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SHADES OF MURPH THE SURF!

Did you catch the recent news that a sapphire worth £780,000 ($US1,248,588, $AUS1,881,829) was stolen in London just a few days before its owner, a Russian heiress, was to marry a British publisher?

"Dasha Sterlikova, a film buyer, was celebrating her 26th birthday when the robbers broke into the London office of John Campbell, then her fiancé, now her husband, and took the 120-carat gem, reputedly one of the world's largest sapphires, from the company safe," Nicole Martin reported in the London Daily Telegraph.

It reminded us of another huge sapphire robbery that created a sensation in New York nearly 40 years ago, when disk jockey Jack Roland Murphy (Murph the Surf) and two accomplices broke into New York City's Museum of Natural History and stole the world-famous sapphire Star of India. They were arrested two days later, and served prison sentences.

The 563-carat gem, once claimed to be "the largest and most famous star sapphire in the world," was returned to the museum. It had originally been discovered, probably more than 300 years earlier, in Sri Lanka. U.S. industrialist and financier J. P. Morgan, a founding patron, had presented it to the museum in 1900.

The 1965 robbery was the basis of a 1974 Hollywood film, Murph the Surf . Allan Kuhn, the real-life burglar played by Robert Conrad, was a technical advisor. It was described as "a fact-based, engrossing story of two beach bums turned burglars who grew bored with small-time robbery and planned a trip to New York City to steal the sapphire. Notable among the many action scenes is a boat chase through the inland waterways of Miami, Florida."

Large as it is, the Star of India is dwarfed by the Black Star of Queensland, a 733-carat black sapphire the size of a hen's egg. It's said to be the largest and most valuable sapphire in the world - larger than Princess Diana's engagement ring and Louis XIV's Crown Jewel, according to Beverly Hills-based art and antiques curator Jack Armstrong, who has offered it for sale at (hold your breath) $Aust90 million ($US50m).

Back in 1935, Mrs. Roy McKiney reportedly stubbed her toe on a large black stone while enjoying a picnic with her family in the famed Anakie sapphire fields in Central Queensland. A 14-year-old schoolboy, Roy Spencer, took the stone home, where his father used it as a doorstop on the back veranda.

Twelve years later, the Spencer family realised that their doorstop was valuable. They sold the Black Star of Queensland to Armenian-born jeweller Harry Kazanjian, who travelled from Los Angeles to Anakie to collect it. The Spencers pocketed £6000 ($12,000 Australian), and bought a house with the money.

The stone was kept in a Beverly Hills (California) vault for 25 years, before being displayed publicly earlier this year, for the first time since the mid-1970s. Gem curator Jack Armstrong said: "To have a stone like this come on the market is tantamount to having a Raphael painting suddenly emerge for sale. It happens maybe once, maybe twice, in a lifetime."

Ex-thief 'Murph the Surf' to retell his story in film

Now living in Crystal River and leading a prison ministry, Jack Murphy became a legend for stealing jewels.

By TERRI D. REEVES, Times Correspondent
Published September 21, 2003 Click on St. Petersburg Times.

 

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Copyright © 2003

Eric Shackle

Story first posted October 2003

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