Brendan J Murphy, a distinguished author and journalist, set an apparent record for a reporter going without sleep during a hijacking when he covered a lengthy drama singlehandedly in Algiers.
As a correspondent for United Press International based in Rome and Paris in the late 1980s, Murphy was one of a camel corps of "mediterranean men" who worked as firefighting reporters in southern Europe, north Africa and the Middle East, not only keeping the underdog news agency competitive but often breaking scoops ahead of the competition. Murphy was among the last handful staffers to work out of the cavernous, historic Paris office of the UP in the Rue des Italiens, next to the old office of Le Monde newspaper, which was the setting for "The Kansas City Milkman," Reynolds Packard's classic spoof novel about wire service journalism in the 1930s.
One of Murphy's biggest stories was covering the hijacking in April 1988 of a Kuwaiti jumbo jet by a group of six or seven Arab men armed with guns and grenades demanding the release of 17 Shiite Muslim guerrillas held in Kuwait. They hijacked Kuwait Airways Flight 422 as it travelled from Bangkok in Thailand to Kuwait with 111 passengers and crew aboard and forced the pilot to land in Mashhad, Iran.
On 13 April, 1988, the hijackers flew to Algeria after killing two hostages in Cyprus to obtain fuel. Murphy flew to Algiers where most other news organisations had crews of several reporters while he was "a one man-gang," as then UPI Foreign Editor Leon Daniel was fond of describing members of his hard-pressed team of correspondents. After a week spent almost entirely without sleep filing from the airport runway, colleagues at the scene said Murphy seemed barely alive, but continued filing reports pugnaciously around the clock until the remaining 32 hostages were freed April 20 and the air pirates surrendered
A few days later it was reported the men - widely believed to have links to Islamic groups holding about 25 Westerners hostage in Beirut - had been flown to Lebanon.
Murphy, of Washington, DC and Wethersfield, developed his knowledge of France as a Paris-based correspondent for the Miami Herald, Dallas Morning News and USA Today from 1981 to 1986 before joining the UPI foreign desk in Washington. His understanding of French politics was deployed to maximum effect in UPI's coverage of the 1988 presidential elections.
Murphy arrived in Rome in 1987 as part of a reorganisation of the agency's foreign operation carried out by editors Jay Ross and Kim Willenson, who had worked for the International Herald Tribune and Newsweek. With his beguiling Irish charm, warm personality and passion for writing, Brendan soon became a popular figure at the foreign press club bar in the via della Mercede and was taken under the wing of veteran correspondent Charles Ridley, who died last year.
Murphy went on to be director of the U.S. Voice of America Broadcast Service to the African nation of Zimbabwe. He also worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development as a writer. Murphy in the 1990s also launched a pioneering dot.com enterprise, Fxotica, an online service for investors wanting to buy exotic currencies, an idea that was highly original and might have made Murphy a fortune if it had been floated earlier the end of the dot.com boom.
He was the author of two books: Butcher of Lyons, about Nazi Klaus Barbie; and Turncoat, true story of a British spy who betrayed the French resistance. He co-authored a recent book on the history of the Boy Scouts, the Scouting Party.
Turncoat told the strange story of World War 2 British army deserter Sergeant Harry Cole, described by Scotland Yard as the "worst traitor of the war." Cole was to deliver scores of Allied agents and civilians into Nazi hands. He was executed in a shootout over a Paris bar in 1946. After years of dogging Cole's route through Europe, unearthing documents and interviewing witnesses Murphy presented an incomparable cameo of wartime Europe and the cloak and dagger underworld that inhabited it. The book brought rare praise from British espionage expert Nigel West, who declared it "an impressive vignette of treachery and betrayal."
Murphy was a graduate of Xavier High School in Middletown, Boston College, and the journalism graduate program at Boston University.
Brendan Murphy died at home April 5 after a long illness.