“The Unfinished Story”
In 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 from the article, 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.
One 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.
Just 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.
In 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.
How 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.
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 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 typefaces 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:
In 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 Chamberses 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.”
In 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.
One 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 scathing cross-examination.
The 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.
This 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.
At 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.”
The 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.
During this drawn-out 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.
Murphy’s 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.
While 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 rain.
“Well, 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.”
Later, 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.”
In 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.
There 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.
For 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 trials.
The 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.
The 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.
It 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.” Murphy continued:
Then 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.
While 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.
Two 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…”
Yet 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.
Ignoring 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.
This 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 had urged.
Such 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.
The 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.
The 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:
Then, 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.
This 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:
Once, 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 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.
Such 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.”
Despite 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 the forgery.
This 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.
While 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:
A 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.
The 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.
These 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.
Lane’s 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.”
Attempting to establish the identity of the Fansler-Hiss typewriter by another method, Lane’s investigators interviewed O. 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 returned them.
One 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.
Lane summed up the issues at stake in this pungent paragraph in his affidavit:
It 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 of democracy.
The 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 the task.
As 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 normally.”
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.
On 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 such differences.”
Miss 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.”
She 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.” 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 worn-ness 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.
The 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 that time.
In 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.
From 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.
A 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.
In 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 accused Hiss.
Newspapers hopped upon this disclosure. Their stories gave the impression that the evidence was new and settled for all time the “forgery by 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.
A 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.
The 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.