Cook on the Typewriter
1957, journalist Fred Cook took on an investigation of the
Hiss case for The Nation. When the article, "Hiss:
New Perspectives on the Strangest Case of Our Time,"
was published, it took up the magazine's entire September
21, 1957 issue (and was later expanded into a book, "The
Unfinished Case of Alger Hiss"). In this excerpt, Cook
examines the typewriter evidence and raises questions about
the odd circumstances that led to the typewriter's being offered
into evidence by the defense.
of the most famous typewriters ever built is an ancient Woodstock
machine bearing the serial number 230,099. This is the machine
that is still in the custody of Chester Lane, for one of the
ironies of this fantastically-tangled case is that it was
Hiss who produced the machine - and the government who used
it to convict Hiss.
as there could have been no conviction of Hiss without the
documents produced by Whittaker Chambers, so there could have
been no conviction of Hiss without the typewriter Hiss himself
produced - the machine that tied the documents to him.
the rash of heavily-weighted newspaper headlines in which
the Hiss case was fought, this fact was virtually obscured.
In the final trial, Murphy's brilliant forensics, completely
outclassing the more sober and plodding talents of Claude
Cross, worked an amazing transformation. The typewriter, which
the defense 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 Hiss's
guilt never registered with the jury or the public.
did Murphy work this miracle? Simply by contending that the
deep-dyed traitor, Hiss, had been helpless to do anything
else. In his summation, Murphy pictured the Hisses as debating
what they should do when they learned that Chambers had broken
with communism. Recognizing their danger, they should take
every care to cover their traces, Murphy argued. Then he plunged
into this imaginary conversation between Hiss and his wife:
"The only thing remaining to get us into trouble other than
his word [Murphy had the Hisses saying to each other] is the
typewriter. If they find those instruments we are sunk." So
what do they do? If they sold the typewriter they might be
traced. If they brought it over to the bridge going to Roslyn
and dropped it into the Potomac, somebody might see them.
Guilty knowledge. 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, gradually.
is a frail measure of Murphy's oratory that such arrant nonsense
could be made to sound persuasive.
anyone seriously doubt that, in ten 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 machines
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?
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
the early I930s, Hiss's father-in-law, Thomas Fansler, retired
from his Philadelphia insurance business. He gave his daughter,
by then married to Hiss, his office typewriter. Mrs. Hiss
used the machine for several years; it was in the Hisses'
household during the short time that the Chambers admittedly
stayed there in 1935. Several letters written on the machine
by Mrs. Hiss later were uncovered by the FBI in a nationwide
search. The latest in date was a letter typed by Mrs. Hiss
on May 25, 1937, applying for admission to the University
of Maryland's course in inorganic chemistry.
The next step in the history of the Hisses' Woodstock is clear
except for one transcendent element - time. The Hisses, during
one of their Washington changes of residences, gave the old
machine to Cleide Catlett, their maid, for the use of her
two boys. Hiss insists in his book that "by 1948 my wife and
I had completely forgotten how we had disposed of the old
Woodstock, and didn't even recall its make."
the spring of 1949, one of Cleide Catlett's sons, Raymond
(Mike) Catlett, came to Donald Hiss in Washington. He said
he had heard that there was a hunt on for the old typewriter
and that he thought he knew where it was because it had been
given to him and his brother, Perry Catlett, when they were
children. Following this lead, one of Hiss's attorneys, Edward
C. McLean, traced the machine through several transfers of
ownership to a truckman, Ira Lockey, who had received it as
part-payment for a moving job. McLean paid Lockey $10 for
the machine and so, just six weeks before the first trial,
the defense secured possession of Woodstock No. 230,099, which
it introduced in evidence under the supposition that it was
the Hiss machine.
of the most fiercely-waged and inconclusive battles of the
trials dealt with the all-important date of the transfer of
the old Woodstock from the Hisses to the Catlett boys. Hiss
and his wife weren't of much help, and their testimony sounded,
or was made to sound, evasive and implausible under Murphy's
Hisses admitted that, when they were questioned before the
grand jury before the machine had been found, they testified
that they had given the Woodstock to the Salvation Army or
some junkman in 1938. Hiss admitted he had told the grand
jury he had a "visual recollection" of the typewriter in his
Volta Place home, to which he moved on December 29, 1937.
