When the DEA arrested William Leonard Pickard in November 2000, agents allegedly seized enough acid for 400 million trips from his missile silo lab in Kansas.
On November 6, 2000, Pickard was pulled over while while transporting his LSD laboratory in a rental truck, he came out of the vehicle and fled the scene. He left behind loads of drugs and his laboratory. The next day, Pickard was arrested and the largest LSD bust in US history was made.
William Leonard Pickard’s Childhood
William Leonard Pickard was born to wealthy parents on October 21, 1945. His father was an attorney, and his mother was a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fungal disease researcher. Pickard was a gifted student and athlete who received a Princeton scholarship.
Though he excelled in high school, he struggled in college and dropped out after the first semester. Before starting work at the University of California, Berkeley, he discovered his love of jazz in off-campus clubs.
Pickard worked in the Department of Bacteriology and Immunology for the next three years, but it is unknown what he did after 1974. Pickard was introduced to the drug scene sometime between leaving college and starting at UCLA, and it is believed that his post-academic focus shifted to drugs. for a time. According to LSD historian Mark McCloud, Pickard worked with a group of LSD traffickers known as the Clear Light System in the 1960s.
Pickard’s first run-in with the law was also over LSD production.
According to some accounts, Pickard learned to make MDA and then transferred his knowledge to LSD during the latter half of the 1970s. No one knows where he began his operation, but he was apprehended on December 28, 1988, in Mountain View, California, after neighbors reported a chemical odor coming from an industrial park.
Pickard was discovered inside a building surrounded by 200,000 doses of LSD when federal agents arrived. The trailer in which he was producing LSD was outfitted with high-tech equipment that produced gel, tablet, and paper versions of the drug.
Pickard was taken into custody and sentenced to five years in federal prison. He became a Buddhist during those five years, but upon his release, he returned to his manufacturing.
An Informant Infiltrates William Leonard Pickard’s Operation
Pickard never stayed in one place for more than a few years to avoid being arrested again. He relocated his laboratory several times during the 1990s. He began in Oregon and later moved to Aspen, Colorado, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
He required his distributors to exchange large bills, and he never kept large sums of money on hand. He also never revealed the location of his lab, preferring to mail directly to his customers or have them pick up products in a nearby city.
Pickard and his partner Clyde Apperson were allegedly introduced to Gordon Todd Skinner in February 1998 at Jerry Garcia’s home. From their first meeting until Pickard’s infamous arrest in 2000, the trio worked closely together. They had no idea Skinner was collaborating with the federal government.
While Pickard and Apperson were away, Skinner relocated the lab from its previous location near the Atlas E missile silo in Kansas. When he returned, the trio began making plans to relocate the rest of the operation to the new location.
William Leonard Pickard’s Arrest and Trial
Pickard and Apperson began transporting the lab from the silo location in two vehicles. Apperson drove a Ryder rental truck and was paid a handsome sum to set up and tear down the lab during moves. Pickard was driving a Buick LaSabre.
The DEA requested that the Kansas Highway Patrol pull them over to avoid suspicion, but the men immediately realized something was wrong. Pickard fled the scene on foot, and because he was a marathon runner, he was able to avoid capture for an entire day.
During the trial, it was revealed that the lab produced nearly a kilogram of LSD every five weeks, with a street value of $40 million. Pickard maintained that he did not sell on the street but only to wholesalers, which significantly reduced the value. Pickard estimated the wholesale cost to be less than $3 million.
Pickard and Apperson were found guilty of conspiring to manufacture, distribute, and distribute at least ten grams of LSD. Apperson was sentenced to 30 years in prison, while Pickard received two life sentences. Pickard was soon transferred to the United States Penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona.
Pickard resumed his academic pursuits while incarcerated. He discovered civil liberties, the justice system, and other drugs. He also taught another inmate to read and wrote and published his own book, The Rose of Paracelsus.
Pickard’s lab, according to court testimony, produced up to a kilogram of LSD every five weeks for brief periods. Despite criticism of their methodology, the DEA claims that the availability of LSD in the United States decreased by 99.5 percent in the two years following the arrests.
Pickard argued in later interviews and writings that the end of his operation was not the sole cause of the drop in LSD sales. He claimed that the drug was already on the decline due to increased demand for MDMA and other drugs, and that LSD sales had never been centralized.
On July 27, 2020, Pickard was granted compassionate release. The court cited his age and medical conditions as risk factors for COVID-19 spread. Apperson was also released after serving his sentence.
William Leonard Pickard is still writing and researching the effects of psychedelics today, and he appears to have no desire to shed his public image as the Acid King.
- Hampton, Justin (July 25, 2020). “LSD Chemist And Psychedelic Icon William Leonard Pickard To Be Released From Prison – Lucid News”. Lucid News. Retrieved 2020-07-27.
- Wilkinson – The Acid King (Pickard LSD Bust, Rolling Stone Mag, 2001)”. Scribd.com. 2001-07-05. Archived from the original on 2013-01-06. Retrieved 2011-10-06.
- “Press release: Pickard And Apperson Sentenced On LSD Charges Largest LSD Lab Seizure In DEA History”. DEA. November 25, 2003.