Retired undercover agent turned author John Murray exposes a world of clandestine missions and covert operatives in his memoir, Code Name: Papa: My Extraordinary Life While Hiding in Plain Sight. The book recounts Murray’s time working for – and eventually helming – a secret organization independent from all governments that performed assignments ranging from anti-terrorism tasks to rescuing sex slaves from European drug dealers.
In addition to documenting a number of his many exciting covert missions, Murray examines the familial sacrifices and personal loss his job entailed, including a number of divorces and the deaths of many close friends connected to the underground group.
John Murray kindly granted True Crime Factor an interview to discuss his explosive career and fascinating life. Purchasing information for Code Name: Papa can be found courtesy of Book Publicity Services here.
Visit the official Code Name: Papa website at this link.
(Special thanks to Kelsey Butts at Kelsey McBride PR)
I’d like to begin by asking you about the book. What was behind your decision to write Code Name: Papa and share your story via a memoir?
The inspiration was Sharon, my wife of seven years who convinced me that my story needed to be told to Americans and others who have no idea what goes on in our world. She felt that during a newer era, when we all seek transparency in our government and other dealings, this story would be an eye-opener for many. Sharon didn’t know when she married me about my unusual past. No one I knew did. However, when she experienced the nightmares and night sweats that didn’t allow me much sleep, she was very distressed. Finally, she made me feel safe enough to tell her my story. We wrote it down, not intending to do anything with it until she convinced me otherwise.
Has there been anyone – whether it be a former colleague or other influential individual – who has expressed displeasure with the book covering your highly covert work?
Possibly. But, I’d likely be the last to know and it wouldn’t be pleasant! After much consideration, I felt it would be okay to tell my life story now, because almost everyone I worked with or the handful of people even higher up are now gone. So, only my safety will be in jeopardy if someone comes looking for me.
Was there ever any trepidation on your part during a mission in regard to what kind of actions you were being asked to carry out (for example, I am reminded of a Ukrainian job you described early in the book which involved the elimination of your target’s young son)?
Yes, those are the situations that definitely were most difficult … and luckily didn’t happen often. That, and the unexpected crowd that showed up for a party we needed to “end.” Those are some of the moments that are most difficult. However, I also want to point out that the young man in Ukraine was old enough to have some involvement in his father’s illegal operations. Still … (Pauses) We always looked for the safest way to keep the general public and family members out of the way. But, unfortunately it’s unrealistic for coverts to always have an ideal situation for a kill when it’s being planned.
Following that same line of questioning, what are some of your biggest regrets during your time as an undercover agent?
Oh, there were so many. After all, I’m human, too! But, to answer your question honestly, some of the others included not being able to save the women on the island, all the deaths in the Alps and anyone on my team dying or being hurt. Those situations have really stayed with me.
One of the things I like to point out to readers is that I love James Bond and other like novels and movies. But they’re just that: fiction. Real covert operators work very hard for love of country, not for money or excitement. We worked hoping we could make a difference. There were no tuxedos, champagne or fancy cars for us. In fact, traveling was often very rough. Many times we parachuted out of planes into freezing weather and then had to walk for miles with heavy backpacks. Our lives took a lot of stamina and quick thinking.
What misconceptions do you feel readers of Code Name: Papa will have of your career?
It’s interesting that you ask, Adam. Quite honestly, other than one writer who called me an assassin (which was only a small part of my job), most readers have been surprisingly positive. Many thank me for my service. Almost all seem to love the book. And we seem to have as many women readers as men. However, parts of the book are quite graphic. We really don’t recommend it for teens or for anyone who gets queasy easily.
Another interesting thing about the book—and no one has asked yet—is the chapter about women agents and the sacrifices they make. Our co-writer, Abby, was certain this would be very disturbing to many readers. But so far, not a peep!
You speak in the book of how the job affected your marital life and relationship with your children. With that said, do you feel such work is not conducive to those wishing for a family?
