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Alger Hiss Trials: 1949-50

A "bombshell," A Seaplane, A Pumpkin

Hiss told his lawyer to give the papers to the Department of Justice. The next day, Representative Nixon, who had just sailed on a vacation cruise to Panama, got a cable that a "bombshell" had exploded. He ordered a HUAC investigator to visit Chambers at his Maryland farm. Meantime, a Coast Guard seaplane picked up Nixon.

By the time Nixon was back in Washington amid flashing cameras, Chambers had led investigator Robert E. Stripling into his farm field, opened a hollowed-out pumpkin, and handed over the five rolls of microfilm that had long been hidden in the stained envelope behind the Brooklyn dumbwaiter. Three rolls, still in their aluminum cans, were undeveloped; two, developed, were in oilpaper bags. While the pumpkin held no paper, the microfilms, which contained pictures of documents, became known as "The Pumpkin Papers."

By one vote more than a bare majority, the New York Federal Grand Jury indicted Alger Hiss on two counts of perjury: one for denying that he had turned State Department documents over to Chambers, the second for saying he had not seen Chambers after January 1, 1937, for the jury found that he had delivered reports to Chambers in February and March 1938.

As the trial opened on May 31, 1949, prosecutor Thomas F. Murphy told the jury, "If you don't believe Mr. Chambers' story, we have no case under the Federal perjury rule." Chambers repeated the testimony given before HUAC and the grand jury on his work in the Communist underground, his close friendship with the Hisses, his 1938 break with the party.

In cross-examination, Hiss' defense counsel, Lloyd Paul Stryker, lost no time establishing Chambers' shortcomings. The witness admitted committing perjury in 1937 and 1948, using at least seven aliases between 1924 and 1938, lying to the dean of Columbia University while a student, stealing books from many libraries, living with several women (including, while a teenager, a New Orleans prostitute called "One-Eyed Annie"), and writing not only erotic poetry but an anti-religious play that got him expelled from Columbia.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1941 to 1953Alger Hiss Trials: 1949-50 - Hiss Denies Communist Link, A "bombshell," A Seaplane, A Pumpkin, A Typewriter Proves Elusive