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THE first five years of Murray's service with the Government in Canada were drawing to a close in 1880. They had been five eventful years. He had done his difficult work faithfully and well. He added to the name and fame, not only of the Department of Justice, but of himself. He had handled successfully scores of cases of varying degrees of importance, from atrocious murders to petty and persisted thievings. The Government in no instance had called upon him in vain. But clever as he was, able and resourceful as he had proved himself to be, as till severer test of his qualities was about to come, and a task was to rise before him beside which all former cases seemed simple and insignificant. It was the Million Dollar Counterfeiting.
This crime is known as one of the boldest and greatest of its kind ever undertaken. It was a crime of genius. The man who solved its mystery ran its perpetrators to earth, was a detective of genuine worth. His trophy of the chase rests on a stand in his library, one of the largest hauls of counterfeit plates ever made on the American continent, plates that are worth over $40,000, plates that set in circulation bogus money totalling over $1,000,000 so true to the genuine currency that to this day some of it is in circulation, and banks could not tell it was counterfeit.
"In the months of March, April and May in 1880," says Murray, "Canada was flooded with the most dangerous counterfeit bills ever put in circulation. Banks took the bogus banknotes over their own counters, and could not tell they were not genuine. Officials whose signatures were forged could not tell the forged signature from the genuine. Good and bad bills were laid side by side, an experts had to resort to scientific methods to tell which were good and which were bad. The bills appeared all over Canada. It is known now that over $1,000,000 of them were sent out. In the far north-west $200,000 of this money was paid for furs that were shipped to England, Montreal, and New York from this remote country where there were no banks, and to the present time some of it is in circulation there, and is good money. The banks, as I have said, took them over their own counters to my positive knowledge.
"One of the counterfeits was a United States $5 bill of the Government issue of 1875. It was one of the first to be discovered. It was detected in Washington by accident. An expert in connection with the Treasury Department happened to run across one of the new bills. He remarked that it was better work and a prettier bill than any he had ever seen. The one fault was the bill was too perfect. The expert took it to the Treasury Department to hunt up the series of numbers, and he found the bill was a counterfeit. Secret Service men were detailed at once. They set to work. Two or three were over here. This was before there was much talk of our counterfeits being in circulation. The Secret Service men got no trace of the counterfeiters.
"Then came the discovery of the Canadian counterfeits. Numbers on new bills on this side were compared, after the United States Secret Service men began to work and stir around, and the discovery was made that wholesale counterfeiting of Canada bills had occurred. The banks were in a stew. Everybody was stirred up. Business men were worried. The Government instructed me to get to the bottom of it, and above all to get the plates, and thereby stop further issue of the bills. I found the following Canada counterfeit bills in circulation:
"A $10 bill on the Bank of Commerce.
"A $5 bill on the Bank of Commerce, whose head office is Toronto, with branches all over Canada.
"A $5 bill on the Bank of British North America, of Toronto, with branches all over the country.
"A $10 bill on the Ontario Bank.
"A $4 bill on the Dominion Bank.
"A $1 bill Dominion of Canada, Government issue.
"There is any amount of this currency out still. Harrington, the signer of the Government issue, could not detect the forgery of his own signature. The counterfeiters were so bold and so daring that, as I have said, $200,000 was paid for furs and was accepted, and to this day part of it is in circulation in the north-west, and is as good as gold for all practical purposes out there. Even the banks whose bills were counterfeited accepted the counterfeits over their own counters. They denied that they ever paid any of them out again. The bills were afloat in all sections of the country and there was a great stir.
"It was my old line of work, although I was a little rusty, for I had lost track of some of the details of the whereabouts of the various people. I started out, and I knew at the outset that I was tackling one of the hardest cases of my life. The principals, not the small fry, alone held the plates. I went to New York, taking with me specimens of the Canada bills and of the United States bills, for the United States bill also was in suspiciously large circulating in Canada. In New York I went at once to the cooney places, and looked for cooney men. I found no one who had any information. From New York I went to Philadelphia, and there I made the usual rounds of the cooney , places and also called on the officers. I learned nothing. The Secret Service men had been over the ground before me without avail. From Philadelphia I went to Washington, and called at the Treasury Department. John Sherman, of Ohio, was Secretary of the Treasury. Jim Brooks, and old Englishman, was chief of the Secret Service the,. I talked with the officers, and learned nothing. Back to New York I went empty-handed.
