Jack Rowland Murphy biography
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.
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.
Jewel Heist of the Century
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.
Olive Wofford Burglary and Whiskey Creek Murders
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.
Wofford later told police that the thieves had held a pistol to her and threatened to pour boiling water over her 8-year-old niece if she didn't cooperate and open the safe.
Murphy was later tracked down by the police following a high-powered chase, during which he drove his vehicle through a pair of French doors. When found swathed in bandages and apprehended, Murphy quipped, "I cut myself shaving."
Worse yet was the discovery that two California secretaries had died at Murphy's hands in 1967. Later known as the Whiskey Creek murders, the two women had been shot, bludgeoned to death and then dumped in a creek near Hollywood, Florida; concrete weights had been tied to the necks of the women to sink them. The victims had allegedly been brutally killed in a dispute over nearly half a million dollars worth of securities stolen from a Los Angeles brokerage. Murphy denied having any knowledge of the killings. A psychologist who examined Murphy in 1968 stated, "He's top notch at everything he does."
Conviction and Prison Sentence
Despite denying his involvement in the Whiskey Creek murders, Murphy was convicted of killing Terry Rae Frank, 24, in 1969, and was sentenced to life in prison. In 1970, he received a second life sentence, plus 20 years, for conspiracy and assault to commit robbery against Olive Wofford.
In 1974, Murphy was the subject of a feature film, Murph the Surf, starring Robert Conrad.
In prison, Murphy became a Christian and was a model prisoner, remorseful for his past deeds. He was paroled from the Florida State Prison in 1986. After 19 years, in 2000, Murphy was released from Florida State Prison, largely due to his exemplary behavior. During his time in prison, Murphy had become religious and taken on a role assisting the prison's chaplain and counseling young offenders. The Florida Parole Board saw fit to terminate his lifetime parole.
From 'Murph the Surf' to Preacher
Today, Jack Rowland Murphy acts as an evangelist-style preacher, visiting the prisons as a "messenger of God" with the aim of helping rehabilitate other felons through religion. His moniker "Murph the Surf" still haunts him, despite his efforts at rehabilitation through religion. Of his villainous and murderous past, Murphy has stated, "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."