JOHNNY DeSILVER FDA
Reflections of a Candy Cop
Cover art by Marlene and Trish © 2016
Copyright 2017 by bf oswald
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Johnny DeSilver, FDA
is non-fiction, however names of some investigators, perpetrators,
businesses, and victims have been changed for legal reasons or to
protect their identity.
This book is copyrighted and may not be copied
electronically or by any other means in whole or in part without the
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This book is for the men and women,
my partners in protecting the public
with whom I had the pleasure of working.
I have fond memories of you all.
Laikyn, Kayla, and Jason
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
1960 – 1961
How I became Johnny DeSilver the Candy Cop
Don’t Shuck Me, Fellows
Looters in the Levisa
Two Gorgeous Individuals
Chapter 5: In
and Around Charleston
Chapter 6: A
Bawdy Night in Charleston
Them Thar Boys
The Meanest Man in the Room
A Big Oops
The Great Shelbyville Egg Caper
Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Scorned
Pill, Potions, Gadgets and Promises
A Nickle’s Worth of Happiness
Gran and Lit’l Em
Are They or Are They Not
Snap, Crackle and Pop
A Dishonest Doctor
Clam Chowder Anyone?
Chapter 26: Other
Trips to the Mountain State
Rats ‘N Cats
Scary Heights and Tight Spaces
The Great Vitalis Fiasco
But He’s a Decent Citizen
1960 – 1964
On the Road Again
Bed and Board
PEPs and Other Foolishness
Farm and Barn
Somewhat Out of the Ordinary
Bits and Pieces
About the Author
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FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION
The FDA is responsible for protecting the
public health by assuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human
and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our
nation’s food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.
The FDA is also responsible for advancing the public health by
helping to speed innovations that make medicines and foods more
effective, safer, and more affordable; and helping the public get the
accurate, science-based information they need to use medicines and
foods to improve their health.
HOW THIS IS ACCOMPLISHED
Effective enforcement of the FD&C ACT protects law-abiding
manufacturers, dealers, and consumers from unfair competition by
inferior or dishonestly labeled goods. Likewise, effective
enforcement engenders public confidence in the quality of American
foods, drugs, and cosmetics generally the best in the world.
As a part of its job of policing the purity, quality, and labeling of
foods, drugs, and cosmetics the FDA does the following:
Makes periodic inspections of food, drug, device, and cosmetic
manufacturing establishments and examines samples from interstate
shipments of these products.
Enforces the law against illegal sales of prescription drugs.
Checks the manufacturers’ evidence of the safety of all new drugs
before they are put on sale to the public.
Checks the safety of all batches of coal-tar dyes for use in foods,
drugs or cosmetics.
Checks the labeling and range of usefulness of therapeutic devices
and takes action against dangerous and bogus devices.
Tests all batches of insulin and five of the most important
antibiotic drugs for purity and potency before they are sold.
Manufacturers pay for this testing.
Issues and enforces regulations specifying the kinds and quantities
of new food additives that may be used in or on food products.
Establishes the amount of pesticide residue that may remain on food
crops without injury to consumers and polices shipments to confirm
whether or not these residues are within safe limits.
Sets up standards that guarantee the composition and real value of
food products in line with the Congressional mandate to promote
honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers.
Checks imported foods, drugs, devices, and cosmetics to confirm that
they comply with the laws of the United States of America.
Cooperates with state and local officials in the inspection of foods
and drugs contaminated by disasters such as floods hurricanes,
explosions, and fires, and in the removal of dangerous items from the
Assist industry in voluntary compliance with the law and in setting
up controls to prevent violations.
In addition, the FDA enforces the Caustic Poison Act, (replaced by
The Hazardous Substances Labeling Act) which requires that a poison
label and antidote appear on certain caustic and corrosive household
chemicals such as lye and ammonia.
Modern scientific methods are required to enforce the Food, Drug, and
Cosmetic Act and the FDA was one of the first of the scientific crime
detection agencies. Laws to ensure the potency of drugs and the
purity of foods would be unenforceable without methods of scientific
analysis to determine whether products are up to standard.
FDA scientists must know the normal composition of products they are
testing and then devise methods to detect those that are substandard.
They investigate the toxicity of ingredients used in the production
and manufacture of foods, drugs and cosmetics with particular
attention to potential harm when used over an extended period of
time. They study the causes of food poisoning and ways to prevent it.
They test and evaluate the potency and efficacy of medicines and
Their investigations also cover the adequacy of controls over
processing, preserving, packaging and storing products. FDA research
work requires specialists in chemistry and biochemistry,
bacteriology, microanalysis, pharmacology, human and veterinary
medicine, entomology and other sciences.
During the 1960 fiscal year, the FDA will have about 500 inspectors
in the field inspecting factories and processing plants and
collecting samples of products that may violate the law. Seventeen
district offices are equipped with laboratories where analysts test
the samples. In Washington, the research laboratories are constantly
devising new and better methods of analysis, and many of the field
scientists work closely with them on this developmental work.
