The one mistake

Passing Parade was a ’40s show along the same general lines as Hix and MacHarrie. Passing Parade dramatized a few incidents from the past, with a lesson for the present.

This episode dramatizes a famous crime and detection that I’d never heard before. The lesson is highly unusual, running counter to the normal meritocratic idiocy.

In the 1870s Edward Johnson set out to achieve absolute perfection in counterfeiting. Johnson was a tall impressive British gentleman with impeccable taste and charm. He had a massive capacity for detail and “could discuss any subject from ancient history to the latest medical theories.” (Are we starting to see the pattern?)

Johnson married an artist with a perfect understanding of inks and papers. They had four perfect children and homeschooled them. The boys were trained from birth in engraving, and the girls were trained in forging signatures. That’s all they ever did. Johnson himself was the pressman and the salesman who traveled to various places and passed the bills. The Johnson family started turning out the best and most perfect bills and bonds ever seen. They focused on Canadian currency for a while, and nearly destroyed the credibility of Canada’s treasury.

Canada called in a detective who was the exact opposite of Johnson. “A drab middle-aged stoop-shouldered little man. He talks little. You would think him very dull.” John Wilson Murray looked closely at the samples accumulated by the Canadian authorities. He soon caught the ‘one mistake’ in the perfect bills.

Murray started tracing down the bills by hanging around bars in the locations where the bills were known to be circulating. Casually asking clerks and bartenders about customers, he gradually homed in on Indianapolis, and then homed in on Johnson.

What was the one mistake? Perfection. Real bills have slight variations and defects from mass-produced printing with worn plates and inadequate QA. Johnson’s bills never had the slightest ink gradient or smear or misaligned register.