On the evening of October 29th 1964, Peter Jack Murphy and two other accomplices broke into New York's Museum of Natural History and stole a host of gems in what the press would later call 'the jewel heist of the century.'
For Murphy, it was a white knuckle adventure that was hardly new to him. Born in 1938 in Los Angeles, California he was the all American sporting boy with an inquisitive mind and a sense of adventure that refused to be satisfied. This would lead him to a series of varied and incredible jobs: movie stuntman, circus high diver, concert violinist, tennis pro. Surfing was his real love, however. He was state champion in 1963 and was afforded the nickname 'Murf the Surf' by people impressed by his ability on the water.
A chance meeting with a local swimming instructor Alan Kuhn would change his life forever. Kuhn was a ladies man with wealth to match. Impressed by this, Murf struck up a partnership with him. This would lead them and another wise-guy Roger Clarke to that infamous night in New York. Due to lax security and an alarm system that wasn't even switched on, they waltzed in and stole 22 gems in all, including a 563 carat Sapphire dubbed the 'Star of India'. Their haul was worth $500,000 dollars. At the time it was the most expensive display of gems in the world.
Two days later however the FBI broke down their doors. Someone had squealed on them and they soon found themselves incarcerated in the notorious Rikers Island jail. Upon his release in 1967, Murf seemed a reformed character. The press loved him and he still enjoyed the spotlight. Behind the all American smile however he'd developed a heavyweight cocaine habit. This forced him into a life of crime again, only this time it was a lot darker. Hooking up with a violent criminal called Jack Griffith, they were implemented in the pistol whipping of an elderly woman who refused to hand over her jewellery. This was only a fraction of their problems however. The infamous 'Whiskey Creek Murders' were about to unfold, changing both men's lives forever.
A successful $500,000 bond fraud had been pulled off by both men and two women as part of a criminal gang. Unfortunately one of the women threatened to talk unless they received a bigger share. This forced Griffith and Murf into a panic. In a dreadful show of violence they gagged, beat and murdered their two accomplices, throwing them into a river with concrete blocks attached. Again Murf, was quickly caught. There was to be no respite this time. He was given a life sentence with another 20 years on top for an earlier robbery. The judge said at the time he was not fit to walk in normal society.
Whilst in prison, Murf turned to religion. Upon his release in 1986 he trained successfully as an ordained minister. He now spends his time visiting inmates and is a featured speaker for a spoken evangelist group. In 2000, and recognising his work, he lifetime parole was cancelled by the state of Florida. His life was also featured in a 1975 film starring Robert Conrad entitled 'Murf the Surf'. He was also inducted in 1997 into the surfing legends hall of fame, for his dedication and influence on the sport. For all these organisations it seems his life less ordinary still resonates today. Murf the surf is after all a twisted American hero.