The inspectors stationed throughout the country are the eyes and ears
of the FDA. It is their job to cover the broad span from the raw
materials of the farm and sea to the market basket of the American
A typical day of a district inspection staff
might include sanitary inspections of food manufacturers and
warehouses; a control inspection of a drug manufacturer to determine
if its processing has built-in safeguards to assure potency and
purity; the investigation of an injury complaint associated with a
food, drug or cosmetic; collection of samples of regulated products
for laboratory analysis; attempts to purchase a prescription drug
from a drugstore without a prescription because of reports that it
was selling dangerous drugs without a physician’s authorization;
supervision of the reconditioning of seized goods under terms of a
court order and testimony in Federal court as a witness in a
Together the inspectors and analysts gather the
evidence that is presented to the Federal courts for action. A small
staff in the General Counsel’s office of the U.S. Department of
Health, Education and Welfare handles preparation of the cases for
the U. S. district attorneys after FDA’s administrative officers
have reviewed the evidence. This assures uniform enforcement
throughout the country. During fiscal year 1959, 1,270 actions were
brought in Federal court. The majority of these were seizure cases
that removed from the market spoiled or harmful products. Over
16,000,000 pounds of unfit or contaminated foods were seized – 152
tons a week.
If the goods are in very bad condition, the
court may order them destroyed. If they can be made to comply with
the law, the court may order them released for sorting, cleaning or
relabeling with the owner of the goods paying for supervision by FDA
inspectors. Occasionally the owner protests the Government’s
charges and the case goes to trial in Federal court. However, since
the FDA requests seizure only when it has scientific evidence to
support its charges, it wins a large majority of the contested cases.
Other types of Federal court actions are criminal prosecutions of
firms or individuals alleged to be responsible for violations and
injunctions to prevent further traffic in goods that are in violation
of FDA laws. Of the 206 criminal prosecutions instituted in 1959, 72
involved 140 individuals or firms selling prescription drugs without
authorization. In some of the cases, the defendants were persons with
no professional training that sold the drugs at truck stops, general
stores, or through peddling. Sixty-seven prosecutions were based on
the shipment of filthy or decomposed food or unsanitary operations.
Other violations concerned shipment of substandard foods and drugs
and dietary supplements.
About 8¢ per person, or a total of $13,800,000, was appropriated for
this work for the year beginning July 1, 1959; additional to this is
income from services for which the manufacturers will pay the costs.
The FDA has 1,660 budgeted positions for this period for employees to
administer the laws covering products costing over $70 billion
annually and for which products the average family will spend about
one-quarter of its annual income. Because inspections cover about
100,000 factories and public warehouses in addition to over 700,000
retail establishments subject to the FD&C Act, enforcement must
be very selective. During fiscal year nineteen fifty-nine, 27,502
factory and commercial warehouse inspections were conducted and
29,747 domestic samples were collected for analysis as well as 11,284
import samples. Thus only a fraction of the foods, drugs, and
cosmetics purchased by the American public can receive attention.
FDA Leaflet No. 1, October 1959
Edited for content and length
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The survival of all life forms of which I am aware depends on their
obeying rules ordained by nature. Move higher in the orders and the
rules (laws) become more involved but at the heart of this complexity
reside crimes defined, and punishment ordained. Cops and Robbers in
some form are as ancient as life itself.
When hominids began living in groups, they soon realized that not all
of their peers respected the right to life and possessions of other
members of their clan and to guard against these violations, created
codes of behavior and penalties for failure to obey them.
Many of humankind’s earliest writings are systems of laws. For
instance, the Code of Hammurabi is a well-preserved Babylonian law
code of ancient Mesopotamia, dating back to about 1754 BC. It is one
of the oldest deciphered writings of significant length in the world.
Historically the Ten Commandments are of a later date and the laws in
Leviticus are later than these.
The Middle Ages spawned countless examples of Cops and Robbers; among
the most notable are the villain Robin Hood and his nemesis the
Sheriff of Nottingham. Move forward more centuries, and you have Al
Capone and Elliot Ness.
The modern crime novel appeared on the English language scene in the
early years of the nineteenth century with the stories of Edger Allen
Poe and later the Works of A. Conan Doyle. It was only a short step
from print to audio, and radio crime dramas proliferated quickly.
These created a template for movie and television depictions of
criminals and cops.
During the last ninety-five years, many Federal, state, and local law
enforcement agencies have been the subject of media glorification in
print, on radio, television, and in the movies. The FBI, the U. S.
Marshals, the Texas Rangers, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the New
York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago police come to mind immediately.
There is one Federal law enforcement agency that is conspicuously
absent from this list and yet whose responsibilities include
enforcing laws directly related to the well-being of every man,
woman, and child in the United States. These laws regulate the
manufacture, packaging, distribution, and intended use of all foods,
drugs, and cosmetics of which any item, or part of such, has crossed
state lines or been imported. The agency also enforces the Hazardous
Substances Labeling Act that ensures that products intended for human
use that might be harmful in any way, have warnings or precautionary
statements clearly printed on their labels. It also carefully
scrutinizes new drugs and devices intended for medical use for safety
This unheralded, omnipresent protector of the people is the Food and
Although frequently in the news, most times bearing the brunt of
criticism from Congress or the public, to the best of my knowledge,
no one has written about the day to day activities of those on the
front lines of enforcement. This book is intended to familiarize the
reader with the multidimensional aspect of the work of the FDA
investigator, which hasn’t changed all that much since I was one.
Although this is not a work of fiction, I have fictionalized some of
the names and businesses mentioned herein whose survivors might be
embarrassed by the events depicted. Also, I have added dialog in
places, that may or may not have transpired, to make the story more
In 1906 Congress passed the first of the laws incorporated in the
Food and Drugs Act (often called the Pure Food and Drug Act) and
assigned their enforcement to U. S. Department of Agriculture
inspectors. During subsequent years Congress revised many of the
original laws and added new ones. These were incorporated into the
Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938, within Title 21 of the
United States Code, sections 301 and following.
