CRANK STAYS AT OYSTER BAY.; Secret Service Men Decide to Watch Moses S. Okun.
Maybe there is something special about motivating young people who grow up in a small town, one of whose best-known "graduates" in a nationally-recognized practitioner in a difficult craft. Especially if the craft is counterfeiting!
Not that Fullerton didn't produce other leaders; but William Watts, the counterfeiter, was in a class by himself.
The lengthy story about his capture, in Newsweek Magazine dated September 30, 1935, said that Joseph Murphy, assistant chief of the U.S. Secret Service, exulted "because his agents, had, at last, captured the country's ace counterfeiter who was responsible for nearly $1,000,000 in spurious money -- second-greatest flood of 'queer' in the Treasury's records" (at least, up to that time ).
Watts was so skillful that Henry Morgenthau, Secretary of the Treasury, fooled his underlings with it, as a training exercise. Watts' name and skill were known to the Treasury long before his capture.
Nothing in his early background indicated that he might, some day, become a criminal.
His parents were solid citizens, who lived unpretentiously in a two-story red brick house in the southwest part of Fullerton. One summer, when I was on vacation from Hastings College, I plowed their cornfield, for $2 a day, behind a one-horse walking cultivator.
Newsweek observed that counterfeiting attracts strange recruits -- tearoom proprieters (sic), aviators, merchants, physicians, auditors and Sunday School teachers. Watts fit the pattern. Until 1920, he ran a drug store in Fullerton.
The Secret Service traced his criminal career to prohibition, when he sold illicit liquor. He wanted fake labels for his bottles, so he learned how to engrave imitations. Before long, he discovered that the sideline was more profitable than bootlegging.
Counterfeit money was the next easy step. According to Newsweek Watts mastered the technique so completely that experts had difficulty distinguishing his bills from real currency.
To his pursuers, he long remained a phantom. He had no women friends, and no vices such as those which eventually betray most culprits. Of the small army of people who passed out his "queer", only the top men ever saw Watts.
He was eventually cornered in Union City, New Jersey, after a clerk in an engraving supply house told Secret Service operatives that "there's a man buying engraving material; and he's not in the trade".
At 7 o'clock on a September morning in 1935, federal agents tiptoed up to his door and knocked. To a sleepy, "Who's there?", Captain William Houghton, chief of the Secret Service's New York division, answered, "The milk man". The door opened. William Watts, alias E. A. Martin, alias E. A. McMillen, stared into the muzzle of a gun.
But the Treasury Department had pounced on Watts too late to prevent Saratoga race track bookmakers from many dizzy spells. Throughout the 1935 Saratoga season, bogus money bombarded the bet takers, driving many of them out of business. Profits faded into heaps of worthless green paper.
New Chief, Assistant Chief of U.S. Secret Service take oath of office. Washington, D.C., Dec. 31. Upon the retirement of Chief William H. Moran today Secretary of the Treasury Morgenthau named Frank L. Wilson to be Chief of the U.S. Sercret Service and Joseph H. Murphy as Assistant Chief. They are shown taking the oath of office. In the photograph, left to right: Joseph E. Murphy, Frank L. Wilson, Secretary Morgenthau, and Frank L. Dirgfeld, Chief Clerk of the Treasury