October 30, 2014

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Local couple leaves no stone unturned

NEW RUSSIA TWP.  — It’s not every day you find a diamond in the rough — particularly one that’s valued at $100,000 or more.

That’s what happened to gem enthusiasts Terry and Elizabeth “Johnie” Murray when they went to The Crater of Diamonds State Park — a naturally-occurring diamond pipe where diamonds are pushed up from the earth’s core to the surface — in Murfreesboro, Ark., on Jan. 25, 1998.

JASON MILLER/CHRONICLE
Gem hunters Johnie (left) and Terry Murray were featured on the Oprah Winfrey show in 1998 after they uncovered a rare red diamond. The couple makes jewelry from their finds.

The diamond found by Terry Murray, 63, was 155 points in size — more than 1.5 carats.

Making it even more valuable was the color — part of the brownish-black diamond was fiery red, a rare find.

Terry Murray showed the diamond to a gem store owner, who said the stone could be worth a fortune.

The find led to the couple’s appearance — along with their little dog Bear — on the Oprah Winfrey show in 1998.

“My wife and I talked about the diamond mine, the fun we have at the Crater of Diamonds State Park, and the diamond I found,”

Terry Murray said. “It was our few seconds of fame; unfortunately, we did not personally meet Oprah.”

The Murrays had their diamond cut in January 2000 when it “lit up like a little red Christmas bulb,” Terry Murray said.

The result was a 58-point nearly black diamond with red tinges classified by one expert as a “fancy dark reddish brown.”

They sent it off by Brinks truck to be evaluated. Since then, they said they turned down a $100,000 offer for the diamond.

Terry Murray said he is disappointed the diamond has never been classified as a red because only 12 red diamonds over 50 points — a half carat — have ever been found. The last known red diamond, which was nearly a carat at 95 points, sold for $975,000 in 1987 at Christie’s auction house, he said.

They are hoping a diamond enthusiast will hear about their unusual find and want to purchase it.

But Johnie Murray, 64, is quick to say that the diamond — and the couple’s other valuables — are not kept in their home, but rather in a bank safety deposit box.

“I’d hate someone killing me over something that’s not even here,” she said.

Ever since they met in 1981, the couple has been crazy about rocks, according to Johnie Murray, who is a cardiac care nurse at EMH Regional Medical Center.

Johnie Murray said hospital patients enjoy hearing about the couple’s travels around the United States in search of gorgeous stones, she said.

“It seems to drag them away from what they’re feeling,” she said.

In addition to his lucky diamond find, Terry Murray, a construction worker by trade, specializes in opals and has developed a process using resin to stabilize them. He calls the process “Opal under Glass.”

Las Vegas singer Kristy Love Brooks, formerly of The Platters, wears the first of his numbered pieces of “Opal under Glass” in a photo on her Web site and the couple hopes she might popularize the style.

While the couple, who have four children and a growing number of grandchildren and great grandchildren, has never repeated a gem find of the diamond’s significance, they still love visiting gem mining sites and looking for diamonds, opals and other gems. In 2003, they found opals worth up to $20,000 in Nevada.

They often combine their rock-hunting interests with visiting relatives in Utah, Idaho and Oregon. They search for opals in Idaho and Nevada, sapphires and rubies in Montana, and gold in Oregon.

“We are so in sync in so many ways,” Terry Murray said. “After our first trip to Tennessee in July of 1981 to visit Johnie’s parents, I knew that Johnie and I had similar interests — we found ourselves roaming the hills, creeks and roadsides looking for and gathering rocks, crystals, and gemstones.”

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.