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Wednesday, 20 January 2016

FBI Forgery by Typewriter: Re-Examining the Alger Hiss Case - How Did His 1927 Woodstock Become a 1929 Model?

Here is the "immutable witness" - a typewriter. Richard M. Nixon called it the "key witness". Lawyer John Lowenthal revealed it was a "false witness". Conniving Assistant US Attorney Thomas F. Murphy said, "Ladies and gentlemen [of the jury], it proves treason, and that is the traitor." Above, Murphy is seen standing in front of the Woodstock typewriter that he claimed Alger Hiss used to copy State documents. Whatever the truth behind the "Baltimore Documents", Hiss didn't own this machine.
Investigative journalist Fred J. Cook wrote in The Nation in September 1957: "In the final [Hiss] trial, Murphy's brilliant forensics ... worked an amazing transformation. The typewriter, which the defence had produced, became the government's prize exhibit; and under Murphy's handling the anomaly of the guilty man bringing into court the instrument that would establish [his] guilt never registered with the jury or the public.
"[Murphy offered the jury an] imaginary conversation between Hiss and his wife:
'The only thing remaining to get us into trouble other than [Whittaker Chambers's] word is the typewriter. If they find [it] we are sunk.' So what do they do? If they sold the typewriter ... If they brought it over to the bridge going to Roslyn and dropped it into the Potomac, somebody might see them ... So they give it to their trusted maid's children, knowing full well that they didn't type, that it would be put to abuse and gradually disintegrate ...
"It is a frail measure of Murphy's oratory that such arrant nonsense could be made to sound persuasive. Does anyone seriously doubt that, in 10 years, Hiss couldn't have found a better way to dispose of the typewriter if he knew it to be an instrument of guilt? A few blows of an axe would have smashed up the type faces beyond recognition; the machine certainly might have been flung into a deserted woods, on a garbage dump, into a lonely lake or river anywhere between Washington and Vermont, where Hiss spent the summers. Does anyone seriously question that, once Hiss had divorced himself from the typewriter in any of these ways, it could hardly ever have been found and traced back to him? Does anyone seriously question that the surest way to make certain that it would be traced would be to dispose of it to a 'trusted maid' in his own household?
"In these circumstances, the true history of Woodstock No 230,099 becomes the final and the most crucial single element in determining what weight should be given to the prosecution's case, what interpretation should be made of the  prosecution's motives. This, then, is its history - or at least this is the history (there is considerable doubt that the two are the same) of the Woodstock machine that, indisputably, the Hisses once possessed."
"Indisputably"? No. Woodstock No 230,099 was never the Hisses typewriter. And Murphy, Richard M. Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover knew that all along.
As part of Hiss's retrial defence, typewriter expert Martin Tytell, above, was hired in April 1950 to build, at a cost of $7500 over two years, a typewriter which produced work "virtually indistinguishable" from the Hiss Woodstock, which Hiss, his defence team and Tytell were all duped into thinking was 230,009. Tytell told his story to Harry Kursh for publication in True magazine in August 1952. Under the strain of FBI surveillance and interference, Tytell eventually succeeded. Searching for parts, in January 1952 Tytell found a small Woodstock branch store in a dingy section of Newark, New Jersey. " ... just as I began gathering the machines upstairs to load into my Plymouth suburban [the manager] said haltingly, 'Say, Tytell, do you know who you remind me of? ... You remind me of the FBI ... Now what was that case they were working on? Oh, I remember. The Alger Hiss case. When we had our office down on Halsey Street, a couple of FBI men came into the office and they went through everything. Right in that office they found what they were looking for'." Court documents confirmed the Woodstock company "had helped the FBI find the typewriter in the Hiss case." But it wasn't the Hiss typewriterMyles J. Lane, who succeeded Murphy as US Attorney in New York, dismissed the Tytell experiment as "a combination of a Grimm's fairy tale with a hint of a Rube Goldberg twist."
