GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:
We're going to kick off today's Saved episode with the story of help coming from one of the most unlikely of places. SNAP JUDGEMENT's Stephanie Foo has the story.
STEPHANIE FOO, BYLINE: Years ago, Ken Goddard was a student at UC Riverside. And he was studying biochemistry, which could be really boring except for when he was in his favorite professor's classroom.
KEN GODDARD: It was a lot of fun listening to Dr. Radlick talk. He was the youngest full professor of organic chemistry in the history of the University of California. He was pretty intriguing because he used drug structures in this lectures. You know, instead of using some arcane chemistry structure, he'd used cocaine or things like that. We figured just kind of keep our attention. But I was, at best, a B student.
FOO: So after graduating, Ken isn't that keen on becoming a biochemist. It's a lot of pipetting. But then something a little more exciting shows up.
GODDARD: As fate would have it, there was an opening at the Riverside County Sheriff's Department for a forensic scientist crime scene investigator deputy sheriff. Two weeks later, I raised my right hand and I'm a deputy sheriff. And life suddenly got different. None of the other forensic scientists wanted to work a crime scene. So I was out there digging up bodies in shallow graves when the narcotics sergeant came in and said, got a deal for you.
FOO: His sergeant wanted to go undercover playing the part of a young college student looking to make meth. He was supposed to infiltrate what the police thought was a series of meth labs out in the Mojave Desert. Ken said he was interested in the assignment.
GODDARD: But my problem was I didn't know how to make methamphetamine. Nobody ever taught us that. Radlick hadn't taught us that. And it occurred to me - maybe I could go to him. I asked permission. The narc sergeant said sure. Showed up at Dr. Radlick's office, properly showed my brand new shiny badge, and his eyes got real wide. And I explained to him what I want to do - if he would teach me how to make methamphetamine - how to cook, if you will, so I could get into the laboratories and figure out what was going on. After, I think, recovering from surprise, he agreed to do that. And for, I think it was four weeks - Tuesdays and Thursdays - Radlick certainly taught me how to cook the right way. If you use ethyl ether, you're going to get some pure crystalline stuff. It's going to look like a clean, white powder. But then the idea was I was supposed look like an alchemist. I was supposed to use tricks like using tinfoil as a catalyst.
FOO: And so Radlick taught him all the tricks of the trade. So Ken was ready when a couple weeks later it was finally time for him to go undercover to the meth lab in the desert.
GODDARD: And we're out there in the middle of the Mojave desert at night. And the snitch is going to take me in. And it's really dark out there. And it's an old, creepy, block-wall home out there. And I was starting to realize this isn't great. I'm not going to be armed. I was horrified that I was walking into a place with Bunsen burners and flames.
FOO: The snitch went into the house first, leaving Ken outside to regret his decision because he was wondering about when he saw the real meth dealers was he going to be able to keep up his act of pretending to be a college student? Would they find him out? He knew that the lives were protected by violent biker gangs. But before he could turn back, the snitch ran out of the house towards him with news.
GODDARD: The lab was gone. And we ran in there and sure enough, it's been taken apart and no longer was there. And everybody shrugged. And I just kind of forgot about it.
FOO: Ken didn't go undercover again but he stayed in criminal justice. And a few years later, he was in his office when a bunch of narcs burst in, showing him a white powder.
GODDARD: And they want me to identify it. What is it? Is it PCP? That's what they were thinking. I examined the material and I said oh no, it wasn't PCP. It turned out to be an analog - the thiophene analog of PCP which basically meant it looked like PCP but it had been altered. And because of that having been altered, it might have the same effect but it's no longer illegal. Well, the narcs weren't happy about that but it's going to turn out to be my job to testify in court.
FOO: So Ken has to be the expert witness for the prosecution. He's got to try and prove that this dealer was doing something illegal by selling the designer PCP, which should have been easy until...
GODDARD: Narcs started to come by and said oh, by the way, just wanted to let you know somebody from your past is going to be testifying against you, a Dr. Philip something-or-other. And I said, Dr. Philip Radlick? UC Riverside? They say yeah, yeah, that's him. I said oh - oh, no.
