, and I have met famous people and I have been commended as a four-time Christian of the year. You know, whatever.
[Excerpt from The Sneak
Jack: I’ve worked with 25 guys with Superbowl rings on, with world champion boxers, world champion rodeo guys, with superstar athletes and entertainers and all. But nobody gives a damn about that.]
Nate: It reminded me of kind of like a cornered animal like it was just it was it didn't make any sense what he was even saying. And, that was it, we hung up.
[Excerpt from The Sneak
Nate: Alright Jack, we can end it there.
Nate: I didn't speak to him again after that, and about six and a half weeks later, I think he was dead.
Amory: Jack Murphy died of organ failure in 2020 at the age of 83. Most of the news coverage at the time sounded a lot like this from CBS Miami.
[CBS Miami footage:
Newscaster: Hall of Fame surfer and jewel thief Jack “Murph the Surf” Murphy died in Florida. He was 83 years old. Murphy is best known for the daring heist of the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 1964]
Amory: Why do we remember Jack Murphy as Murph the Surf — a nickname he supposedly gave himself — or as Murph the “Heist Mastermind” as his New York Times obituary headline referred to him. Why not Murph the Murderer? How do we properly remember a man whose own narrative blurs truth and fiction on purpose? And why do we allow prominent and powerful people to reshape their own legacies? Here’s Nate Scott.
Nate: His ability to be charming and charismatic and ridiculous and lie to your face and say horrible, hateful things, but then kind of charm you anyway reminded me a lot of someone who was in office at that time. And I thought, I just, there was something about the two characters and this idea of if you are brazen enough, you can reinvent yourself in any way you want. That was very interesting to me and made it a story that I really wanted to tell.
Faith: I mean, look at this psychopath like he is still compelling us to tell his story. There's no denying it.
Corey: Here's a guy who he's great to listen to. You know, if he was down at the end of the bar that you were at in Florida and you somehow, you know, started hearing him tell these tales, you'd think, wow, this guy is the guy's amazing, you know?
[Murphy: I traveled with Barnum and Bailey Circus doing high tower diving into a tank with flames shooting off the tank, and I was a dance instructor and a tennis instructor, I went to college on a tennis scholarship, and I was a musician]
Corey: Yes, he's charismatic. But he also has this, real big, you know, sinister evil blemish against him.
Nate: And now welcome, you're part of this weird fraternity of people who have spent way too much time thinking about the story of Murph the Surf. And we all get to a different place.
Amory: What conclusion did you reach?
Nate: I thought Jack Murphy was a very successful con man who kept the cons going right up until his death.
Amory: Jack Murphy’s story will continue to get told. There’s a four-part docu-series in the works right now, as a matter of fact. Murph isn’t here anymore to try to control or bedazzle the narrative, so it’s up to us to make sure that pieces of his story and others like it don’t get blurred or romanticized, or lost. The American Museum of Natural History has an opportunity here, too. They reopened their newly renovated Hall of Gems and Minerals just last June. Faith Salie and her kids were there for opening night.
[Faith and her children: Oh my gosh! Look at that geode!]
Amory: Lifelong New Yorker Corey Kilgannon says, it might be time for the museum itself to unearth the long-buried story of the 1964 heist for a new generation of museum-goers and history lovers.
Corey: You know, I would think that maybe an institution would be like, yeah, this happened. That happened more than 50 years ago. It happened in another era. Let's own this, you know, and, you know, let's incorporate it into our story.
[Faith and her children:
Faith: (GASP) There it is! There it is! There it is! That’s the Star of India!
Faith’s children: The ball? This is it? Oh my gosh.
Faith: Yes. Look at that. Look at that.
Faith’s children: That’s a sapphire.
Faith: Do you see why it’s called a star?
Faith’s children: Oh my gosh.]
Nora: Next week, I’ll bring you a story about the vast network of black site storage areas where fine art goes to disappear. And the people who keep it out of view.
John Zarobell: Well, it's kind of like you keep your treasure in the dungeon, right? You don't, you don't put it in the front yard.
You can pitch us your story ideas about people, places, and things, that have gone missing. We’re interested in pitches from contributors or just folks who want us to tackle the story. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.