“To be honest, I was in shock. I could not believe it. I almost didn’t believe this catch. “
Sean Murphy on the loss of the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII
This is a story about craftsmanship. A story about a thief who is so smart that even the police call him “brilliant”. A story about such a knowledgeable criminal that even a judge once admitted to knowing more than many of the lawyers who stood before him.
And it is just as much a story about the group of detectives, agents and officers who use their own wits and excellence to try to stop him.
The story begins 13 years ago, on Super Bowl Sunday in 2008. Before the game, there really is only one plot to discuss: Can the Patriots go undefeated?
New England has been fascinated by the Pats for months. Costello never misses a piece of his couch. Zani works game night and wears protective clothing in case the Pats win and fans take to the streets to celebrate. He goes with his patrol to Boylston Street and peers through the windows of bars and restaurants to see what is going on.
Just out of town, in Lynn, Massachusetts, is another die-hard Sean Murphy imprisoned as well. Murphy, then 42, is a Pats fan dating back to the lean years of Sam “Bam” Cunningham. He personally went to the two previous Pats playoff games and almost got tickets to the Super Bowl too. However, when they fail at the last minute, he decides to spend the day with a buddy, Rob Doucette. “He was my weed dealer,” Murphy says, “and we sat around his house all day eating ribs and smoking joints and watching the Super Bowl.”
The Patriots seem ready for most of the night to end their perfect season. And then: David Tyree makes his unlikely catch, the ball is somehow stuck against his helmet. Plaxico Burress weighs Eli Manning’s game-winning touchdown pass. Tom Brady’s Hail Mary falls short. The perfect season is ruined.
There’s no celebration in Boston, no crowd that worries Zani. He goes back home. The city streets are silent.
Murphy is seething in Lynn. “I was shocked!” he says. How could that happen? How could they lose? And the giants? He can’t believe the season ended without a title.
“I was ratin ‘ [jewelers] how much money they made. I put the big ones up and worked my way down. “
Sean Murphy to research possible goals
A few weeks after the game, Murphy is at a local library doing research. Most of the time he runs a moving company, North Shore Movers, which does good business with a few hundred moves a year. But Murphy’s real passion is theft. “I’m a professional thief, a master thief,” he says, as someone might casually mention that he’s a pretty good golfer. That day at the library, Murphy looks for potential targets.
“I wanted to find a jewelry manufacturer because the price of gold was rising,” he recalls. As part of his research, Murphy Googles manufacturers’ names to find out more about their inventory. Most of what he finds is mundane – random reports or tax returns – but when he searches for information on a company called E.A. seeks. An article appears in the New York Post to Dion Inc., located in nearby Attleboro. In it Murphy reads that Tiffany’s has a contract with E.A. Dion produces the Giants’ Super Bowl rings.
“F — you giants!” he remembers thinking. “You don’t deserve them rings!”
Now understand: this is not just a game of revenge. Murphy is too meticulous for that. Sure, the ring element makes him fantasize – “I have f – in ‘Eli Manning’s ring, I have Strahan’s ring …” – but he never does a job if it’s not right. It is his rule.
So he does his due diligence. He investigates what E.A. Dion could be on hand to make sure it is worth the inclusion and is happy to know that they are carrying valuable coins, various pieces of jewelry and raw precious metals. Then he puts together a crew: Murphy is the leader. Joe Morgan, a car salesman who is Murphy’s best assistant at the time, will join him. David Nassor, another member of staff, will be the “peek” or lookout man who will be stationed in front and keep watch.
Murphy also spends a lot of time picking a date. After reading that E.A. Dion made the Super Bowl rings for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the 2002 season. Murphy searches old messages to determine exactly when the 2003 Bucs players received their rings. That way, he can identify the sweet spot for that hit, the length of time the giants’ rings are finished but before they are delivered to the team. He settles on a day in early June.
The final factor for Murphy is geography, so he’s looking for E.A. Dion’s establishment, wanting to be positive, is in an area where he can work without being seen or heard.