FOO: See, Dr. Radlick was going to be the expert witness for the defense, testifying on behalf of the dealer. The coincidence wasn't that crazy. Lawyers would often recruit local scientists and professors to testify for them.
GODDARD: But I'm that B student and he's that most brilliant, youngest full professor in the history of UC. Well, I'm kind of horrified 'cause this is going to be a one-on-one, Dr. Radlick and I against each other. It wasn't going to be a fair fight from my perspective. So I got to prepare for this. I got to look good up on the stand. I've got to be ready for the questions, so I'm studying like crazy.
FOO: Finally, the court date arrived.
GODDARD: So I meet Professor Radlick there. He greets me like a long-lost son, pats me on the shoulder, says how proud he is of me.
FOO: But when Ken got up there to testify, Radlick was less amicable. He started feeding the defense attorney questions for Ken on little slips of paper, like...
GODDARD: Draw the structure, draw THC, draw PCP, draw all these things. And I'm doing it. And Dr. Radlick got this smile on his face. And he handed the defense attorney a slip of paper. And the defense said draw cyclohexane. Well, it's a simplest organic chemical structure - six carbon atoms and a circle. My brain went blank. Dr. Radlick smiled, and I'm sure he was thinking he might've been a little generous with that B. He then got up on the stand and gave this absolutely brilliant lecture on organic chemistry in about 10 minutes and was all I could do not to take notes. And it was obvious that he was winning.
FOO: The jury was sold. They went with Radlick, not Ken. And the dealer wound up getting off. Ken was impressed and congratulated Radlick. But the two quickly lost touch. That's why Ken was surprised when three years after the trial...
GODDARD: My wife comes in with a newspaper and says you've got to read this. I'm kind of focusing in on the headlines - UCR professor, arrested, $40 million PCP lab. It's Radlick.
FOO: The headlines accused Radlick of being behind a franchise of PCP labs.
GODDARD: It was like the dominos in your head. This long stack of them suddenly went click, click, click all the way down, all the way back to the point that I went into Dr. Radlick's office, showed him my badge and his eyes got wide. And I'm thinking oh my God, it was him all along. These lawyers he was working with - the defense attorneys who have sleazy clients - anyone of them could've come up the idea of this franchise lab system and talked Radlick into being a helper.
FOO: But instead of feeling betrayed or angry, Ken actually felt grateful because he thought back to that first lab that he was supposed to go undercover to.
GODDARD: I was probably walking into a far more dangerous situation then I realized. Would I have been able to maintain an act of a poor college student desperately trying to earn some money? I'm probably well-off that things turned out the way they did.
FOO: And as far as he knows, there was only one leak that knew he was going to that lab.
GODDARD: After my training, after my talking to Radlick, he knew enough to know roughly where I was going - that I was heading out to that laboratory that he, in my mind, he was somehow involved with. And I think the fact that lab was shut down did save my life, and I think Radlick did it. I followed the trial very carefully. The DEA went after him twice. As I'm reading these articles, I'm thinking OK, I work with the DEA. They're not dummies. They're going after him for a reason. But he's winning. What's going on? And I kept thinking OK, there has to something more into the background. And I kept waiting to find out.
FOO: Radlick was finally convicted of conspiracy to manufacture a controlled substance, but he served no time. He was only sentenced to probation and community service.
GODDARD: I was hoping I'd get a chance to talk to him to really see what was happening. And then he disappeared. I asked some of my DEA buddies, do you know anything about it? Nobody did. He was just gone. My sense was he'd gone, you know, off to some desert island, a resort place. Either that or he was dead because he knew too much. He was working with some very dangerous people. And, you know, either possibility sounded real.
FOO: Ken went on to open the nation's only wildlife forensics lab which he still runs. But on the side, he began to write fiction.
GODDARD: So I wrote "The Alchemist."
FOO: Probably not the alchemist you're thinking of - another alchemist. And in this alchemist, there was a professor who teaches a young sheriff how to make meth. Ken published it.
