How a Trio of Beach Bums Stole 3 Priceless Gems From the Museum of Natural History
It was a crime straight out of a Hollywood movie.
It was a crime straight out of a Hollywood movie.
Just before Halloween in 1964, three men pulled up outside New York City’s Museum of Natural History. One man stayed behind in the car while the two others jumped out and scaled the walls of the museum with rope, sneaking in an open window on the fourth floor.
They made straight for the museum’s most precious gems, smashing glass display cases and grabbing the Star of India, DeLong Star Ruby and the Midnight Star, along with thousands of dollars’ worth of diamonds and other jewels.
The thieves made quick work of it, leaving the museum without authorities even being alerted to their presence. It wasn’t until the museum opened the next day that the heist was discovered.
But what looked like the work of expert criminals turned out to have been orchestrated by a bunch of beach bums from Miami who just got lucky.
Fifty-five years later, InsideEdition.com takes a look back at the case.
Jack “Murf the Surf” Murphy, Allan Kuhn and Roger Clark were three friends who all met on the surfing circuit in Miami.
To make a living, Murphy and Kuhn worked at local luxury hotels teaching swimming, while Clark was a painter. The three men, who were all in their mid-to-late 20s, enjoyed life but wanted more — and they didn’t want to wait for it to come to them.
“They were young guys and liked to live the good life,” Smithsonian writer and author David Sears told InsideEdition.com. “They kind of lived a lifestyle vicariously. In Miami, they were beach boys. So, they were consorting at these wealthy high-end hotels, kind of servicing the clientele in various ways.”
In 1962, Murphy got his first taste of the underworld when he helped in a Miami Beach heist that saw him swim with the loot across Biscayne Bay. The robbery was so easy, it led Murphy to start stealing from his own rich clients together with his buddies.
“They had relationships with insurance agents or the manicurists, or whatever, 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,” writer and journalism professor Meryl Gordon told InsideEdition.com.
They got bolder and bolder, and in early 1964, Kuhn and Murphy robbed actress Eva Gabor and her stockbroker husband, Richard Brown, of a $25,000 diamond ring. At the time, police could not solve the case, but the incident would later prove to be the crooks’ downfall.
The three friends soon grew tired of Miami and eventually were drawn to New York City, inspired by the crime caper “Topkapi,” which centers on a massive heist inside an Istanbul museum.
They packed into Kuhn’s Cadillac and drove up to Manhattan in mid-October of 1964. There, they began casing the American Museum of Natural History, even getting a room in a hotel blocks away on the Upper West Side.
“I think they were tired of working behind the scenes as little jewel thieves, and this was their chance to make the big score,” Gordon, who covered the museum case for Vanity Fair, said.
While in New York, the men kept anything but a low profile, throwing parties in their room, getting high, spending money and living the life they were trying so desperately to be a part of.
“They’re smoking marijuana in their hotels, and this is 1964. So you want to be known,” Sears said.
Kuhn reportedly took up with a woman who lived in the hotel’s apartments, Janet Florkiewicz. Kuhn and Florkiewicz would often take trips to the museum on what Florkiewicz thought was a date but was actually Kuhn casing the joint.
The men had luck on their side. While today security at the museum is tight, at the time, it was surprisingly lax, Gordon said.
“The alarms didn't work,” she said. “They barely had a system of watchmen coming around. The more they researched it, the more it was like, ‘This is irresistible. We just have to try it.’”
After weeks of preparation, the three friends were finally ready on Oct. 29 and the heist went as smoothly as it could. Clark drove up to the museum and waited in the car while Kuhn and Murphy jumped out and scaled the side of the building. There, they got lucky once again: The windows were open.
“It turned out the windows, there were a series of them on the fourth floor, and the sashes were all lowered 2 inches for ventilation,” Sears said. “All they had to do once they got to that ledge was to lower the sashes even farther and jump in.”
Inside the museum, they used a simple glass cutter to open the display cases and started stuffing gems into their bags.