Probably not. In our case, we were gone more often than we were home. Often we had to be completely out of touch. Holidays, birthdays and anniversaries often had to go by without contact. Our spouses ended up raising the kids and running everything at home. It was lonely for us, but it was much harder on them. And, of course, they never knew what we did for a living. Of course, nowadays with cell phones and cameras everywhere, it’s almost impossibly for people to do our specific type of work. Getting caught is too easy.
What do you consider some of the standout memories of your time as an agent, and what are you most proud of?
Well, I can only tell you a few, because several of the stories have been saved for the other books in the series.
I would have to say that I was proudest when we all came home safely. That, of course, didn’t always happen. However, I know we beat the odds on many missions. I’m truly thankful for that. That and the bond developed with my team and others internationally who worked with us. I have so much respect for those who step up to help their countries or their communities. So many men and women put their lives and good health on the line every day.
Have you been enjoying life since retiring from the job?
Yes, until this summer. Sharon and I were having lots of fun and then suddenly she became ill for a second time with a rare cancer. She was gone in two weeks. It’s been very hard on all who knew her, especially her children, young grandkids, the rest of our blended family and her friends, including Abby. We will get through this. But for now, it’s day to day, one foot in front of the other.
How has your previous work affected your personal views and life as a civilian?
Good question, but surprisingly, I’m still basically a positive guy. I believe in the good in most people. It’s the rare person whose life goes so awry that there’s no hope for them. Most people are basically good, hard-working and striving for the best for their families and communities.
You cover a tremendous amount of personal loss in the book – most notably, the deaths of your wife, Julia and close friends Bill, Nancy, Jake and his father, the original “Papa.” What is something you would like to be known about each of them?
Each and every one of them changed my life. Without them, I would have been dead a long time ago. I had a crew of consummate professionals. Bright, each a specialist in more than one task, each dedicated to the team.
Papa was the brilliant, but caring man who inspires me to this day. Bill was very artistic and funny, but had a dark side that he just couldn’t shake. Like my pal Jake, he was a brother to me in every way. Nancy was no-nonsense on the job and sacrificed so much. Julia was the one who nursed me back to health after Vietnam and blessed me with her caring ways and a beautiful son. Just to read the question brings back emotions that are so dear to me. I would have gladly taken their place if I could.
I also would like to add the love of my life, Sharon, to that list. As you know, she died recently and unexpectedly. I gladly would have given up my life so that she might have lived to watch her beautiful young grandchildren grow up.
I understand Code Name: Papa is part of a trilogy with the next title being called Code Name: Amy. Can you tell us about that book?
Sharon and I started working on my notes for it before she died. Abby, who I’ve never met, will be working closely with me on the various drafts of that book. We’ve decided to make the book about Amy, my crew member, Nancy, and Sharon. All very important people in my life. All women ahead of their times: courageous, full of purpose and love of others. The final book will include other missions, including some to restore art to its original owners, and that book has a surprise ending. All true. All big parts of my life.
You state in the book that you believe work such as yours would be far more difficult to carry out today given the state of the modern world. With that said, do you feel such groups still do exist?
Not in the same way. There are too many opportunities for others to notice operatives and use their phone camera, Twitter and other means to expose them. Personally, I believe that this is one of the reasons we see so many more bad things going on in today’s world. People like us just don’t exist on the same level anymore.
With the job causing you to miss so much of your children’s younger years, how is your relationship with them today?
I’m thrilled to admit that my children and I have in many ways made up for lost time. Believe it or not, we are pretty close!
At the end of the day, would you accept the position again?
Most likely, I would. It looks like I was brought on this earth to do what I did. My early childhood shows this. I was hunting and fishing at the age of twelve to help my grandfather feed our family. This helped me learn important skill sets I’d use later in life for surviving and succeeding when our options were often limited.
In closing, is there anything else you wish to say to readers?
Yes. I’d like to thank them for their understanding, for the most part, of what we did. We did it to help our countries and also, in many cases, to save our countries’ reputations. There are so many “bad guys” in our world. In our time, we were able to eliminate some and the damage they were doing. Overall, I’m very proud of what we were able to accomplish or tried to accomplish. Life is messy. We were all about trying to clean at least some of it up.
Thank you, John. I appreciate you taking the time to discuss your extraordinary life and career.
Thank you, Adam!