Feb 22, 2018

December 21, 1967: Owsley Bust


ORINDA, Calif. (UPI) - Five persons, including a college dropout known as "king of acid" who allegedly earned a million dollars manufacturing and selling LSD, faced federal arraignment today on conspiracy charges.
Augustus Owsley Stanley III, 32, whose grandfather was a Kentucky governor, congressman and U.S. senator,  was arrested by agents of the Federal Bureau of Drug Abuse Thursday in a raid on a fashionable two-story home in this residential community 40 miles east of San Francisco. Stanley is known throughout the west as "king of acid."
Pat Fuller, western director of the bureau, said the home contained "a very sophisticated chemical laboratory" and large quantities of chemicals.
Others seized were William A. Spires, 24, Robert D. Thomas, 29, Melissa Cargill, 25, and Rhona Helen Gissen, 26. They were booked on charges of "conspiracy to illegally manufacture a controlled drug."
All were to be arraigned today before a U.S. commissioner in San Francisco. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney said $5,000 bail would be asked for Stanley and $2,500 each for the others.
Miss Cargill, Stanley's girlfriend and a chemistry major, reportedly provided the knowledge for the manufacture of LSD. Fuller said the chemicals found in the house would be studied and analyzed.
Fuller said the raid followed an investigation of more than one year, but "investigative developments of the past few days" led to Stanley's arrest. He said federal agents had dressed as hippies and infiltrated acid-using groups in San Francisco and other places.
Authorities said the raid was not connected to the seizure of $2 million worthy of hallucinogenic drugs Wednesday in New York.
Stanley, an air force veteran who dropped out of the University of California at Berkeley in 1964 because of failing grades, reportedly turned out 10 million doses of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) in a makeshift Berkeley laboratory before the drug was declared illegal in April, 1966. Each acid pill retailed for between $2 and $5.
The LSD capsules became known simply as "Owsleys." Stanley, who wore his hair page-boy style and owned an extensive wardrobe of bright, floral-print shirts, became a living legend among hippies.
The young millionaire was the patron of a popular rock group known as "The Grateful Dead" and let them practice at his Berkeley home.
Fuller said the two-story laboratory at 69 Esperila St. in Orinda had been rented a few months ago, but he would not disclose by whom. He added those arrested also had been seen "going in and out of" a place in nearby Berkeley.
Miss Cargill gave up her job as a laboratory assistant and joined Stanley after he left the University of California. They rented quarters behind a store in Berkeley.
Records show Stanley purchased 800 grams of Lysergic acid, a main ingredient of LSD, from two chemical companies in Los Angeles early in 1965, using the fictional name of the Bear Research Group. This was enough to make 1.5 million LSD tablets.
Police raided the Berkeley laboratory in February, 1965 and seized the lysergic acid and other chemicals. Charges later were dropped when it could not be proved the drugs were illegal.
Stanley reportedly became a millionaire within a year at the age of 31.
He was described by his father as "emotionally unbalanced but with a brilliant mind." He left home at 18.
Augustus Stanley Owsley, Stanley's grandfather, served as governor of Kentucky from 1915 to 1918. Before that, he was a U.S. congressman for 23 years. He served one term in the U.S. Senate after his governorship. He died in 1958 at the age of 91.

(from the Salem Capital Journal, 22 December 1967)

See also http://deadsources.blogspot.com/2013/03/october-1966-owsley-stanley-lsd.html

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AP & UPI stories could be edited differently by each newspaper, so different cities might get varying details of a story.

The Fremont Argus, 12/23/67:
Pat Fuller, western director of the bureau, said analysis showed chemicals seized in the raid included a half-pound of pure LSD and a half-pound of LSD, a more powerful hallucinogenic... He said the half pound of LSD would make 2,170,000 doses of 100 micrograms each, which sell illicitly for about $5 - a potential value of $10,850,000. He said the STP was worth $130,000 when broken into individual doses. "This is the biggest seizure in the history of the bureau," said Fuller... Stanley, Miss Cargill, and Dr. Timothy Leary, 'the high priest of LSD,' were arrested last April at Putnam Valley, N.Y., on a traffic violation. Police reported they found marijuana and narcotics materials in the car. The case is pending.

The Los Angeles Times, 12/23/67:
LSD and STP seized when five persons were arrested in an Orinda home would be worth more than $10 million on the illicit drug market, officials of the Federal Bureau of Drug Abuse said Friday... Federal officers said the five suspects were caught with 217 grams of LSD - about 2,170,000 doses at $5 a dose - and 261 grams of STP. The latter, it was reported, would amount to 26,100 doses... They were freed on $5,000 bail each pending a hearing Jan. 11 before U.S. Commissioner Harold Jewitt.


The Long Beach Independent, 2/22/68:
Two San Francisco men, one of them allegedly the largest LSD manufacturer in the nation, were indicted by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury Wednesday on charges of selling $3,500 worth of the drug to an undercover narcotic agent. The men are Augustus Owsley Stanley III, 33, and Jessie L. Clifton, 20.

