<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> <b>RANSOMING THE RUBY</b> <p> * * * <p> <p> <b>IT'S A THURSDAY</b> afternoon in early September 1965, a sultry Florida afternoon. A man in the phone booth at a gas station plaza answers the ringing telephone. Trucks roar by on the nearby Sunshine State Parkway. The man reaches up above the door jam, feeling with his fingers. There it is, something smooth and hard—larger than a pebble—in a crevice atop the narrow ledge. It is right where the voice on the telephone said it would be. <p> He pulls it down and it winks at him—the wink of a clear, faintly pink star with six spindly arms, shimmering and shooting out light from the surface of a claret-colored stone the size of a large, luscious grape. He hands the gem to a stooped, gray-haired man standing outside the phone booth. The older man wraps the stone in a rag that he retrieves from their nearby car. That older man is John D. MacArthur, and he is paying $25,000 to ransom the DeLong Star Ruby, audaciously stolen ten months earlier from the American Museum of Natural History up in New York City. <p> Headlines in the <i>New York Times</i> identify him as "Florida Man ...," as if neither the Times nor its readers have heard of him. And many of them haven't, even though at this time he is probably one of the country's five wealthiest men. Quickly, newspaper readers learn much more—that MacArthur is the brother of the late playwright Charles MacArthur and, therefore, the brother-in-law of Helen Hayes, beloved leading lady of the American stage. That he has made his fortune in insurance (notably with a Chicago-based company called Bankers Life and Casualty) and real estate. That his reputation is spotty, to say the least, with past state and federal charges of fraud and "alleged wrongdoing"—but "no convictions," emphasizes one New York paper. <p> An hour or so after its pickup in the phone booth, the ruby lies on a table in Room 454 of a modest hotel in the modest town of Palm Beach Shores, on Singer Island, just north of the original Palm Beach. The Colonnades Hotel is a meandering collection of white buildings tacked together by arched colonnades. MacArthur, who owns the place, not only has an apartment here but frequently does business at his "office," one of the small, square Formica-topped tables in the hotel coffee shop. But this afternoon's transactions need a bit more privacy. In the hotel room a jeweler with a loupe announces that this is indeed the real thing. MacArthur, a bottle of bourbon in his pocket and the ruby in a bank sack, is hustled off to the First Marine Bank in neighboring Riviera Beach. He is obviously enjoying the whole thing. He shows the gem to reporters, flipping it into the air like a ten-cent lucky piece. (Somewhere in the Great Beyond, there's a gasp from Edith Haggin DeLong, the Manhattan dowager who gave the 100.32-carat ruby, mined in Burma, to the museum in 1937.) <p> In MacArthur's entourage as he arrives at the bank are his wife, Catherine, and the bank chairman and his wife. Though the banker is in dark suit and tie, MacArthur, peering down at the aggie-size ruby in his right hand, greets this historical moment in Florida mufti—an open-neck, short-sleeved sports shirt. It's not inappropriate. After all, there's a strong saltwater-and-sand whiff to this whole saga, this jewelheist caper, as a novelist, say, Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen might call it. But this is not fiction. And no novelist could invent a character more complex than John Donald MacArthur. <p> In 1965, at the time of the ruby ransom, he is one of only five living American billionaires: H. L. Hunt, Howard Hughes, John Paul Getty, MacArthur, and Daniel K. Ludwig. By the time of his death thirteen years later in 1978, MacArthur will be the largest private individual landowner in the state of Florida and probably the second-richest man in the United States, after shipping tycoon Ludwig. <p> The fortune he amasses will fund one of America's great philanthropic foundations, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. In 1979, it will enter the ranks (and rankings) of American foundations at number four—behind the Ford, Robert Wood Johnson, and Andrew Mellon foundations, and ahead of the Rockefeller Foundation (number seven) and Carnegie (number thirteen). <p> The foundation's annual, high-profile, half-million-dollar MacArthur "genius awards" (more formally, the MacArthur Fellows Program) will recognize and support talent in amazingly diverse fields. Its funds will also support a worldwide variety of projects, from human rights education in Nigeria to research into how children learn in the digital age. Yet, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, though any man or woman on the street will be familiar with the names Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford, Mellon, and Gates, the name and story of John D. MacArthur will remain essentially unknown. <p> John MacArthur was a brilliant, brash, nervy, shrewd businessman who would skate up to the edge of rules and regulations. He hated lawyers but was always suing someone. He neglected his own children, though friends' children found him fascinating. He could be rough and coarse, a bottom pincher, yet nearly three decades after his death, a loyal cadre of friends would still gather on his birthday each March to toast his memory. <p> * * * <p> MACARTHUR HAD BEEN pulled into the ruby drama in the first place by a pretty, brunette real estate broker who knew a writer researching a