How 3 Beach Bums Pulled Off an Epic Jewel Heist


Inside Edition


alan kuhn,cat-crime,crime,delong ruby,ie newsdesk,inside edition,inside_edition,jack murphy,jewel heist,jp morgan,miami,midnight star,museum of natural history,new york,new york city,new york gritty,nyc,roger clark,sal bono,star of india,surfers

(melodic upbeat '60's music) These were people who lived life truly on the edge, truly on the edge of a razor blade. Nobody expected somebody would try this. The gem room had many gold nuggets, rubies, emeralds, sapphires. It just didn't occur to anybody that their stuff was really in danger. Detectives have been engaged in an effort to recover jewels stolen from the American Museum of Natural History. Gosh, it's not Tiffany's. It doesn't make sense to me at all. Who's gonna rob the Museum of Natural History? The American Museum of Natural History located on Manhattan's Upper West Side is the largest of its kind in the world, it attracts over five million visitors a year to see its exhibits, which include everything from meteorites to dinosaur bones. But in 1964 three beach bums turned burglars set their sights on a much more dazzling exhibit, a rare collection of jewels. For, I'm Sal Bono and this is "New York Gritty." (melodic upbeat '60's music) In the 1960s, jewels and gems were hot, but not necessarily in a good way. Jewel thievery in the mid-'60s was a thriving industry, there was a jewel heist on an average every 32 seconds in the United States. In 1964, 27 years before the movie, "Point Break" would come out. The Ex-Presidents are surfers. An unlikely trio of surfers from Miami had an idea. The three guys, Roger Clark, Jack Murphy and Allan Kuhn had all been working in Florida at various hotels, clubs and they had developed this second, more lucrative sideline as jewel thieves. They had relationships with insurance agents, or the manicurist, who would give them a tip as to when people would not be in the room or who had just gotten a new insurance policy and they would go in and they would steal the good stuff and they got bored after a while and they thought they would drive up to New York and it was kind of a lark and once they got here, they suddenly got intrigued by the jewels. These were famous jewels, that were part of the JP Morgan gem collection, they were displayed I believe on the fourth floor of the Natural History Museum and they've always been a big draw for the museum. JP Morgan was a titan of American finance, amassing a fortune that today would land him in the top 20 of Forbes' Billionaire List. During his lifetime he accumulated a vast collection of art and jewels, much of which he left to various museums upon his death in 1913. One recipient was the American Museum of Natural History, among the precious games on display were one-of-a-kind pieces like the Star of India, the DeLong Ruby and the Midnight Star. The value of the main jewels, I think was around $400,000 I think was the figure that was used, I think that's three million in today's money, but the thing was they're priceless, because they can not be replaced under any circumstances and it turned out that the premiums were so prohibitive, that the museum just never paid to insure them. Despite the lack of financial protection on these jewels, reports say the museum didn't do much to physically secure them either. The Museum of Natural History blamed city budgets, they didn't have the money to keep the security system going. I think that in a weird way, it just didn't occur to anybody that this stuff was really in danger. And times were changing in the '60s, but the windows were left open in the Museum of Natural History, so there wasn't a level of fear and paranoia. All of these conditions made this collection a target for some out-of-town thieves looking for a lucrative score. (mellow melodic music) They did various rehearsals and then finally one night they went to the museum, they had a rope, you know, one of them climbed up and dropped a rope for the other, they went up all four floors, they opened the window, they waited, no sounds, nothing and they began smashing cases and grabbing all the jewels they could and then they realized at a certain point, that the watchmen were supposed to make their rounds and they left and they went back and they were just unbelievably gleeful and excited. Topkapi was the treasure of the Palace. They had seen the movie Topkapi, which was about the theft of the Crown Jewels and they decided, we can do that and they did. They are the four most beautiful emeralds on Earth, the Topkapi Emeralds. But they won't be there for much longer, I hope. They were professional burglars and although they were professional burglars, they really weren't very good burglars, they couldn't keep their mouths shut, particularly when it came to the Star of India, they spoke to many other people and they were able to get tidbits of information along the way. Two of the thieves made it all the way back to Miami with the loot, but not before