Initially, the Food and Drug Administration was under the
jurisdiction of the Agriculture Department. In 1940, the FDA moved
from Agriculture to the Federal Security Agency, which became the
Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1953. There is a great
deal more to the FDA’s history than I have included here.
Almost everything the
reader might want to know about the FDA can be found on the Internet
From September first, 1960 to June twenty-fourth, 1964, I carried FDA
Inspector’s shield number 768. I was in my mid-twenties at the
time; young enough to think I knew everything, not old enough to
realize I didn’t. Suitably trained and duly sworn, I was charged
with investigating violations of the Food and Drugs Act and
developing the evidence necessary to prosecute the “bad guys”
responsible for those violations.
To the casual observer, what I did as an inspector/investigator would
not appear glamorous or exciting. We carried no weapons, and wrestled
no one to the ground and cuffed them. Any ‘violence’ we
experienced was to ourselves in the form of long, tedious stakeouts
when we had to suffer a lack of sleep, bad food and worse coffee and
sometimes unpleasant company. And there were those inspections that
required us to crawl into dark, dirty, cramped, odiferous, rodent and
insect infested places. On the other hand, our assignments were never
routine, dull or boring, and sometimes they were ludicrous if not
downright ridiculous – and in retrospect, amusing.
In my day, there was only one ‘specialist’ on our team – our
import inspector. At times one of us would work with him when he
needed another pair of hands, eyes, or ears. The rest of us were
‘generalists’ handling a wide variety of assignments. Through
experience and sometimes additional training, one of us might become
better at one kind of inspection/investigation than our peers.
However, when this expertise was not needed, we became generalists
Over the years, the FD&C laws have proliferated, and because
Congress has been generous with its assignments to the FDA, (although
too often without providing the money necessary to follow through on
a lot of them), specialization has become more common. One more
change, shortly after I left the FDA, the first woman inspector/
investigator was hired. Since then, many more have joined the ranks.
Now retired from my most recent career as a college professor, I have
time to look back on those years. My desire is to share some of my
experiences, along with those of some of the people with whom I
served. It is also intended to pay tribute to all those who labor
with little or no recognition to provide the citizens of our country
with the safest foods, drugs, and cosmetics in the world.
I dedicate this work to those who reside fondly in the archives of my
memory: Ed, Mike, Bill, George T. and George S., as well as Aarmon,
Dick, Marlene, and Doris. There were many others in the Baltimore
District with whom I worked, but these were the people I was involved
with most often.
My later training and practice as a therapist reinforced the majority
view within the field of psychology (and law enforcement) that memory
is at best a very imperfect tool; I am especially aware of this at my
When I resigned, I surrendered my ID, shield, and the ten FDA issue
notebooks in which I entered salient information related to the
assignment with which I was charged.
My journals were archived for ten years following my departure then
destroyed. I was able to keep my expense journal, however, and
this provided dates, times, places and often an indication of what
assignment I was pursuing at the time enabling me to add more
reliability to my stories.
I blame any inaccuracies in this book on my faulty recollection.
Events and the behavior of the persons involved are reported in
retrospect as I see them now many more years down the road of life.
If I misstated, confabulated, or otherwise obliterated the facts, I
apologize. I did not intentionally do so. I am old; I have no other
I have no ‘ax to grind’ with either the Food and Drug
Administration or anyone in the Baltimore District, (too late now
anyhow) and none should be construed by anything in this book. My
supervisors treated me more than fairly considering my many screw
ups, gave me numerous opportunities to prove my worth, and challenges
in abundance. I hope that I was mostly successful in their eyes.
I left the FDA to take advantage of an opportunity to attend graduate
school and pursue another interest of mine – psychology. I have no
regrets, but as I write my reflections, I suffer occasional bouts of
Avon Park, Florida 2017
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* * * *
1960 – 1961
* * * *
HOW JOHNNY DeSILVER
CAME TO BE A CANDY COP
I was stationed at Keesler Air Force Base, Biloxi, Mississippi. The
wife of my closest friend was expecting a visit from a girlfriend,
and they asked me to be her escort while she was in town. I was told
that this young lady had just broken up with her boyfriend.
My wife and I were newly separated at the time, and I thought that I
might as well behave as if I were not married. I also thought that to
help this suffering young woman forget her woes I needed a more
charismatic persona; so I created Johnny DeSilver.
I don’t recall from what corner of my mind the name Johnny DeSilver
came, possibly that part that eventually became my muse. But I do
remember the basic facts of Johnny’s heritage and origins: He was
born in New Orleans (I was born in Ohio) to a jazz musician and a
nightclub singer (my father was a salesman, my mother a bank teller).
Johnny ran away from home at the age of sixteen (I went off to
military school) and hitchhiked around the country doing odd jobs to
support himself. Shortly after he turned eighteen, Johnny joined the
Air Force intent on becoming a pilot (so did I) but flunked the
physical – bad eyes (so did I – flat feet). Denied pilot
training, Johnny and I became drill instructors. (I’ve not
forgotten the irony in this: flat feet – drill instructor.)
What happened? We were introduced. We talked (she did most of the
talking), and by the time we entered the terminal, the relationship
At the time I became an FDA investigator, large quantities of
amphetamines and barbiturates were for sale on the streets of
Baltimore and in several other towns and cities in our district.
Several teens and young adults were admitted to area hospitals within
our jurisdiction because of over-dosing, and there were a few
Early in 1961, our unit launched a serious effort to discover the
source of these drugs. My undercover partner was an agent a little
older than I and a lot more experienced. He updated me on what he had
learned so far and closed by telling me an informant had said that a
seaman who worked on one of the Esso oil tankers that frequented the
Port of Baltimore was a major supplier.