E.A. Dion checks many boxes: it’s in an industrial park on a long road that branches off the main road. There aren’t many houses around. And right behind the industrial park is the I-95, a spacious motorway that ensures a constant noise. On a Saturday night – Murphy’s favorite night for any job because fewer people come to work on Sundays – the area is dead.
“In my business, it’s location, location, location,” says Murphy. “E.A. Dion fits the profile perfectly.”
In an as yet unpublished manuscript that Murphy has written (title: “Master Thief: How to Be a Professional Burglar”), he describes the intricacies of his trade in a foreword and 10 chapters. The chapter headings are straightforward: “Safe and Vaults” or “ATMs”, and the text is similarly straightforward. For example, in the chapter on the scope of a target, Murphy explains on several pages how to identify telephone cables leading to a building’s alarm system.
“The correct procedure,” he writes, “is to find the closest row of telephone poles near your score and look for the lines going down the pole and underground to the building you want to hit. These are Your phone lines. “”
Murphy rejects thieves who “smash and grab” and simply break into a location without preparing. Why risk it? “A bit of footwork in front of a score,” he writes, “can mean the difference between a half a million dollar score and a 20 million dollar score.”
In this case, Murphy’s meticulous planning hits a snag about a week before the job when he is stunned to see the Giants receive their rings on television at a ceremony in New York. “We felt like we missed the train,” he says. “And then we said, ‘Well, we could do it anyway.’ Because we need the money and it will be a good score. “
You proceed as planned. On the evening of June 7th, 2008, Murphy and his team meet at the moving company warehouse in Lynn. Murphy used one of his fake IDs to rent a white box truck from Budget, and he’s already completed his typical routine of wiping his tools with Simple Green, a cleaner, to remove fingerprints.
Murphy loves his tools. He calls them “Doo-Dads” and lists them with great pleasure. “An electromagnetic steel drill that drills a four-inch hole in solid steel that we use for a safe,” he says. “I have a core hole, a hydraulic core hole that drills an 18-inch hole through reinforced concrete in a harbor vault …” He can go on like this. “Once you get to my level, having the right equipment is key to getting those big scores,” he says.
Murphy and his crew are a good match. They always dress the same for a job: black overalls, black galosh-style rubber boots over their shoes, gloves and black ninja-style masks. There are two zip pockets on the chest of the overalls. In the right pocket is a police scanner with an earphone that goes into the right ear so anyone can hear if the police are getting a call. On the left is a walkie-talkie receiver with an earpiece that goes to the left ear so the crew can communicate with each other. On every man’s forehead is a miner’s light; Around his waist is a belt pouch with a screwdriver and other hand-held tools.
The men drive to Attleboro shortly after 4 p.m. You park a lot near E.A. Dion’s facility and watch the building, drink water from plastic bottles and smoke marijuana to while away the time. As night falls, Murphy and Morgan climb the roof of the one-story building. Murphy finds an outlet on the HVAC equipment and plugs into his favorite tool: a cell phone jammer he bought overseas. Once lit, Morgan uses a burner phone to test that there is no signal. Then Murphy reaches out and cuts the wire from a nearby telephone pole.
Suddenly the building is defenseless. There is no telephone service for the alarm system and the backup cellular system is now also disabled. Just to make sure their manual labor didn’t cause anything to alert the police, Murphy, Morgan, and Nassor wait about 45 minutes in a nearby wooded area.
If no one comes, Murphy and Morgan return to the roof. Murphy takes out a drill and a chainsaw and starts cutting. The metal on metal is loud, but no one is there to hear it. It doesn’t take long for Murphy to open a hole about three meters in diameter in the roof.
He and Morgan fall in.
“When you walked into the building, it was clear to us that … a large amount of product had been stolen from the factory.”
Rich camp, Attleboro PD Sergeant, on site at E.A. Dion
The first thing Murphy and Morgan do when they’re on the E.A. land. Dion floor is prop open the doors to every room in the building. As each man sweeps loot into one of two 50-gallon rubber garbage cans, opening each door makes it easy to move the cans from one room to the next.
