Crime: The Museum Jewel Robbery

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New York City's American Museum of Natural History is a marvelous place.

It is filled with all manner of wonders, from prehistoric boneyard relics to magical performances of the galaxies held in the darkened planetarium.

Not far from the Ice Age Mammals on the fourth floor is the Morgan Hall of Gems and Minerals. It is far from being the most popular place in the museum; indeed, the rest rooms have been known to receive more traffic than Morgan Hall. The museum does not publicize the fact that the glass cases in Morgan Hall house some of the most valuable jewels in captivity.

Obviously, no professional thief in his right mind would try to steal any of those gems. They would take for granted that burglar alarms are stretched like invisible fish nets across the room, that sharp-eyed guards march hither and yon on everlasting alert, and that at the very least the windows are locked.

Well Ventilated. But the right-minded thief would have been wrong.

The burglar alarm has been disconnected for years — for no apparent reason. The museum has also been short of night watchmen for some time. The big windows have been left open two inches every night for the sake of better ventilation in Morgan Hall.

And so, late one night last week, some stupid crooks got into Morgan Hall and went to work. Next morning, the caretaker discovered the results. Gone were 22 gems, which amounted to one of the biggest hauls in history.

Most notable was the famed Star of India Sapphire, weighing 563.35 carats, the world's biggest stone of its kind (about the size of a golf ball), donated to the museum by old J. Pierpont Morgan himself. Also taken was the DeLong Star Ruby, 100.32 carats, the world's most perfect star ruby, and J. P. Morgan's Midnight Sapphire, weighing 116.75 carats. Museum officials put the value of the 22 stones at more than $300,000, but the fact was that the three big pieces alone were priceless.

Not only could they not be replaced, they were not even insurable.

Right. Police reasoned that the great jewel theft was the work of amateurs. The famed gems were obviously unfenceable. The thieves ignored displays containing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of diamonds and other gems that could be readily disposed of. Thus, with a fair certainty that they were dealing with greenhorns, the detectives called in the FBI and went to work on their own underworld contacts.

Their work paid off fast. From "confidential police sources" the cops picked up the thieves' trail quickly. Within 48 hours, the FBI hauled in two men in Miami and two in New York. The two arrested in Miami, charged with transporting stolen jewelry across state lines, were skindivers; one of them, a chap named Jack Murphy, 27, also a skilled surfboarder, is known to his friends as "Murph the Surf." There was a good chance that there were other accomplices, since the stolen jewels were vet to be found.