I don’t remember if I volunteered or was ‘drafted,’ but I
ended up assigned to work undercover on the waterfront. When asked to
create an alias to be used for my seaman’s papers, I resurrected
Johnny DeSilver. On April 19, 1961, I was issued an ID card stating
that I was an Ordinary Seaman wiper, Steward Department. (Not a case
of excellent memory, I still have my seaman’s papers.)
That part of the investigation came to naught, and I started
following a trail that led everywhere but to the Port of Baltimore.
In fact, there turned out to be no ‘big supplier’ that we could
ferret out, just a lot of little suppliers, many of whom were canny
teenagers who had jobs as clerks or ‘gofers’ in local pharmacies
and had worked themselves into positions of trust. When left in
charge of day-end cleanup, and often with the further responsibility
of locking up, they would help themselves to the ‘pills.’ This
pilfering was considerably before DEA inventory controls, and
amphetamines and barbiturates were so widely prescribed, pharmacists
had them on their shelves in bottles of a thousand. The disappearance
of a few dozen – or even a hundred – at a time went unnoticed.
(Also sold on the streets to a lesser extent were pills stolen from
parents’ medicine cabinets.)
I spent two months unsuccessfully trying to find the ‘Mr. Big’ I
kept hearing about, following one dead end lead after another. Then I
was ‘brought in from the cold’ and assigned to another project
apparently deemed more worthy of my talents. I am the first to admit
that I failed miserably as an undercover investigator.
Shortly after my fifty-fifth birthday, I began getting a yearly ‘Your
Social Security Statement.’ It was mailed to my correct address but
to Johnny DeSilver not to me. It, of course, showed no income for
Johnny and therefore no benefit eligibility. I thought it a quaint
document and laughingly showed it to my wife. My wife did not laugh,
however. She told me that when it came time to apply for Medicare B,
the only Social Security plan for which I was eligible, I would not
get it. Because it would be in Johnny’s name and he had never had
an income and therefore had paid nothing into Social Security, he
would not be entitled to receive any benefits.
What I thought could be cleared up in one visit to my local Social
Security Office with birth certificate in hand, turned into a
nine-month ordeal requiring no less than eighteen different documents
proving who I was. Even then my name was returned to me grudgingly.
It took a lot of digging on my part to finally understand how my
alias had usurped me. It seems that the clerk who processed Johnny
D’s seaman’s papers used my social security number. On 4/19/61
the Social Security Administration noted my name change and became
determined to make it stick.
Two paradoxes, one relevant, one not: Every morning when I left for
work I could see the Social Security Administration headquarters
building located about a mile from my house, the home of this sibling
of the FDA within the Health, Education and Welfare family. The
second: the same administration keeps an exclusive list of Social
Security numbers to issue to undercover agents. Why Johnny did not
get one of these I’ll never know. But I sure wish he had!
The Origin of ‘Candy Cop.’
Because our district assigned me one of our two undercover cars, the
only cars equipped with two-way radios, I was detailed to Ed Wilkins,
one of our investigators who had been working the streets (far more
successfully than I) in the ongoing investigation I mentioned above.
He had set up a substantial buy on Baltimore’s east side for ten
o’clock on a Wednesday evening.
According to the information we had, the seller was only an order
taker. Once a quantity and a price were agreed to, he would take our
agent to his supplier in his car. I was to follow cautiously and
monitor the ‘wire’ the inspector was wearing that broadcasted
over short distances on our radio frequency. My secondary purpose was
to act as a backup in case of trouble. This, of course, was the
utterly ridiculous part of the plan – our radios could only talk to
each other or listen to the ‘wire’.
We knew from experience that many of the big dealers carried guns; we
were not authorized weapons of any kind. If my partner were in
danger, I would have to find a land line to call the US Marshals for
(We had no liaison with local law enforcement at that time because
some of Baltimore’s finest were also involved in the street trade.)
So going forward both of us were a little more than anxious.
I parked my car on Fairview Avenue five car lengths from its
intersection with Eastern Avenue. My partner walked to the corner,
and a young man soon joined him who my partner identified as the
go-between. They quickly began negotiations and were about to close
the deal when a stranger ran up to the pair and breathlessly
identified himself as a freelance reporter who had been monitoring
our wire transmissions on a scanner and wanted to report on the ‘big
The seller recovered quickly from the shock caused by this
interruption, fled to his car that was parked on Eastern Avenue and
took off. My partner was so preoccupied with the reporter that he
failed to get the license number and only a partial description of
the seller’s car.
There followed an exchange of words between the intruder and my
partner that steadily increased in volume. The would-be-reporter, who
would not identify himself, stubbornly refused to leave my partner
until he got his story. My partner finally became disgusted
(frustrated?) and began walking east on Eastern Avenue. I started
rolling and shortly was able to pull to the curb almost abreast of my
partner who jumped into my car, and we sped away. My partner, still
very angry, yelled that I should have followed the perp’s car. He
mollified only a little when I explained that I did not want to leave
him stranded. By the time we got back to our office, I very much
wished I had.
