Building a Typewriter
“The $7,500 Typewriter I Built For Alger Hiss,” by Martin Tytell, as told to Harry Kursh (True magazine, August 1952)
It began for me in the latter part of March 1950, less than two months after Alger Hiss, convicted of perjury, had implied that he was the victim of a “forgery by typewriter.” I was sitting at my desk behind a jungle of papers and typewriter parts, when a tall, lean young man of about 28 came in. He carried a bulging briefcase by its handle and, standing over my desk, peered intently at me from behind thick horn-rimmed glasses.
He identified himself as a member of the Hiss defense staff, and seemed to have trouble expressing what was on his mind. He stammered for a few moments. “I once read something about you,” he said.
Then he came right to the point. “Do you believe typewriters can be duplicated?” he asked.
“I don’t see why not,” I replied.
He sat down on a stool near my desk. “Do you think you can duplicate a typewriter?” His eyes had an anxious look.
“I’ve never given it any real thought. What have you in mind?”
He sat straight up. Then, looking squarely at me, he said, “Alger Hiss’s attorney, Chester T. Lane, would like to engage you to assist in proving that two typewriters can be made to type so much alike that it would be confusing for experts to distinguish between documents typed on either of them.”
“Hiss had two jury trials,” I said. “And he was convicted. How many trials do you want? It would be a waste of time even to try.”
He thanked me for my opinion and left, but only to return the following day. “I know how you feel about the case,” he said, “but we’re not asking you to be pro- or anti-Hiss. Would you be willing to take the job on as an experiment?”
Actually, my first reaction was that I didn’t want to have anything to do with the controversial Hiss case. I thought I’d discourage him. I told him I could not guarantee success, since I had never attempted such a job.
“Whatever results I come up with,” I added, “will become public information. I don’t withhold any of my knowledge from document experts. If I should fail, it would undoubtedly hurt your case.”
“It probably would,” he said, “but we want an intensive scientific study. We’re willing to take a chance on the results, if you’re willing, of course, to take a chance on your reputation.”
I thought it was shrewd of him to put it that way. Then I said emphatically, “But if I do succeed, it will upset the entire theory of identifying typewritten documents. It might even set criminals free. It might cast doubt on every conviction ever obtained based on typewritten evidence. Don’t you know the experts have never even considered the possibility that typewriters can be forged?”
His answer was simple. “That’s quite true. The ends of justice, however, are served only when all known factors concerning evidence have been exposed and properly considered under law.”
Finally, I agreed to take the assignment, on the condition that I do it only in my spare time, in my own way, without control or dictation from any members of the Hiss defense staff, and purely as a scientific experiment. He agreed to this and said Chester Lane would draw up the agreement.
Newspaper columnists around the country have been attempting to explain how I did the job, some reporting my fee as high as $30,000. As to how I did the job, not one guessed correctly. As to how much I got for the job, I can lay that erroneous report to rest right now.
On April 17, 1950, Chester Lane came to my office with a written agreement, which stated I was to receive $2,500 in advance to conduct the experiment and that, upon the completion of my work, I was to receive another $5,000. That’s what I got. However, the agreement further stated: “It is understood that you will work solely from [typewritten] samples without access to or inspection of the machine on which the samples are typed.”
Actually, it was the Hiss defense staff that had found Woodstock No. 230,099, even though more than two dozen FBI men had turned Washington, D.C. inside out to find it. Edward McLean, one of Hiss’s attorneys, in April 1949, traced it to a man named Ira Lockey, a trucker who said he had gotten it from a family named Marlow in exchange for a house-moving job. I knew this; and my original impression was that I would simply make castings of the machine’s individual type faces, insert them in a similar Woodstock model, and adjust the entire machine to reproduce the original. The realization that I would have to work without the actual machine before me stunned me. I was to work only with specimens of typing from the so-called Hiss Woodstock. But that made the challenge all the greater, and I decided to go ahead.
Like millions of Americans, I had followed accounts of the Alger Hiss trials, but throughout both of them (the first trial ended in a hung jury), I was also busy with my chores running the Tytell Typewriter Company at my two-story Fulton Street shop in lower Manhattan. It’s a quarter-million dollar business I’ve built up from scratch over the past fifteen years – buying, renting, repairing and selling typewriters. I am 39 years old, but I’ve been handling typewriters more than half my lifetime. As a result I have been able to acquire certain skills that have given me an international reputation, mainly because I can convert, within twenty-four hours, any standard American typewriter to type in practically any language you can name. When I was a GI in the last war, the OSS had me “discharged” from the Army for three months so that I could fulfill a top-secret typewriter project. I am consulted regularly by criminologists.