"In the old days in New York I had known some of the counterfeiters and ex-counterfeiters, and I got track of two or three of them in the cooney places or resorts they frequent, and finally I struck the trail of a man who was an expert in his day, and who was thoroughly up in counterfeiting and the work of counterfeiters. He had been a counterfeiter himself in the old days, and I had known him when I was working for the United States some years before. I showed him the bills. Counterfeiters often know each other's work. In using the word counterfeiters in this sense I mean the engravers, the men who make the plates. An expert engraver of counterfeit plates usually can tell within a group of men, if not the very man, who made the plate from which a bill was printed. They seem to recognise some bit of character, some intangible trait in the work that enable them to identify its maker, or the group from whence it came.
"My ex-counterfeiter in New York looked the bills over very carefully.
"'They are beauties,' he said. 'It looks very much like the work of old John Hill, but I think Hill has been locked up since he got the $10,000 for making those last plates of his. Yet it looks like Hill's work.'
"I knew Hill. He was an old, crooked engraver whose home was in New York, and who had done time twice. he charged a fee of $10,000 for making the ;plates for bogus bills, and would have nothing to do with shoving the queer that is, circulating the money. I went to Albany, and thence to Troy to see another old cooney man who had reformed. He looked at the bills.
"'They look like Hill's,' said he, 'but I know Hill has not been situated in recent years so he had time to make them.'
"I thought the plates, wherever they might be, were the handiwork of Prussian Mark Ulrich, and that Pete McCarthy might have aided him, they were so perfect.
"No," said my cooney acquaintance whom I saw in Troy, 'they look like Hill, and next to Ed Johnson, Hill is the best man in the world to-day. They are not Prussian Mark's.'
"I ran down Hill's whereabouts and satisfied myself that he had nothing to do with the Canada plates in this work. It required several years to make plates, for a crooked engraver worked only at certain hours of the day, in a certain light, and the plates that made the bills I had were masterpieces from a master's hand.
"I decided to try Chicago, and see what I could learn there. I was on my way west from New York to Chicago, with Hill dropped from my consideration, when my mind turned to Ed Johnson. Where was he? I remembered the tales I had heard of him. He was an Englishman by birth, who was an educated man, who had married an educated Englishwoman. He learned the trade of an engraver, and the young couple moved to America, and he was supposed to be honest, and worked at his trade until, when the Civil War came on, some one made a fortune out of $100, $50, and $20 counterfeit banknotes, and Johnson had been mixed up in it, and later was reported to have returned to England. My Troy cooney man agreed, as a matter of course, that Johnson was the ablest man in the business, and the bills were beauties created by a master. They were the best ever seen, and unless a greater than Johnson had arisen, it was Johnson's. I determined to account for Johnson as I had accounted for Hill. So I went on to Chicago, and there I learned that the last trace of Johnson in the business in that section of the country was in Indianapolis several years before. I learned this from an old time ex-counterfeiter whom I had known in 1867, and who had settled in Chicago. I conferred also with the United States authorities in Chicago. At every step in this case thus far, I had occasion to be thankful for my United States Government experience at the close of the Civil War, and for the acquaintance I built up at that time among officers and ex-counterfeiters and counterfeiters themselves.
"My next move was to Indianapolis, where I was well acquainted. I called on United States Senator McDonald, and others. I was on the hunt for trace of Ed Johnson. I learned that a family named Johnson had lived in Indianapolis about six years before in elegant style in a big house, with horses, carriages, coachman, footman, and quite a retinue of servants. They spent lavishly, and lived luxuriously. Then came trouble in the form of an accusation that they were counterfeiters. The Johnsons promptly retained McDonald & Butler as their counsel, and I understood they paid the attorneys a $25,000 fee for defending them. They finally got clear, but the trouble had affected their position in Indianapolis, and they went away.