The following morning, we made a lengthy report to our Chief
inspector. He, in turn, reported the incident to the Federal
Communications Commission who notified the FBI who said they would
launch an investigation. And that was the last we heard anything
One morning, several weeks after our ‘buy’ was interrupted, and
long enough after the fact that I had all but forgotten about the
incident, my secretary greeted me as I walked into the office with
the news that two Feebies awaited my presence in the director’s
We were formerly introduced to the agents who presented us with their
badges and ID. From that moment on, I felt my partner and I were
treated more like perpetrators than peers. The upshot of our
fifteen-minute audience with these two august agents was the
arrangement of a ‘sting’ operation to draw out the reporter where
the Feebies could arrest him for interfering with a Federal
Because of other investigations my partner and I were involved in, it
was several weeks before I was in my car back on Fairview Avenue
monitoring a bogus conversation my partner was having with himself on
the corner trying to sound like two people arranging a ‘buy.’ At
the direction of the Feebies who were parked across and a few car
lengths farther up Fairview from my car, we were to keep up the sham
for an hour.
It proved to be wasted effort; the reporter either wasn’t
monitoring his scanner or refused to take the bait. At the end of the
hour, I crossed the street to the agents’ car. It was a warm night,
and they had their windows rolled down. The two, engaged in an
animated conversation about a recent baseball game, were unaware of
my approach. I was almost to the left side of the car when the agent
driving, who must have just looked at his watch, said to his partner,
“Time’s up. We’re done babysitting those candy cops, let’s
We took ourselves seriously. We thought that we had an important job
to do. But no other agency seemed to. When we worked alongside the
FBI, Customs, the ATF, those crazy U. S. Marshalls, or the Postal
inspectors, and even the state and local cops, we were referred to as
Over time, I became accustomed to this epithet, but I never grew to
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* * * *
DON’T SHUCK ME, FELLOWS
February 28, 1961
It was a gray, raw, miserable, February day. My assignment was to
sample silage at the Leigh Savage Dairy Farm, a large dairy farm
south of Knoxville, MD off of US 340. This was not ordinary silage.
This silage supposedly contained apple pomace.
Apple pomace is what remains of apples after they have been juiced,
sliced, sauced or otherwise stripped of every part consumable; it
contains mostly seeds, cores, and skin.
For years the big apple producers in the north end of the Shenandoah
Valley had been dumping this material in local landfills. As the
story goes, an enterprising farmer carted off a load of these apple
leavings to spread on a field as a soil conditioner; it was a
cornfield. Shortly after that, he let his dairy herd graze in this
field and noticed that they seemed to be very fond of the apple
waste. He carried away another load and mixed it with the hay silage
he regularly fed his cows and almost immediately noticed an increase
in the butterfat content of their milk. Then he fed a part of his
herd just apple pomace and saw that their milk production and
butterfat content increased even more.
He told a couple his of friends and soon the landfills were being
looted of all but the most composted pomace. It was not long before
these wily farmers were backing their trucks and wagons right up to
the elevators that carried the waste away from the processing area
and loading them from there.
This went on for a couple of years before the apple products
producers figured out that their waste might be a cash cow, so to
speak, and started charging the farmers for it. The spread between
the cost of the pomace and the profit from the increased milk and
butterfat production was still great enough that the farmers kept
coming. A couple of the bigger apple products manufacturers even had
a salesman spreading the word to the dairymen around the area who
might still be unaware of the benefits of apple bi-product, on the
off chance they could get a bidding war going.
As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.
The FDA had (and still has) jurisdiction over all pesticides
including DDT. Two things about DDT were discovered almost
simultaneously; flies and other insects built up a tolerance to it in
about seven generations, humans did not.
The FDA collected liver samples from cadavers (I’ve saved that for
another chapter) as well as samples from a wide variety of foods
looking for DDT residue, which turned out to be both ubiquitous and
durable. As a result of the analysis of the liver samples, one
scientist at FDA headquarters estimated that every man, woman and
child alive since the extensive use of this pesticide began, had at
least some level of DDT stored in their livers. And all foods
produced from crops that had been sprayed with DDT contained some
residue. Of particular concern to the boys in our Baltimore District
lab was the extremely high DDT residue present in the routine milk
samples coming from the farms around the apple country, the farms
most likely to be feeding apple pomace to their dairy cows.
Once FDA headquarters digested this information, letters went out to
each of the apple producers in our district requesting that they
voluntarily stop supplying the pomace to farmers. The letter included
an explanation as to why: DDT sprayed on apples tended to concentrate
in the fat in the apple skins, and this fat became efficiently
integrated into butter fat and milk fat when fed to dairy cattle. A
similar letter went out to the farmers suspected of feeding pomace
requesting that they stop doing so.
Some producers did stop; the majority went back to giving pomace away
to save the inconvenience and cost of hauling it to a landfill.
Consequently, DDT continued to pervade dairy products in the human
FDA took notice, became concerned, and quickly promulgated a
regulation that as of its effective date, apple products producers
were not only to stop providing farmers with apple pomace, they were
to load, haul to and dump it in designated landfills. There it would
be buried immediately, all steps to be carried out under FDA
supervision and paid for by the producers. Dairy farmers who
continued to feed pomace to their cattle might face seizure and
destruction of the contaminated milk products, the silage that
contained it, as well as possible prosecution.
It was suspected that apple waste was still getting into the silos of
some farms by shipments destined for landfills being diverted. Since
we did not have the manpower to supervise the loading, transporting,
dumping and burying of every load of peels, seeds and cores, this was
a no brainier as the expression goes. Most of the farmers still using
these apple cast-offs diluted their potential toxicity by mixing the
pomace with other silage. The levels of DDT in their milk went down,
but the levels in butterfat stayed about the same. Some dairy farmers
were obviously ignoring Uncle Sam’s directive.
As a result of this suspicion, a directive came down the pipeline
ordering the Baltimore District to initiate an aggressive program of
silage sampling to catch the dairymen with the goods.