It was typewriter evidence that formed the core of the case against Alger Hiss. He was convicted officially on two counts of perjury committed before an espionage-hunting federal grand jury in December 1948. But even a schoolkid knew that behind it all lay ex-Communist Whittaker Chambers’ spectacular charges, that Hiss had been passing him confidential State Department data up until the time Chambers deserted the Communist Party in April 1938. The government charged that forty-two out of forty-three such documents produced by Chambers had been written on the same typewriter as a number of notes and letters admittedly typed in the Hiss home during the same period.
Through more than 8,000 pages and 2,300,000 words of trial testimony, Woodstock typewriter model No. 230,099, built around August 1929, sat on the courtroom table in New York’s Foley Square. It was conceded at the time of the trial to have belonged to the Hisses. Government prosecutor Thomas F. Murphy used the typewriter to bring his case against Hiss to a flashing climax. Pointing dramatically to the machine, he told the jury that if ever there was a charge against Hiss, that typewriter was “the immutable witness forever against” him. In fact, Hiss himself practically labeled the typewriter the same way.
When the lean and youthful-looking ex-State Department official stood sober-faced before Federal Judge Henry W. Goddard on January 25, 1950, he was granted permission to make a statement before sentencing.
In a packed courtroom, the reporters could be seen leaning forward intently, pencils poised, for what was expected to be a dramatic declaration of innocence – or a confession! But Hiss declared simply: “I am confident that in the future all the facts will be brought out to show how Whittaker Chambers was able to commit forgery by typewriter. Thank you, sir.”
What did Hiss mean? Undoubtedly, he meant that somewhere, somehow, someone got hold of letters that had actually been typed on his Woodstock when he owned it. Then these letters were used to make a machine that would reproduce specimens – or documents – with the same characteristics of typewriter habits, type-face design, deviations, and flaws. The experts must have laughed.
Much of the expert opinion today comes from a handful of professional men known as the American Society of Questioned Document Examiners. Ramos Feehan, FBI expert on questioned documents, fulfilled that role for the government’s case against Hiss, by comparing the copied State Department documents to letters written by the Hisses on their Woodstock back in 1937.
Using easels, charts and photographic blowups, Feehan showed the jury how the small a, d, e, g, i, 1, o, u, and the capital A in the evidence had all the earmarks of the same type faces found in the Hiss letters. That would be upsetting evidence in any man’s court. Feehan’s accuracy was not contested by the defense.
Is there a chance that identity between typewriter characteristics could crop up accidentally in two different machines? Possibly. But such a coincidence is remote, to say the least. This was effectively demonstrated by a Cornell University mathematics professor, Virgil Snyder, in a 1911 New York Supreme Court case, the People vs. Risley.
Risley had been accused of fraudulently altering an affidavit by typewriter. During the course of the trial, Professor Snyder testified that the chances of only six type characters appearing accidentally with identical design and deviations in the same six type characters of another machine would have to be expressed as somewhere between one in 3 trillion to 4 trillion – a virtually impossible accident. FBI expert Feehan was content to point out ten such similarities in the Hiss trial!
Oddly enough, the Risley trial is the only known case in which a conviction was obtained because it was shown that Risley had actually attempted to alter type faces on one machine to duplicate another. The attempt was made by a typewriter mechanic in a secondhand typewriter shop, but was crude and readily discovered. The mechanic later testified, though, that he had been suspicious of Risley’s intentions and had not made as many alterations as he should have. I was setting out to make the duplication as complete and accurate as I could.
Unusual jobs aren’t anything new to me – though this one promised to be in a class by itself. My customers include professionals ranging from designers and architects to druggists, chemists, engineers, astronomers, and a newspaper columnist who writes on bridge. I design and build keyboards for them in the special symbols of their respective fields. For musicians, I have made keyboards with musical notes. For a well-known mystery writer, I once designed a keyboard with a variety of crosses and bones, and an astronomer once left my office with a typewriter containing a fantastic array of space symbols, such as ringed planets, comets and stars. A few years ago, I had a man ask me to build him a typewriter with question marks – nothing but question marks. On top of that, he wanted each symbol to fall at a certain level above or below the line. It was probably the weirdest request I’ve ever received. I completed the job according to his specifications, but I never did learn what it was all about.