“There was supposedly an alarm system, but the batteries were dead,” Sears said. “Sadly, nobody expected somebody would try this. Who’s going to rob the Museum of Natural History? Until they did.”
The men made it out with the three priceless stones as well as the other jewels and sped off.
Thrilled with their success, Murphy, Kuhn and Clark celebrated like never before back at the hotel, tipping room service absurd amounts to keep the alcohol flowing and boasting about the crime.
Hours after their heist, on the morning of Oct. 30, Murphy, Kuhn and Kuhn’s reported girlfriend, Florkiewicz, boarded a plane for Miami, while Clark went to see family in Connecticut. Florkiewicz was not seated with the two men; instead she sat in another section of the plane with bag given to her by Kuhn. Inside that bag? Unbeknownst to Florkiewicz, the stolen jewels.
Run the Jewels
The luck had to stop somewhere, though, and as in the case with many robberies, the three thieves didn’t know what to do with the jewels once they had them, particularly the three most distinctive ones.
“I think they hadn't really thought through what was going to happen after, if they pulled it off,” Gordon said. “They hadn't worked out all their arrangements of where they would hide the jewels, where they would go, what they would do with it.”
In Florida, Murphy and Kuhn looked to fence Herman “Hy” Gordon to help them sell some of the smaller jewels. “They closed the drapes, and they began rolling the jewels on the floor, and just looking at how they were shining in the light, and kind of this amazing, ‘Look at what we got,’” Meryl Gordon said.
The three priceless gems were impossible to offload because of their uniqueness. Even breaking them down wouldn’t help the thieves because it would lower their value significantly. They were stuck with the stones.
Back in New York, the Museum of Natural History was dealing with a firestorm. How could so many jewels have gone missing right under the museum’s nose? While the museum blamed budget cuts for the lack of security, police rushed to solve the high-profile crime.
Fortunately, it didn’t take long. The hotel employees at the place where the three men had stayed tipped off police officers about their lavish spending and how they’d been bragging about the crime.
Police raided the room the men had stayed in, which hadn’t been touched, and reportedly found floor plans for the museum, books about jewels, scales, sneakers with glass in them and a few packs of heroin.
Who had committed the crime was obvious. Where they were now, less so.
But cops got a lucky break when Clark returned to the hotel room in New York City from Connecticut. There, he was nabbed by police, and within just 48 hours of the robbery, Murphy and Kuhn were apprehended in Miami as well, their victory short-lived. As for Florkiewicz, she was detained as a material witness in the case but was never charged.
Yet, there was no hard evidence pinning the three friends to the case as the priceless gems had been hidden somewhere in Florida. The three men posted bail and returned to Miami, where they were far from quiet. Murphy, in particular, couldn’t stop talking to the press, according to Sears.
“He was very vocal,” Sears said. “... I know that one stage he said, ‘This is messing up my life. I had planned to be in Hawaii surfing, and now I've got to go to all these court hearings.’”
The constant chatter irritated prosecutor Maurice Nadjari to no end, and he made it his mission to find the jewels and pin them to the suspects. As he began looking into their past and other robberies in Miami, he came across the story of Eva Gabor and her husband, which struck him as eerily similar. And he was right: Gabor ultimately was able to identify Kuhn and Murphy as the men who had robbed her and her husband.
Kuhn and Murphy were then taken into custody while in New York City for a hearing, as was Clark, and held while Nadjari gathered more evidence against them in the museum case.
“They thought, ‘A-ha, we've got a more legitimate case that we can pin them on.’ That's what brought them into custody and kept them into custody. Even though ultimately Ms. Gabor didn't want to get involved in the case, but they had them at that time, and they had them in custody,” Sears said.
While locked away in Manhattan, Nadjari did what he had to do in order to get the men to confess.
Nadjari’s son, Doug Nadjari, who is also an attorney, spoke to InsideEdition.com about his father’s involvement in the case. Doug, who was 6 at the time of the heist, said the incident has “become legend” in his family.