On the anniversary of the end of Alger Hiss's second perjury trial, in 1950, it's timely to re-examine the most engrossing and perhaps the most infamous case involving questionable forensic examination of typewritten matter. The more so because the Hiss case, above all others, raises the spectre of forgery by typewriterJust before he was sentenced, Hiss said, "I am confident that in the future the full facts of how [his accuser] Whittaker Chambers was able to carry out forgery by typewriter will be disclosed." Sixty-six years on, the issue remains very much in dispute, and Hiss's vision of a future in which his claims would be vindicated has yet to dawn.
Happier times. Hiss in 1945, as secretary-general of the
Conference to Adopt the United Nations Charter.
Indeed, speculation about the disturbing possibility of forgery by typewriter continued long after the Hiss trials, including in a November 1984 article in The Nation, in which Gil Green (1906–1997, real name Gilbert Greenberg), revealed what he claimed was evidence of Federal Bureau of Investigation typewriter forgery in 20,000 pages he had received as the result of a Freedom of Information Act request.
Green was a leading figure in the Communist Party of the United States and leader of the Young Communist League, and as such a target for prosecution during the McCarthy era. He said the FBI had "for many years had the ability to commit forgery by typewriter". "In late 1959, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and the New York Special Agent in Charge corresponded about which Communist Party leaders would be most vulnerable to a frame-up. The SAC asked Hoover for advice 'as to the capabilities of the [FBI] Laboratory in this matter'. Hoover's reply included the line, 'To alter a typewriter to match a known model would require a large amount of typewriter specimens and weeks of laboratory work'." In other words, difficult, but POSSIBLE. Green said Hoover's "matter-of-fact discussion" suggested forgery by typewriter "was by then an established procedure". A review of Green's article said it showed the FBI "had the ability and the willingness to commit forgery by typewriter".
Three years earlier, in October 1983, the US Supreme Court had refused to review Hiss's petition for a writ of error coram nobis, finally ending the Hiss affair (he died in 1996). The evidence against Hiss was 65 pages of typewritten copies of State Department documents and cables [the so-called "Baltimore Documents"]. Those copies were said to have been typed on a Woodstock typewriter that Hiss and his wife, Priscilla, had owned in the 1930s. The typing was supposedly done in Hiss's home in Washington by Mrs Hiss, between January 5 and April 1, 1938, and the copies turned over to Chambers for delivery to Soviet Union agents.
These pages, which surfaced in 1948, were the only corroboratory evidence ever produced for Chambers's story that he and Hiss had spied together for the Soviets during the 1930s.
The core enduring question in the whole incredibly involved Hiss affair revolves around the fact that the FBI found Woodstock typewriter No 230,099 on December 13, 1948, four months BEFORE Hiss's defence team uncovered its whereabouts, on April 16, 1949. In order to frame Hiss, the FBI had planted it on his defence team, having already altered it to ensure its work matched that contained in the Baltimore Documents. The Hiss Woodstock was made in 1927 and never found; No 230,099 was made in 1929. The font on the Hiss Woodstock was discontinued at the end of 1928.
It still seems more than just ironic that a machine presented as evidence in the defence of Hiss should come to be used to convict him. After all, 35 trained FBI agents had been employed to beat Hess's small defence team in "finding" the typewriter in Washington - a massive pretense, since the bureau already had it. When and how did the FBI come by it? And how did it come to be in the hands of a truck driver called Ira Lockey?
In all the fresh evidence that has come to light in the past 40 years, nowhere is there an answer to the really big question: Where did No 230,099 come from?  It most certainly was not the Woodstock typewriter the Hisses had given away in 1937 or '38. For one thing, the Hisses' Woodstock was totally inoperable in 1948, but No 230,099 was still in good working order. So who did it belong to? One thing is certain - J. Edgar Hoover, Richard M. Nixon and Thomas F. Murphy ALL knew perfectly well, and well in advance, that the typewriter being used to convict Hiss was not the typewriter he and his wife had once owned and used.