Perhaps one of my most interesting jobs found me a PFC in the Army. I got into the Army in January 1943. A few months later I was discharged, but not for good. It seems that the U.S. government had seized a contraband shipment of 100 Siamese typewriters leaving for ports unknown. Nobody knew what to do with such a strange catch. They were placed under the custody of the National City Bank in New York. It was at a time when we ourselves were experiencing a serious war-bred shortage of typewriters. Few knew at the time that one of the most urgent needs for typewriters with foreign-language keyboards was with OSS forces planted in different countries. Someone suggested that the Siamese typewriters be converted for this use. But there was trouble in finding a man for the job. And, with the materials shortage, there was trouble in finding the appropriate foreign type and symbols. I already had many of these in my shop. I stock more than two million type faces, mostly foreign-language and technical.
Fortunately, I had once done some unique foreign-language work for a National City Bank branch manager. When he heard about the need for converting the typewriters, he passed my name along, together with the suggestion that I could convert them for use on several languages at a time.
One day in August 1943, while I was assigned as a typewriter repairman at Fort Jay in New York, a confidential order came through from the War Production Board in the form of a directive. It asked my command to release me for a top-secret job. No one at Fort Jay knew what it was all about; neither did I. When I was confronted with the problem, I told top Army brass in Washington that I could make each of the typewriters work for many languages. I was told to use my own shop, which was being run by my wife largely for typewriter rentals – still a good part of my business today – because they did not want word of the project to leak out. The typewriters had to be flown overseas, then dropped by parachute to dozens of OSS underground headquarters.
In order to keep the project under a tight lid, I was actually discharged from the Army on August 25, 1943, and given a Certificate of Service to certify that I had “served in the active Army,” in order to keep my draft board from getting too inquisitive and to keep the cops from picking me up. Once in mufti, I returned to my shop and sealed off an entire section of one workroom. I did everything possible to keep my work secret. But I had to make up some strange stories for a lot of curious neighbors who, until they read this, never could figure out why I had been released from the Army after only a few months of service. I have always been on the tall, round and broad-shouldered side, so to them I was the healthiest 4-F ever seen under a shock of light-brown hair.
Within three months, I had completed the assignment. The Siamese keyboard had forty-six type bars. Hence, I was able to do more with them than I had done with any other machine. I was able to arrange a keyboard that could be used for seventeen languages in all, including French, Spanish, Czech, Hungarian, Turkish, Danish and German. I never did learn just where they were dropped.
When I was “re-enlisted,” I was returned to Fort Jay. There I was placed in charge of typewriter repair and given similar responsibility over 14,000 machines in the New York area – with a crew of more than a dozen technicians and still a PFC! Later, I was made a staff sergeant in time to be discharged as such on November 26, 1945.
Unquestionably, though, I still consider work on tracing questioned documents my most exciting and challenging assignments. But for excitement and challenge, I’d never had anything to compare with the job I was starting out to do on the Hiss case. This promised to be the biggest one yet.
To get started, I asked Lane’s secretary to get specimens for me from Woodstock No. 230,099. I asked her for single-spaced pages of typing with whole lines of capital A’s, then whole lines of small a’s, and to continue like that until she had covered every symbol on the machine. Then I asked her to do the same thing over, except to place capital N’s and H’s next to each letter, like NaNaNa, HaHaHa. The N’s and H’s act as guides against which other letters can be properly aligned. The reason is simple.
Most typewriters carry pica or elite type. Any ten symbols on a pica machine, including space between letters, fill a horizontal inch. Six vertical lines of type also cover an inch. On an elite machine, the only difference is that it takes twelve symbols to fill a horizontal inch. The Hiss Woodstock is a pica machine. Each of its letters, therefore, fills an imaginary rectangle of one-tenth of an inch horizontally and one-sixth of an inch vertically. Any divergence from this alignment is consequently one of the means by which experts trace typewritten documents. The letters N and H are neat guides against which a mechanic can work to make one specimen of typewriting match another in perfect alignment.