These types of details are important to Murphy, as is the belief that this type of work shouldn’t be done in a rush. “S —, we were basically there all night,” he says of the E.A. Dion job. Murphy starts in the vault. Morgan walks through the other offices.
Murphy finds a lot before he even gets to the 6-foot solid steel safe: boxes of 5-pound sacks of gold and silver pearls on tables; Sets of plastic trays with tiny drawers like you might use to hold loose screws or bolts on your workbench, and just gold in different carats; Stacks of gold plates on the wall, “about 30 or 40 pounds,” says Murphy. He swings everything into his barrel.
The robbers move from room to room and empty E.A. Dion’s shares. Ancient coins. Wedding rings. Necklaces and bracelets. The estimated value of everything they take is over $ 2 million.
When Murphy is finally ready to go to the vault, he goes into the hallway to tell Morgan to get the truck so they can unload the heavier tools needed to break the safe.
Morgan comes out of an office with bright eyes. “The Super Bowl Rings are here!” he says. Murphy is stunned. “What do you think?”
You’re not locked up, not even in a drawer, says Morgan. There are more than 50 of them. Morgan can take you. “Look, it weighs about 20 pounds!”
Holy s —, Murphy thinks. He thought the rings were gone, but he’s not particularly interested in analyzing the backstory right now. The rings go to the supply.
The men approach the safe. After trying and failing to comb the mechanism several times, Murphy tells Morgan and Nassor, who have been called in for help, that their best game is simply to pick up the safe and take it with them. With more time and space, he says, they can cut the safe in the warehouse into pieces.
Morgan looks at the refrigerator-sized safe that weighs several thousand pounds. “How the hell are you going to move this thing?” he asks and Murphy is reluctant.
“Joe, what do I do for a living?” he snaps. “If a customer comes to me and tells me that they want us to move things, what should I tell them? ‘I can’t do it?’ Of course I can do it. “
Murphy grabs a pallet jack that E.A. Dion did in his storage room. The men slide it under the safe. During a reconnaissance trip, Murphy E.A. Dion’s loading ramp didn’t have a dock plate or bridge that could run between the dock and a secured truck, so he made sure he brought his own. He throws it away and he and the crew roll the jack and safe straight into the back of their van.
When sunrise approaches, they clean up. The men go through the facility one more time and Murphy goes to the roof to pick up his jammer. Morgan lowers the truck door. The radios were silent all night.
The men drive back to the warehouse in Lynn. They take off their overalls and galoshes. They discharge and split up the intake. Murphy gets 50% of everything; Morgan gets 40%; Nassor, the peek man, gets 10.
They search all the gold. Murphy sends a clerk to pick up breakfast rolls.
She looked at me and said, ‘Will Sean know I testified against him? … I want him to know that it’s me who did it. “
Al Zani, Lieutenant in the State Police, about a key interview
Jimmy Breslin once said that “the # 1 rule of thieves is that nothing is too small to steal,” and police report the days and weeks after the E.A. Dion Break-In confirms that: Murphy and his crew got it all. Cashbox. Jewels. Raw material. Even a dark green handcart with the label “Dispatch and Receipt”, the E.A. Dion workers helped them move boxes.
The place is cleared.
Richard Campion, a detective on the case, arrives shortly after an employee discovers the break-in and calls 911. Campion speaks to Ted and Dennis Dion, who took over the business their father started in 1968. The Dion brothers are in shock and Campion looks devastated as they consider what this could mean for their business.
Campion and his partner Jimmy Cote lead the first investigation. They discover that the robbers were clearly high-end, but far from perfect. The police find an extension cord left on the roof. They find footprints. You’ll find a Milwaukee electromagnetic drill with a zip tie that holds the chuck in place near the loading dock.
They also interview neighbors and employees of other companies in the industrial park. At first they have no luck – nobody was at work that early on Sunday. But then they get a tip from the police. The caller says he went for a walk with his young son that Sunday morning and was near the industrial park because his son likes to look at all the trucks that are always parked in a nearby warehouse.