If this was so, the Hisses might well have had possession
of the typewriter at the time the documents were typed.
was, of course, a dangerous admission, and the Hisses, in
the trials, altered their testimony. They insisted that their
memories had been refreshed by the details related by the
Catletts and that they were now certain the typewriter had
been given to the Catlett boys at the time of the move to
Volta Place, not afterwards.
the second trial, Perry Catlett testified that the typewriter
had been given to him "during the time they were moving; between
30th Street and Volta Place." The prosecution showed, however,
that three days before the trial, Perry had given a statement
to the FBI in which he said he had received the typewriter
"during the period" of the moving. This statement would have
agreed with his trial testimony except for the added remark
ascribed to him in the FBI document: "I can't remember whether
they gave it to me before they moved or after they had moved
to Volta Place. They could have lived on Volta Place for several
months before they gave it to me."
Confronted with this discrepancy at the trial, Perry, who
was then working for the War Department, repudiated this section
of his FBI statement. "I did not tell him [the FBI agent]
that they gave it to me after they moved in Volta Place,"
he insisted. "That is a mistake. He wrote that hisself."
natural tendency, in such a clash of testimony, is to disbelieve
the witness and to believe the FBI. Perry Catlett's disclaimer
of his own FBI statement, and other involved and confused
testimony about efforts he had made to get the Woodstock repaired,
undoubtedly backfired upon the defense. The jury might well
have gotten the idea that here was a son of a former servant
loyally doing his best to help the Hisses. In the final analysis,
however, the prosecution was never able to prove conclusively
that the Hisses had the typewriter during those critical early
months of 1938, nor were the Hisses ever able to prove conclusively
that they didn't have it.
this drawn battle, there emerged a secondary thread which
was merely confusing at the time of the trial and did not
assume significance until later, when the defense began to
examine critically and scientifically the "immutable witnesses"
of the prosecution. This secondary testimony dealt with the
condition of the old Hiss Woodstock.
handling again cast an aura of evasiveness about Mrs. Hiss's
testimony. She insisted the Woodstock had become so unworkable
she gave it away, but she had trouble explaining just what
ailed it. The keys stuck, the ribbon didn't flow right, she
said. These seem relatively minor flaws, and Murphy wanted
to know why the Hisses hadn't had the machine repaired. Mrs.
Hiss didn't seem quite able to tell him.
this testimony, standing alone, has a suspicious cast to it,
one of the points on which there seems to have been general
agreement, curiously enough, is that the Hiss Woodstock was
virtually a wreck. Perry Catlett testified that the keys jammed
up so badly the machine was hardly usable when he got it.
A Sergeant Roulhac, who boarded with the Catletts, testified
that the machine was kept in a kind of junk room. The Catletts
gave frequent parties, and sometimes, he said, the celebrants
banged on the machine for kicks. The sergeant testified that
Perry used to pound on it, so did Perry's girlfriend, and
so did he himself at times. From the Catletts, the much-abused
typewriter passed through other hands until finally it came
into the possession of Lockey, the truckman. He testified
that, when he got it, it was sitting in a backyard in the
after I got it, it was in such bad condition that I didn't
think it was worthwhile to have it repaired," he said, "but
I got it for my daughter to type on because at that particular
time she was taking typing."
Lockey's son took the typewriter for his little girl to play
with, and as Lockey testified, "that is just where it stayed
because no one ever used it - it was in such bad condition."
the light of this uncontradicted line of testimony, it is
amazing to find that Woodstock No. 230,099, when it was brought
into court, proved to be a pretty perky old machine. An FBI
expert demonstrated that it was still perfectly workable by
typing on it with relatively little difficulty, and the jurors
in the first trial, their minds evidently intrigued by the
mystery of the machine, tested it out for themselves.
seems to be an obvious and inexplicable conflict between the
testimony and the visual demonstrations. One would expect,
from the testimony of prosecution and defense witnesses alike,
that Hiss's discarded Woodstock would not have performed at
all the way Woodstock No. 230,099 did in court. One might
almost be tempted to wonder whether the witnesses and the
demonstrators were dealing with the same machine - except
that the FBI testimony, unchallenged at the trial, seemed
to establish this beyond doubt.
years, it was an aphorism of criminal deduction that the typing
of a particular typewriter was as identifiable as a fingerprint.