After I got the specimens I had asked for, I went to my own morgue of beat-up typewriters, which I have collected over the years as a source of parts, and I selected a Woodstock model No. 231,195. It undoubtedly was built in the same year as No. 230,099, if not during the same month. I compared specimens from both under a magnifying glass and a binocular comparison microscope. When I first looked at these side by side, I noticed that my specimens had far fewer inconsistencies than those taken from the Hiss machine. The latter appeared alien to the Woodstock. In fact, this led me to remark facetiously to a member of Lane’s staff that I was making a forgery of a forgery.
In making a forgery, however, you have to be concerned with more than differences in type-face defects and design. To prevent detection by the experts, you have to create the same regular or irregular alignment pattern that may show up in specimens of the machine you are forging. You’d also have to get the same regularity of shading. For instance, since it’s almost impossible to get each type face to print uniformly by striking dead center, as it should, magnification by experts will show up a regular pattern of certain letters darker or lighter on one side.
My major task was to get all the type-face defects and characteristics of the Hiss machine engraved into other Woodstock type faces. Since forgery was never my line, I decided to enlist the services of a topnotch hand engraver. Every expert engraver I visited in New York refused the job when I told him it was in connection with an assignment from the Hiss legal defense. I was finally able to locate a retired engraver in a small New Jersey town. Interested by the experimental nature of the job, he consented to take on the assignment. I brought an old Woodstock with me and taught him how to remove type.
I gave him some photographic blowups of typing from the Hiss machine and asked him, as a test, to duplicate any two type faces in the blowups. A few days later, I returned to pick up what he had done. He said it was a slow, tedious job, but not difficult. That evening I examined the results of his work under the microscope. His success was amazing. I knew from then on all that had to be done was for me to give him enough type on which he could copy the exact characteristics of the Hiss-machine type faces. I would then solder the forged type faces onto my Woodstock type bars – the slender metal fingers which fly up to strike the paper. This would be followed by the mechanical adjustments.
Meanwhile, I knew that the end results of my work would have to be scrutinized by an outstanding document examiner. His job would be to examine my specimens against the Hiss specimens and, with his fresh and expert eyes, detect flaws that might escape me. I also wanted other opinions about the possibility of accomplishing what I had set out to do. All document examiners I had visited refused a professional assignment to assist me. Instead, they berated me.
Once I went to see Albert D. Osborn, a heavyset balding man of about 50, whose father, the late Albert S. Osborn, is considered the founder of scientific questioned-document examination. He greeted me cordially but formally in his Woolworth Building office. He told me that he had heard some disquieting news that I was doing “something illegal.” That surprised me. But I was really shocked when he added that it would get me into a lot of trouble.
It seems that word had got around. Like others I had visited, he declined to take on the assignment, on the grounds that success in my task would not serve the ends of justice. It was my old argument thrown right back at me:
“If anything,” I told him, “I am undertaking a purely scientific experiment. Any knowledge we can gain from it would help, not hinder, justice. If there is something we don’t know about questioned typewritten documents, now is as good a time as any to find out.”
When I left his office, I was considerably upset. Here was the man who had testified in the famous trial of Bruno Hauptmann, later executed for kidnaping and murdering the Lindbergh baby. Here was the man who first introduced ultraviolet light to document examination. Was I really doing something wrong, and in the end, perhaps, making a fool of myself?
I went to my bookshelf that night and pulled out Questioned Document Problems by Albert S. Osborn, which I consider the most authoritative book in its field. I had read it many times before. I was up all night, reading it again. This time I was struck by this statement toward the end of the book: “The scientific spirit seeks the truth at all hazards and gradually unlocks the great secrets and brings about the desirable reforms.” (my italics). It was enough to convince me that if anyone’s conception of the scientific attitude was wrong, it was not mine.
It was then, too, I decided that I would not submit my typewriter unless it came out as nearly perfect as possible, not in just matching the ten letters FBI expert Feehan had chosen to use as comparisons in his testimony at the Hiss trial, but perfect in every conceivable variation of all eighty-four type faces. It was this decision that led me on a hunt for type that was to take me as far as Detroit and Chicago.
I was not content to find type of the same design. I wanted type which had practically no wear, so that I could get every single defect of the Hiss machine’s type faces engraved onto the type faces of my forgery.
After taking my own Woodstock morgue apart, I went to a former Woodstock company branch office in New York. With a magnifying glass, I checked every type face they had in stock. It took several days. I bought more than 500 type faces and took them home, soldered them onto type bars, put them in my machine, and struck off specimens. Over a period of about two weeks, during which I compared each of my specimens against the standards, I finally selected a handful for my New Jersey engraver to work on. It was during the month of June and he was busy doing work all day on wedding gifts. At night he worked for me.