As they were walking, the father tells Campion that he remembered seeing a vehicle that E.A. Dion; it was noticed, says father, because it turned in the wrong direction from the parking lot.
Campion asks: What kind of truck was that?
A white van, says the man. With a budget logo.
Campion adds it to his file, which is growing in large part thanks to collaboration between the local police force and an interacting task force based out of Boston. Zani, Costello, and O’Neil are part of that group assigned to this case.
At first there is speculation that this might have been an inside job – the Dions said they had some disgruntled ex-employees – but Zani, the state police lieutenant, never buys that theory. “As soon as I heard from E.A. Dion,” he says, “Sean Murphy was the only person on my mind who was able to take such a break.”
Zani has seen a lot of burglars come out of Lynn during his professional years. He tells the group what he knows about Murphy and doesn’t hesitate to refer to him as the “top dog” in the crook collection that Zani calls “Lynn Breakers”. Zani has long stalked these breakers, he says, and this case could be his best chance to stop them.
Murphy’s rap sheet runs forever, Zani tells the officers. The proven and alleged jobs range from pharmacies to big box chains. For a while Murphy was into electronics; then ATMs. More recently, he’d been looking for prescription pills to sell on the black market. The thread through all of this and the element of the Dion job that Zani recognizes is methodology. Murphy’s not for brute force; He always prefers a precision cut hole in the roof to a shattered door or window.
Knowing Murphy’s attention to detail, Zani is unlikely to be able to attach anything to him based on the physical evidence gathered on the spot. These pieces of evidence – the footprints, the exercise – help build the case. But they will need more. That said, the best way to catch Murphy, as Zani says, is to “rattle the trees around him”.
Costello and Zani spend hours running down Murphy’s friends and co-workers to find a way in. They learn that Murphy has a regular crew of detective partners and that he also spends time with a number of younger girlfriends – usually women with drug addictions. Murphy openly classifies women and publicly refers to them with labels like “Top Girl” or “No. 3”.
“The girls were the beginning,” says Costello. “Because when you participate in a crime that requires multiple people … and when you brag about it afterwards, you increase the number of people who know.”
The break for Zani and Costello comes when the Lynn police force one night in October 2008, four months after the E.A. Dion Job to investigate a domestic argument with Murphy and one of his longtime friends, Rikkile (pronounced Ricky-Lee) Brown. Brown and Murphy had gotten into a screaming match, and Brown had thrown her purse to Murphy. Another woman, Jordayne Hartman, is listed as a witness on the police report.
It turns out that Hartman has an outstanding warrant for an unrelated crime. When Zani and Costello see the report on Murphy, they ask a soldier to call in Hartman as well. After Hartman is charged, Zani and Costello approach her to discuss Murphy.
You are suspicious and expect a brush. But Hartman is angry. She and Murphy had an argument, she tells them, and she doesn’t hold back.
She explains how she and a friend met Murphy soon after they left drug rehab, and how Zani says, “Murphy basically provided both of them with heroin for sex.” Hartman describes the officers Murphy’s hierarchical system when it comes to women and how he sometimes gives booty to women from his jobs.
Hartman also describes circumstances and characteristics that investigators had directly with the E.A. Dion case. For example, how Murphy talked about his cell phone jammer or how, not long after the E.A. Dion broke off and threw jewelry on the bed to reveal some of the women. Hartman says there were large rings on the pile.
Many of the women Murphy had in the house received valuable pieces – Brown even got one of the giant rings. But by that time, Hartman tells investigators, she was no longer in Murphy’s good hands – she was no longer a “top girl”. So she got scrap: a ring with the Radio Shack logo, according to some court documents. Eventually, her relationship with Murphy broke up completely.
At some point, Hartman asks Zani if Murphy will know she testified against him. A little nervous, Zani tells her that he will do it.
Hartman doesn’t flinch.
“Fine,” she says. “I want him to know that it was me who did him.”
“It was definitely an interesting and a bit chaotic scene when they went in.”