The accepted principle was that typing could be traced to
the one machine on which it was done, and such a thing as
forgery by typewriter was not supposed to be even remotely
possible. So well-established were these premises that Hiss's
defense accepted them without challenge in the course of two
and Priscilla Hiss
evidence seemed without question to link the typed Baltimore
documents directly to Hiss's old Woodstock. Ramos C. Feehan,
an FBI agent and a specialist in document examination, testified
that he had compared the so-called standards, the letters
admittedly typed by Mrs. Hiss, with the copied State Department
documents. He demonstrated from photographic enlargements
the similarity of imperfections in the two sets of typing.
defense, obviously, was baffled for an explanation. The best
that Cross could do in summation was to suggest that somehow
Chambers had gotten access to Hiss's typewriter after Hiss
had discarded it; that perhaps Chambers had sneaked into the
Catlett home and banged away on the old machine, manufacturing
the documents that later would convict Hiss.
was a rationalization, offered without a shred of evidence,
that exposed Cross and the defense to the devastating wit
of Murphy. The prosecutor, in one of his broad, slapstick
impersonations for the jury's benefit, pictured a "confederate"
of Chambers coming up to Cleide Catlett house wearing a cap
marked, "Woodstock Repair."
He says to Cleide, "I'm the repair man to fix the typewriter."
Cleide says, "Well, which one do you want? The Remington,
the Royal, the L.C. Smith? Which one?" "No. We want the
Woodstock." "Oh, that's over in my boy's house, over at
P Street." And then the next scene, it is the middle of
one of these dances. And you see Chambers sneaking in at
night, mingling with the dancers, and then typing, typing
the stuff, holding the State Department document in one
hand - Oh, Mr. Cross, you've got to do better than that.
there can be no doubt that the defense had called down upon
itself this telling ridicule, Murphy was not content to stop
there. He went on in his summation to inject into the case
an entirely new proposition, one that went far beyond the
bounds of any suggested evidence and was so obviously prejudicial
to the defense that it seems to speak volumes about the prosecution's
ethics. To appreciate fully the ethical issue, one has to
understand the background.
weeks before the trial, Cross had sought permission to inspect
any material typed by Chambers or Mrs. Chambers in an effort
to see whether a scientific study of the vagaries of the typing
might help to identify the typist. Murphy had blocked the
attempt, submitting to the court an affidavit in which he
stated that "it strains one's imagination to see how that
would tend to prove who the operator of the Woodstock was.
It can hardly be claimed that an expert could tell what individual
typed a certain instrument by having a specimen of his typing..."
now, in the closing minutes of the case, the evidence in,
the defense helpless to reply, Murphy called upon the inexpert
jury to attempt the very feat he himself had protested was
impossible even for an expert. He called upon the jurors to
"look for a similarity of mistakes" in the typing of Mrs.
Hiss's personal letters and the typing of the Baltimore documents.
the fact that FBI experts had not attempted to draw any conclusions
about the identity of the typist, Murphy pictured these relatively
common mistakes - the striking of r for i, f for g and f for
d - as showing that the two sets of documents had been typed
by the same hand. (Click here for more on this from the FBI's
tactic, unjustified by the evidence, drew no rebuke from Judge
Goddard. The suggestion was allowed to stand, and there is
some indication that it may have influenced the jury. For
after the panel had received the case and retired to the jury
room, it called for the documents, indicating that it may
have been trying to make just the kind of comparison Murphy
is the evidence on which Hiss's conviction was based. It wasn't
until after the second jury had returned its verdict that
Hiss raised the issue of forgery by typewriter, and Lane set
out to prove that this was possible.
lawyer's first step was to try to show that a typewriter could
be built that would duplicate exactly the typing of Woodstock
No. 230,099. Martin K. Tytell, a New York typewriter expert,
agreed to try. Tytell, in an article in True in August,
1952, told the story of his experiences in building a Woodstock
typewriter to match the samples of typing Lane had given him
from No. 230,099 - a machine Tytell had never seen.
task required the canvassing of out-of-the-way typewriter
shops for old Woodstock type of a vintage to match that on
the supposed Hiss machine. On one occasion, after a long search,
Tytell came across a Woodstock branch store in Newark, N.
