this day in crime history: october 29, 1964

On this date in 1964, Jack “Murph the Surf” Murphy and his crew pulled off the largest (at the time) jewel heist in US history. Murphy and Alan Kuhn broke into the American Museum of Natural History in New York, while accomplice Roger Clark waited in the getaway car and acted as lookout.

When Murphy and Kuhn broke in, the alarm didn’t sound. It had been turned off to save electricity. They broke into several display cases and stole a number of gems. One of the cases–the one containing the Star of India Sapphire–had a separate, battery-powered alarm. Murphy and Kuhn didn’t realize this until they had already started cutting the glass. They went ahead and finished the job anyway. No alarm sounded. It had a dead battery, as it turned out. A sudden sound in the corridor surprised the thieves, and they beat feet out of the museum.

The crew made tracks for Miami with their swag. The haul of 24 gems included the Star of India, which at 563 carats was the largest sapphire in the world (valued at $410k in 1964). They also stole the Delong Ruby (100 carats), the Eagle Diamond (14 carats), and the Midnight Sapphire.

Once the boys got back to Miami, it was party time. The celebration was short lived. Like most thieves, their plan for the heist was better than their plan for the getaway. The police got a tip from a suspicious bellhop who noticed that they were suddenly flush after a short trip out of town. The cops arrested them 24 hours after the burglary. They say the best parties always seem to end too soon.

The Star of India, the Delong Ruby, and some of the other stolen gems were eventually recovered. The Eagle Diamond was among several that never were. I guess that’s the price you pay for shutting off the building alarm and using cheap batteries in the display case alarm.

Further reading:

Wikipedia article on Jack Murphy

Archived Court TV article on the heist

Murph the Surf, a movie about the heist


7 thoughts on “this day in crime history: october 29, 1964

  1. John D.:
    This is always a good story.
    Damn shame the NYC museum didn’t have a battery back-up for the alarm.

    Oh wait, they DID…except that the BATTERY WA DEAD.
    Talk about a COMPOUND clusterf*ck…lol.

    Glad they got it back (and has not been stolen since).
    And Murf’s life did a very nice “180”, too.
    MAXIM did a story about a year ago (they must have read your blog)

    Very good post (and the Robert Conrad movie wasn’t bad at all either).

    Stay safe out there.


  2. Something I never understood:
    How do you fence off something like the Star of India? Even if you already had a private buyer lined up, eventually the wrong (right?) person would see the gem (nobody could resist showing it off) and the whole thing would unravel.
    Maybe I’m just not cut out to be a jewel thief.


    • Good question. I guess your best bet would be an overseas buyer, most likely someone in the Middle or Far East, someplace where they don’t talk to western law enforcement. They still haven’t found the stolen art from the Gardner Museum heist in 1990. But you’re right, moving such high profile merchandise would be extremely risky.


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