That Tuesday when I came to work, the first thing I saw, centered on
my desktop was an assignment to sample silage stamped priority. I had
no idea how to go about doing so.
I stopped by our lab and shared my ignorance with the head chemist.
He quickly explained what he wanted me to sample, the amount, and
where I was most likely to find it. He then handed me some large
plastic bags in which to put the silage and told me to make sure they
were closed with an FDA sample seal as soon as each was filled.
Granted I was still considered a newbie, but I had already collected
samples of other products, so I knew the last part of the drill.
I left the Appraisers Stores and hurried through the worsening
weather the two blocks to the GSA motor pool where I checked out a
car. On my way out of Baltimore, I stopped at my house to retrieve my
FDA issued white coveralls that I had taken home to be washed, and my
galoshes; I suspected the snow might be deeper in the western part of
the state to which I was headed. Then I also had a cup of coffee with
my wife and played with my kids for a few minutes before I took off.
As it turned out, this was the high point of my day.
It took me three hours to reach the Leigh Savage Dairy Farm, a farm
complex with several houses, barns, and outbuildings just off of US
Route 340 west of Frederick MD. It was a large dairy operation that
milked around two hundred cows twice a day. The farm was also home to
another one hundred dry cows and heifers.
I stopped at the largest of the farmhouses; no one was home. I drove
to a nearby barn; nobody there either. Down the lane that ran beside
the barn, I heard a tractor at work. The lane looked very rutted and
muddy, so I decided to park my car and walk the two hundred yards or
so toward the tractor noise. I donned my coveralls and rubber
overshoes, pocketed a Notice of Inspection form, my journal, several
sample bags and official seals, and started walking.
The tractor was scraping manure from the concrete floor of a large
cattle shelter adjacent to the milking parlor. Two men were sitting
on top of a stack of bales of straw waiting to scatter it after the
floor was cleaned.
I introduced myself, with show of credentials, to one of the men and
asked who was in charge. Neither dairy hand claimed to be. I stopped
the tractor operator and asked the same question. He said the owner
of the farm and his wife were wintering in Florida and they were just
hired hands keeping the operation going. He further volunteered that
a lawyer in town was responsible for paying the bills and making any
necessary decisions about the dairy operation and suggested I talk to
him. I could probably find this person at his office in Knoxville,
but none of the three was sure of either his name or where his office
was located. They added that he came to the farm once a week to
collect the receipts for the milk that had been picked up, deliver
their paychecks and conduct any other necessary business.
I suspected I was being given the runaround, being ‘shucked’ as
the saying goes. And in a not very friendly manner either. (I learned
early in my career that we ‘government men’ were seldom welcomed
as we went about our duties. Our presence was more often than not
resented, and this resentment was rarely hidden.)
I wrote out a Notice of Inspection and told the three men that I was
there to collect silage samples. The tractor operator asked why. I
said I was looking for apple pomace mixed with the silage. He asked
why again and I said that if the silage was contaminated with apple
by-product, it was against the law to feed it to dairy cattle. He
questioned me a third time. I explained about the DDT residue and was
promptly told that that was a ridiculous concern on the part of
stupid bureaucrats who didn’t know any better. The hostility in his
response was palpable.
I was cold and uncomfortable and working on my last nerve, but I
patiently continued that I was only doing my job, that I had to
collect the samples, and added I had the authority to have a US
Marshall stop all farm operations, including afternoon milking until
I got what I came for.
That got the response I wanted. The farmhand on the tractor
volunteered that the silage I was looking for was stored in, “those
silos over yonder,” and he pointed to a cluster of silos, the tops
of which were just visible over a rise at the rear of the feedlot
adjacent to the cattle shelter.
“But we feed only dry cows and heifers out of those, so what would
be the problem if there was a few apple peels mixed in,” he
continued, his hostile tone of voice softening only slightly.
“It’s against the law to feed any dairy cattle apple bi-product,”
I explained patiently.
“Who says?” was the response from one of the hands.
“He ain’t no uncle of mine,” said the other.
“Look, I have a job to do, and I want to get it done before dark or
I get snowed in,” I said politely but firmly. (It had begun to snow
rather hard by the time I arrived at the cattle shelter.) “If you
will just tell me the fastest way to get to the silos, I’ll get my
samples and leave you alone.”
The tractor operator said a little more civilly, “Go back down this
lane,” (the lane I had followed to the cattle shelter) “and when
you get to a gate on your right, go up that drive and it will take
you right to the silos.”
I did some mental calculations – the hypotenuse of a right triangle
is shorter than the combined length of both legs. In other words, my
logic told me, if I just walked out of the shelter and across the
feedlot directly toward the silos, I would get there much quicker and
with less effort. I also thought smugly, OK guys, I didn’t just
fall off a turnip truck. I could imagine their laughter as they told
their buddies about the poor dumb Fed who they had go way out of his
way to get to where he had to be.
The feedlot was now covered in a blanket of new snow. Not a problem,
the snow didn’t look that deep. I started to step off of the
concrete floor onto the snow-covered feedlot.
“I wouldn’t do that,” said the youngest member of the trio who
had spoken very little thus far. “It’s real sloppy out there.”
Too late! My right leg was already in motion, and my body was
following it off the concrete and onto the snow – and through the
snow cover into ten inches of sloppy black, highly odoriferous muck.
Since I had also committed my left foot, it too disappeared into the
liquefied manure. I could feel it oozing over the top of my overshoes
and slowly wetting my socks.
I stood still for a moment waiting for the trio of guffaws that I was
sure would be coming forthwith. Silence. I couldn’t understand it,
but I had to admire their restraint.