J. It was a lucky discovery, for the store had a number of
old Woodstocks with the kind of type Tytell needed. In his
True article, Tytell told of a conversation he had
with the store proprietor as he selected the machines he needed:
just as I began gathering the machines upstairs to load
into my Plymouth suburban, [the proprietor] leaned casually
against one wall and said haltingly, "Say, Tytell, do you
know who you remind me of?" My wife answered, "No, tell
me." "You remind me of the FBI," he said. I ignored that,
but he continued talking to my wife. He put his hand to
his head. "Now what was that case they were working on?"
He paused, then blurted, "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."
I pursued the subject no further. All I wanted was some
type. And I had my type.
was only one of the odd things that happened to Tytell. As
he rebuilt and tinkered with type and perfected his phony
Woodstock, peculiar and seemingly inexplicable incidents -
experiences such as he had never had in his quiet life before
- began to occur around his office, his home, his neighborhood.
This is the way Tytell described them in True:
early in June, a girl from Lane's office met me in the street
in front of my shop. She was returning some samples of specimens
I had taken off the forgery job. I put the samples in my
outer coat pocket, went upstairs and, as was my custom,
hung the coat in a small outer room at the head of the stairway
leading to my shop. The stairs go straight up two flights
from the street. A few minutes after I sat down at my desk,
I heard footsteps running up. This happens all day long,
and I looked for a customer to walk in. But no one came
in, and I heard footsteps running down very fast. I walked
out to look around. I looked in the outer room. My coat
A number of suspicious incidents around my home cropped
up. A telephone repairman got by the maid to take care of
some complaints - but I had never made any complaints. A
mysterious inquisitor tried dating my neighbor's maid after
asking her if she could tell him all she knew about the
Tytells and their habits. [Click
here to read the entire True article]
experiences involving members of his own staff subsequently
led Lane, using the restrained language dictated by legal
propriety, to make a bold and important charge. "Significantly,"
he told the court in his motion papers asking for a new Hiss
trial, "my investigation of the authenticity of No. 230,099
is the only phase of my investigative activity which to my
knowledge has invoked Government surveillance."
this surveillance, Lane's typewriter researches produced results.
Tytell succeeded in creating a machine whose typing, according
to affidavits Lane filed with the court, was virtually indistinguishable
from that of Woodstock No. 230,099. Affidavits of reputable
experts asserted they would not have suspected that two machines
did the typing had they not been told in advance of examination
that this was so. Their analyses also showed that, on the
basis of the limited appraisal of certain letters - the technique
used by Feehan at the trial - they could not have detected
showed, of course, merely that the State Department documents
produced by Chambers could have been forged, not that they
had. 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. Once he touched this apparently
sensitive subject, Lane found every conceivable roadblock
thrown in his way. He detailed many of these roadblocks in
his affidavit. They constituted his major reason for requesting
a public hearing to compel unwilling or scared witnesses to
testify and to compel the FBI to produce sequestered information.
Judge Goddard refused to entertain the motion.
this refusal probably blocked for all time the kind of final
determination to which both Hiss and the public seem, in retrospect,
to have been entitled, Lane's circumscribed researches turned
up some highly disturbing facts:
Woodstock bearing the serial No. 230,099 would have been manufactured
about August, l929 -
certainly no earlier than the first week of July, 1929. Yet
Woodstock No. 230,099, as exhibited in court, had a type face
manufactured in 1926, 1927, 1928 and possibly the very early
part of 1929.
machine that had belonged to the Hisses had been in use in
Fansler's office as early as July 8, 1929 - and so could not
possibly have been Woodstock No. 230,099, which would not
have been coming off the factory assembly line, at the very
earliest, until about that time.
were startling official disclosures made by Lane to the court.
