Daily News from New York, New York on December 25, 1983 · 52
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Daily News from New York, New York · 52

New York, New York
Issue Date:
Sunday, December 25, 1983
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fiD TO C "3 3 By JOSEPH McNAMARA I1T3HE COUNTERFEIT BILL was passed at a cigar store on Broadway near 102d St And it cost the proprietor who accepted it, as bogus bills always cost someone. But the victimized cigar-store man was too busy, running the shop alone, to check the bill closely. Even if he had had the time, it was unlikely that he would have scrutinized the money. It was a dollar bill. Who checks for phony dollar bills? - It was November 1938 and the economy, with war In the offing, was moving out of the Great Depression. The queer bill was caught by a local bank, which charged the cigar vendor's account $1 and turned the offending item over to the Secret Service, that part of the Treasury Department entrusted with keeping the currency pure. . The bill was shipped off to the Secret Service laboratory in Washington for analysis and a map was hung on the wall of the New York office of the bureau with a red thumbtack indicating where the bill was passed standard procedure when a counterfeit note is seized. A new file was opened for the miscreant and numbered 880. As it turned out, the bill was historic. It was of ludicrously bad workmanship the reworked portrait of George Washington would have fooled very few and the numbers were fuzzy and it was printed on ordinary bond paper available at any stationery store. Also, the feds realized, no other counterfeiter in the United States at that time (and few in history) stooped to the production of phony one dollar bills. Other bogus ones were seized in the weeks and months that followed, mostly in and around Manhattan, though a few came to light in other boroughs and a few in New Jersey communities just across the Hudson River. According to the red-dotted wall map, most of the bad bills appeared on Manhattan's upper West Side. The most frequent victims were small store owners, bartenders, clerks at subway turnstiles, newspaper vendors and the like. Hundreds of bills passed through their hands daily, so that even when jolted by the phony money, they had no idea who had handed it to them. Many people do not count their small change how much can you be ripped off, for less than a dollar? So, even bank tellers who would scrutinize a $50 bill would toss the old buckaroo right into the drawer. Soon the funny Washingtons began to turn up in bank accounts in the Midwest, the South and even on the West Coast until the very awareness of the bogus ones tightened up bank procedures. The feds had very little to go on. By the end of 1939, less than 600 of the clumsy ones had been passed, hardly enough to pay a counterfeiter for a year's work. And the rate was so slow that the Secret Service agents could not zing in and nab the counterfeiter in the act of passing his bills. About this time, the Secret Service agents were chagrined to notice that some of the phony ones were appearing with the name "Washington" charmingly misspelled "Wasihngton." The Secret Service came to the painful conclusion that the counterfeiter, in trying to improve his product, had reworked the letters and reassembled them out of sequence. The most interesting thing about these bills was that they were accepted with the same alarming aplomb as the previous funnies. A few people who were seized passing the bills were victims who had just accepted them blithely themselves. In January 1944, the Treasury Department felt constrainted to warn New Yorkers about the blitz of bogus ones. At that time, most of them appeared under the serial number K 70025356 A and had "several imperfections," according to the feds. George's eyes and hair were crudely executed and one eye appeared almond-shaped, the feds pointed out. Also, the front of George's shirt semed to be soiled and the small lettering around the Treasury seal was murky. But by now Washington's name was spelled correctly. As the years passed, the bills, all silver certificates, appeared in "J" series as well as "K," most of them on the upper West Side, though occasionally Yorkville on the East Side and Wall Street downtown got a break. By 1946, $4,027 in silly ones had been passed in New York and by the end of the 1947, more It J i t - V Z t Z f y jy Ml mmmmmZ i 1 J fvf --Vl l'ak?SU 4i"k3" r& ' x v t - V- -S. ' " " t T ill tt....i.,....,.j wi.,.. H-., ... iTHMilrf irl.ifrlimV Arwtf ilWM in )-iim-r i -ifttihln iftfj Edmund Gwenn starred In the 1950 movie that offered a highly romantic view of Manhattan counterfeiter. Emerlch Juettner (inset) who specialized In phony dollar bills. than 5,000 of the counterfeit ones had been spent Then, on Dec. 4, 1947," fire struck a top floor apartment at 204 W. 96th St., near Amsterdam Ave., and the mystery of 880 began to clear up. The blaze had begun in junk accumulated by the occupant, Edward Mueller, known to neighbors as "Pop." Seventy-two-year-old Pop, a 5-foot-3, 120-pound, blue-eyed recluse, was often seen sifting through the rubbish piles of the West Side for reclaimable junk. Balding with a smattering of white hair over his ears, displaying a skimpy mustache and a toothless grin for everyone he met, this eccentric exponent of free enterprise would push a cart through the city streets rummaging. Some of the junk would be sold to wholesalers. Some, especially toys, would be put outside his apartment door, where neighbors with children would help themselves. And much, it seems, would be stashed in the apartment. Firemen responding to the blaze tossed a large portion of the junk from the two-room apartment into an alleyway, where a developing snowstorm soon covered it. And Pop went off to spend that Christmas with a daughter in Queens. He had had a close brush with death: His dog had awakened him to the danger of the fire, but the animal perished. It was not until Jan. 13, 1948, that two youngsters were able to take advantage of the thaw to poke through old pop's junk in the alley. There they discovered two $1 bills and some plates for making them. The boys took the items to the W. 100th St stationhouse, where Detectives John North and Louis Behrens recognized the bills as phonies. Secret Service agents Sam Callahan and Thomas Burke were called in and found an additional $25 in bogus notes, several tubes of printing ink, some parts of a small hand press and negatives for Federal Reserve $10 and $20 bills. An additional plate for a $1 bill was discovered in a trunk in the cellar. The $10 and $20 negatives had never been used, the agents determined, but the bogus $ls they quickly linked to their long-sought quarry Old 880. . When Pop returned to the apartment Jan. 14, the feds nabbed him. It turned out his name was Emerich Juettner, although he was known as Mueller and also Miuller. His story was a fascinating one. A native of Austria, where he had learned something about engraving, Juettner came to this country as a teenager, married and had two children. Among several occupations he pursued was that of gilder of picture frames. For years while raising his family he lived on the East Side, where he did janitorial duties to offfset his rent. After his wife died, he moved to the West Side and began his career as a purveyor of Junk. "It was my way of making a living," the hawk-faced oldster explained to intrigued arresting agents. But the living was not always easy. A proud man who had always provided for himself, Juettner pretended to his daughter and son that he was doing just fine. Actually, he was running off the ridiculous $1 bills on his hand press in his kitchen to get food for his dog and himself and to pay his $25-a-month apartment rent A story about the eccentric old counterfeiter, by St Clair McKelway in the New Yorker, caught the eye of 20th Century Fox, and a highly romanticized version of the story, with obligatory love fiction, was brought to the screen in 1950, called "Mr. 880," featuring Edmund Gwenn, Burt Lancaster and Dorothy McGuire. The real Emerich Juettner, dressed in layers of clothing, a screwdriver in his back pants pocket a paint brush tucked into his dusty vest was arraigned before U.S. Commissioner Garrett W. Cotter on charges of counterfeiting and possession of plates. It was his first brush with the law. Eventually, he was sentenced to nine months in prison. "The capture of this man relieves the Secret Service of a terrific headache," Secret Service Chief James J. Maloney said with remarkable understatement. He noted that "880" had eluded the law longer than any counterfeiter in United States history. A factor, according to agents, was Pop's "complete lack of greed." He ground out a buck only when he or his dog got hungry.

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