“Murf The Surf” Passes: Jack Roland Murphy Dead At 83

September 14, 2020 • Big News !, Passings

“Some of my friends had gone over the edge, and they took me along with them.  They were messing with narcotics, a lot of bad things. I made some very bad decisions.” – Jack “Murf  The Surf” Murphy –

Busted. One of the not so great decisions Jack Murphy made resulted in his arrest, imprisonment and the search for forgiveness for the rest of his life. File Photo

Jack Murphy, indisputably one of surf culture’s most notorious characters easily giving Miki Dora a run for the sports most internationally infamous person ever, passed away Friday with the cause of death unknown as of now.

Not possessing anywhere near the surfing prowess in the water as “The Cat”, Murph easily outperformed the oft times outrageous Miki on land with his involvement in the “Jewel Heist Of The Century” that included the theft of 563 carat Star Of India sapphire, De Long ruby and the Eagle diamond valued at the time at over $400.000 on exhibit in collection of J.P. Morgan from the poorly secured Museum Of Natural History in New York City ( read here: https://www.vanityfair.com/style/scandal/2014/10/museum-of-natural-history-jewel-heist  ) .

“Rumbling through this promised land tonight my baby and me, we’re gonna ride to the sea and wash these sins off our hands” – Racing In The Streets / Bruce Springsteen. One of  Murf’s  better decisions was being a surfer most all of his life ( when not imprisoned ) right up until then end. Saltwater salvation is sometimes needed by us all and can cleanse the soul as good as any religious persuasion or lack thereof . Photo: Albert Coya/Miami Herald

Books and movies have been written about this East Coast surf legend who went from robbery to murder to born again Christian using the grievous errors of his ways to try save others from a life of crime and regrets til his final days on earth.

Below are two accounting’s of Murf’s life from as of yet unpublished entry from Encyclopedia Of Surfing and the second one from the East Coast Surfing Hall Of Fame’s website bio and where Jack Roland Murphy was inducted with the inaugural class in 1996. Murf went in in heavy company including good friend and surf buddy, Dick Catri along with the likes of Gary Propper, Cecil Lear (currently active on ECSHOF Advisory Board), Mike Tabeling, Mimi Munro and Claudie Codgen to name just a few legends enshrined in that class of all time, Right Coast greats. – Mez –

Jack spent his post crime lifetime trying to make it right as possible and saving lost souls along the way. File Photo

From The Encyclopedia Of Surfing:

Florida surfing champion and convicted diamond thief/murderer. Los Angeles-born Jack Murphy arrived in Miami Beach in 1955, at age 18, where local lifeguards, impressed by his wave-riding skills, nicknamed him “Murph the Surf.” Murphy won the ‘62 Daytona Beach Surfing Championships, one year after making a short appearance in Bruce Brown’s film, Surfing Hollow Days. Murphy owned a south Florida surf shop and also promoted surf movies at local halls and auditoriums.

Jack at the Indialantic, Florida shop.

When his shop failed he turned to crime, and on a rainy October night in ‘64 he and a partner broke into New York City’s Museum of Natural History and stole the 563-carat Star of India diamond; “a chapter in criminal history, the New York Daily News reported the following day, “that rivals anything in fiction.” Murphy was caught and convicted, and served two years at Rikers Island penitentiary.

The scene of the “crime of the century” at the New York Museum Of Natural History. File Photo

He was later arrested for a double murder in Florida, again convicted, and returned to prison for 16 years. A born-again Christian when he was released in 1986, Murphy began a mobile prison ministry, and returned to surfing. “It’s always good to go someplace where we can both evangelize and surf,” one of Murphy’s ministry associates said in 2000. “It’s sort of a double blessing.” Murphy was featured in “Gangs and Gangsters: the Illustrated History of Gangs from Jesse James to Murph the Surf,” published in 1974. Murph the Surf, a low-budget Hollywood thriller starring Don Stroud, was released the following year. Murphy was inducted into the East Coast Surf Legends Hall of Fame in ‘96, where it was noted that he was “a much better surfer and he was a jewel thief.”

Hot rocks. The stolen gems including the phenominal, 563 carat Star of India sapphire at far right. File Photo

And some Notes:

BACKGROUND

– born in LA in 1937 (ESM 67-67)

– began surfing in 4th grade (ibid)

– one semester at University of Pittsburgh, on tennis scholarship (ibid)

– moved to Miami in ‘55 (ibid)

Murf with best bud and class of 1996 East Coast Surfing Hall Of Fame inductee, Captain Dick Catri at Surf Expo 2014. Photo: Tom Dugan

SURFING

– won 1962 Daytona Beach Surfing Championships (3-4-29);

– seen in Bruce Brown’s 1962 release Surfing Hollow Days

– won 1963 Virginia Beach Surf Carnival

– owned a surf shop, rented halls and showed surf movies (ESM 9-67)

A Jack Murphy collage. Courtesy ECSHOF

CRIME

– 563-carat Star of India diamond, along with other rare gems, stolen from New York’s American Museum of Natural History in October 1964 (ESM), when Murphy was 27. Had accomplice, Allen Kuhn.

– New York Daily News, the next day, called the heist “a chapter in criminal history that rivals anything in fiction.”