"In the family were Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, two beautiful girls and five boys. The daughters were Jessie and Arnie Johnson, both clever, accomplished girls. The boys were Tom, Charlie, Johnnie, Elijah, and David Henry. I knew three of them myself. I learned from friends of their counsel that when they left Indianapolis they moved to Cincinnati. I went on to Cincinnati, and found they had lived in Sixth Street there, and had occupied a big house over in Covington, Ky., for a while. They had left there several years before, and through one of their acquaintances I learned they had gone to Hartford, Ct. I went to Hartford, and found the house there where they had lived in strict seclusion, seldom being seen on the street. They had moved from Hartford to a big, old house near Fall River Mass. I located this house, but there were gone, bag and baggage, almost a year before, and there I lost the trail. I worked like a beaver trying to get some trace of them. But they had burned all bridges behind them.
"I finally went from Fall River back to New York, and saw the man I had seen there before.
"'Do you know old Johnson?' I asked him.
"'Yes, but I have not seen him in years,' was the reply. 'He is as clever as they make. He used to get on drunks, and his family had a desperate time watching him.'
"'Where is he likely to be now?' I asked.
"'They have money, Murray,' said he. 'Old Mrs. Johnson is rich. In the first two or three years of the war they rolled in it, and the old woman always is looking out for a rainy day. I heard they left the country.'
"We talked the matter over fully. It was in a little restaurant. I remember the cubby-hole in which we sat. I told him to bring his glass next day, and study the bills. He did so. We had luncheon in my room, and he examined the bills minutely. For three hours or so he fussed over them, studying them under the glass. At last he looked up.
"'Well?' said I. 'Mark Ulrich?'
"'No,' said he. 'Hill may have done the States $5 bill, but Johnson did the Canada bills.'
"'Are you sure of Johnson's work?' I asked.
"'As sure as I would be of my own in the old days,' said he.
"'And you have no idea where Johnson is?' I asked.
"'Not the slightest, Murray,' said he. 'I tried to get a hint of him last night, but the best I can learn is that he is out of the country possibly in England, unless there is a job on the Continent.'
"I dug around New York, and was baffled. I knew young Dave Johnson, and Tom, who was lame, and Johnnie. But the whole family had vanished when the left Fall River. I went to buffalo and saw a retired man there, but nobody knew where Johnson was. From Buffalo I went to Detroit, and saw a man who used to be an expert bank-note engraver, and who had got square. He had no trace of the Johnsons, but agreed, as had my other acquaintances, to endeavour to find some track of them. By this time I was becoming satisfied that the Johnsons had gone abroad or had moved to Canada, and were in personal charge of the distribution of the counterfeit money. As a rule, the engravers or plate-makers had little to do with shoving or passing the bogus money. I went up to my room n the hotel at Detroit. I intended to take a train an hour later, but became so absorbed in contemplation of the case that I missed the train. I thought it all over, and it became perfectly clear to my mind that the Johnsons, if they were to be found anywhere on this side of the Atlantic, were to be found in Canada, and probably right in or near Toronto, if they had not flown recently to other parts.
"Missing the train turned out to be a godsend. I took the next train for Toronto. When I alighted in Toronto I crossed to a saloon to get a welcome-home nip. I saw a figure at the other end of the bar. He turned. I stood face to face with Johnnie Johnson! If he had dropped from the clouds I could not have been more astonished, and if he had been the Recording Angel come to write my title clear, I could not have been more delighted. Johnnie was full. He stood alone at one end of the bar drinking.
"'I'll shadow you,' I said to myself.
"It was shortly after eleven o'clock at night. Johnnie
finished his drink, and went out. I went by the other door. I
was just in time to see Johnnie jump into a cab and drive away.
he was out of sight and sound before I could get a cab. I spent
that night and next looking for him. On the third night I spied
him. He was just slipping out of Mitchell & Ryan's saloon on
King street, between Bay and York streets. He walked quickly
down Bay Street, jumped into a cab, and drove away. I had kept a
cab within hail ever since I lost him the first night, so I
jumped into my cab, and away we went after Johnnie. He drove
north to Bloor Street, and at the corner of Bloor Street and
Avenue Road, not far from where the Parliament building is now,
he got out of the cab, paid the man and walked away. I
"'There's where the Johnsons are,' quoth I to myself, as I heard the door softly close.
"It was a hard house to shadow, there being no sheltered place near by. I made arrangements with the occupants of an adjacent house, and kept the Johnson house under surveillance. For five days after Johnnie Johnson entered the house, no one passed in or out except the butcher and the baker and the milkman. I saw the baker down town, and asked who lived there.
