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Jack Murphy was the Donald Trump of his time, says ‘Murf the Surf’ director

Jack Roland “Murf the Surf” Murphy enjoyed having control of his own narrative, so much so that in his later years he would actively steer the conversation away from the murders of secretaries Annelie Mohn and Terry Rae Frank.

Mohn and Frank’s bodies were found weighted down in Whiskey Creek Canal in 1967, they had been bludgeoned, shot and stabbed. They were 21 and 24 at the time of their deaths.

Murphy was convicted of first-degree murder in March 1969 over Frank’s death, and he was sentenced to life in prison with hard labor. His accomplice, Jack Griffith, was charged with second-degree murder and was given a 45-year prison sentence with hard labor. Mohn’s death was never prosecuted.

Murphy was also given a second life term after being convicted of conspiracy and assault to commit robbery in a separate case. But, by 1986, Murphy was granted parole after finding religion and becoming a mentor to the other men in prison.

When he was released, Murphy, then an ordained minister, began to steer the public’s focus of his life story back onto his earlier exploits as a jewel thief and, in particular, his part in the theft of the Star of India sapphire in 1964.

Murphy’s desire to dominate the conversation and control how a story is told, even if it is later proven to contain lies, makes him similar to President Donald Trump, Murf the Surf director RJ Cutler told Newsweek ahead of the MGM docu-series’ finale.

Murphy was the country’s first “true crime television superstar,” Cutler said. He was seen as a charismatic party boy and surfing champion (hence the moniker), and he became somewhat of a folk hero to the public for the 1964 heist at the American Museum of Natural History, which saw him and a friend steal the Star of India sapphire, the DeLong Star ruby, and other jewels.

Meeting Murphy in person proved to be an interesting experience, Cutler said: “My first impression when we met was that he was full on, 100 percent, no holds barred Jack.

“He intended to dominate the conversation and to assert his will, and his desire for the series to be something [positive] which viewers of the series will be clear on. It was very important for him to kind of control the narrative, and he was very committed to that, and he went on [when speaking].

“He reminded me of a certain recent president of the United States who I had the experience of meeting a number of times and who also liked to speak a lot, and without a particular interest in other people in a conversation speaking.”

In the fourth episode of the documentary, Murphy shares a new theory about the killing of Mohn and Frank, claiming that there had been a fifth man in the boat with them and Griffith. He suggested that it was this unnamed person who was responsible for the two women’s deaths.

Reflecting on this, Cutler went on: “Jack is a bit of a Trumpian figure, and I think that this is another instance where you experience that there’s no limit to not only what he’s willing to fabricate as truth, but the fact that he thinks that people will swallow it, perhaps because so much of the truths he’s fabricated, or of the truths he fabricated over his lifetime, were swallowed by so many.

“That’s what I make of the fifth man, there was no indication that there was a fifth man. There was nobody else who had even heard him reference the fifth man until this […] what I make of it is that Murph’s willingness to spin alternate truths, and his certainty that his spinning of them could result in a rewriting of the narrative, seems to have known no bounds.”

“But it’s an interesting thing because this is why this series, as much as it tells the story from another time, is a story for our time,” the director went on. “Because this is not an unfamiliar character in our culture, this is not an unfamiliar phenomenon.

“Narratives are presented to us all the time that we find out not to be true, and then they’re re-presented in ways that we find out not to be true.

“It is now a thing to run for elected office in our society and when you lose to just declare that you won, that’s a thing. I mean, the president has done it, and a Republican running for governor has done it. It is now a kind of path you can take.

“Well, we gotta take a long hard look at what our relationship is as a culture, and a society, and the body political, to truth. And so this is part of why this story is so [important]it’s a great yarn but it is very much a story for our times.”

The deaths of Mohn and Frank became largely a footnote in the original media coverage of Murphy’s deeds, and so Cutler was keen to correct this in MGM+’s Murf the Surf.

The filmmaker explained: “It was very important to us that Annelie Mohn and Terry Rae Frank not be, first of all, forgotten in the narrative, and that their stories and their families not be in a way treated as the media—I’m a little loathe to monolithically refer to the media—but the culture, if you will, treated them a certain way in the time of their murder, and it was an inhuman murder.

“You see that in the series and we mean to examine their lives differently, and not to re-victimize them the way that the culture re-victimized them in the moment and, dare I say, other treatments, other recent tellings of Jack’s story .

“I mean, the first time I heard about Jack was in the front page article in the New York Times. That was about the Star of India and about the crime that started all of Jack’s fame, and, granted this article was about the Star of India and the crime that started Jack’s fame, but it was a good 20 paragraphs in before Terry Rae Frank and Annelie Mohn were referred to, and they weren’t referred to by name.

Jack Roland “Murf the Surf” Murphy enjoyed having control of his own narrative, so much so that in his later years he would actively steer the conversation away from the murders of secretaries Annelie Mohn and Terry Rae Frank.

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