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

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this day in crime history: march 18, 1990

On this date in 1990, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, MA was robbed. It was just after midnight when two men dressed as police officers appeared at the museum’s door, claiming they had received a report about a disturbance at the museum. One of the two guards on duty that night let them in. Minutes later the guards were overpowered, bound with duct tape, and stashed in separate parts of the museum’s basement. The two bogus cops went to work stealing various items, including works by Rembrandt, Degas, and Manet. The estimated value of their haul: over $300 million. It was the largest art heist in US history. To date, the case remains unsolved, and none of the stolen works of art have been recovered.

Further reading:

FBI – Art Theft program

Boston.com – Secrets behind the largest art theft in history

this day in crime history: january 17, 1950

On this date in 1950, the Brinks Armored Car depot in Boston, MA was robbed of over $2.5 million in cash, checks and money orders. It took years for cops to solve the crime, but all eleven of the robbers were eventually arrested and convicted. The robbery inspired a 1978 movie starring Peter Falk.

FBI History: The Brinks Robbery

Wikipedia: Great Brinks Robbery

The Brinks Job (1978)

Friday Movie Quote – July 8, 2011

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

this day in crime history: october 4, 1997

On this date in 1997, $17.3 million was stolen from the Loomis Fargo armored car company office in Charlotte, NC. At the time, it was the third largest cash robbery in US history.

The heist began just after 6 PM. After sending home a new employee he was supposed to be training, driver and vault supervisor David Ghantt loaded the cash into a company van and left the facility. He met up with former Loomis employee Kelly Campbell, her friend Steve Chambers, and several other accomplices. The money was transferred to other vehicles and the van was left behind.

The plan was for Ghantt to take $50 thousand in cash, then head to Mexico. Chambers would eventually wire him more money. But Chambers had other plans.

Kelly Campbell, at Chambers’s urging, manipulated Ghantt into carrying out the robbery. She had convinced Ghantt that she was in love with him. As the plan for the heist developed, she introduced him to Chambers, who she said could help in the heist. Once the theft was complete and Ghantt was in Mexico, Chambers planned to hire someone to kill him.

The morning after the theft, Loomis Fargo employees were unable to gain entry to the vault. It soon became apparent that they had been the victim of a theft. They called the police, who called the FBI. The van was soon found

Ghantt, who was the only employee who was not accounted for after the theft, emerged as an early suspect. The FBI quickly made the connection between Ghantt and Campbell and began surveillance of Campbell.

Two days later, the van was found with $3.3 million inside. The thieves had underestimated how much room the money would require (about $11 million was in $20 bills).

The FBI received a tip about Chambers, but could not connect him to Campbell or Ghantt. Their suspicions were confirmed when Chambers and his wife went on a spending spree. Mrs. Chambers even asked a local bank teller how large a deposit she could make before the bank was required to report it to the government.

The FBI eventually built cases on their suspects, but were missing one piece of the puzzle: the location of David Ghantt. That piece eventually fell into place when they traced a phone call Gantt made to Chambers asking for more money. Agent traveled to Mexico where, with the help of Mexican police, they arrested Ghantt.

The total number arrests came to eight: Ghantt, Steve Chambers and his wife, Kelly Campbell, and four friends and relatives (including Chambers’s lawyer). Steve Chambers was the only member of the gang not to plead guilty. He was convicted at trial and was sentenced to eleven years in prison, longer than any of his accomplices. He was released from prison on November 2006. According to the FBI, over 95% of the money was recovered.

Further reading:

Creative Loafing Charlotte – The Imperfect Crime

Wikipedia – 1997 Loomis Fargo Robbery in North Carolina

this day in crime history: march 18, 1990

On this date in 1990, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, MA was robbed. It was just after midnight when two men dressed as police officers appeared at the museum’s door, claiming they had received a report about a disturbance at the museum. One of the two guards on duty that night let them in. Minutes later the guards were overpowered, bound with duct tape, and stashed in separate parts of the museum’s basement. The two bogus cops went to work stealing various items, including works by Rembrandt, Degas, and Manet. The estimated value of their haul: over $300 million. It was the largest art heist in US history. To date, the case remains unsolved, and none of the stolen works of art have been recovered.

Further reading:

FBI – Art Theft program

Boston.com – Secrets behind the largest art theft in history