possible magazine series on famous jewelry thefts. The writer claimed he had stumbled across information that the ruby was being held as collateral for a Miami underworld loan. The loan had to be paid off before the ruby could be released, hence the need for MacArthur's money. Curiously, MacArthur, who could keep business executives squirming and biting their nails as they waited in his hotel coffee shop office or on the phone for a decision about whether he would lend them money for a shopping center or New York skyscraper, quickly agreed to jump into this cops 'n robbers drama. <p> The trio of thieves who committed the original burglary had been tagged by the newspapers as Florida "beach boys." Most colorful of the three was Jack "Murph the Surf" Murphy, former violin prodigy turned surf shop owner turned cat burglar. Daring and skillful in the execution of the theft of twenty-six rare gems from the museum, the thieves (who may or may not have been inspired by the movie <i>Topkapi</i>—depending upon whose later account you read) turned out to be incredibly inept during the days following the theft. Their wagging tongues and big spending landed them all in Sing Sing a scant six months after the burglary. After their arrest, nine of the twenty-six stolen stones, including the star sapphires Star of India and Midnight Star, were recovered from a Miami bus station locker, but the DeLong Ruby had already been swallowed up by the Florida underworld of fences, loan sharks, and con men. <p> "Here's Ruby" crowed the page-one headline in the New York <i>Daily News</i> the morning after its safe recovery. While the museum decided how to transfer the gem back to New York, down in Florida MacArthur let the citizens of South Florida get a look at the treasure. More than a thousand people filed by the stone displayed on a white satin pillow in the bank lobby, including one woman who was allowed to kiss it (for photographers) since it was her sixty-fifth birthday. <p> Saturday the ruby was finally ready to go home. Now on hand at the Florida bank was the American Museum of Natural History's assistant director (a robust Merchant Marine Academy graduate) who officially identified the ruby. "If it's the wrong one, I'll kick you in the pants," joked MacArthur. Hastily typed documents were signed authorizing the bank to transfer custody of the gem from MacArthur back to the museum. <p> By early afternoon the DeLong Ruby, accompanied by the museum official and a private detective, a black briefcase handcuffed to his wrist, were on a commercial flight headed back to New York. A crowd of reporters was on hand at JFK when the plane arrived, and another media mob awaited the pair on the front steps of the museum. While the noisy attention of whirring TV cameras and shouted questions focused on the detective with the briefcase, the museum official quietly walked around to a courtyard and entered the museum through a back door. The briefcase was a ruse. The ruby had traveled all the way from Florida over the museum official's heart, in a white plastic case under his shirt, kept in place by his bent arm. <p> The next day, Sunday, September 5, 1965, was one of those crisp fall days in New York that composers write songs about. An estimated 10,000 people streamed into the halls of the gray, Gothic museum across the street from Central Park on New York's Upper West Side to see the DeLong Star Ruby, safely home again. It lay on black velvet in a bullet-proof glass case in the J. P. Morgan Memorial Hall of Gems, along with its two corundum cousins, the Star of India and Midnight Star sapphires. <p> MacArthur gave the ruby to the museum, said the newspapers. Period. Nothing expected in return, even though one observer in Florida had commented (probably facetiously) that maybe it should be renamed the MacArthur Ruby. It would not be, of course. John MacArthur had mentioned that he would probably claim a tax deduction for the $25,000. He was "very frugal," said a friend. <p> As it turned out, MacArthur later did accept the museum director's invitation to come up to Manhattan for a private thank-you luncheon, along with his famous sister-in-law, Helen Hayes, a museum patron. There was one problem. MacArthur, who was frequently getting sued, forgot that he had been avoiding the state of New York because a disgruntled former employee was suing him. As he, Catherine, and Hayes left their hotel to head for the museum, he was greeted by a process server. Helen Hayes ended up attending the museum luncheon in his behalf. <p> In Florida later that fall, MacArthur testified in federal court against the Miami underworld figure who had been arrested in possession of some of the ransom money—in marked bills. "The Government is very optimistic about their case. If they are successful we can feel we have made a contribution to society," MacArthur reported in a letter to the museum. The Bankers Life company magazine quoted a smiling MacArthur as saying it was purely a question of "public service." <p> Contribution to society? Public service? To MacArthur, money was to make, not to spend. Perhaps more to the point, therefore, was a story about a meeting MacArthur had with a group of Bankers Life ad executives sometime before the ransom negotiations were made public. A cocky bunch, they claimed the company's recent strength was the result of their advertising and requested a magnum budget increase. Well, said MacArthur, he would show them just how much good national publicity he could generate for just $25,000—and the eventual ransom