William Leonard Pickard

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William Leonard Pickard
Image of William Leonard Pickard
Born (1945-10-21) October 21, 1945 (age 70)
DeKalb County, Georgia
Occupation Writer (novelist) study in government politics
Criminal status Serving two life sentences

William Leonard Pickard (born October 21, 1945 in DeKalb County, Georgia) is one of two people convicted in the largest lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) manufacturing case in history. In 2000, while moving their LSD laboratory, Pickard and Clyde Apperson were pulled over while driving a Ryder rental truck and a follow car. The laboratory had been stored near a renovated Atlas-E missile silo near Wamego, Kansas but the two men had never actually produced LSD there. One of the men intimately involved in the case but not charged due to his cooperation, Gordon Todd Skinner, owned the property where the laboratory equipment was stored. Claiming that he was concerned about a possible plot of Pickard's to murder a supplier of an LSD precursor, Skinner initially approached the Department of Justice and then assisted the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in their subsequent investigation. According to court testimony, Pickard's lab produced a kilogram of LSD approximately every five weeks for short periods. Despite criticism for their methodology, the DEA contends that following their arrest there was a 90% drop in the availability of LSD worldwide.[1][2] Pickard himself has long denied these claims; he points to data from the Drug Abuse Monitoring Network indicating that there was actually an increase of LSD availability from 2003 to 2006.[3]


Prior to his arrest, Pickard was deputy director of University of California, Los Angeles' Drug Policy Research Program. He came from a well-to-do family; his father was a lawyer and his mother was a fungal disease expert at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In high school, he was an honors student, played basketball, and was named "most intellectual". He earned a scholarship to Princeton University, but dropped out after one term, instead preferring to hang out at Greenwich Village jazz clubs. Later, he earned a degree from Purdue University in Indiana. In 1971, he got a job as a research manager at University of California, Berkeley, Department of Bacteriology and Immunology, a job he held until 1974. From this year, his academic resume begins a 20-year gap.[4][5]

In December 1988, a neighbor reported a strange chemical odor coming from an architectural shop at a Mountain View, California industrial park. Federal agents arrived to find 200,000 doses of LSD and William Pickard inside. Pickard was charged with manufacturing LSD and served five years in prison.

By 1994, Pickard had enrolled at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Here he focused on drug abuse in the former Soviet Union, where he theorized the booming black market and many unemployed chemists could lead to a flood of the drug market.[4][5]

LSD manufacturing[edit]

Example of blotter art used as a medium for LSD

It is not known where Pickard produced LSD for the very first time. His first arrest for manufacturing LSD came on December 28, 1988 in Mountain View, California. The laboratory was contained inside a trailer that had been moved into a warehouse. It contained state-of-the-art equipment, including a roto-evaporator, heating mantles and a pill press. He was producing kilogram quantities of LSD and putting them onto windowpane, microdot, and blotter forms. He spent time in prison for this and became a Buddhist while inside.[2][5]

From then up until the Wamego, Kansas, arrest in 2000, the laboratory had a number of different locations. Pickard never liked to stay at one location more than two years so as not to draw attention to himself. In early 1996 the lab was located in Oregon; it was subsequently moved to Aspen, Colorado in late 1996. From September 1997 to September 1999 the laboratory was located in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The dates of which Skinner became involved with Pickard and Apperson are uncertain, according to court testimony from both Pickard and Skinner.

One of Pickard's alleged distributors was a man named "Petaluma Al" from Petaluma, California. Petaluma Al's customers were reportedly overseas customers in Europe, which meant that in addition to millions of dollars in United States currency, Pickard and Skinner also used Dutch guilders and Canadian bank notes. They allegedly preferred to deal in ƒ1000 notes or Canadian $1000 notes (discontinued since 2000 in Canada) because it meant less bulk cash to have on hand.[2]

Clyde Apperson was convicted of the same charges as Pickard. He was Pickard's partner and was reportedly a skilled chemist, but his role was mainly in the setup and take-down of the laboratory. He was allegedly paid $100,000 for assembling and $50,000 for packing away the lab. Apperson reportedly manufactured synthetic mescaline. When authorities searched his Sunnyvale, California home they found five drums of precursor chemicals needed to manufacture synthetic mescaline.[2]

Wamego bust[edit]

Glassware seized

Although they were arrested moving the laboratory from the Atlas-E silo location, they never actually produced LSD at this site. The laboratory had been moved there without Pickard or Apperson's knowledge by the government's informant, Gordon Todd Skinner. Allegedly, Pickard returned to Wamego when Skinner informed him that he had moved the lab, with the intention of relocating it with Apperson. By this point, Skinner had begun cooperating with the DEA and had already allowed them to go inside the property to look around. Based on what the DEA saw during this showing, they applied for a search warrant, which was subsequently signed by a federal judge. On November 6, 2000, Apperson drove the Ryder rental truck with the laboratory in it and Pickard followed in a Buick LeSabre; they had walkie-talkies to maintain communication. The DEA had a Kansas Highway Patrol car pull them over to not arouse suspicion; however, they immediately recognized something was wrong and Pickard, being a marathon runner, took off into the woods on foot and was not captured until the next day.

Authorities found less than six ounces of ergocristine, an LSD precursor, during the arrest. However, Skinner alleged that Pickard's lab at times produced up to a kilogram of LSD every five weeks. The DEA estimates this amount would produce approximately 10 million 100 µg doses. Government informant Skinner testified Petaluma Al and their largest wholesale customers paid 29.75¢ (or a little under 30¢) per 100 µg dose, which would put the cost at around $2.97 million for a kilogram of LSD.[2]

Both Pickard and Apperson were eventually found guilty at trial of conspiring to manufacture, distribute and dispense ten grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD); Pickard received two life sentences, while Apperson received 30 years imprisonment.

Pickard, currently 70 years old, is serving out his sentence at the U.S. Penitentiary at Tucson, Arizona.


Further reading[edit]