Murph the Surf: the Cool Thief
by gaspar gonzalez
It was undeniable, though, that Murphy’s once appealing bad-boy act was growing darker. In late 1967, two women’s bodies were found in Whiskey Creek, a drainage canal near the Intracoastal in Hollywood. By the spring, police had traced the crime to Murphy. The women, it seems, had stolen half a million dollars in securities from their Los Angeles employer. After traveling to South Florida, they sought out Murphy and another man, Jack Griffith, hoping they would help them cash their loot. Instead, police said, the men killed them for the money.
It was nasty stuff. The women were taken out on a boat and bludgeoned, their stomachs cut open so decomposition gasses wouldn’t bring their bodies to the surface. Then they were weighted down with cement blocks and thrown overboard. At trial, Murphy was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life. He was paroled in 1986. When the subject of Whiskey Creek comes up, Murphy becomes uncharacteristically reticent. “I’m out there, driving a boat, and all of a sudden a nightmare takes place,” is all he’ll say about that day.
“[Whiskey Creek] screwed up the image of the ‘beach-boy burglars,’” says Kuhn. “It was so out of character.” Maybe that’s the reason Murphy won’t discuss it. He’d rather be remembered as the swashbuckling hero of the Star of India caper. (When told that his old nemesis Nadjari is still around at age 86, Murphy exclaims, “You’re kidding! You’ve got to give me his number. He’s got great photos of me!”)
These days, Murphy is active in Champions for Life, a Christian ministry that counsels inmates. Every year, he travels from his home on the west coast of Florida to more than 100 prisons, spreading his faith—and his fame. “When I go back to the prisons,” he notes, “the guys say, ‘I want what you got,’ [so] I tell them what the Lord says: ‘If your life is pleasing to me, I will open doors for you.’” And then, because he knows how important a man like that can be, Murph the Surf smiles.
TOP IMAGE: Murph the Surf, handcuffed to a transvestite, fl ashes his brand of Jet Age swagger for the cameras outside a Manhattan police station in early 1965.
BOTTOM IMAGE: Murphy with girlfriend Bonnie Lou Sutera in court. The strain of the case proved too much for the 22-year-old; she committed suicide in Miami in December 1964.
PHOTOGRAPH BY bettmann/corbis and LYNN PELHAM/TIME LIFE PICTURES/GETTY IMAGES