GODDARD: Really, I think more than anything else, hoping Radlick would read it or somebody who knew about Radlick, who knew what happened to him would contact me. Years went by. Then a few months ago, 38 years later, my wife hands me a phone. She says somebody wants to talk to you. And the voice says hi Ken, this is Professor Radlick. And I blurted out the first thing that occurred to me which was you're not dead. He laughed. He said no, I'm fine. He said I turned my life around. I said I've got a brand new family, a good kid. And he said I Googled my name and what shows up at the top of the list but Ken Goddard and "The Alchemist."
FOO: When Radlick had disappeared all those years ago, he'd gone to Switzerland to start a company. And since then, he'd been the CEO of multiple companies, including one that manufactured heart valves.
GODDARD: And I said as we're talking, thank you for saving my life. And he paused. And in a very soft voice, he said you're welcome.
FOO: And so I just thought this was crazy and I wanted to hear this amazing conversation. So I got a hold of Dr. Philip Radlick. And I got him and Ken to talk on the phone one more time.
GODDARD: Is that Professor Radlick?
PHILIP RADLICK: Yes it is. (Laughing). How are you?
GODDARD: It's good to hear your voice again.
FOO: So we're chitchatting, making small talk. And the first really interesting thing that Dr. Radlick says is he didn't have any idea who Ken was before reading his book, and barely had any recollection of him now.
RADLICK: I have to say that right now Ken is a facial mystery to me. I'm looking forward to seeing him.
FOO: Ken tried to jumpstart his memory.
GODDARD: I remember you saying well, I can teach you magic tricks. And you did. You used tinfoil and other reactants.
RADLICK: I'll be honest with you, I do not remember teaching anyone how to make methamphetamine as what you're talking about. But it could be.
FOO: Dr. Radlick went on to explain his side of the story - why he says he was arrested. He said that a lawyer he trusted introduced him to a young inventor making polymers. He seemed like a nice enough man and he needed this chemical, piperidine, for his experiments. So Radlick hooked him up, called some friends who worked for a chemical company and sold the inventor 120 gallons of the stuff. Turns out, piperidine is one of the main ingredients in PCP, and the nice young man was trying to start a PCP lab.
RADLICK: And two days before Christmas, there's a knock on my front door and I was arrested. Simply said, I used atrocious judgment. That's the least you can say about it. The worst you can say about it is - and I've searched my mind a million times for this - that I suspected what was going on was illegal but I didn't ask.
FOO: So Dr. Radlick says that he never had any willing involvement with drug kingpins or people who make drugs. But Ken - he's thinking about that one night out in the Mojave Desert. He's thinking about the chemists in the meth lab out there.
GODDARD: Yeah, well, it's something - I don't know how much you can talk about it - but I've long had the sense that when I was a 23-year-old criminalist and I went into that lab, it was torn down. I can't ask you, easily, but I think you did save my life. I don't know what you said or did.
RADLICK: I don't remember doing that at all, but at the time there was so much going on. And I remember a lab in the desert that the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department was trying to do something about. But I don't remember him being involved. That part's vague in my mind or maybe I should say absent.
GODDARD: It's OK. I'm still here. My wife, daughter and granddaughter are thankful.
FOO: After we got off the phone with Radlick, I had to ask Ken -so what do you think about what Radlick had to say?
GODDARD: I really enjoyed the conversation we had with Dr. Radlick. And in spite of all he said, I really still believe he saved my life. And I'm quite content with that. I'm fine with whatever Dr. Radlick was. I'm happy that - with what he is now.
WASHINGTON: Now since we've put this story together, Ken Goddard has extended an invitation for Dr. Radlick to visit his Oregon laboratory. And Dr. Radlick said that he would be delighted. Big thanks to both gentlemen for sharing their story with SNAP. That piece - it was produced by Stephanie Foo. Now when SNAP returns, we might have to bring a bad little dog to that place they put bad little dogs. The uber producer thinks he knows how to drive but we rescued a kitty from a tree - kinda. When SNAP JUDGEMENT, the Saved episode, continues. Stay tuned.