History Stories

To their neighbors in Montclair, New Jersey, Richard and Cynthia Murphy appeared to be typical suburbanites, living with their two young daughters, Kate and Lisa, in the two-story beige house at 31 Marquette Road.

But on June 27, 2010, a dramatic raid of the house by the FBI revealed the stunning truth: The Murphys were actually Vladimir and Lydia Guryev, deep cover agents gathering information for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), the modern-day equivalent of the KGB.

After the U.S. government sent the Guryevs—along with eight other alleged spies arrested in New York, Massachusetts and Virginia—back to Russia as part of a high-level spy exchange, the house on Marquette Road sat empty for years. Recently, it was sold for $340,00 to a local real estate development company, which has plans to renovate the property and sell it to a new family, according to a report in NJ.com.

Back in the early 2000s, more than a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, the FBI and CIA learned that a network of SVR agents had settled in the United States on long-term, deep-cover assignments. Known as “illegals,” due to their lack of official diplomatic protection, these sleeper agents assumed false identities and often took civilian jobs. They were tasked with getting close to people in government, business, academic and other circles to learn information on various topics, from economics to defense, that they could then report back to Russian intelligence.

The revelations about the Montclair couple, Lydia and Vladimir Guryev, and others inspired Joe Weisberg, a former CIA agent, to create the acclaimed television series The Americans. Set in the 1980s, the show centers around KGB spies who pose as married travel agents living in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

The Guryevs had been in the United States since the 1990s. As “Cynthia Murphy,” Lydia Guryev worked as an accountant in New York City, while “Richard” (Vladimir) was described variously as an architect and a stay-at-home dad. Recently, neighbors of the Guryevs recalled to CNN that they saw “Cynthia” walking her dog many mornings, and that one summer, the couple’s two daughters even operated a lemonade stand.

New York newspapers, one featuring Richard and Cynthia Murphy, at a news stand in New York, 2010. (Credit: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

New York newspapers, one featuring Richard and Cynthia Murphy, at a news stand in New York, 2010. (Credit: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

As part of a surveillance operation it dubbed “Operation Ghost Stories,” the FBI watched the Guryevs and the other sleeper agents for years before they made the decision to arrest them in June of 2010. Though some news reports claimed the glamorous redheaded spy Anna Chapman had sparked the raid by getting close to a prominent U.S. cabinet member, court documents later revealed that it was Cynthia Murphy’s professional contacts with Alan Patricof—a venture capitalist who had raised funds for Hillary Clinton, recently sworn in as secretary of state—that spooked the FBI enough to round up the spy ring.

After the 10 accused spies all pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to act as a foreign country’s agent, they were sent back to Russia in exchange for four Russians who had been imprisoned on charges of spying for the West. The switch went down at an isolated spot in the Vienna airport, in a scene reminiscent of the famous Cold War exchange at Berlin’s Glienicke Bridge, aka the “Bridge of Spies.” Back in Russia, then-Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev awarded the former “illegals” the nation’s highest honors at a Kremlin ceremony.

Of the 10 spies, eight had been posing as couples. Many had children who—like the two Murphy kids—had been born in the United States, and went back to a country they had never known.

For more than seven years after the FBI raid, the house at 31 Marquette Road (forfeited by the Guryevs as part of their plea deal) sat vacant, with its paint chipping and weeds taking over the garden. In June 2017, according to the NJ.com report, a company called North NJ House Buyers LLC purchased the house for $340,000. The company’s owner, Jeremy MacDonald, said he had first spotted the property back in 2013, when the U.S. Marshals Service put it on the market for $440,900; it was later acquired by Santander Bank.

“I didn’t even know it used to be a Russian spy house,” MacDonald said of his company’s new acquisition. “The realtor I’m currently working with showed me all the news articles about its history.”

Prospective buyers can expect a much different house than the modest 1,800-foot residence the “Murphys” called home. The company hired a landscaper and plans for renovations totaling some $200,000, including a new bedroom with a walk-in closet and a finished basement. MacDonald estimates it could then sell for around $700,000.

Prospective buyers might appreciate one of the house’s other selling points: The backyard borders a 21-acre wildlife preserve, as fitting for solitary strolls and birdwatching as it once was for covert meetings and coded message drops.

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