Several weeks later, I got a call from New Jersey, a call that was to set all my plans back more than a year. My engraver had come down with tuberculosis and had to enter a sanatorium. I went back to pick up all my type and tools, and began looking for a new engraver. After weeks of futile searching, I was given the name of a first-rate engraver not far from my own office.
First, I wanted to see if he would do the job if it were for something entirely different. So I took along some samples of Hindi type and told him these had to be adjusted, otherwise in a Hindi typewriter they would have different meanings. He said he could do it easily and asked me to come back with the rest of my samples. But when I returned, of course, I had only Woodstock type with me. Then I told him it was in connection with my Hiss-case assignment. He blew up in my face.
“If you lay in a gutter with lice, you get lousy,” he exploded. “I don’t want any trouble. Take your damned type and get the hell out of here.” I argued, but it only made him more violent.
I told my wife, Pearl, about this experience. Tears came to her eyes. She pleaded with me to drop the assignment. “We have two children,” she sobbed. “We took years to build up our business; we’re begging for trouble.” Her voice rose to a pitch near hysteria.
“We’re doing nothing wrong,” I found myself shouting back.
“No,” she cried, “but why should we be pioneers? We’re bucking public opinion. Everyone you’ve seen is against you. They predict trouble. They threaten trouble. Don’t you realize it might ruin us?”
After I had pacified her, I reasoned. I told her that yielding to fear was a poor excuse for canceling a business obligation. This was as much a part of my business as renting a machine. I said, “I’d rather a thousand times that my children be proud of parents who refused to be beaten to their knees than of parents who ran a successful business.
“Besides,” I added firmly, “we may lose a few narrow-minded customers, but as long as we do honest work we’ll gain others. We’re doing nothing criminal. Nobody can put us out of business.”
We argued for weeks. Finally, she agreed to my views and I told her that I would do the engraving myself, though I knew my own engraving skill was such that I would probably drag the assignment out for more than a year. I knew, too, that I would probably ruin ten pieces of type for every one I would succeed in engraving properly.
This began a mad merry-go-round hunt for old Woodstocks from which I could remove more type. My wife got on the telephone and called just about every typewriter dealer in New York. I examined thousands of Woodstocks with serial numbers close to 230,099, and took home whatever pieces of type I felt were good enough to work on.
Essentially, the engraving process called for the use of three tools: diamond-tipped chisels for cutting into the hard steel type faces, a triangular India stone for rubbing down chisel marks, and a superfine dental buffing tool to finish surfaces.
From nearly 2,000 pieces of type I had collected, I succeeded in sorting out and duplicating twenty-five to match the Hiss specimens. I would need seventeen more. Another intensive search around New York failed to yield the kind of type I wanted.
Meanwhile, I used what I had already completed and ran off a few specimens. Together with a member of the Hiss defense staff, I went to Chicago and Detroit to continue the hunt. These were major business areas close to Woodstock, Illinois, the town from which the company originally got its name. It was recently bought out by the R. C. Allen Company.
At the same time, I decided to submit my forged specimens to a document expert in Chicago. Choosing a name at random from the classified telephone directory, I went to the office of D. W. Schwartz at 10 South LaSalle Street. I gave him my specimens and the Hiss machine specimens. He examined them all.
“Could you tell me how many machines were involved in typing these?” I asked.
“All came from one machine,” was his answer.
I was elated. Little more than half my goal was accomplished, and already I was able to stump an expert! The Chicago and Detroit hunt yielded another ten type faces into which I was able to engrave successfully all the necessary characteristics of the Hiss specimens. But I was still short seven.
On a hunch, I made a return trip to the Brownsville Typewriter Company in Brooklyn. It was like falling into an abandoned mine of Woodstocks. They often buy old typewriters from junk peddlers, and they had taken in a bunch of old Woodstocks since my last visit. I rented all the old Woodstocks I wanted from them on the condition that any type I removed I would replace with another. This maneuver got me enough type to finish the job.