The Los Angeles Times, 12/18/68:
Augustus Owsley Stanley III, 34, the self-styled "king of LSD," Tuesday was acquitted of selling 500 capsules of the psychedelic drug to an undercover agent. Superior Judge Paul W. Egley, after a five-day nonjury trial, ruled that there was insufficient evidence connecting Stanley with the sale Jan. 24 at International Airport.
Stanley, reputedly one of the largest manufacturers of LSD in the United States, was arrested along with Jessie L. Clifton, 21, just after arriving from San Francisco where both lived.
Clifton, who actually sold the drug to the officer, previously pleaded guilty to one count of possession and three counts of sale of LSD. He was placed on three years' probation and sentenced to four months in county jail.
The prosecution alleged that the sale was made after Clifton received an affirmative signal from Stanley. However, Clifton was called as a defense witness and testified that he had no connection with Stanley.

The San Mateo Times, 10/10/69:
San Francisco (AP) - A Berkeley man narcotics agents say admits to manufacturing psychedelic drugs on a production line basis, was convicted on three charges involving LSD.
Augustus Owsley Stanley III, who is 33 and wears his hair in a pony tail, was convicted Thursday along with three other men in federal court of manufacturing and possessing the mind-bending drug and of conspiring to sell it.
When the four were arrested Dec. 21, 1967, in an isolated house in Orinda, federal agents seized 67 1/2 grams of pure LSD, enough to make 700,000 tablets selling at between $2 and $20 apiece.
Also seized in the San Francisco East Bay Area raid was elaborate laboratory equipment for the manufacture of even more.
One agent quoted Stanley as saying, "I make the purest acid (LSD), for my family and friends." He was also quoted as saying he kept his formulas to rigid Food and Drug Administration specifications...
Judge William T. Sweigert, who heard the case without a jury in U.S. District Court, returned the convictions and set Nov. 7 as the date for sentencing.

The Los Angeles Times, 11/9/69:
The reign of the "king of LSD" apparently is over. Augustus Owsley Stanley III, who reportedly made millions by manufacturing and selling the illegal hallucinatory drug, was sentenced in San Francisco Federal Court to three years in jail and fined $3,000... Stanley is free on bail pending an appeal of his conviction.

The San Bernardino County Sun, 11/8/69:
San Francisco (AP) ... Three confederates drew similar sentences and fines. U.S. District Court Judge William T. Sweigert, who convicted them in a non-jury trial, ordered all four into immediate custody. All said they would appeal.
Stanley, 34, Robert W. Massey, 31, of Concord, and Robert D. Thomas, 31, of Berkeley, were sentenced to one-year consecutive terms on three counts of possession and conspiracy to manufacture LSD.
William A. Spries, 26, of Oakland, was sentenced to five one-year terms but two years were made concurrent.
Government agents who raided Stanley's elaborate Orindo home and laboratory Dec. 31, 1967, said they seized 67 1/2 grams of pure LSD. They estimated this would have made 700,000 tablets worth up to $1 at retail. [sic]
Agents testified that Spries told them Stanley's group had abandoned making LSD because it had become illegal, and was turning out only the still-legal drug STP.
In the raid they also seized a quantity of STP and testified that Stanley told them, "Please take only the contraband."
The agents also quoted him as saying, "I make the purest acid for my family and friends."
The defense was based primarily on contentions that search and seizure procedures were illegal.
Judge Sweigert set bail for Stanley at $25,000 and bail for the other three at $10,000 each.

The Fresno Bee, 2/1/70:
New Orleans (UPI) - Police arrested 19 persons, including members of the California rock band, "The Grateful Dead," in a raid on a French Quarter motel before dawn yesterday.
One of those arrested was Owsley Stanley, 35, of San Francisco, who police said identified himself as the "king of acid" and a technician with the band.
Officers said they seized marijuana, LSD, barbiturates, and dangerous narcotic and non-narcotic drugs in raids on several motel rooms.
Those arrested also include John McIntire, 28, who identified himself as leader of the band.

The Fresno Bee, 6/18/70:
San Francisco (UPI) - The Federal Court of Appeals upheld the convictions of Owsley Stanley and three associates for the manufacture and possession of LSD.
Their attorney, Michael Metzger, said yesterday if necessary he will appeal the convictions to the Supreme Court.
Stanley, the reputed former king of LSD, was arrested with his friends Dec. 21, 1967, in Orinda. Narcotics agents said the house was a small factory for the manufacture of LSD.
The four are still free on bail. 

The Eureka Times-Standard, 7/16/70:
Oakland (AP) - Augustus Owsley Stanley III, who legend has it made a million dollars manufacturing LSD before it became illegal, was arrested here with two other persons on illegal drug charges.
Stanley, 35, was booked Wednesday [July 15] for investigation of possessing marijuana, marijuana for sale, and a dangerous drug. Booked on the same charges after a raid by police and state narcotic agents were Robert Matthews, 24, and Elizabeth Cantor, 21.
Officers said they confiscated half a kilo of marijuana and an unspecified amount of opium.
Stanley was convicted last November of operating an LSD factory in Orinda where a 1967 raid uncovered a quantity estimated to be worth more than $1 million on the retail black market.
His three-year sentence is on appeal.