"'An old lady and gentleman, two nice-looking girls, and a couple of sons,' he said.
"I saw the milkman. He had seen the girls, and had heard them play and sing. The butcher saw the girls occasionally. I had no case on the Johnsons then, nothing beyond my certainty that they did the job. I kept watch of the house. One night lights burned in the parlour all night, and the piano was played until an early morning hour. I sat watching and waiting. Days and nights passed, and no one had appeared at the house. It was like a house where every one had gone away. But around seven o'clock in the morning, after the night of lights and music, the front door opened and old man Johnson himself, Edwin Johnson, the king of counterfeiters, appeared on the doorstep and walked jauntily down the street. I knew him the moment I saw him, for I had a dozen descriptions of him and a photograph, all of recent years. I had discarded the photograph, but my descriptions tallied to a dot. I trailed him. He stopped in almost every saloon on his way down town, but he paid for his drinks in genuine money. He got boozy, and finally he went to the railroad-station and bought a ticket for Markham. I sat six seats behind him on the train. We both got off at Markham. He went into a saloon, bought a drink. When he came out, I went in. There was a young bar-tender a saucy, smart aleck, but I had him call the proprietor, and through him I got the $1 bill that Johnson had given in pay for the drink. I paid silver for it, and had the proprietor initial it. I eyed it eagerly when I got it. It was a new Dominion $1 bill. I had my man at last.
Johnson went into place after place, buying a drink or cigar, and paying in bad bills. I followed him from place to place, buying the bills as he passed them. He passed one of the $4 Dominion Bank bills in a store, where he bought a necktie. In fact, he kept busy until train time, when he went back to Toronto. I went on the same train. When he alighted in Toronto, I stepped up and tapped him on the shoulder.
"'How do you do, Mr. Johnson?' said I.
"Johnson was a gentleman. He was a very polite, polished old fellow, grey-haired, dapper, and of precise speech.
"'You have the advantage of me, sir,' said he. 'I do not know you.'
"'I've seen you often on the other side,' I said.
"'Oh,' said he, 'who might you be?'
"'I am Detective Murray,' I said. 'We might as well understand each other. You are my prisoner.'
"'All right, sir,' said old Johnson very politely, and not in the least flustered. 'What is the charge?'
"'Counterfeiting,' said I.
"We walked along as we talked. Edwin Johnson looked like a prosperous banker as indeed he was, in bad money. He seemingly gave no heed to my answer.
"'Murray, Murray,' he mused. "Oh yes, I've heard of you. This is rather unexpected. It takes me quite by surprise. I never had the pleasure before, sir.'
"'I have met several members of your family,' I said.
"'Indeed?' he said. 'A very fine family, sir. Do you not agree with me? A fine family.'
"We walked on to the corner.
"'Well, good day, sir,' said Edwin Johnson. 'Very glad to have met you.'
"'Just a moment,' said I. 'You are my prisoner, Mr. Johnson. You are a counterfeiter. I have in my pocket the bogus money you passed at Markham, and you have the equivalent of my good money in your pocket.'
"Instantly he ceased bluffing, and his manner became grave and earnest. He seemed to sober up.
"'Is there no way of arranging this?' he said. 'It appears to be a serious matter.'
"'We'll talk it over,' said I, and I called a cab and took him to gaol.
"This was on a Friday, June 11th, 1880. I held him without a commitment, for I wanted nothing known of it. In the gaol he said:
"'Murray, I'd like another word with you. Can we not arrange this matter? Give me your terms. I have money. I mean good money,' he added, with a smile.
"I searched him, and found more bad bills on him. Then I told the gaoler to treat him well, and left him cigars and the like, and told him to think the matter over until Monday, when he would be in better condition to discuss it.
"'The only thing you can do with me,' I told him, on leaving, 'is to deliver up to me the plates and whole paraphernalia of counterfeiting.'
"On Saturday, next day, he sent for me, and I went to the gaol. He renewed his proposition. He told me to name any amount. He did it in a very nice way, saying that his friends could raise a considerable amount.
"'Nothing for me except the plates,' said I.
"'A foolish fellow,' said Edwin Johnson.
"As I was leaving he said: 'Murray, if you ever get into this line of business, don't drink. A man does things when he is drunk that he never would dream of doing when he is sober.'