To any American interested in the fair and even administration
of justice - the vital ingredient of democracy - Lane's affidavit
detailing the official pressure that sealed lips and kept
essential information from the defense must remain forever
one of the most shocking aspects of the entire case. Originally,
inquiries at the Woodstock factory in Woodstock, Illinois,
produced information that Woodstock No. 230,099 could not
have been manufactured before August or September, 1929. A
Woodstock official mentioned without elaboration that his
company "had helped the FBI find the typewriter in the Hiss
case." An attempt by Lane subsequently to get an affidavit
covering these points was turned down; a formal request for
permission to inspect the records was rejected.
investigators tried to question Harry L. Martin, who had been
associated with Fansler in the Philadelphia office of the
Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company. Prior to the discovery
of Woodstock No. 230,099 by the defense, a defense investigator
had questioned Martin, who had said that the Fansler machine
had been purchased in early 1928. Later, when Lane tried to
establish this essential point beyond possibility of challenge,
Martin refused an interview and said, according to Lane, that
"he would not discuss the matter under any circumstances without
the formal consent of the agent in charge of the FBI in Philadelphia."
to establish the identity of the Fansler-Hiss typewriter by
another method, Lane's investigators interviewed 0. J. Carrow,
who had been a Woodstock branch manager in Philadelphia from
1927 to 1938. Carrow had been questioned by the FBI in late
1948 or early 1949. He recalled that he had told FBI agents
that the machine they were interested in would have been sold
in Philadelphia about November, 1927, allowing for a six-month
margin of error - an estimate that agrees perfectly with Martin's
original statement to Hiss's investigators that the machine
had been purchased in early 1928. Carrow thought that the
machine the FBI questioned him about bore a different serial
number than 230,099, but he could not be positive about the
number because the FBI had taken all his records and never
final effort to establish a positive checkpoint on the Fansler-Hiss
machine was made at the headquarters of Northwestern Mutual
in Milwaukee. The insurance company at first refused to cooperate,
citing possible ire of its stockholders, but finally granted
permission to Donald Doud, a document expert, to study photostats
of letters typed to the head office in Milwaukee on the Fansler
machine. Doud's examination showed that a letter typed on
July 8, 1929, agreed in typeface pattern and exhibited the
typing characteristics later noted in Mrs. Hiss's letters
and the Baltimore documents. This particular typewriter model,
Doud reported, was manufactured from 1926 "until some time
in the latter part of 1928 or early 1929." It could not possibly
have been manufactured as late as July or August, 1939, when
Woodstock records indicated No. 230,099 had been made. But
Doud, having come to these conclusions in letters which Lane
presented to the court, refused to sign an affidavit.
summed up the issues at stake in this pungent paragraph in
is the handicaps surrounding the investigation which most
require the Court's attention. We search for records - the
FBI has them. We ask questions - the FBI will not let people
talk to us. We request access to ordinary documents in corporate
files - corporate officials fear the wrath of their stockholders.
We ask people to certify information in files they have
shown us - they must consult counsel, and we hear no more
from them. We pay experts to give us opinions - and they
decline to back them up in court because they "cannot subscribe"
to anything which might support the conclusion we believe
the facts point to. And, even worse, honorable and patriotic
citizens who have wanted to help have been deterred by the
appearance - whether or not it is reality - of official
surveillance and wiretapping, and others who have labored
to gather information for us in the interests of justice
are afraid to come forward for fear of personal consequences
which might result to them from public association with
the defense of Alger Hiss.
This is probably as close as any attorney has ever come in
court to accusing the FBI of Gestapo-like methods, of creating
the atmosphere of a police state which is the very antithesis
barriers that had confronted Lane in attempting to establish
by records the identity of the Woodstock did not stop him
from making one final attempt to prove the same point through
a scientific, metallurgical examination of Woodstock No. 230,099.
If the machine had been altered, Lane reasoned, evidence of
the tampering might be discovered in its type faces and mechanism.
