1964, Jewel Heist of the Century

Sometimes people just don’t end up where you think they will in life. It might be argued that such was the case of 1957 Marion High School graduate Alan D. Kuhn. Prior to attending Marion High, Kuhn had done his earlier schooling at Webster Grove High in St. Louis and Metropolis High in Metropolis, Illinois.

Attending Marion High as a Junior and Senior, Alan was a definite stand out with his good looks, athletic build and winning personality.

Kuhn’s memory kit high school activities listed are as follows; Teenarian 3, 4; Art Club 4; F.B.L.A. Club 4; Track 4, Awards 4; Football 3, 4, Awards 3, 4; Choir 3, 4, Contest 3, 4; Madrigal Singers 3, 4; Prom Committee 3; Junior Play 3; Senior Play 4; Speech Award 4; Vocal Awards 3.

In 1964, seven years after graduating from Marion, Kuhn unfortunately met a man named Jack Murphy a.k.a. Murph the Surf and became an accomplice to the biggest jewel heist in American history commemorated in the 1975 movie titled “Murph the Surf”.

The Robbery and the Movie

Jack Roland Murphy or Murph the Surf (or Murf the Surf) (born 1938) was a surfing champion, musician, author, artist, and convicted murderer, who was involved in the biggest jewel heist in American history at the American Museum of Natural History. Today Jack Murphy is an ordained minister, working with inmates in the field of prison ministry.

Murphy, who was born in Los Angeles, California, was involved in the notorious robbery, on October 29, 1964, of the Star of India along with several other precious gems, including the Eagle Diamond and the de Long Ruby. This robbery was called the “Jewel Heist of the Century”. It targeted the J.P. Morgan jewel collection from the display cases of New York’s American Museum of Natural History.

Murphy had cased the museum earlier and discovered that security was lax to non-existent. The burglar alarm system was non-operational, and a second story window in the jewel room was usually left open to aid in ventilation. The thieves climbed in through the window and discovered that the display case alarms were non-functional as well. The stolen jewels were insured for more than $400,000.

Murphy and both his accomplices, Alan Kuhn and Roger Clark, were arrested two days later and received three-year sentences. The uninsured Star of India was recovered in a foot locker at a Miami bus station. Most of the other gems were also recovered, except the Eagle Diamond, which has since been hypothesized to have been cut down into smaller stones. Richard Duncan Pearson was also convicted.

The heist was the subject of the film Murph the Surf (1975), directed by Marvin Chomsky, and starring Robert Conrad, Burt Young, and Don Stroud (as Murphy).

The Star of India

The Star of India is a 563.35 carat (112.67 g) star sapphire, one of the largest such gems in the world. It is almost flawless and is unusual in that it has stars on both sides of the stone. The greyish blue gem was likely mined in Sri Lanka and is housed in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

The milky quality of the stone is caused by the traces of the mineral rutile, which is also responsible for the star effect, known as asterism. The tiny fibers of the mineral, aligned in a three-fold pattern within the gem, reflect incoming light into the star pattern.

In 1900, wealthy financier J.P. Morgan donated the Star of India to the American Museum of Natural History on Central Park West in Manhattan.

The Eagle Diamond

The Eagle Diamond was discovered in Eagle, Wisconsin in 1876 by a man named Charles Wood while he was digging a well. The land in which he was digging was not his own; it belonged, rather, to Thomas Deveraux, and Charles and his wife Clarissa were merely renters. Wood did not think the stone was very valuable, and believed it to be a topaz, because the color of the 16.25 carat (3.25 g) crystal was a “warm sunny color”. Some years later, when the Wood family fell on hard times, Clarissa sold the stone for $1.00 to a Samuel B. Boynton of Milwaukee. Sometime after the sale, Boynton took the stone to Chicago for appraisal where it was revealed to be a diamond, and worth at least $US 700.

Boynton sold the diamond to Tiffany’s in New York City for US$ 850. It remained at Tiffany’s until World War I. J.P. Morgan bought the diamond, and presented it as a gift to the American Museum of Natural History, in New York City.

It was placed in the J.P. Morgan exhibit along with the Star Sapphire of India and the de Long Ruby until it was stolen on October 29, 1964 by Murph the Surf. It has been hypothesized that the Eagle Diamond was probably cut into smaller stone(s) and no longer exists.

At that time of the stone’s discovery, it was one of the largest ever recovered in the continental United States. The stone’s discovery location, however, is not adjacent to a natural diamond source. The Eagle Diamond may have been transported to its discovery site in southeastern Wisconsin by glaciers during one of the Ice Ages. The disappearance of the original diamond makes it impossible to determine its actual point of origin, but several kimberlite pipes have been discovered in the Northwest Territories, Canada.

The DeLong Star Ruby

The DeLong Star Ruby, a 100.32 carats (20.06 g) oval cabochon star ruby, was discovered in Burma in the 1930s. It was sold by Martin Ehrmann to Edith Haggin DeLong for US $21,400, who then donated it to the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 1937.

On October 29, 1964, the DeLong star ruby was one of a number of precious gems stolen in a notorious jewelry heist by Jack Roland Murphy and two accomplices. Some of the stolen gems (notably, the Star of India and the Midnight Star) were recovered in a bus depot locker in January 1965; however, the DeLong ruby was not among them.

After months of negotiation, the unknown holder of the ruby agreed, through third parties, to ransom it for $25,000. The ransom was paid by wealthy Florida businessman John D. MacArthur and he was present when the ruby was recovered at the designated drop off site: a phone booth in Florida.

For further information about the jewels and History Channel footage about the robbery, click here.

Sam’s Notes: Alan Kuhn passed away in Hayfork, California on June 17,2017. Known to friends as “Mr. Wonderful”, he was a story teller and had worked on movie sets with Francis Ford Coppola, served time in prison as a jewel thief and mined gold in Alaska. 

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(Data extracted from Wikipedia, 1957 Marion High Memory Kit; compiled by Sam Lattuca on 07/03/2013)

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