"I knew he referred to passing the bills. Except when he was drunk Johnson never shoved or passed any bad bills. The shovers and the middlemen did not know him at all. Only the wholesale dealer knew him.
"'If I had not been drunk this would not have happened,' said Johnson, as I left him.
"On Monday I called again at the gaol. Johnson was as polite as if he were receiving me in the Indianapolis mansion of several years before.
"'Good morning,' said he. 'A very fine day, although a trifle hot outdoors, I should judge.'
"We talked a few minutes. I insisted that I must have the plates.
"'All I want is the plates,' I said.
"'I have thought it all over, Murray,' said Edwin Johnson. 'I sent for no lawyer. I sent no word home. I am going to turn everything over to you. We will have to go out and get it.'
"I had a cab. I sent for Detective John Hodgins, of Toronto Police Headquarters, and Johnson, Hodgins, and I drove away together. Johnson told the way. We drove out to Wells Hill into a piece of woods above Toronto. There we got out. The old man took observations. He spotted a large elm tree. As he sighted and moved around I thought of old Knapp and the buried plunder out of Erie.
"'There's where they are,' announced the old man.
"We took off our coats, got sticks, and began to dig. It was a blazing hot day. We dug and dug, and found nothing. I saw that the ground had not even been disturbed. I remembered Knapp, and told Johnson that he was mistaken. He went back and took another range, and tramped around, and finally pointed out another tree.
"'Here they are,' he said.
"'Sit down, Mr. Johnson, and cool off,' said I. "Mr. Hodgins, you take the cab and go get a spade.'
"I was determined not to waste any labour on what might be a fool's errand. During the absence of Hodgins I gently reminded Johnson that it was not a propitious time for a practical joke.
"'They are here, Murray,' he assured me. 'I vow they are here.'
"Hodgins returned with a spade, and he set to work. He dug while we waited. Finally he struck them. Johnson sprang forward and stayed his hand.
"'Careful, man! Careful!' said Johnson. 'They took years to make, and are worth over forty thousand dollars.'
"Johnson lifted them out as tenderly as a mother would raise her sick babe from a cradle. They were wrapped in oiled cloth, and were encased in solid coverings of beeswax.
"'Here they are, Murray,' said Johnson, handing them to me.
"They made a package the size of two big bricks, and were very heavy. I took Johnson back to the gaol, and then drove to the Attorney-General's Department with the plates. There I examined them, and saw they were the finest in the land. I marvelled at the firmness and precision of the strokes, the authority of the signatures, the beauty of the vignettes and the medallions, the accuracy of following all the little whimsies of the engravers of the original, genuine plates. For each bill there were three copper plates one for the front, one for the back, and one for the wedge. Each plate was about one quarter of an inch in thickness. I scored them criss-cross, and locked them up. Not only were the six Canada counterfeits in the lot, but the plates for the counterfeit States $5 bill were there. There twenty-one separate copper pieces or plates, three each for the Bank of Commerce $10, the Bank of Commerce $5, the Bank of British North America $5, the Ontario Bank $10, the Dominion Bank $4, the Government issues $1, and the United States $5.
"I went to the gaol and saw Johnson.
"'Yes,' said Johnson, when I asked him, 'Hill made the States $5, and I made the others. It took me years to do them.'
"Johnson then told me the whole story. He made the plates in the States. His daughters forged the signatures. They had been trained in forging or duplicating signatures since childhood. They would spend hours a day duplicating a single signature, and would work at the one name for months, writing it countless thousands of times. Jessie was better on larger handwriting, and Annie was better on smaller handwriting. The boys were learning to be engravers, and one or two of them were so proficient that the old man spoke of them with pride.
"'I am the best,' he said proudly, 'and one of my boys may become better than I.'
"He said they had printed large quantities of the bills. They printed once a year. After each printing the plates were encased in beeswax and oilcloth and buried, and the other paraphernalia was destroyed. The bills were turned over to the wholesale dealer in the queer. The wholesale dealer, in turn, placed it with the retail dealer, who placed it with the shover.
"'The engraver, the man who makes the plates, is the only one who deserves credit or praise,' said Johnson. 'He has the skill, the creative genius. Yet, Murray, every time I get drunk the debased desire comes over me to descend to the low level of a shover, a passer of the queer. I cannot account for it. It is my lower nature. When I drink I indulge in it, and because I drank and indulged in it you got me.'