Again, Lane had difficulty finding an expert willing to aid
the unpopular cause of Alger Hiss, but finally Dr. Daniel
Norman, director of chemical research of the New England Spectrochemical
Laboratories, of Ipswich, Mass., a man long distinguished
in the field of metallurgical analysis, agreed to undertake
a result of his investigation, Lane subsequently declared
flatly in another affidavit to the court:
I no longer just question the authenticity of Woodstock
No. 230.099. I now say to the Court that Woodstock No. 230099
- the typewriter in evidence at the trials - is a fake machine.
I present in affidavit form, and will be able to produce
at the hearing, expert testimony that this machine is a
deliberately fabricated job, a new type face on an old body.
This being so, it can only have been planted on the defense
by or on behalf of Whittaker Chambers as part of his plot
for the false incrimination of Alger Hiss.
Dr. Norman's examination, Lane asserted, showed that "a majority
of the types on Woodstock N230099 have been soldered onto
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 N230099; 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
here to read Norman's affidavit]
Lane declared that these discoveries, reinforcing the Tytell
experiment showing that a machine could be faked, proved conclusively
that Woodstock No. 230,099 had been phonied. "Clearer evidence
of the plot to incriminate Alger Hiss falsely could scarcely
be desired," he declared.
still another point, Lane combated the premises of the prosecution.
Picking up Murphy's last minute injunction to the jury to
study the typing as a clue to the identity of the typist,
Lane had the Baltimore documents studied by Miss Elizabeth
McCarthy, a skilled documents expert. She concluded that the
documents had been typed by at least two persons "whose work
varied sharply in evenness of pressure, typing skill, mechanical
understanding and control of the machine, style habits, and
other similar respects. No one person's work could exhibit
McCarthy added that the typing characteristics exhibited by
Priscilla Hiss in the letters she admittedly wrote varied
greatly from the typing of the documents and that "Priscilla
Hiss did not in my opinion type any of the Baltimore Documents."
insisted that the Baltimore documents "contain at least 50
typing errors of a kind which do bear on the personality of
the typist and which do not appear anywhere in the standards,
while on the other hand nine errors of that nature appearing
in the standards never occur in the Baltimore Documents."
[Click here to read McCarthy's
affidavit] The typed pages produced by chambers contained
one further important clue to their own validity - a number
of pencil corrections. Were the papers legitimate, they presumably
would have been typed and corrected at various times over
a period of three months. Miss McCarthy found, however, that
the corrections "give the appearance of having been made in
one continuous operation rather than at separate times when
the separate pages should have been typed. The corrections
and proofreading marks were made with a soft, grayish-black
pencil, in approximately the same condition of worness and
bluntness throughout, and are quite inconsistent with the
idea that the same or different pencils were used at a number
of times over a three-month period."
Perhaps, from the standpoint of simple logic and credibility,
this is the most important of all of Lane's scientific discoveries.
Expert testimony on complicated points can always be contested
by other experts, so much so that juries are sometimes baffled
as to which expert to believe; but the use of one blunt pencil
in a continuous operation, where there should have been several
pencils in several operations, is so elemental a sign of fraud
that it seems impossible that any expert worthy of the title
could be in error about it.
new defense case drew a countering barrage from the prosecution.
Myles J. Lane, who had succeeded Murphy as U.S. Attorney in
New York, seized upon the Tytell typewriter experiment as
a means of ridiculing the charges as "a combination of a Grimm's
fairy tale with a hint of a Rube Goldberg twist." He declared
that the machine hadn't proved its point because even defense
experts admitted that, after they had been warned and had
submitted the typing to exceptionally minute analysis, they
could detect slight variations. Myles Lane, who is no relation
to Chester Lane, also stressed that it had taken Tytell, a
typewriter expert, many months to create his fake machine,
and he asked how Whittaker Chambers, who was not a typewriter
expert, could have phonied a machine in only a fraction of
other affidavits, the government combated the scientific testimony
offered by Hiss. One agent denied the FBI had any information
about "any other Hiss Woodstock machine other than the trial
exhibit'' and said that the FBI had not sought any Woodstock
except No. 230,099 after May, 14, 1949 - a date that seems
appropriate to the issue, since the defense information was
that a machine with a different serial number had been sought
by the FBI long before that date. In fact, May 14 was about
a month after the defense had found and produced the controversial
Woodstock. Obviously, if there were two machines and one was
planted on the defense, the search and discovery would have
taken place before the planting not afterwards. On still another
point, the government came full circle, back to Murphy's original
position, asserting - contrary to what Murphy had asked the
jury to do in his closing speech - that the
identity of a typist cannot be revealed by typing.