publicity was indeed an advertising/PR bargain. <p> Even if impressing others had ever been part of MacArthur's game, who was still around to impress with this magnanimous gesture? MacArthur had long been out of touch with his daughter and had erratic relations with his son. (Decades later, one author writing about foundations would wryly point out that one reason the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation was so well endowed was partially because MacArthur, "estranged from his two children for many years ... transferred very little of his massive fortune to them in the form of lifetime gifts....") <p> So who was there left of impress? Helen Hayes, of course. As a patron of the museum and other New York City cultural institutions, she would surely look with favor upon this selfless action by her sometimes embarrassing brother-in-law, who was not above taking advantage of her fame to market some of his Florida real estate. His wife Catherine? Not likely. Though the threatened divorce action of a few years earlier had been smoothed over, she knew him too well to be impressed—or surprised—by anything he did. <p> His mother had died when he was seventeen. His father, that harsh, strong-willed, charismatic evangelist—paradoxically kind (to his flock) and a bully (to his family)—was dead now also. As for his brothers and sisters—that amazing hatchling of talented, hard-driving individuals—two of his brothers also had died (Charlie at age sixty; Telfer at age sixty-eight, John MacArthur's age now). Elder brother Alfred, his nemesis, was in poor health. It was Alfred who had taught John the insurance business. But Alfred disapproved of his brother's shady business practices and scornfully told him he would never succeed on his own—ironically goading him into proving him wrong. By now, John had well surpassed the multimillion-dollar fortune made by his ailing older brother, who lived in a Chicago suburb and who had lost the ability to speak after a recent stroke. <p> As for his sisters, beautiful, cheerful Helen MacArthur Bishop, a onetime model now in her late sixties, was showing early effects of Parkinson's disease. Marguerite, the only one of the siblings to follow their father into a religious profession and who would outlive them all, was living quietly in a small town in Illinois. <p> They had made their way up from a painfully impoverished childhood, this brood of four boys and two girls. Yet if they had been raised in poverty, they were also raised in "a home where discipline, hard work, and dedication to a goal were valued," points out the historian and author Barbara Graymont, who has studied the MacArthur family. "Although he [ John] had turned his back on his parents' religion, he obviously absorbed their tenacity." <p> And so, long before there was a ruby ransom, long before the (well-filled) silk purse of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation evolved from the sow's ear of John MacArthur's riches, long before there were MacArthur genius awards, there were William T. and Georgiana MacArthur of rural Saskatchewan, Canada, the pair who produced John D. and his fascinating collection of brothers and sisters. <p> <p> <h3> Chapter Two </h3> <b>BREAKING THE SOD</b> <p> * * * <p> <p> <b>THEY CAME FROM</b> the East, answering the eternal siren call of gold. But the "gold" pulling the adventurous into Canada's vast prairies in the 1880s was wheat—green velvet carpets of timid shoots poking up from melting snow in early spring, ripening into shimmering fields of gold by late summer or fall. Wheat, settlers were discovering, thrived in the rich, loamy soil of the Saskatchewan Plain. Wheat varieties with names like Red Fife, Golden Drop, Odessa, and White Russian, some of which evoked sweeping grain fields in other rugged lands half-a-world away. <p> In 1884 young William MacArthur brought his bride, Georgiana, to their new farm tucked into the southeastern corner of Saskatchewan. This wild and open land, which the famed "Great Company"—the Hudson's Bay Company—had been forced to sell to the Canadian government a dozen or so years earlier, would not officially become a province until 1905. William, who lived in a tent on the land when he had first arrived two years earlier, had quickly built a small cabin, which was later joined by a stable and granary. <p> To claim a 160-acre homestead, settlers agreed to live on their land at least six months of the year and "break" (clear the land, turn the sod, and plant) at least ten acres a year. By the mid-1880s, the whistle of a train could be heard with some regularity drifting mournfully through the dark Canadian night. The Canadian Pacific Railroad was, after all, encouraging the settlement of the Canadian West. The grain milled from the wheat this fertile land produced would be loaded into railroad cars and shipped back to the hungry East. <p> The young couple settled reasonably well into the harsh, beautiful land. Neither was a stranger to the hard realities of farm life. Georgiana had grown up on the Ontario horse farm of her father, Alfred Welstead, a retired British Army officer. After the province of Manitoba had been opened to homesteaders, Welstead had started a new ranch there. William MacArthur, too, had grown up farming, first for his foster family back East and then as a farmhand for Alfred Welstead in Manitoba. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>THE ECCENTRIC BILLIONAIRE</b> by <b>NANCY KRIPLEN</b> Copyright © 2008 by Nancy Kriplen. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.