Jason Costello, retired FBI investigator, on Murphy’s arrest
Long before sunrise on Friday, January 23, 2009, several dozen police officers gather in the Lynn Police Department. Massachusetts is freezing, but there is energy in the air. Detectives and agents from the FBI, DEA, ATF and State Police, as well as officers from the Lynn, Peabody, Wellesley, Swampscott and Mansfield Police Department are there. Everyone drinks coffee. Everyone listens to a brief briefing.
Zani wrote the affidavit, and a judge issued search warrants for Murphy’s home and car, as well as the North Shore Movers warehouse. Rikkile Brown’s home and car are also destinations. The group is divided into teams. They roll out just before 6 a.m.
Entry to North Shore Movers is straightforward. Campion and Cote find a cell phone jammer and a receipt with the purchase that has Murphy’s signature on it. They find a ring on the floor. On a desk, Cote discovers a handwritten list of companies with names like Jostens (jeweler) and Stern Leach (precious metal manufacturer). “E.A. Dion” is in the middle of the list, with notes in the margin referring to phone cord and antenna setup. The officers take photos of everything, including a collection of handcarts in an area under the stairs in the hall. One of the carts is dark green. It says “dispatch and receipt”.
A crowd of agents stormed Murphy’s house about a mile across town. It’s an old, little two-bedroom house from 1850, and it’s cold inside, as if the oil bill hasn’t been paid.
The officers fan out and pull the house apart. They confiscate some fake IDs and various coins. You leaf through receipts from a company that buys gold. They fished $ 9,000 in cash from behind a radiator. They’re removing another $ 3,000 from a closet. You will find two keys that appear to be for lockers. In a black handbag they discover a Giants Super Bowl ring.
You find Murphy in bed with a woman. They arrest him in his underwear.
“As soon as she gave me the box, I knew we had it.”
Zani finding the Super Bowl rings in a safe
Murphy is unfazed after his arrest. Later that morning in a cell, he mocks when Campion and Costello inform him of the charges he will face. “Break and enter?” Says Murphy. “Good luck proving that.”
However, the police know they finally have the goods and the evidence keeps building up. Days after the arrest, Zani, Costello and O’Neil go to the East Bank in Saugus and use one of the two keys they found in Murphy’s house to unlock the box of Super Bowl rings. The other key opens a box at another bank. It contains a coin collection belonging to the Dion family.
Photos of evidence from a 2004 case against Murphy, Pennsylvania – a burglary of a Costco who was fired on legal grounds – later arrive on Campion’s desk showing a Milwaukee drill with a zip tie around the chuck. Investigators also seized black galosh-style boots.
More important than the physical evidence, though, the police keep finding people telling Murphy.
First, Hartman (and to a lesser extent Brown) helps agents get their search warrants. But after the arrest, Murphy’s crew starts talking.
It’s not just about the E.A. Neither did Dion Job. What law enforcement officers don’t know at the time Murphy was arrested is that he has just returned to Lynn from Ohio, where he and Joe Morgan and Rob Doucette (the “weed dealer” from Super Bowl night a year earlier) broke in an armored car facility in Brinks and attempted to steal more than $ 90 million.
Authorities learn that this job involves many of the same strategies: lengthy prep, a cell phone jammer, and a hole in the roof. But it’s nowhere near as slick: when Murphy burns through the safe with a high-intensity torch, he inadvertently sets much of the money on fire. He and his crew end up getting away with only a few million dollars, mostly in coins.
Nevertheless, the case receives considerable attention. Nassor, the “look” into the E.A. Dion Job has already made a deal to talk about what he knows (“He was the rat on the case,” says Murphy), and when Morgan and Doucette agree to plead guilty in the Brinks robbery, the US Department of Justice is against Murphy for this robbery is solid.
The DOJ accuses Murphy and takes him to Ohio to stand trial. He is found guilty in 2011. He is sentenced to 20 years in prison, later 13 years on appeal. However, before he is sent to federal prison, he is returned to Massachusetts to work for the E.A. Dion case.
