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.
Wikipedia article on Jack Murphy
Archived Court TV article on the heist
Murph the Surf, a movie about the heist