Green’s Dictionary of Slang

Murphy (Game), the n.

[? orig. practitioners promised the victim a meeting with ‘a lovely woman called Mrs Murphy’. The murphy can be extended to drug ‘deals’ and other illicit commerce]

1. (orig. US Und.) of a prostitute, luring a client either to a room or a deserted alley, hallway etc. and then, instead of having sex, the client is beaten and robbed by a male accomplice, who may just strike, but may also pose as an aggrieved father, lover, brother etc; also attrib.

[US] ‘Mexicana Rose’ in D. Wepman et al. Life (1976) 41: I’ll play the Murphy to the point of death.
[US]C. Brown Manchild in the Promised Land (1969) 167: Reno briefed me on our way downtown for my first Murphy lesson.
[US]J. Mills Panic in Needle Park (1971) 42: Mike found the Murphy game [...] considerably less harrowing than his old profession as a Badger Man. In that scheme he had worked with a prostitute, waiting for her to get a John into her room, then barging in and announcing angrily that he was the girl’s husband and was going to take the John apart limb by limb. Then he allowed his fury to be stilled by cash.
[US] ‘Sporting Life’ in D. Wepman et al. Life (1976) 162: There are Miss Murphy walkers – oh, they’re convincing talkers – / Yes, everyone wants to be slick.
[US]J. Hersey Algiers Motel Incident 107: The Murphy game [...] is a big crime in Detroit.
[US]E. Torres Carlito’s Way 11: A first-class Murphy game I used to run [...] with the tricks looking for whores.
[UK]J. Morton Lowspeak.
[US]S. Morgan Homeboy 25: She palmed Joe a twenty, his cut of the Murphy, as any bunko prostitution game was called.

2. (US) a swindle in general.

[US]Time 16 Apr. 16: ‘The Murphy Game’ is underworld argot for a slick maneuver in which a victim puts his cash in an envelope and gives it to the con man, who makes a fast sleight-of-hand switch and hands back an indentical envelope stuffed with newspaper strips.
[US]‘Iceberg Slim’ Pimp 32: I knew I would give ‘Party’s’ version of the ‘Murphy’ a whirl.
[US]O. Hawkins Ghetto Sketches 83: First thing I know, I’d been rooked out of my jade by some slick-talkin’ Armenian cats runnin’ the most sophisticated Murphy I’d ever encountered.

In compounds

Murphy dog (n.) [dog n.2 (1)]

a swindler.

[US]D. Pinckney High Cotton (1993) 140: I would come to no good among the no accounts, burrheads, shines, smokes, charcoals, dinges, coons, monkeys, jungle bunnies, jigaboos, spagingy-spagades, moleskins, California rollers, Murphy dogs, and diamond switchers.
Murphy man (n.)

a man who specializes in the Murphy game.

[US] ‘The Fall’ in D. Wepman et al. Life (1976) 80: Drunks rolled for their poke / By the sleight of a Murphy Man.
[US]J. Mills Panic in Needle Park (1971) 42: He was a Murphy Man, which meant that he supported himself by posing as a pimp. He told Johns he found around the park that he could get them girls, but they’d have to come up with a little money ‘in front,’ before they saw the goods. He’d take the money and hand over a key with a number on it, instructing his quarry to go to that number room at a certain hotel and wait for the girl. When the John got to the room and tried the key, he’d discover he’d been duped.
[UK](con. 1965) W. Sherman Times Square 11: On these corners the murphymen plied their trade.