In the 1970s, as Goldin amassed his massive collection, he decided to donate the master copies to the National Archives. In 1974, he drove to Washington in a rented van and handed several thousand recordings over to an affable and knowledgeable archivist named Leslie Waffen.
The experience was so pleasant that Goldin repeated the trip in 1976. In all, he says he gave the Archives about 10,000 recordings. He and Waffen eventually dropped out of touch.
After selling his business in 1998, Goldin couldn’t stop searching for old recordings and radios, and each evening he scours online auction sites.
On Sept. 27, 2010, he nearly added the Babe Ruth recording to his collection. But after just a few moments, he realized he knew the record well and even remembered parts of the broadcast: “We heard you banging away over in the woods,” an interviewer asks Ruth. “How did you find hunting today?”
“I’ll tell you, just like this, the early bird gets the worm, and I love worms,” Ruth replied.
The recording eventually sold for $34.74, a disappointing sum. “It was Ruth and he certainly should have gotten a lot more than 34 bucks for it — even if Ruth is blowing his nose, people will buy it,” Goldin said.
But what really irked Goldin wasn’t the low price — he didn’t even need to check his computer database to know that he had donated this very recording to the Archives in 1976.
At first, Goldin thought the Archives had decided to unload his recordings and that they had found their way to a dealer. He dashed off an irritated letter demanding that the government return anything it planned to sell; it was that missive that launched the criminal probe by the inspector general.
From the seller’s eBay profile, Goldin thought the dealer was a woman (the screen name was “hi-fi_gal”). Hoping to be helpful, Goldin purchased a recording from “hi-fi_gal,” though not one of his donations. When it arrived in the mail, Goldin ran the return address — Saddle Ridge Lane in Rockville — through a reverse directory. It came back to Leslie Waffen, who had retired the previous June as chief of the Archives’ audiovisual holdings.
Goldin was hurt. “To have the chief of the hen house stealing chickens, it is just disappointing,” Goldin said.
Over the next 18 months, Goldin helped authorities build their case, reviewing documents, submitting his original receipts from Waffen and offering up experts to help sort and appraise the cache of 6,153 recordings seized from the retired archivist’s home.
When Waffen, 67, pleaded guilty in October to theft of U.S. government property, he admitted that he stole 955 items from the Archives – among them were original recordings of the 1948 World Series, which Goldin had donated, and a rare recording of the 1937 Hindenburg disaster.
In court filings, prosecutors allege that Waffen stole 2,117 other recordings discovered in his house and that the archivist sold more than 1,000. Waffen faces between 18 and 24 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. His attorney declined to comment but in court papers described a dedicated volunteer still struggling with the death of his wife in 1988.
Goldin said he isn’t too upset about what happened — “I don’t get angry,” he repeatedly said in an interview — but he plans on attending Waffen’s sentencing because, like any fan of a classic radio mystery show, he wants to know “how this story ends.”