From that point on, I had to work on mechanical adjustments almost exclusively. After all the letters were aligned, I had to adjust the typewriter so that the spacing between lines was exactly like the Hiss machine to within a thousandth of an inch. Most people know that the typewriter spacing handle, attached to the carriage and to a ratchet at the end of the roller, can be set on most typewriters for single, double or triple spacing. The hard-rubber roller itself, however, plays an important although microscopic part in spacing. The manner in which it is ground and the hardness of the rubber used will make fractional differences between hues, which experts can detect through magnification, although to the naked eye six lines of typing on any typewriter will still apparently cover one vertical inch. On an old machine, as the rubber wears down, variations of the spaces between lines become more apparent. Experts can detect and measure these variations by placing a special transparent ruler over specimens of typing.
I went to the Ames Supply Company in New York, a firm known to the trade for its specialization in recovering old rollers through grinding. I had them grind about thirty different rollers for me – with deviations from the standard thickness ranging from a thousandth to one two-thousandth of an inch, and in five different rubber densities. I put these in my machine and on each copied a page of typescript from the Hiss machine. None was good enough. I went back to Ames and borrowed a tool called the Ames Densimeter, which was designed originally by that company to eliminate human error in gauging roller densities. Only about twelve of these delicate instruments are in existence. It looks like a small watch with a sweep second-hand and a needlelike plunger sticking out from its rim. The plunger is inserted into the rubber and the hand moves around. Where it stops, you get a density reading. From the rollers I had, I chose two which were closest in matching spacing on the Hiss specimens. I got a density reading on each roller. Between these I struck an average and got the company to grind just such a roller for me.
It worked perfectly. But another major defect had to be copied from the Hiss specimens. This was a tendency of the Hiss machine to “creep,” that is, to crowd letters toward the right-hand edge of the paper. This I knew was caused by a defect in the Hiss machine escapement. There’s no one part in a typewriter by that name. It’s a combination of parts in the back of and under the machine which control the typewriter’s spacing from one letter to the next. Through trial and error, I made enough escapement adjustments to match perfectly the same creep in the Hiss specimens.
By this time I had achieved what I felt was a successful forgery. But I was too close to the machine. My eyes had become stale. Emotionally, I had come to regard it almost as if it were a third child in my family. Every time I moved it, I was fearful of dropping it.
Once more we made the rounds for the assistance of another expert. One, J. H. Haring in New York, who had been consulted in the case by the defense lawyers before the first Hiss trial, was willing to discuss the possibility of further employment in the case. But he finally decided to refuse to work with us, on the grounds that, if he were to take part in our experiment, he would be helping to make a machine to deceive his brother experts, and he thought that would be unethical!
As the search for an expert continued, though sporadically, it was decided that I ought to remove my forged typewriter to a safe place. On December 28, 1950, after strapping a .38 caliber revolver around my waist, I left my office with a friend in a new Cadillac sedan. I was not being theatrical. During the time I had been working on the machine, many strange things had been taking place.
Once, in early 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 was gone.
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.
I finally reported everything to the police. They suggested that these were the techniques of clever burglars. After that I hid the machine I was working on, and scattered several other similar machines around the house, in an effort to confuse any attempt at stealing my “third child.”
After I deposited the machine in a Marine Midland Bank vault, I went back to my office and Lane gave me a check for $5,000. I signed a note giving him complete title to the machine. I agreed, however, to continue any work found necessary by any document expert willing to check me on what I had done.
A New England colleague finally put Lane in touch with Elizabeth McCarthy of Boston. A tall, dynamic woman in her forties, with the vigor and charm of an Ethel Barrymore, Miss McCarthy is probably the only woman questioned-document expert in this country. She is used regularly by the Massachusetts State Police and the Boston police. For sixteen years, despite her own standing as a lawyer, she has done little more than work on thousands of questioned documents, and has been giving expert testimony in courts around the nation at least twice a week. She has been responsible for the discovery of direct clues in some of the nation’s most spectacular document mysteries, and she has testified in many criminal cases.
She agreed readily to taking an assignment on the case. But there were many long delays, one for a period of six months, before Miss McCarthy, a busy woman herself, and I settled down to a close examination of all the typewritten specimens in my home. When we had decided that there were still some minor flaws in my work, I decided to re-engrave new type faces. This called for a new hunt for Woodstock type. It was late in 1951. After weeks of meticulous searching, I came across a small Woodstock branch store in a dingy section of Newark, New Jersey.