Richard M. Nixon, in his 1962 book Six Crises, conceded the FBInot the Hiss defence team, had found the typewriter first, then later retracted his statement. But the truth was confirmed on page 58 of an official secret summary report from late December 1951, "The Shameful Years, 30 Years of Soviet Espionage in the United States", in which the House Committee on Un-American Activities said: "The committee wishes to commend the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its work in bringing this case to a successful conclusion when all the odds were against it. The location of the typewriter and certain other pieces of evidence needed during the trial of the case was amazing."
Richard M. Nixon speaking at the testimony in which Whittaker Chambers accuses Alger Hiss of securing important US documents to be turned over to a Soviet agent.
The Woodstock typewriter at the heart of all this was, according to its serial number, manufactured in about August 1929 - the Woodstock factory in Woodstock, Illinois, confirmed No 230,099 could not have been manufactured before August or September of that year. Yet the typeslugs had been manufactured in 1926. In the early 1930s, Hiss's father-in-law, Thomas Fansler, retired from the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company in Philadelphia and gave his daughter Priscilla his office typewriter. The mystery deepens: Fansler formed a business partnership with Harry L. Martin in the spring or summer of 1927 and bought the Hiss Woodstock at that time from Thomas Grady, a Woodstock salesman in Philadelphia. Grady ceased to work for the Woodstock Typewriter Company on December 3, 1927. 
1960 Reenactment of the Hiss trial.
The machine Fansler gave the Hisses had been in use in his office for two and a half years before the earliest it could, according to the serial number of the machine offered as evidence in court, have come off the Woodstock factory assembly line. (There was generally six months between manufacture and sale; in 1948 more than 90 FBI agents scoured the country buying up old Woodstocks. One they found, No 210,524, was made in 1929 and not sold until 1932. No record of the sale of a typewriter bearing serial number 230,099 was ever found; the sale of a machine with serial number 230,098 occurred in Philadelphia on September 21, 1932.
Martin, however, refused to confirm details of the 1927 machine in court, saying "he would not discuss the matter under any circumstances without the formal consent of the agent in charge of the FBI in Philadelphia." O. J. Carrow, Woodstock branch manager in Philadelphia from 1927 to 1938, said he had told FBI agents that the machine would have been sold in Philadelphia in about November 1927. The FBI took all his records and never returned them. Document expert Donald Doud examined a July 8, 1929, letter typed to the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company's head office in Milwaukee on the Fansler machine and noted it had the same typeface pattern as in Mrs Hiss's personal letters, defined as "statement" documents by the courts. Doud said this machine was manufactured in 1926. It was NOT 230,099, and this fact had already been relayed by field agents to the FBI. The factory record of serial numbers at the beginning of each year of production had been given to the bureau by the Woodstock Typewriter Company (and confirmed by a trade-in manual for use by typewriter dealers). It read:
1925    131,130
1926    145,000
1927    159,300
1928    177,100
1929    204,500
1930    246,500
1931    276,000
Later, Joseph Schmitt, Woodstock's vice-president in charge of production, and his traffic manager Harold Kroull offered a more substantial list:
MODEL            SERIAL    DATE                CHANGE
5H                     121,000     June, 1924    
5HN                  131,000     Dec, 1924         1/2" ribbon
5N-8J-8K-8L  141,000     March, 1925    1/2" ribbon on long carriages
5N-8J-8K-8L  220,000    March, 1929    New style action
5N-8J-8K-8L  265,000    Aug, 1930         Die cast base
5N-8J-8K-8L  300,000    July, 1931         Die cast top plate
5N-8J-8K-8L  325,000    June, 1932        Nickel carriage ends
Schmitt estimated that No 230,099 would have been manufactured in August or September 1929.