The San Rafael Independent Journal, 7/22/70:
San Francisco (UPI) - A federal judge Tuesday [July 21] revoked bail for Augustus Owsley Stanley III and called him a "danger to the community."

The Fremont Argus, 12/18/70:
San Francisco (UPI) - Former LSD "King" Augustus Owsley Stanley III asked Thursday [December 17] that all Alameda County court actions against him be stopped.
Stanley's attorney, Michael Mezger, filed for a writ of prohibition with the District Court of Appeal asking that proceedings before Alameda County Superior Court Judge George W. Phillips Jr. be stayed.
Stanley was arrested in Oakland July 15 and charged with possession of opium and marijuana. He asked on Nov. 3 that the charges be set aside as being without probable cause. Phillips denied the motion.
Stanley had been convicted in federal court of possession of LSD and was on bail pending appeal at the time of the Oakland arrest. His bail was then revoked and he was jailed.

The Fremont Argus, 10/1/71:
San Francisco (UPI) - A state court of appeal ruled Thursday that Alameda County may go ahead with the prosecution of Augustus Owsley Stanley and two other persons on charges of marijuana and drug possession.
Stanley, former LSD "king," had asked the appeal court to block his prosecution.
Others charged are Robert Matthews and Elizabeth Cantor. Police and narcotics agents arrested them July 15, 1970, and charged them with possessing the drugs.


  1. I didn't find any reports on the outcome of the July 1970 arrest in the courts; perhaps it was dismissed or just resulted in a fine, since Bob & Betty didn't serve any jail time.
    I also didn't see any reports on Owsley's parole and release from prison in 1972, which perhaps wasn't news-worthy.

    In April 1973, Owsley was included in the Brotherhood of Eternal Love indictments:
    "Stanley is accused of attempted income tax evasion by failing to file returns in 1967 and 1968. He is alleged to owe $87,368 taxes on income of $145,541 in 1967 and taxes of $54,808 on income of $93,470 in 1968.
    Stanley was convicted in October 1969 on federal charges of manufacturing and possession of LSD and was sentenced to three years in prison and fined $3,000. He was paroled in June 1972."

    Owsley at first pleaded innocent, but later on trial in Feb. 1974, pleaded no contest, and on March 29, 1974, he "escaped a prison sentence but was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine for failure to file income tax returns in 1967-68.
    Stanley, who lives in San Rafael and works as a sound technician for the Grateful Dead rock group, had pleaded no contest to the two-count indictment before U.S. Dist. Judge Lloyd H. Burke on Feb. 15.
    The judge accepted the no-contest plea over objections of the U.S. attorney's office... The Internal Revenue Service said he earned $239,000 during the two years and should have paid $142,276 in taxes.
    In imposing sentence, Judge Burke said, 'You have had your share of imprisonment.'"
    (Meanwhile, fellow LSD producers Tim Scully & Nick Sand were convicted and sentenced to prison...but that's another story.)

    Thereafter, Owsley dropped out of sight of the press.

    In all this, I'm struck by the difference between how Owsley was reported in the press, versus the Grateful Dead. For the Dead, there were tons of interviews and a flood of reports on their activities. For all Owsley's "LSD king" fame and notoriety, nothing but rumors, police reports & court decisions reached the papers. Owsley never spoke to the press during these years, and remained a shadowy figure to the public - which was how he liked it.

  2. This is a really interesting article, and great follow-up info by Light into Ashes. You can see the bias in the reporting when an article describes Owsley "who is 33 and wears his hair in a pony tail..." Hairstyles are relevant? A pony tail was relevant? These newspapers probably soiled themselves when a defendant had an Afro -- and back then, just having an Afro was cause for an arrest. (I will remain silent on whether that has changed; policing and racism belongs in a different forum so that's not the point of my comments.)

    The other thing that grabbed me is Light's info on the tax rates: "He is alleged to owe $87,368 taxes on income of $145,541 in 1967 and taxes of $54,808 on income of $93,470 in 1968." and "The Internal Revenue Service said he earned $239,000 during the two years and should have paid $142,276 in taxes." Jesus -- that comes out to about a 60% tax rate! (These days the maximum federal tax rate is 37%.) But it doesn't stop at 60% because state income taxes may also be owed. To be clear, I have no idea of the then-existing California state income tax -- but it's currently around 13%. If it was 13% back then, then after paying federal and state taxes, you would be left only about 25% to 30%% of your gross pay. The consenting adults who wish to use a recreational drug get locked up, but the IRS enforcing a confiscatory tax rate is fine and dandy? SMH

    1. We've gotten used to lower tax rates; but corresponding with that has been an erosion in public services and control of increasing portions of society by autocratic billionaires & private finance firms.
      And LSD's still illegal.