throwing one epic party inside their Manhattan hotel room to celebrate their success. Their large room service orders, generous tips to staff and loud bragging about the crime helped police identify and capture the crooks pretty quickly. The culprits became overnight celebrities. We went to all the points of interest including the museums while we were in New York, it's a fact, everyone knows this. You like museums too, Mr. Murphy? I am an avid museum goer, we've been to museums all over the country. They were released on bail and went back to Florida. They were the toast of the town because it was such a spectacular caper, they went back to Florida and they lived a very high life. It was a crime, but hey, who was hurt? The JP Morgan jewel collection? Who's gonna cry for that? While it may have seemed like a victimless crime, they were real implications for a treasure cultural institution. I would have a hard time believing that any potential donor of a once in a lifetime artifact would trust the museum to hold their prized possessions. If the JP Morgan collection is not safe, who's gonna be safe? I'll let Mr. Nadjari, who has seen that describe it for you. Mr. Nadjari? An assistant district attorney in Manhattan named Maurice Nadjari was tasked with getting the stolen goods back. But their window was closing. His son, Doug was only six when the crime occurred, but says it was a case that became legend in his family. Initially these three defendants were arrested, the case was assigned to him, he was told by his bureau chief, "Here you go, it's a lemon, "we don't expect much from you." And there was something about him that was not enough and he wanted to do more. You don't object to going back to New York tomorrow under different circumstances? Well, definitely not, we don't object, it probably won't be as enjoyable as it was the first time. Jack Murphy, Allan Kuhn and Roger Clark were all charged with the theft and were being held in a Manhattan jail. Nadjari's mission was to get just one of them to lead him to the loot and he placed his bets on Kuhn. Any more museum visits in store this trip? No. But he wasn't as cooperative as Nadjari hoped he would be. But they had to drag Allan Dale Kuhn all around Florida and he was a quirky guy, so Kuhn would decide, you know what, it's two o'clock, "Bugs Bunny's" on at three, I'm going back to the hotel room, no "Bugs Bunny," no gems. Maurice told me that the very first thing that Allan did was say that the black regulation Sedan that they had rented was not for him, he wanted a red sports car. The way my Dad tells the story was that it took every ounce of strength that he had not to strangle Kuhn and kill him there. In the end, Allan Kuhn proved to be little help, investigators were able to find the man, who purchased some of the stolen jewels from the heist, that led them to a locker at a bus terminal, where they hit the jackpot. It was a waterlogged leather bag with wet inner paper wrappings. (melodic suspenseful music) Some of the jewels were recovered, including the Star of India and Midnight Star, the DeLong Ruby wasn't in the bag, but was later tracked down by a reporter. In 1965 Kuhn, Murphy and Clark all pleaded guilty to burglary and grand larceny, they were sentenced to three years in prison. (press members shouting questions) The Museum of Natural History recovered most of the important stolen jewels, particularly because they were hard for the thieves to sell. That left many to believe that this crime wasn't about the money. As the thing evolved, it was as much about the publicity they'd gotten from it as about making the haul, that gave them a reputation that they otherwise would not have had. I don't think they felt any remorse, I think it was something that made them smile. In hindsight there was almost a little of, we can't believe we got away with it. They were all released from prison in 1967. After he served his sentence, Clark moved to New England and lived a quiet life, he died in 2007. Allan Kuhn spent a year in Federal Prison for conspiracy charges, but later moved to California and lived out his days on a marijuana farm, he died in 2017. Jack Murphy went down a darker path, he was found guilty of killing two women in Florida in 1967 and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Behind bars, he became a pastor and mentor to other prisoners, he was paroled in 1986 and now travels the country preaching. He declined to participate in this story. But it's the crime that this trio pulled off together that still has people talking today. Now we can all imagine sitting safely in our law abiding lives, what it might be like to break the rules and get away with them. I think it's vicarious, it's something we would never do, but we're kind of impressed by people who do those sorts of things and get away with it. The Star of India, DeLong Ruby and Midnight Star were safely returned and continued to be put on display, but surely under better security. (light melodic music)