What I did not admire was the rate at which my galoshes were filling
up with shit.
Now, what? Do I turn around and face them, step back onto the
concrete and then squish, squish my way down the lane, through the
gate, up the other lane to the silos? Or do I forge ahead on the
course I had already charted? Life is rife with these important
Squish, squish, squish, went my steps as I continued across the
feedlot trying to appear as if I knew exactly what I was about. There
was also some slip, sliding in the process when I occasionally
stepped on snow-covered patches of frozen urine. I thought, my god
does this lot go all the way to the silos? I certainly hoped not. My
socks were now completely soaked, my feet were rapidly growing numb,
and liquid manure had wicked up my coveralls all the way to my knees.
It can’t get any worse than this, I thought.
Wrong! Directly in my path lay what appeared to be a snowdrift. OK,
this must be snow cleared from the lot and piled there. I extracted
one leg from the mess, raised it high enough to step into the center
of the drift and committed. Before I realized what I had done, I was
prone with the upper part my body and face in the snow on the far
side of the apparent drift and my lower half sinking slowly into the
ooze of the feedlot. I had, I discovered, stepped into a feed trough,
only I had missed the center and stepped onto one side, losing my
balance in the process. My dignity was now in tatters and I was on
the verge of shedding bitter tears of frustration, but I righted
myself and continued dejectedly onward, now on the more solid ground
of a pasture.
I also mentally drafted a letter of resignation to my supervisor as I
slogged doggedly toward the silos.
The sound of the tractor caught my attention. It sounded like it was
moving away from the cattle shelter and down the lane. By now I had
crested the small rise and could see the lane, the gate, and the road
I wished now so longingly I had taken, and which the tractor was now
traversing. The tractor with operator aboard and I arrived at the
silos at about the same time. I took little comfort from the fact
that my geometry was correct; I had traveled the shorter
“You’ve had kind of a rough time of it, ain’t you sport?” My
companion spoke with a modicum of sympathy in his voice over the
noise of the tractor, “I’d of brought you over if you hadn’t
been in such a dang big hurry. You were through the shit and halfway
here before I could tell you that I had to come over here anyway to
unlock the power box and turn on the augers so you could collect your
samples. There are only two ways you can get silage out of those
silos is to auger it out, or climb up the outside and go in through
the top hatch, which I didn’t figure you’d be up to doin’ by
the time you got here.”
With the dairyman’s help, I got the damned samples, and a ride back
to my car.
I drove away with all of the car windows down. But by the time I
reached 340, I was so cold I had to close them and turn on the heat –
full blast. The car windows steamed up and my eyes teared over at the
same time; I had to pull off the road to wipe both. In fact, I had to
do this several times before I reached my house.
I entered the laundry room through the garage and took off my boots.
The furnace, which was also in the laundry room, came on just as I
wriggled free of my coveralls. A moment later I heard my wife, who
was upstairs and hadn’t heard me come home, scream something about
the furnace malfunctioning. A moment later, through the laundry room
window, I saw her rapidly exit the house with the baby in her arms
and the other children in tow, headed for the neighbors’.
A fitting end to a perfect day!
Three additional notes are in
order: I was raised in a small bedroom community on the west side of
Cleveland, Ohio. The only farm I could remember visiting before this
assignment was one with my first-grade class. I married a girl from
the suburbs whose experience with farming was as non-existent.
When I began to work
undercover investigations, I was assigned an unmarked car from our
motor pool. That car was being serviced on the day of my
dairy-debacle, so I borrowed a car which was assigned to another
inspector who was to leave on the morrow for a two-week trip to the
hinterlands of southwest Virginia. He and that car were going to be
constant companions for at least twelve hours. I felt really sorry
After I left the FDA, I
worked for two years as a hand on a large dairy operation, and we
lived in one of the farmhouses. After a while, you get used to the
Back to Top
* * * *
LOOTERS IN THE LEVISA
March 9, 1961
I was nearing the end of my first week of a two-week trip to
Virginia. I was working in the southwestern corner of the state, the
region of the wedged between West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
It is a mountainous region hosting numerous tiny towns accessed by
twisting, narrow roads.
I had not felt well when I left home Monday morning and was feeling
miserable by the time I checked into a mom-and-pop motel in
Richlands, Virginia, which I had chosen as my base of operations for
The motel room was sparsely furnished, the bed uncomfortable, and the
only TV – an ancient, small screen black and white Muntz that
received only one, ghost-ridden channel – was located in the office
and not worth the trip from my room to watch.
A cold, gray, damp morning welcomed me, which added to my malaise. So
I decided not to venture out. I turned the wall heater to high,
wrapped myself in a blanket, and began dictating reports about
several NAI (No Action Indicated) investigations I had done the
previous two weeks while in Baltimore.
At noon, I opened my door in response to a knock and admitted a tall,
middle-aged daughter of the mountains, who was the Mom in the
operation come to clean my room. I told her not to bother; I planned
to stay in the rest of the day. In response to my query as to where I
could get something to eat, she invited me to eat lunch (then supper
and breakfast the following morning) with her and her husband.
Sometime during that afternoon unbidden, she made an appointment for
me with the town doctor for the next morning.
Wednesday promised to be a more pleasant day; I awoke from a
fever-driven, restless night to sunshine streaming through my window.
After breakfast, I walked to the doctor’s house and was ushered
into his office as soon as I arrived.
He was a nice looking young man about my age, not long out of Harvard
medical school (so said the diploma hanging on the wall). In response
to my question, he told me he was working as a small town GP as part
of his loan agreement to serve a rural community for three years.
