Known as one of this centuries most notorious jewel thieves, Jack Murphy's story is a real gem.
by Michele A. Yowler
always had a plan," Jack "Murf the Surf" Murphy, states in a book about his life. The night of October 29, 1964, the plan called for Murf and his partner, to burglarize the America Museum of Natural History on the West Side of Central Park and steal the J. P. Morgan Collection of precious gems.
The treasure was displayed in a 4th floor showroom with 25-ft. high ceilings. Locked sliding gates at each arched doorway were to discourage and keep out unwanted night visitors. The gems were displayed in cases with thick, double layered glass.
Climbing steel spiked fences, tip-toeing in the shadows as they passed the armed guards station, scaling high walls, and maneuvering narrow ledges, the duo's 5 hour excursion resulted in their absconding with over 25 priceless gems.
"We had stolen the Eagle Diamond, the largest diamond ever found in America; the Midnight Sapphire, the largest black sapphire in the world; the DeLong Ruby, the world's largest perfect star ruby; emeralds larger than dominos; and the famous Star of India, 537 carats, the world's largest and most beautiful blue sapphire, about the size of a handball.
At today's market value, just the four major stones alone would be worth more than two million dollars!"
With thoughts of sunshine, sparkling beaches, high surfs, and pretty girls, the two flew to Miami the following day.
Two days later the FBI kicked in the door of their Miami penthouse and hauled them off to jail. Murf's great plan had failed.
"We became well acquainted with the infamous Tombs, the New York City jail. All the magazines, movies, and T. V. shows about jail or prison never come close to capturing the intense trauma and drama that occurs when those steel gates slam shut behind you."
Murf was convicted and sent to Rikers Island to serve the 3-year sentence he received. He and his partner made a deal to give the major stones back to the museum in return for a lighter prison sentence. After 18 months on Riker, Murphy was released.
It was 1967, Murf was a free man and he put a new plan into action. He continued to enjoy life on his terms. "I hopped from Miami to the Golden Gate to Hawaii to Mexico to New York and back again, doing my thing, writing my own rule book, enjoying the action and getting all I could out of life, so I thought."
Sentenced To Life In Prison
But, by 1968, one year later, Murf was back in "the slammer" this time in south Florida. Once again something hadn't worked out quite right with his plan. This time, however, Murf was looking at doing some serious time. In the end, he was found guilty on multiple felony counts and sentenced to double life, plus 20 years in the state of Florida.
Describing his arrival at the Florida State Prison, Murf recalled, "The guards marched me up a ramp, which led into the back entrance of a green, three-story building that reeked of evil. It reeked of pain and depression, violence and hate. I was at the very end of the line-Florida State Prison. This was where they keep the men who can't be kept anywhere else.
This was the building that had the largest death-row population in the U.S. I was starting my hard time at the toughest joint in the system."
Forced to accept the reality of his situation Murf resolved to make the best of it. As he settled into the prison routine he listened to the old-timers. Gathering all the information and ideas the wise cons would share on "staying alive" he devised a plan of action. "Stay healthy physically, mentally, socially, and one other area -emotionally. These were the foundation blocks of my survival plan."
His plan seemed to be working; yet he still felt something was missing something inside his heart and down deep in his soul. "Late at night I'd pace back and forth in my cell with the loud demon of lost hope, like a hurricane, screaming in the hollowness inside of me. 'Was there anything that filled the emptiness?"
On the outside Murf had chased everywhere searching for happiness. He found success in many areas of his life including athletics and music as a youth, later as an adult, business, travel and family, yet the void remained. He was able to down the emptiness temporarily with drugs, alcohol and fast living. Moving on he found excitement and adventure in a life of crime. Yet his frustrations persisted, as he was unable to discover the source of this hollow feeling.
Walking Dead Men
While doing time he often thought about his life and what the future held, the conclusion terrified him. "No matter how hard we strived to survive, no matter how tough or cool we tried to act, whenever I would look into the eyes of the men around me, or when I looked into the mirror into my own eyes, no one was home, the lights were out! We were all just walking dead men. There was nothing good coming out of the eyes, they were empty. Despair, depression, sadness, hate, bitterness, fear and loneliness stared back from the faces all around."
One day while sitting in his cell, Murf received a visit from the new chaplain, Max Jones. Max introduced himself and said, "God has a much better plan for your life than this prison cell."
Murf's response was similar to most inmates facing life in prison. "Take a hike preacher. Tell that miscellaneous fairy tale to the suckers who need a crutch. I'm a man and I can do my own time."
Murf says that he had heard talk about God before and hadn't felt any interest. He believed himself to be smarter, more self-sufficient and mentally alert than to need this type of encouragement. "Survivor - that described me. My plan would carry me through, I'd show them all what a tough guy really was."
Chaplain Jones continued to stop by with a smile, a corny joke and a word of encouragement. "There was something different about Max Jones. I locked my eyes on his and I saw what it was. The lights were on."
