The Secret Service was baffled by phony one-dollar bills In November 1938 the U.S. Secret Service, which is responsible for enforcing the laws against counterfeiting money, began investigating a case that soon baffled its agents. A bank teller in New York City had detected a one-dollar counterfeit bill, and within a month 40 more of the phony bills were turned up. The Secret Service was used to dealing with clever, greedy men who counterfeited money in larger denominations and circulated the bills in huge quantities. In this case, however, the number of detected bogus bills amounted to only 585 by the end of a year. Who ever heard of a counterfeiter who was content to earn less than two dollars a day? The Secret Service was also puzzled by the ineptitude of the counterfeiter. The fake bills were printed on cheap paper, the numerals and letters were botched, the retouched portrait of George Washington was murky-and after a time even his name was misspelled as"Wahsington." Such a poorly made product was laughable, but New York storekeepers seldom inspected bills of low denominations. Most of the counterfeit money was caught by experienced bank tellers. The case of the humble, inept counterfeiter entered official Secret Service files as No. 880, and agents assigned Eighty." After five years the Secret Service had collected 2,840 of Old Eight-Eighty's dollar bills, had informed 10,000 New York store-keepers how to detect the forgeries, and had distributed 200,000 circulars describing the fake bills. But Old Eight-Eighty continued to pass his fraudulent money for more than nine years before he was apprehended-and only then as the result of a fluke. Children's aid In January 1948 seven boys playing in a vacant lot on Manhattan's West Side found an assortment of junk that included two zinc engraving plates and about 3o dollar bills. They thought they had found stage money. The father of one of the boys turned in some of the bills to the police, who in turn called in the Secret Service. Three agents investigated and found that the plates and money had been thrown into the lot by firemen while putting out a recent blaze in a top-floor apartment of an adjoining tenement. The agents went to the apartment and found more bills, a small printing press, and Old Eight-Eighty himself. His name was Edward Mueller. He was a 73-year-old widower who, with his blue eyes, toothless grin, white hair, and matching mustache, looked innocuous and amiable. He cheerfully admitted that he had made and passed counterfeit dollar bills for nine years, at the rate of io to 12 a week, to supply his modest needs. His wife had died in 1937, his son and daughter had married and moved away, and he had given up his job as a building superintendent to collect junk in the streets with a pushcart. He had cooked his own meals, washed his own laundry, walked his own dog-and, when he had needed cash, he had made his own money! "They were only just one-dollar bills," he explained happily. "I never gave more than one of them to any one person, so nobody ever lost more than the one dollar." Edward Mueller considered himself to be an honest man and was genuinely surprised to be arrested by the sympathetic agents. In September 1948 he pleaded guilty before a federal district judge but, in view of his advanced age, served only four months of a year's prison sentence. Before going to jail, Old Eight-Eighty had to pay a nominal fine-of a dollar, a genuine one.