– Murphy arrested by the FBI three days after commiting crime (ESM)

– served just over two years at Rikers Island Penitentiary in New York

– after jail, returned to Miami, and in 1967 killed two secretaries, stabbed and beaten; they were in on a half-million dollar securites theft with Murphy, fenced the securities themselves, and were killed by Murph and another man. Murphy arrested, then convicted two years later to a double-life sentance and send to max-security prison in FLA. (ESM)

– got religion, and out of prison in 1986 (ESM) after 16 years

Jack developed an outreach program in prison. Here he speaks to Miami teenagers visiting the prison circa 1960’s. File Photo

MISC

– inducted to the East Coast Hall of Fame in 1996 (ESM)

– story made into American International Pictures movie, Murph the Surf, in 1975, with Don Stroud starring at Murph

Sincere thanks to Matt Warshaw at the EOS https://eos.surf

You couldn’t hardly make this shit up but it’s all true and Jack was as up front about it as you could be. The poster for the movie based on the jewel heist caper and young Murph’s la vida loca lifestyle. File Photo

 

                                   From The ECSHOF Jack “Murf the Surf” Murphy Bio: 

Murphy, born in Los Angeles in 1937, traveled through the beach towns of Southern California during the Golden Age of surfing. His father was an electrical contractor, so he was always on the move. He attended 12 grammar schools and three high schools he was used to picking up and going. “We were always in the ocean,” Murphy said. Everyone bodysurfed. When we could, we rode mats the inflatable rubber ones you still see at the beach today. If it floated, we would try to ride it. Like all of his friends, Murphy was a junior lifeguard. He and his buddies would hang around the guard shack, and occasionally, they would take out one of the old lifeguard paddleboards and ride it to the beach. By the time Murphy was a teenager, the lighter balsa boards had become available, and he and his friends began to travel up and down the coast to surf.

Murphy’s family moved east, he finished his last year of high school in Pennsylvania. After high school, he attended the University of Pittsburgh on a tennis scholarship and also played the violin. He played so well, he was invited to perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony. It was too cold and too far from the ocean. He had seen a movie about Miami Beach. The white sand, blue water, and palm trees looked appealing, he headed south in 1955, long before the Sunshine State began producing world champion surfers.

Murf, who surfed up his death, photographed in 2019 near his Gulf Coast home. File Photo

In Miami Beach, Murphy found the waves nothing like California, but he liked the laid-back Florida lifestyle. Every now and then, a winter cold front or summer tropical system would roll through and kick up some waves. Murphy would hit the water, it didn’t take long before the lifeguards would give him the nickname the world still knows him by today. Whenever the storms would come up and the lifeguards would close the beach, Murphy would grab his surfboard and paddle out.

“There was no surf scene in Florida when I got there. There were guys who had surfed up in Daytona on 16-foot paddleboards in the ’20s and ’30s. But in the ’50s, there was nobody really surfing in Florida, so the lifeguards called me “Murf the Surf.”

“One day when it was too rough to dive, Murf showed up with a surfboard,” acolyte Catri said. “I paddled out, gave it a try, and was hooked.” Six months later, Catri was in Hawaii, surfing seemingly unridable breaks with big wave legends like Greg Noll. About the same time, Murphy hitchhiked north to Cape Canaveral to see a friend. “I stood on the beach, and there were lines of glassy waves coming in as far as the eye could see.” he said. “And there was nobody surfing.”

Gulf Coast shaper, Juan Rodriguez and Murf at Dick Catri’s paddle out at the south side of Sebastian Inlet where he and Dick pioneered the legendary break Monster Hole just out the back from the services and celebration of Dicks life. photo: Tom Dugan

Murphy opened up a shop in Indialantic called Murf’s Surf Shop. He talked Hobie Alter into fronting him some blanks and started shaping boards. Murf had dreams of making a living at the sport like his friend Hobie in California. In 1966, Murf won the Men’s division at the East Coast Surfing Championships in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Back in Florida, Murphy says, “Some of my friends had gone over the edge, and they took me along with them,”. “They were messing with narcotics, a lot of bad things. I made some very bad decisions.”

The kind of cover shot no surfer wants: Sports Illustrated’s graphic blurb for their Jack Murphy profile. Say what you will about Jack’s choices before, during and after his short life of crime, he owned it and spent decades trying to deter others to make bad choices like his and that is a fitting epitaph for him in the final analysis. File Photo

Murf returned to South Florida and got into trouble, it would be very serious, and he would pay dearly. He took part in a New York museum burglary, inluding the 563-carat Star of India, the famous Eagle Diamond, the Midnight Sapphire, and the DeLong Ruby, the jewel heist of the century. Two days later, agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation kicked in the door of a Miami Beach penthouse, and Murphy and his associates were arrested. It was just one of several crimes Murf was linked to during that time period. Four months before the museum break-in, three men walked into the Algonquin Hotel, a plush Manhattan establishment, pistol whipped the night clerk, and made off with $250. The clerk identified Murf as the man who beat him. Two months following the museum job, while free on bail, Murphy was arrested for burglarizing a Miami mansion. In 1967, Murphy received a life sentence for his involvement in the death of one of the secretaries and was sent to Florida’s maximum-security prison at Starke. In 1970, a judge handed down a second life sentence for the murder of the other secretary; Murphy was labeled an “incorrigible enemy” of society.

In prison, Murphy painted and dreamt of clean, glassy waves. He studied philosophy, theology, and read letters from Christians concerned about his salvation. One day, a fellow inmate gave him a Bible and likened it to an owner’s manual. The friend said it was the answer book, a road map for life. The Bible, he said, stood for “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.” In 1986, after nearly 20 years behind bars, Murphy convinced a parole board that religion had changed his life. The board agreed, and after his release, Murf went to work as a counselor. The born-again surfer began to travel to prisons throughout the country and eventually the world, spreading God’s word to men who had also chosen the wrong path at one time or another. – ECSHOF – http://eastcoastsurfinghalloffame.com

“Here’s the portrait I made of Murf when he visited Mike and me. We went to the mission in San Juan to shoot this. This man’s energy had an unusual, quiet intensity… and his stories omg!”. Oh My God indeed. RIP Jack Murphy. Words and  Photo: Nancy Tabeling

 

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