"I told him it was through Johnnie I came upon him, and he was much relieved to think that he had not been the first to give me the scent. Johnson said the half interest in the plates was owned in the States. He had lived in the Hazelton Avenue house a little over twelve months, and had been out comparatively seldom during the entire year.
"On August 19th, 1880, I went to Washington, and called on the Hon. John Sherman, Secretary of the Treasury, and told him the story and showed to him the $5 bill plates of the State issue. He congratulated me, and said it was one of the most valuable hauls of counterfeit plates ever made. Secretary Sherman sent for Jim Brooks, chief of the Secret Service.
"'We want Mr. Murray used well in this matter,' said Secretary Sherman to Brooks.
"I gave Brooks the names of the parties I had obtained from Johnson. They were arrested, and gave the names of Howard and Swanston and others. Their right names were not given, and I received none of the credit that might otherwise have occurred.
"Edwin Johnson was placed on trial at the Fall Assizes in 1880, in Toronto, before Chief Justice Hagerty. When he was arraigned, the Chief Justice looked down at him and asked:
"'Who is your attorney?'
"'Murray,' said Johnson.
"'What Murray?' asked the Chief Justice.
"'Your lordship, he means Detective Murray,' said Counsel Aemelius Irving.
"There was much laughter. Seven indictments were read, one after another. Johnson pleaded guilty to every one. The counsel for the Crown asked the Court to suspend sentence, and the Court did so. Johnson was released, and I took him and his daughters to the States, where the United States authorities desired to make use of them. The family jumped out of Canada. The son Tom, the lame one, had started a blind tobacco store in King Street, Toronto. He was arrested in Erie, Pa. He was searched, and nothing was found. He carried a cane. Its top was unscrewed, and the cane was found to be stuffed with bogus bills. Tom went to the penitentiary for shoving.
"Johnnie Johnson was arrested in Black Rock at Buffalo, and locked up for shoving. I called to see him when he was in gaol. He got counsel, and escaped conviction. Six years ago Tom and Charlie were arrested at Sarnia, in Canada, for having counterfeit money, and they were convicted and sent to the penitentiary. They had no business setting foot in Canada. Johnnie was arrested here in Toronto, after getting out in Buffalo. He was shoving the $10 Bank of Commerce bill, and he got ten years in Kingston. He too should have stayed out of Canada.
"After Charlie got out of the Canadian penitentiary for the Sarnia business, he went to Detroit, and on August 12th, 1898, he and young Ed or Elijah were arrested. The old man was dead. The mother and sisters were living at No. 106, McGraw Avenue, Detroit. David Henry was living at No. 795, 26th Street, Detroit, and was married and had two children. Detectives Kane, Downey, and Reegan, with Webb, of the Secret Service, got them. They searched their houses, and found a hollow place in the base board which opened with a secret spring, and revealed a panel cabinet, in which was between $7,000 and $10,000 of counterfeit notes of the $2 Hancock issue and Windom issue of 1891 and 1893. On the bills, the eyes had an upward stare which was the only flaw. One of the family got away, and was caught at Blenheim, Ontario. The two girls were taken to Washington, as I had taken them in 1880. The mother was arraigned for disposing of counterfeit money. She always did the changing with the wholesale dealers.
"Old Hill in 1896 was still in prison in the United States, under the name of John Murphy. Part of the Johnson family is in prison, part is out and their whereabouts known, and part is dead.
"They were a wonderful family. Their biggest coup was the Canada counterfeiting. They placed over $1,000,000 of the Canada bills. Up in the Hudson Bay district the Johnson bills to this day pass as readily as gold. The capture of the plates put an end to the issue of more bills. The banks were delighted, of course. They had talked of a reward. I received it in thanks. A meeting was held of the bankers in the Receiver-General's office in Toronto, and I was thanked formally for what I had done. At that meeting I laid some for the Johnson bills side by side with some for the genuine bills. Some of the experts failed to tell which were good and which were counterfeit.
"I treated old man Johnson fairly. The Canada counterfeiting was broken up, the plates were captured and incapacitated, and the Johnsons lived in the States, or if they set foot again in Canada, went to prison. Crime lost a genius when old man Johnson died."