a strictly legal, technical standpoint, the government's strongest
argument probably was that there was little in the defense's
plea for a new trial that was really new, that all of the
scientific arguments could and should have been raised at
the time of trial had the defense used "due diligence" in
preparing its case.
This argument was echoed in Judge Goddard's ruling refusing
a hearing on the debated points and refusing a new trial.
The judge, like the prosecution, concentrated heavily on the
typewriter, standing in isolation, without much regard to
the supporting mass of evidence that Lane had cited in his
motion papers. Judge Goddard ruled that there was "absolutely
no evidence to support" the charge that Chambers had constructed
"the alleged duplicate typewriter" and that "there is not
a trace of any evidence" that Chambers had the mechanical
skill, tools, equipment or material for such a difficult task.
postscript to the celebrated "forgery by typewriter" issue
was written this spring following the publication of Hiss's
book. Senator Mundt sent FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover a letter
asking whether the FBI had ever compared samples of typing
to prove that the Baltimore documents came from the Hiss machine.
Hoover replied, as he must have been expected to reply, that
the FBI had indeed made such a study.
his answer, Hoover cited a letter from James McQueen, son-
in-law of the truckman, Lockey, applying for a federal job.
The letter was dated July 26, 1947, just a little more than
a year before Chambers first publicly accused Hiss. FBI laboratory
experts, Hoover said, ruled that "the same typewriter" that
typed this application typed the Baltimore documents. The
McQueen letter, Hoover pointed out, is significant because
it establishes a link in time and shows that the Hiss Woodstock
was in use in Lockey's household a full year before Chambers
hopped upon this disclosure. Their stories gave the impression
that the evidence was new and settled for all time the "forgery
typewriter" issue. Actually, the McQueen letter was old hat.
It had been introduced in evidence as Exhibit 45 in the first
trial, and McQueen himself had taken the stand. Peculiarly,
McQueen had testified that he could not remember ever typing
the application, or signing it even though he recognized the
signature as his; nor did he remember filing the application.
Over defense protests, the document was admitted into evidence
at the first trial; at the second, the government made no
reference to it.
This indisputably inconclusive testimony of McQueen seems
to contrast sharply with Hoover's contention to Mundt that
the McQueen letter is conclusive. In addition, Hoover's letter
gives no clue to the scientific processes by which FBI experts
determined that "the same typewriter" was involved. Defense
evidence would indicate that forgery by typewriter is possible
and that the methods used by the FBI at the trial never would
detect a skillfully-altered machine. Hence the possibility
that there actually were two machines still cannot be outlawed.
basic point that seems to have escaped the press is that the
defense did not contend that Lockey never had the original
Hiss machine. Certainly, he had it and certainly McQueen could
have typed the 1947 job application on it if the machine were
workable; otherwise, it would not have been possible for the
defense to follow the trail of the Hiss machine to Lockey.
This is not the point.
real issue involves the possibility that government investigators
may have followed the trail to Lockey first - and that a switch
may have been made, with a forged and highly workable machine
on which the Baltimore documents had been produced, being
substituted for the one in Lockey's possession. If this were
done, it would have had to be done before the defense "discovered"
Woodstock No. 230,099. In the light of all the evidence amassed
by Chester Lane in his after-trial researches - and especially
in the light of all the barriers put in his way in those researches
- these are possibilities that, it would seem, simply cannot
be ignored. Certainly they demand more positive refutation,
if they are to be refuted, than the citation of a dubious
letter that James McQueen could not remember typing in applying
for a job that he could not remember applying for.