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Jack Rowland Murphy is a convicted jewel thief and murderer who served 19 years of a double life sentence before being released.
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Jack Rowland Murphy, also known as "Murph the Surf," stole 22 gems, including the Star of India, from the Museum of Natural History in 1964. Over his colorful life, Murphy was a concert violinist, tennis pro, movie stunt man, high-tower circus diver, jewel thief and a murderer. In the late 1960s, Murphy was convicted of killing two women and a man. He received two life sentences, but was released after 19 years.
"To this day, that era pains me. I'm not at all pleased with my past or the terrible mistakes that I did, the hurt that I caused people. I am ashamed and embarrassed by all of that."
Jack Rowland Murphy, also known as "Murph the Surf," was born in 1938 in Los Angeles, California, before his family moved to Pennsylvania. In his youth, Murphy was an A student and the boy every parent dreams of, showing an aptitude for sport and ability in most subjects. He also had a passion for surfing, and was named the state's top surfer in 1963, winning the National Hurricane Surfing Championship twice. More incredibly, by the age of 15, he was playing with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
In addition to being a surfer and concert violinist, Murphy was a tennis pro, movie stunt man and high-tower circus diver. But Murphy also had a dark side, and would become infamous for his darker titles, including jewel thief and convicted murderer.
On October 29, 1964, thieves stole 22 gems, including the Star of India, a 563.35 carat star sapphire, from New York City's Museum of Natural History. Within 48 hours, aided by confidential police sources, two men in New York and another two in Miami were arrested. One of those men was Jack Rowland Murphy.
What could have turned a high-achieving young man with accolades and women at his feet into a violent criminal? One probable answer is that Murphy experienced a 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 swim instructor and ladies man Allan Kuhn. The wealthy Kuhn epitomized 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.
Murphy's involvement in the robbery at the Museum of Natural History—which has been credited as "the greatest jewel heist of the 20th century"—would immortalize his name in hall of infamy.
The year 1968 was a turning point in Murphy's style and image as a glamorous cat burglar. Murphy acted as lookout and getaway driver when he and two partners broke into the huge mansion of Olive Wofford, a Miami Beach socialite.
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