The machine Fansler and the Hisses actually owned had a serial number under 177,100. The Hisses had, during one of their Washington moves, given the 1927 machine to Claudie Catlett, their maid, for the use of her two boys, Perry (aka Pat) and Raymond. In February 1949, Raymond (aka Mike) went to Hiss's younger brother Donald Hiss and told him that the FBI had called looking for a Woodstock typewriter. Donald Hiss and one of Alger Hiss's attorneys, Edward C. McLean, eventually traced what they believed to be the Hiss machine to Ira Lockey. McLean paid Lockey $10 for it, just six weeks before the first Hiss trial. The defence introduced it in evidence under the supposition that it was the Hiss machine. 
Donald Hiss, right, and Alger Hiss in 1948.
The hunt for a Woodstock had taken many suspicious twists and turns before 230,099 reached the courtroom. To begin with, Mike Catlett told Donald Hiss the typewriter was in his house on P Street; it wasn't. His brother Pat didn't have the Woodstock either. Pat's wife had given it to his sister, Burnetta Fisher, who had been living at the home of a Dr Easter. When Easter died, Vernon Marlow had moved everything out of his house. But a man called Bill had actually moved the belongings and accepted the Woodstock as part payment for his work. Bill led McLean and Donald Hiss to Lockey. But Lockey said he had junked the machine. In fact, he had given it to his daughter, Margaret Lockey McQueen, and her husband James McQueen was one of the many people to whom possession of Woodstock No 230,099 was later traced. Lockey's sister-in-law, a Mrs Hall, told the Hiss defence team that "several other young men" were also looking for the typewriter. In a nearby junkyard a Royal was found (one of the documents Chambers had produced had been typed on a Royal). Lockey remained at arm's length from the search team because the same FBI agents who had called on Mike Catlett were watching him. Finally, shortly before Easter, mysteriously Lockey produced Woodstock No 230,099, having previously claimed he knew nothing of a Woodstock's whereabouts. Trouble is, the Woodstock No 230,099 handed over by Lockey worked beautifully, unlike the machine which, according to Lockey and other previous owners, had been a mess, and was junked and left in tall grass to rot. At what point had the Hiss Woodstock turned into something else, No 230,099? And who gave it to Lockey? We may never know the answers to these intriguing questions.
The Hisses' failure to clearly recollect how and exactly when their machine was disposed of between 1937-38 came to be critical, given the dates of the Baltimore Documents, typed during the first three months of 1938. The couple initially said they had donated it to the Salvation Army or given it to some junkman in 1938. Hiss admitted he had a "visual recollection" of the typewriter (which he thought was an Underwood) in his Volta Place home, to which he moved at the end of December 1937. The Hisses later said the typewriter had been given to the Catlett boys at the time of the move from 30th Street to Volta Place, not afterwards. Despite many years of abuse and neglect (the search team was told that at one point it had been left outside in long grass), when the Woodstock was brought into court, it proved to be "a pretty perky old machine". Special Agent John S. McCool and jurors in the first trial tested it out for themselves. Was it, some experts asked much later, the same machine as the Hisses and Catletts had owned? All previous possessors, from Priscilla Hiss through the Catlett family to Lockey, had complained that it didn't work properly - Mrs Hall was astonished $200 had been offered for it (presumably by the FBI).
In 1952 Hiss's new counsel, Chester T. Lane, moved for a retrial, saying he had evidence proving "a technique of forgery by typewriter exists which was not known about at the time of the [first] trial" and that "the [Woodstocktypewriter in evidence at the trials is a fake machine ... it can only have been planted on the defence by or on behalf of Whittaker Chambers as part of his plot for the false incrimination of Alger Hiss." To prove that forgery had indeed taken place, Lane tried to trace the history of Woodstock No 230,099 to determine whether it was really the Fansler-Hiss machine or another machine that had been substituted. "Significantly," Lane said in motion papers asking for the new trial, "my investigation of the authenticity of [Woodstock] No 230,099 is the only phase of my investigative activity which to my knowledge has invoked Government surveillance." When, in 1978, Hiss filed his coram nobis petition, it was in large measure based on the claim that the typewriter could not possibly have been the original Hiss machine and that this had been established by the FBI's own investigation before the first trial. The official view was that this was a "fanciful theory" and the courts consistently accepted the government's argument that forgery by typewriter was a fantasy and impossible.