His examination was thorough, his conclusion expected – I had the
He gave me an envelope of pills of a new antibiotic just come on the
market that he said would keep me from getting a secondary, and
possibly, worse infection. The flu would soon wear itself out, he
assured me. According to my travel journal, I paid him three dollars
for the visit and two dollars for the antibiotic. I charged them both
to Uncle Sam.
By late afternoon, I was feeling better partly due to the
nourishment provided by my hosts, possibly because of the medicine,
but also because I had finished dictating those overdue reports, two
and a half cylinders worth.
Thursday morning (3/9), I awoke to March gloom and with an
overwhelming sense of guilt. Also, I was feeling considerably better,
so I decided to do the investigation I had scheduled for the day
after my arrival in town.
Thirty miles northwest of Richlands is the small town of Grundy,
which had grown up in a valley carved from the surrounding hills by
the Levisa River. It was neighbor to Maxie, Harmon, Tookland,
Vansant, and Deel, communities of equal size or smaller, all squalid
and impoverished. The region was experiencing a high rate of
unemployment; money was scarce and the appearance of the citizens I
saw mirrored this. It was a depressing place to visit, I couldn’t
imagine living there.
I had to go to Grundy to inspect a wholesale grocery warehouse, a
follow-up to an inspection done several months before that noted a
severe rodent problem. Management had promised to take care of the
rats, so no action was taken by our agency. I was hoping that
management had kept its promise and I would be able to take care of
this assignment with a quick walk through the premises.
I arrived at the warehouse about 9:30 in the morning. The small
office I entered first was a mess. Stacks of orders, invoices,
receipts, and other miscellaneous paperwork littered the tops of the
two desks and spilled over onto the floor. Several partially or empty
disposable coffee cups nestled between the piles of paper. The large
wastebasket was overflowing with leftovers from several carry-in
The walls of the office had once been white, I imagined, but they
were now a dingy gray. A hesitant fluorescent ceiling fixture barely
augmented the light coming through the one badly stained office
window, which looked out onto a neighboring building.
The manager was a little man nearing the sunset of middle age. He
grinned nervously throughout my introduction and the presentation of
the Notice of Inspection and assured me that I would find everything
in order in the warehouse. I had my doubts.
And they were justified. The conditions noted in the last inspection
were either considerably understated or had worsened immeasurably in
the interim. Broken open cases of canned goods sagged on pallets
placed randomly along the walls and here and there throughout the
main floor of the warehouse; many of the cans were swollen and
The manager, who was shadowing me, volunteered that the warehouse had
been flooded in January and that the damage was salvage for which he
was awaiting reimbursement from the company’s insurance carrier.
That explained the staining on many of the boxes and the foul odor
that permeated the place.
I took numerous pictures, which was no easy task in the dim light
provided. Thankfully, I had the foresight to buy batteries for both
my camera and my black light from the hardware store in Richlands
before leaving for Grundy. It took me the rest of the morning to
write down the case and lot numbers of as much of the stock as I
could access without unloading pallets.
According to the manager, the insurance adjuster who worked for a
company headquartered in Roanoke, had not finished assessing the
damage so he didn’t know when the goods would be released. I
suspected that the only fate awaiting the water-damaged goods would
be supervised destruction. I didn’t know whether someone from the
FDA or the State of Virginia would have the privilege of overseeing
I thought that I should contact the adjuster, but the manager could
not remember his name nor after much searching back in his office
could he locate the adjuster’s card. And he wasn’t sure of the
insurance company’s name because the owner of the warehouse had
changed carriers on January first. The owner lived in Grundy but was
wintering in Florida and had not left the sun and sand to come back
to look at the damage. Stymied by circumstances beyond my control, I
decided to continue my inspection anyhow.
The warehouse had a basement; it was down a sagging flight of wooden
stairs and through a short dark hall. The central area smelled of
damp earth and was lit by one light bulb suspended from the ceiling.
The only foodstuffs occupying the space were potatoes – three
hundred bags of them, each weighing one hundred pounds.
It did not take me long to realize that I was not alone in the
basement. A giant rat poked its head from between two sacks and
looked at me inquisitively; another scampered over the sacks away
from me. I had been told that if you see one rat, there are two dozen
more you can’t see; if you see two at the same time, there are
probably one hundred more. I went back to my car and retrieved my
black light from the trunk.
Rodent urine fluoresces greenish yellow under ultraviolet light.
Everywhere I directed my light, spots and streaks glowed back at me;
the potatoes had been literally crawling with rats. The pests had
also gnawed holes in several of the bags and potatoes had spilled out
of them. None of the potatoes appeared to have been chewed on,
however. My hunch was that the rats were using the chewed burlap for
On the floor to the left of the potatoes were several empty burlap
sacks. In the middle of one, the rats had made their midden; it was
large and very odoriferous.
The potato sacks bore the name of a grower located in Saguache,
Colorado. Since the potatoes had crossed state lines to get to
Grundy, they were clearly within my jurisdiction, but I wasn’t sure
how to proceed. If I followed SOP, I would write a report of my
observations complete with pictures and submit it to my supervisor
who would decide if any action was indicated. If he thought my
findings should go forward, he would pass them along to the chief
inspector for his decision. If the Chief thought something should be
done about the lot of rodent contaminated potatoes, he would give my
report on to our legal officer. If he decided that action should be
taken, he would send the package to the Federal District Attorney who
might present the case to a Federal judge and request an order to
seize and destroy the potatoes. I had a strong hunch that by the time
that process had run its course, there would be no potatoes left even
for the rats.