“These guys were incarcerated in the ‘Tombs,’ and my dad knew it would be a matter of time, that they couldn't take the heat, the food, they couldn't take the lifestyle, they couldn't take the clothing, whatever it was, that sooner or later one of them would talk,” Doug Nadjari said. “All three wanted to talk, but the one they determined that had the most information and who knew where the gems were was Allan Dale Kuhn.”
Maurice Nadjari was able to convince his superiors to take Kuhn out of the prison and bring him to Miami in an effort to find the jewels. They were joined by a group of New York detectives.
“They whisked Kuhn out of the ‘Tombs.’ They had a loose deal with him, and the deal was,’ You will get a lesser plea and a lesser sentence if the gems are returned,’” Doug Nadjari explained.
Kuhn was a diva during the Miami trip, asking for a fresh wardrobe and time to watch his favorite television shows.
“Kuhn would decide, ‘You know what? It's 2 o'clock. Bugs Bunny's on at 3. I'm going back to the hotel room. No, Bugs Bunny, no gems,’” Doug Nadjari said.
Maurice Nadjari and the detectives eventually took a meeting with the crooks’ fence, Hy Gordon, which led them to the gems, some of which, as it turned out, were hidden inside a locker at the Northeast Miami Trailways bus terminal. Inside was the Star of India, the Midnight Star and a handful of other gems. Still missing? The DeLong Star Ruby.
Still, it was enough evidence to come back to New York and move the case forward. Maurice Nadjari stuffed the jewels in an airsickness bag in an effort to get them on the plane without them leaving his sight.
“There was nothing more important to him. It came before eating. It came before sleeping. It came before his family. So, people say, ‘My family comes first?’ No. This came before everything, and it was going to be, ‘Get those gems back, or bust,’” Doug Nadjari said.
It paid off.
On April 6, 1965, Kuhn, Murphy and Clark pleaded guilty to burglary and grand larceny. They each were sentenced to three years behind bars in the museum heist.
“I think my dad would've preferred to see heavier sentences for the defendants as a deterrent for other people who might consider these things. But in order to get the gems back, he had to make a deal with the devil,” Doug Nadjari said.
Hy Gordon, who was not involved in the initial heist but was responsible for fencing some of the gems, got 10 years behind bars. He died in 1970 of a heart attack.
Florkiewicz, as mentioned above, was treated as a material witness in the case and was never charged.
The DeLong Star Ruby was eventually recovered months later and returned to the museum, where all three priceless stones are on display to this day, with better security.
Following his release from prison, Clark moved to New England and lived a quiet life, dying in 2007.
As for Kuhn and Murphy, they returned to Miami and their thieving ways. Kuhn served a year in a California federal prison after being convicted of conspiring to receive and transport stolen securities in 1968. When he got out, he became a law-abiding citizen and lived in California until his death in 2017.
Murphy eventually found himself embroiled in a more serious crime: murder. He was found guilty of killing two young women dumped in a Florida canal in 1967. He narrowly avoided the death penalty in what became known as the Whiskey Creek Murders and was sentenced to life in prison. While in prison, Murphy became a pastor, leading Bible studies programs at the facility.
In November 1986, he was granted parole. Nowadays, he still preaches, going to prisons around the country to spread the word of God. He declined to speak to InsideEdition.com.
“He's such a complicated figure, because on the one hand, he's incredibly charming. On the other hand, he can give you one of those 1,000-mile stares, and you're thinking, ‘Whoa, I would not want to be alone in a scary situation with him,’” Meryl Gordon recalled.
The three men lost touch after Murphy’s conviction. Kuhn and Murphy reunited for Vanity Fair in a 2014 article written by Meryl Gordon looking back at the 50th anniversary of the heist.
“I think that they were proud of being part of history, and again, while Jack went on a darker path and later served 25 years for murder, at least this was a more innocent part of their life in which nobody got hurt, nothing bad particularly happened, and they enjoyed being the toast of the town,” she said.
For the Nadjari family, the case was a career-making one for a celebrated prosecutor.
“There's a picture of the Star of India that's been on the piano in my folks' living room since 1964,” Doug Nadjari said.
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