On the basis of evidence given by Dr Daniel P. Normana Harvard-educated chemist who was director of chemical research at the New England Spectrochemical Laboratories of Ipswich, Massachusetts, president of its subsidiary, Skinner & Sherman, of Boston, and a man long distinguished in the field of metallurgical analysis, Lane declared that Woodstock No 230099 was a fake machine. "[It] is a deliberately fabricated job, a new typeface on an old body." Norman's examination showed "a majority of the types on Woodstock No 230099 have been soldered on to the typebars in a careless fashion, quite unlike the kind of soldering job done at the Woodstock factory or in a regular repair operation: that the solder used for the replacement types has a different metallic content from that used on the types which apparently have not been altered and from that used on other contemporary machines; that the typeface metal in almost half the types contains metallic elements not present in Woodstock type metal until the date of machines of substantially later serial numbers than No 230099; that the altered types show tool marks which indicate deliberate alteration of the striking faces of the letters, as well as peculiar finish or polish quite unlike that on types which have worn or aged normally." Lane said this evidence, reinforcing the Tytell experiment showing that a machine could be faked, proved conclusively that Woodstock No 230,099 had been phonied."
Alger and Priscilla Hiss, 1950.
Skilled documents expert Elizabeth McCarthy, official document examiner for both the Boston police and the Massachusetts State Police, gave a number of sound reasons to declare that "Priscilla Hiss did not in my opinion type any of the Baltimore Documents." " ... I believe it just as possible, in the light of the observable facts, that the Baltimore Documents were typed on a machine which was not the original Hiss machine used for the standards [letters typed in the Hiss household during the period from January 1933 to May 1937], but another machine made to type like the original Hiss machine. Since the typing of the Baltimore Documents so closely resembles the typing of the specimens from the so-called Hiss machine, and since Dr Norman has furnished evidence that the machine is a deliberately fabricated one, I can only conclude that, as between the two possibilities, the forgery of the Baltimore Documents is the more likely. If the Baltimore Documents are forged, the forgery is a good one, but it is no better than I know would be possible with careful workmanship."
Evelyn Seltzer Ehrlich, a leading document examiner trained in the detection of spurious and deceptive imprints and typography and experienced in the use of photomicrography in the detection and illustration of documentary forgeries, offered testimony that the Hiss Woodstock could not be the same machine that typed the Baltimore Documents. This, along with the expert testimony of Norman and McCarthy, was ultimately to no avail.
Woodstock No 230099 
In 1978 John Lowenthal (1925-2003), who had worked as a volunteer for Hiss's defence,  interrupted his career as a law professor at Rudgers to make a documentary film called ''The Trials of Alger Hiss''. Using newsreel footage and new interviews, the film presented evidence supporting Hiss that had been withheld from the jury that sent him to prison. When shown the evidence on camera - an FBI memo asserting that a famous message supposedly typewritten by Hiss was a forgery - one juror exclaimed, ''I say we were hoodwinked.''
Lowenthal said that soon after the verdict in the second Hiss case, "evidence that the typewriter was suspect - not the Hisses' machine, and possibly even a machine planted or fabricated to frame Hiss - began to surface. The FBI [in documents obtained under the amended Freedom of Information Act] has just disclosed that it had evidence, even before the Hiss perjury trials began, that Woodstock No 230099 was not the Hiss family typewriter."


Ted said...

Incredible research!

I've updated the Woodstock serial number page at TWDB with the more detailed info you've found:

This article is now Source #69 at the Typewriter Database. (:

Jasper Lindell said...

This is an astounding and amazing and brilliant story! Thank you for telling it here, Robert!