“A History of Forgery”

From An Introduction to Handwriting Examination and Identification (Nelson-Hall Publishers; Chicago; 1992), by Russell R. Bradford and Ralph B. Bradford.

Evidential typewriting cases date back to the early courts. The first case that went to a court for review was Levy v. Rust, 49 Atl. 1017 (New Jersey). The court in Levy v. Rust stated:

An expert in typewriting is brought here and that expert sat down by my side at the table here and explained his criticisms on this typewriting, and I went over it with him carefully with the glass… it appeared very clearly. I was very much struck by his evidence. If you compare the typewriting work, it contains precisely the same peculiarities which are found in the typewriting in these seven suspected papers.

The judge in ruling on the case did not cite any prior case on typewriter examination. This case was in 1893, just twenty years after Sholes’ typewriter was sold to Remington Arms. [Christopher Latham Sholes, an American, invented the typewriter in 1868, sold the patents for his “writing machine” to the Remington Arms Company for $12,000 in 1873, which thereupon began manufacturing the Remington Typewriter.]

An incredible feat occurred two years before the Levy v. Rust typewriter trial of 1893. In 1891, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about typewriter identification in his Sherlock Holmes story, “A Case of Identity.” “‘It is a curious thing.’ remarked Holmes, ‘that a typewriter has really quite as much individuality as a man’s handwriting. Unless they are quite new, no two of them write exactly alike. Some letters get more worn than others, and some wear only on one side. Now, you remark in this note of yours, Mr. Windibank, that in every case there is some little slurring over of the “e” and a slight defect in the tail of the “r.” There are fourteen other characteristics, but those are the most obvious.'” This statement by the character Holmes was made, using sound principles and precise terminology, two years before the first court case.

The 62nd Congress enacted the United States Statute of 1913, Chapter 79, which allows for the introduction of admitted or proven handwriting exemplars for comparative purposes. By court decisions, this statute was extended to cover typewriting. In People v. Werblow, 209 N.Y.S. 88 (1925), it was stated that “The law is well settled that such specimens of typewriting are properly received in evidence for the purposes of comparison.” In the case of State v. Swank, 99 Ore. 571, 195 Pac 168 (1921 ), J. F. Wood, document examiner, testified in clear, analytical and convincing terms the reasons for his brief that the two notes were prepared by the same person on the same typewriter.

Forgery by Typewriter

A document can be identified as being typed by a particular typewriter if defects and imperfections can be found on both a questioned document and on exemplars. The identification is made by the individuality of the typewriter characteristics. Forgery by typewriter is committed by obtaining a typewriter of the same make and model as the one used on the questioned document. The forger then alters the keys to create the same defects and imperfections as are on a known document. Theoretically, the two typewriters could type a document containing the exact same characteristics. Forgery by typewriter has been attempted in several cases and is still going on today.

People v. Risley (214 NY 75, 108 NE 200 (1915) ) involved the first known attempt at a forgery with the use of a typewriter. Risley, a New York lawyer, altered another lawyer’s affidavit by adding the words “the same” with his Underwood typewriter. Examiner William J. Kinsley identified thirteen characteristics that were different from the Remington which had been used to type the affidavit. Kinsley also identified Risley’s typewriter as adding the two words.

In the eight months between the charge and the trial, Risley contacted Arthur W. Buckwell of the General Typewriter Company. Risley asked Buckwell to alter an Underwood of the same model as his so that it would contain the same characteristics. Risley hoped at the trial to be able to say, “You say those words ‘the same’ were written by my machine and no other. But here is another machine which I picked up secondhand, and which can also write those words, just like they were written in the affidavit. Now if another machine can write them…” The expert, however, proved that the altered typewriter was different from the Underwood used in the case. The mechanic later testified that he hadn’t made as many alterations as he should have.

British Intelligence Uses Forgery by Typewriter

[During World War II] under the cover of the British Passport Control, British Intelligence established offices in New York. The British Security Coordination (BSC), under the leadership of Sir William Stephenson, had its own agents who developed a full-fledged alliance with J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. The agents for the BSC trained at “Camp X” in Canada, on the north side of Lake Ontario. This site was chosen because it could be easily reached by FBI agents as well as by the British. At Camp X was a group called “Station M.” Station M was an important part of Camp X, as it produced all types of paraphernalia for the spy trade. The production of false documents was one of the important products of Station M. The experts included leading authorities on the manufacture of special inks and paper, and individuals who could reproduce faultlessly the imprint of any typewriter on earth.

In June 1940, the American ambassador in Uruguay cabled to President Roosevelt that unless the United States acted effectively, countries in South America might fall under Nazi domination. The President empowered the FBI to act, and they were greatly helped by Stephenson’s agents. Stephenson’s men determined that the Italian airline Linee Aeree Transcontinental Italiane (LATI), which flew regularly between Europe and Brazil, carried German and Italian diplomatic bags, couriers, and agents. The Brazilian Government showed no intention of closing down the airline, since powerful Brazilians had an interest in the operation of the airline.

Station M was asked to fabricate a letter from the head of LATI to the airline’s general manager in Brazil. Notepaper was produced using the straw pulp normally found only in Europe. The engraved letterhead of Italy’s state owned LATI was copied by counterfeiters, using a genuine letter the agents had succeeded in obtaining. An Olivetti typewriter was rebuilt to conform to the exact mechanical imperfections of the machine upon which the general’s secretary had typed the original letter.

The documents were then smuggled into Rio and eventually leaked to President Vargas’s friends. Then Brazilian President Getulio Vargas read in the letter that “There can be no doubt the little fat man is falling into the pocket of the Americans, and that only violent action on the part of the green gentlemen can save the country. I understand such action has been arranged for by our respected collaborators in Berlin.” President Vargas knew that the “little fat man” referred to him, and that the “green gentlemen” referred to Germans. Vargas canceled LATI landing rights and ordered the arrest of the LATI general manager in Brazil. A few weeks later, Brazil broke off relations with the Axis and moved under the Allied umbrella. There is no doubt that one of the main factors in persuading Brazil to turn against the Axis was the insulting remarks contained in a letter that was typed by a “forged typewriter.”

The Allies were not the only ones to use forged typewriters. Wythe Williams reported in the Reader’s Digest (July 1940) that the Gestapo had the finest setup for the falsification of documents that has ever existed. This included handwriting wizards, ace chemists, and a typewriter bureau that had every make of typewriter in the world. A Gestapo expert would check a document for the type of typewriter used; lines were then chemically expunged and new ones inserted. There was little that the German experts could not imitate.

Forgery by Typewriter Today

Time magazine (February 10, 1961) reported that in 1958 a Communist forgery factory in East Berlin turned out a rash of eighteen forgeries. One of these – purportedly from the United States Embassy in Bonn, Germany – was planted in a United States diplomatic dispatch. U.S. News & World Report (March 3, 1980) referred to a CIA report which stated that the Soviets called a halt to these activities for four years in the mid-1970s, for unknown reasons. In 1978, the Kremlin streamlined and heavily financed an International Information Department. The agency, working with the KGB, carried out “disinformation” operations that relied heavily on forgery. The CIA believed that as many as fifty KGB technicians were detailed to their squad.