Sunday, September 20, 2020
Sept. 20, 2020

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Famed jewel thief, surfing champ ‘Murf the Surf’ dies at 83


ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Jack “Murf the Surf” Murphy, who was behind one of the biggest jewel heists in U.S. history, gained membership in a surfing hall of fame and served time for murder, has died in Florida. He was 83.

Murphy’s death earlier this week was confirmed by John Hughes, director of the Florida Surf Museum in Cocoa Beach, Fla.

Murphy is best known for a daring heist in 1964 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where he and other thieves used a bathroom window they had unlocked earlier to steal the famed Star of India sapphire — bigger than a golf ball — along with other precious gems.

The heist became the subject of a 1975 movie.

They didn’t get far, with Murphy and the others arrested two days later. Murphy was sentenced to three years in prison and the Star of India was found in a locker at a Miami bus station, according to reports at the time.

That wasn’t the end of Murphy’s legal troubles.

In 1969, he was convicted of killing Terry Rae Frank, 24, and 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. Yet he was paroled in 1986 because of his religious awakening and later settled in the quiet Florida west coast town of Crystal River with his wife, Kitten, while establishing a nationwide prison ministry.

Murphy was a championship surfer. Born in California, he established himself on the waves across the country by winning the 1966 East Coast Surfing Championships. He won other titles, leading to his induction in the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame in 1996.