I made arrangements for a special appointment with the store manager on a Saturday morning, and drove out there with my wife early in January 1952. I explained to the manager what I was after, but told him nothing about its connection with the Hiss case. He led me to the basement through a trap door a little to the right of the store’s center. From under an old wooden table in a neatly kept room, he hauled out a battered wooden crate used for packing typewriters for export. There were about 1,200 type bars in the box. They were kept in sets. I chose four sets and went over to a workbench light to examine them closely, though without benefit of a magnifying glass. He looked at me suspiciously. I also examined several old Woodstock machines. On several I found just what I was looking for. I arranged to rent the machines overnight.
“I might remove some of the type bars,” I said. “But I’ll replace any I do take.”
“That’s all right,” he said.
Then, just as I began gathering the machines upstairs to load in my Plymouth suburban, he 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.
On the afternoon of January 24, 1952, I dictated my affidavit to Lane’s secretary, attesting to the fact that the machine in Lane’s possession was fabricated by me.
During my last weekend working with Miss McCarthy, however, we had a final set of specimens made. These were made under a variety of conditions on the forged typewriter and on the Hiss machine. In sum, it was a formula designed to put document experts to the supreme scientific test. This formula is now a sealed code in a bank vault. It reveals just which specimens were typed on the forged machine, how they were typed, and under what conditions.
An example, perhaps, of how I think the experts will be stunned can be seen in a letter Mr. Lane received only a few days before I filed my affidavit. Dated January 14, 1952, it came from Donald Doud, a prominent Detroit questioned-document examiner.
“To subscribe to the theory that typewriter 230,099 was a manufactured machine,” he wrote, “one would have to assume that some individual had specimens of letters written on the machine that Alger Hiss used, and possessed the ability, knowledge and skill to discover all the type-face defects apparent in these documents, and then in some manner proceed to have these defects incorporated in typewriter 230,099. To me this is an almost impossible task. I don’t think the expert in Boston (Miss McCarthy) could do it, nor could anyone else…”
Oddly enough, he had outlined generally just the way such a forgery would have to be done; he doubted only that it could be done. Of course, I never saw Woodstock No. 230,099, but my Woodstock is No. 231,195. If any expert thinks he can tell the difference between typing from my forgery and typing from 230,099, his conclusions will be judged impartially – by the sealed code.
One expert has already tried. She is Mrs. Evelyn S. Ehrlich, who for more than ten years was employed by Harvard University’s Fogg Museum of Art to detect deceptive print and typography. She was asked to apply her unique skills in comparing the Hiss-Tytell specimens. But she was told definitely that two machines were involved. Using a microscope with a magnification of thirty, more than six times the magnification I had used, she declared in a sworn statement that “an amazingly faithful reproduction of the so-called Hiss machine had been fabricated in almost every respect.”
“Except for subtle details,” she continued, “I found that microscopic variations on one machine had been duplicated on the other so faithfully that I might not have believed it possible if I had not been informed that two machines were involved.”
So far as I know, this story reveals for the first time how forgery by typewriter can be committed. The experts may now come down on my neck, saying that I have disclosed secrets which might encourage others to commit typewriter forgery and get away with it. I have searched my conscience long and hard, but I cannot agree with them. It would be the same as if someone were to say that newspapers should not print the details of crimes because it only gives criminals and potential criminals encouragement. So long as there are good detectives, criminals can be outwitted. As far as I am concerned, I stand solidly with Miss McCarthy when, in her affidavit, she said that the “profession of document examiners, as well as the public at large, were entitled to learn whether any such experiment could be successfully conducted, since, if it could, general knowledge of the fact would be essential as a means of preventing numbers of forgeries which might otherwise be successfully carried out.”
After I had filed my affidavit, my telephone did not stop ringing for days. Practically every news agency, radio and television correspondent wanted a statement from me. Some made fancy offers to demonstrate my work on television. All had many, many questions. At the request of Chester T. Lane, however, lest I disclose the details of my work in such a way that might antagonize the courts, I refused to answer any questions.
Some of the typical questions appeared in a feature article by Bert Andrews, prize-winning veteran Washington correspondent for The New York Herald Tribune. In a lengthy article on the typewriter last January 27, he asked:
“How long has the work on the typewriter gone on? Since the time of [Hiss’s] sentencing? Or even before that?
“How was the ‘manufacturing’ done?”
“How much did it cost?
“And why – that is, from personal sympathy for Mr. Hiss, or from scientific interest to see whether it could be done?
The facts, he said, were important to any student of the Hiss case. The next week he followed up with another article, saying he had done some research, and attempted to describe how I might have done the job.
I think this story gives all the answers.