As in Ohio, Murphy represents himself largely in the E.A. Dion case. He files move after move and asks delay after delay, even if he remains in state prison while he waits. It wasn’t until December 2019 – almost a full 11 years after his arrest – that Murphy finally admitted to the E.A. Dion Job, for which he is sentenced to two years in prison.
Later that year, when that time is up, Murphy believes he will be released – “completely in November,” he says. However, federal prosecutors say the 11 years Murphy spent in state custody do not count towards his federal sentence, a contradiction that is likely to have an impact in court in the coming months.
It is undeniable that Murphy has long been incarcerated in Bristol County Jail. It doesn’t bother him much, he says, mainly because he sees it as an “occupational risk”. His routine is static: morning workouts, housework, his 2-3 o’clock soap opera – “I’ve seen General Hospital for 35 years” – and night time in the law library. “Star Trek” is on prison TV most evenings (Murphy likes “Voyager”), and on Saturdays he can listen to three hours of “House of Hair,” Dee Snider’s hair metal music show. It reminds him to attend bands like Poison and Kiss in the 1980s.
Murphy also follows the Patriots out of prison. In the years since his incarceration, New England has played in five other Super Bowls. The Pats lost twice, including another surprise against the Giants (“I honestly thought it was a curse,” he says) but won three titles, including the miraculous second-half comeback of 25 points at Atlanta in February 2017.
Murphy watched it from start to finish, looking up at a television set on a cement post in the hallway in front of his cell.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been that excited about a game,” he says.
“I sit there and watch the game right in front of my cell. And I don’t think I’ve ever been that excited about a game. “
Sean Murphy while watching Super Bowl LI in jail
When Costello, the FBI special agent, first heard about Sean Murphy all those years ago, he had no children. Now he has two, the youngest is almost a middle school student – and he’s still talking about the E.A. Dion raid. The inquiries never stop: it’s a book about Murphy’s life in the making. A documentary too. In other cases, someone randomly asks him about the Super Bowl rings that once disappeared.
Costello gets it. Murphy didn’t actually steal Eli Manning’s ring – the stash he got was for Giants employees and families (including a ring that was supposedly meant for actress Kate Mara, the team owner’s niece). But the plot is juicy nonetheless: Patriot fan steals giant rings? The giants beat his team … and now he’s taking revenge? It is a fanatic’s imagination that comes to life.
It’s just that: fantasy. Murphy speaks openly about everything during multiple phone calls, which are hunted under prison rules and last 20 minutes per session. Its methods and its execution, its precision and its processing, its desires and affinities. And in the end he comes to exactly the same result as Costello and Zani and Campion:
Even if David Tyree drops that ball and the Patriots get their perfect season, this story ends the same way.
“I’m a thriller,” says Murphy. “If it wasn’t that, it would be another.”
It was never about the Giants for Murphy, never about sticking them to Eli Manning or Michael Strahan or the Dion brothers. It was never about leaving it to the police.
It was about craft. About dominance. It’s about believing in your talent and wanting to show it over and over again. At different times Murphy calls himself “Moneymaking Motherf — er” or “Saturday Night Bandit”, but mostly he refers to himself as “Master Thief”. For all the novelty of what was taken, E.A. Dion was just another job for Murphy, just one more night slipping into his black jumpsuit and putting on his mask. Some nights he would steal pills or electronics. Some nights he stole gold. One night he stole rings.
It was his job, just like the police job was to stand before him. Zani and Costello and Campion – they had no grudges against Murphy. They didn’t think this case was more important as there were some Super Bowl rings in it. They didn’t care that Murphy loved Tom Brady as much as they did. They just saw someone trying to get away with something and did what they had done all their lives: they said no. In Zani’s garage he has a box full of files on Murphy’s work, and he’s on a wooden shelf next to 50 other boxes, just like him.
In the end, this case was nothing special. It was inevitable.
“Patriots ring the bell, giants ring – that really didn’t matter,” says Zani. “He robbed people. He took what wasn’t his.”
Zani shrugs his shoulders.
“We wanted to catch him,” he says. “And we did.”