Undercover no more
But he apparently was just as well respected on the other side of the law. That respect just may have saved his life.
Retchloff retired as Milam County Chief Deputy June 30 during a career which saw him work hundreds of drug cases, many of them undercover, over three decades.
One methamphetamine case stretched from Milam County to Missouri and got the attention of some drug runners further up the criminal “food chain.”
“They sent two men from Missouri down here to find me,” Retchloff said.
“Apparently they went to an individual who had been on speed, was well-known as a ‘druggie,’ and asked him about me, what kind of person I was,” Retchloff recalled.
“ The man said, “If I have to be arrested, I want Ted Retchloff to do it.”
“They turned around and went back to Missouri and never bothered me,” Retchloff said.
“I always tried to treat everyone I came in contact with well, even those I arrested,” Retchloff recalled. “I’ve had people call me up years after I sent them to jail and thank me for giving them a wakeup call.
“It was never anything personal with me,” he said.
A native of Las Animas on the eastern plains of Colorado, Retchloff came to Texas after a stint in the U. S. Air Force.
He worked for the Temple Police Department and then the Department of Public Safety as a state trooper in Falls and San Saba counties.
Retchloff, wife Sue and their four children, moved to Rockdale in 1982 and he worked five years for Alcoa before moving into law enforcement.
Drug task force The next year, 1988, Sheriff Leroy Broadus asked him to move into drug law enforcement and Retchloff became affiliated with discovery of 1,000-plant marijuana farm west of Rockdale, made front page of Reporter and national newscasts. Retchloff spotted the pot field from a helicopter. the Central Texas Drug Task Force.
“And I’ve been doing that ever since,” he said. Retchloff has seen a lot of changes in the drug scene over 22 years.
“Back when I started the hard drug that was everywhere was heroin and cocaine was sort of the ‘designer drug,’ the one rich people took,” he said.
“Now it’s just the opposite. Cocaine is everywhere and heroin is the expensive drug,” he said.
What about marijuana and its reputation as the “gateway drug?”
“I’ve seen a few people that can handle marijuana and stop there,” he said. “But I’ve seen so many that just want more and more, a bigger thrill and they move on to other drugs.”
“Of course the big dealers at the top don’t care what they get you hooked on, just so they get you hooked,” Retchloff said. “All they want is the money.”
Retchloff has seen his share of potentially deadly situations.
“When I started there was no such thing as a SWAT team,” he said. “We had to knock down some doors and go in ourselves.”
The task force did just that, serving a warrant at a meth lab on Lake Belton and stopped the lab’s “proprietors” just as they were reaching for some items.
Those items were a shotgun, a pistol and an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.
“I believe they would have used them,” Retchloff said. “We just stopped them before they could get to the weapons.”
But his potentially most deadly memory was the “semi-riot” Retchloff and other officers broke up in Bell County.
“There were five shots fired and we hauled five people to the hospital,” he said. “I’m not sure to this day if they were really bad shots (aiming at us), or really good shots (aiming at those who got wounded.)”
In plain sight
For someone who has spent so many years in drug law enforcement, including his fair share of undercover cases, Retchloff has led his life pretty much in plain sight.
“I was always listed in the phone book and I know people knew where I lived,” he said. “I always said if somebody came looking for me I didn’t want them to show up all mad and frustrated because it was so hard to find me.”
But of course the pace of a drug officer’s life affected the amount of time he got to spend at home.
One story stands out.
“We were working on a case where we believed there were drugs in two cars and I followed one of the cars all the way to South Carolina,” Retchloff said.
“We made an arrest and got 32 pounds of cocaine,” he said. “I was gone from home two weeks straight.
“I got back home and Sue asked me if I was going to be able to take some time off,” he recalled. “I told her I sure would.”
Then the phone rang.
“Somebody had just spotted the second car and I had to go,” Retchloff said. “We ended up getting it stopped up north of Temple and we got 30 more pounds of cocaine.”
After such an exciting job how will retirement be?
“I’m already enjoying it,” he grinned. “I’m sure getting caught up on my yard work. I think Sue has made me a ‘to-do’ list that was so long she had to put it on a roll of paper towels.”
He certainly will continue to be respected both by law officers and those on the other side.
After all, there aren’t too many officers who can virtually make an arrest over the phone.
“I got a call one time from a guy, telling me there were deputies in his front yard there to arrest him and wanting him to come outside,” Retchloff said.
“He asked me what I thought would happen if he just went out the back door instead.
“I thought about that and then I called him by his first name and said, well, what do you think would happen if I had to come out there and get after you?
“There was a pretty long pause after that, so long I finally called his name and asked what he was doing.
Retchloff continued: “He came back on the phone and said, ‘Ted, I was putting on my coat. I’m going to go outside and surrender’.”