Slowly, Murf was noticing that the men around him were beginning to change. Tough guys, real players who had done it all were beginning to carry bibles and attend chapel. The lights were coming on. Murf began to make inquiries. The answers he received both startled and annoyed him. Jesus was the response. People around him were being saved. "What in the world is going on, I thought to myself. All these guys are flaking out on me. They're losing it with this Jesus stuff."
With questions still looming, Murf probed a fellow inmate further about this new "relationship" with Jesus. "You say you got saved, and now you feel better, and God is changing your life! Explain this to me, HOW does it work? How does God make it happen?
"'Who cares how it works,' was the honest answer. You never asked a bartender HOW the booze worked. Did you ever ask a dope dealer just HOW the drugs worked? No. All you wanted to know was 'will this junk get me high?"
"I don't know how God works", he went on, "the bible says '...lean not upon your own understanding, but in all things trust God. All I know, like the guy in the Bible said, 'I was blind and now I see', and as I get real with God, he works!"
As Murf listened to this inmate talk about Jesus he noticed that he looked more relaxed, as though a heavy weight had lifted off of his shoulders. Murf wondered if there might really be something to this "God trip".
Now and then Murf would drop by the chapel. "I watched as other men stood to pray and receive Jesus into their lives. These were men that no one could help or save. But as I watched, over the following months, it became unavoidably apparent that even when end-of-the-line losers got real with God, God would get real with them."
I Cried For Help
On a Sunday visit to listen to Max Jones talk, Murf's soul was crying out. "Help, Lord, I want whatever you have for me.' I knew what had to be done. Chaplain Jones had made it clear; we had to represent ourselves in this matter. To be in Christ was like being in the Marines; we had to join up." He went forward. Trusting God, he made the commitment to follow Jesus. He joined up!
Since then, Murf has seen his life, like those of the men he witnessed around him, transform with the help of God. Today the lights are on!
After years of following his own plan on how to get all he could out of life Murf has given up his own plan and has accepted God's plan of salvation.
After serving 21 years of his life in maximum security prisons, Murf was paroled in 1985. Today, he's a new man. However, since his release he has been in over 1300 prisons. No longer an inmate, he voluntarily goes into prisons to share his story of turning a losing situation into a victorious experience through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Murf was recently in Cleveland to be the guest speaker at a Bill Glass Weekend of Champions Kick-off Banquet. The Bill Glass organization is a school of evangelism that teaches Christians how to share their faith with people without faith, people without hope, people incarcerated. "We just happen to use the prisons because the fish are biting and there is such a hunger." When Murf left prison fourteen years ago he began traveling with Bill Glass. Glass was a four time All Pro with the Cleveland Browns.
The Bill Glass ministries take a different angle on evangelism. "We don't go in there to have church. We are in there to draw the crowd out. We do like a fisherman does. We use the right bait. When you play church music you're chasing away the fish. You can't clean em' if you can't catch em'. They bring in world famous musicians, professional athletes, and other topics of interest to entertain the incarcerated men and women. The celebrities and events draw the crowd and then slowly, after meeting them where they are and entertaining them, they tell the inmates why they are there. They tell them that they are there because somebody helped them get out of the bondage of a dead-end life. That someone is Jesus.
In addition to the prisons, this is a ministry to the church. Murf believes that 95% of people in the church don't have a clue what to do if a person asks them about Jesus. "Read the bible! Wrong answer! Go to church! Wrong answer! You must accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior." They train, equip, and mobilize the volunteers to do kingdom work.
Last year tens of thousands of men and women began a relationship with the Lord through one-on-one evangelism ministered by the people trained by Bill Glass Ministries. The taxpayers are spending $30,000 a year to keep a prisoner locked up. Statistics reveal that seven out of ten prisoners who are released end up returning to prison. However, if a guy or gal gets saved, gets into a church, and gets grounded, less than 10% ever come back to prison. "What we are doing is saving society millions of dollars a year. Not counting the robberies, the rapes, the killings and the drugs that are going to be stopped. Not counting the families that will be restored and the daddies and mommies that will be home." It's a win-win situation for everyone.
Sharing his purpose Murf stated, "I hate stinkin' prisons. I go in their because the biggest thrill of my life is to watch someone who can't read or write, someone with no talent whatsoever, someone without any hope whatsoever, someone who can't dribble a basketball or sing a song or tell a good story, turn it all over to God. To see God turn their mess into a message."
"There is a mighty army of men and women coming out of prisons around the world. They are no longer thieves, junkies, alcoholics, or robbers. They are not thinking about how to wheel and deal and swindle the world. They are righteous people of God. I'm honored to be a part of that army and be a part of the family of God."
The Bill Glass Ministry is looking for men and women who want to be trained and go into the prisons during this year's Weekend of Champions being held July 12th through the 15th, right here in Northeast Ohio. The deadline to sign up is Wednesday, June 20, 2001. Donations for the weekend are also being accepted. For more information or to sign up, contact the local Recruitment Agents, Doug or Nancy Koorey at 330-273-3286.