W. Marvin Smith

W. Marvin Smith (August 16, 1895 – October 20, 1948) was a long-time employee and attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice who testified in the Hiss-Chambers Case in August 1948 and then mysteriously died on October 20, 1948.[1]

W. Marvin Smith
BornAugust 16, 1895
DiedOctober 20, 1948
EducationGeorgetown University Law School
EmployerUS Department of Justice
Known forApparent suicide related to Hiss-Chambers Case


Smith graduated from Georgetown University law school.


Smith worked at Justice for 31 years, as he recalled.

In 1935 or 1936, Alger Hiss had worked with him at Justice. At that time, he notarized the transfer of title for Hiss' 1929 Ford Model A Roadster to the Cherner Motor Company, which sold the car same day to one "William Rosen."

Testimony in Hiss CaseEdit

On August 20, 1948, Henry J. Gertler, secretary and treasurer of the Cherner Motor Company, testified before HUAC that W. Marvin Smith had notarized the gift of Hiss's 1929 Ford Model A Roadster to Cherner, which in turn sold it on the same day (July 23, 1936) to William Rosen (who resided at the home of one Benjamin Bialek). Then Smith testified regarding his signature: "I say I have no doubt that it is." Unlike most notaries, Marvin explained, "I have no record because, as I say, I charged no fees. I have not charged a fee since about 1925 — well, I think I got the commission in about 1919 and I charged a few fees at that time and had a record then, but I have not charged since." Rosen, who testified on August 26 and September 9, 1948, refused to give testimony, answering most questions with, "I refuse to answer the question on the ground that any answer I may give may tend to incriminate me." One of his few answers was "This is not my signature." Cherner later stated "I swear my life on it" that neither he nor Gertler had filled in details for "William Rosen" on the sale. Rosen and his wife Addie swore they had not been in Washington in 1936 (yet a pharmacist in the Petworth area of Washington claimed to know them).[2][3]

Personal and deathEdit

On October 20, 1948, Smith was found dead in the southwest stairwell of the (then) seven-storey Justice building. At that time, he worked on the staff of Solicitor General Philip B. Perlman. Co-workers reported him as "unusually depressed." He was survived by wife Inez and 21-year-old daughter Jeanne Smith.[1][4][3]

Link to Laurence Duggan deathEdit

Just after Laurence Duggan's death later that year on December 20, 1948, the Associated Press reported:

The widow of W. Marvin Smith, justice department employee who died in a five storey plunge 2 months ago, expressed belief today that his death was simply an accident.
She told a reporter she feels certain it was not a suicide and was not connected in any way with his appearance as a minor witness in congressional hearings. Smith's death had been recalled in some newspaper accounts of the death of Laurence Duggan in New York City.
On Oct. 20, Smith hurtled to his death down circular stairwell in the justice department. That was also the opinion of justice officials.
Smith, 53, was an attorney in the solicitor general's office. Last summer, he figure in a minor way in the house committee on un-American activities.[5]

Other "suicides and mysterious deaths"Edit

In 1951, the Chicago Tribune newspaper speculated about "several suicides and mysterious deaths"[6] among spies and government officials mostly related to the Hiss Case, including:

  • Nov 1947: John Gilbert Winant, (suicide). US ambassador to England, following personal depression
  • Aug 1948: Harry Dexter White (heart attack)
  • Oct 1948: W. Marvin Smith (suicide)
  • Dec 1948: Laurence Duggan (suicide). Regarding Duggan, like Hiss a former State Department official, the newspaper commented, "There was speculation that he might have fallen accidentally or that he might have been thrown from the window, but it was widely believe he committed suicide." (Duggan fell sixteen stories with one snow boot on.)
  • May 1949: James Forrestal (suicide), first US Secretary of Defense
  • 1949, Morton Kent, another State Department official, committed suicide after his implication in the trial of Judith Coplon
  • Feb 1950: Laird Shields Goldsborough (suicide). Goldsborough was a senior editor at Fortune and TIME magazines and former boss of Whittaker Chambers: he fell out of a ninth-floor building – and left his estate to the Soviet government.
  • Apr 1950: Francis Otto Matthiessen (suicide). The Harvard professor jumped from the 12 floor of his Boston hotel, according to his sister because of proceedings in the trial of Harry Bridges (defended by Carol Weiss King, who also defended J. Peters, head of the Ware Group).
  • Nov 1952: Abraham Feller (suicide). The UN legal counsel (and friend of Alger Hiss) jumped out his window when Adlai Stevenson Jr. lost the 1952 presidential elections, UN Secretary General Trygve Lie resigned, and a US grand jury and the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee continued investigations into Americans working at the UN.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Clark Counsel Falls to Death". Los Angeles Times. 21 October 1948. Retrieved 25 November 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ "Hearings before the Committee on Un-American Activities". Washington: US Government Printing Office (GPO). 1948. Retrieved 25 November 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ a b Chambers, Whittaker (1952). Witness. New York: Random House. pp. 378 (notary), 672 (death). Retrieved 25 November 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ "Clark Counsel Falls to Death". Salt Lake Tribune. 21 October 1948. Retrieved 25 November 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ "Widow of U.S. Aid Lined to Spy Quix Calls Death Accident". Chicago Tribune. 23 December 1948. Retrieved 25 November 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ "Suicide Trail Winds Thru Spy, Crimes Exposes: Kefauver Probe Recalls Reles Death Mystery". Chicago Tribune. 1 April 1951. Retrieved 25 November 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)