Life is a Cosmic Giggle on the Breath of the Universe
A Tour of Gordon Todd Skinner's Subterranean LSD Palace
Photos by David Feinberg and Santiago Stelley
Archival photos courtesy of Krystle Cole
Krystle stands inside the silo tunnel where she spent countless hours tripping on various psychedelics.
There is no facile synthesis of the events that transpired at the Wamego missile silo between October 1 and November 4, 2000. The available information is a viscous solution of truths, half-lies, three-quarter truths, and outright lies, the fractionation of which yields no pure product. The dramatis personae are many and varied. The chemicals in question often obscure and untested. What is known is that in 1997, a virtuosic organic chemist named Leonard Pickard joined forces with Gordon Todd Skinner, the heir to a spring-manufacturing fortune, to organize what would later become the world's most productive LSD laboratory. A laboratory that, according to some sources, produced 90 percent of the LSD in circulation, in addition to unknown quantities of MDMA, ALD-52, ergot wine, and quite possibly LSZ... but I'll get to that later.
Leonard Pickard is an anomaly among clandestine chemists—one of very few who was able to achieve great success in academia. He studied at Harvard, Purdue, and UCLA while producing kilos of MDA and LSD in secret laboratories under the auspices of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. He was charismatic and gentlemanly, with excellent posture (he would advise slouchers to let their vertebrae fall vertically, like "a beautiful string of pearls"). A notable photo depicts Leonard at a scientific conference in Sussex, gently appreciating the scent of a long-stemmed rose. He was like that.
Gordon Todd Skinner (known by friends as Todd) is an autodidact chemist of uncertain ability; indeed, whether he is a chemist at all is subject to debate. He allegedly performed his first mescaline extraction from L. williamsii at the age of 19. By 25, he was incarcerated and facing life in a New Jersey prison for trafficking 42 pounds of marijuana. In order to beat the charges, he began a long and fruitful career as a government informant. In 1996, he purchased a decommissioned Atlas E nuclear-missile silo in Wamego, Kansas, and transformed it into a subterranean psychedelic palace. Three years later, he purchased a second silo to house an LSD superlab. The laboratory, however, only operated for a short time, and by October 2000 Todd was providing DEA agents with a guided tour of the premises. Simply dismissing Todd as a snitch would ignore the fact that he seemed to possess a deep and honest commitment to the distribution of psychedelic drugs for the betterment of mankind, which makes what he did all the more complex.
Lastly, there is Krystle Cole, a former goth stripper from Kansas, who fell in love with Todd and was ushered into his private circle of chemists and dealers. Krystle met Todd in February 2000, and they shared six months of lysergic bliss in the silo before things began to catabolize into chaos. By August 2000, Todd was afraid the LSD laboratory was under government surveillance and decided to preempt any criminal charges he might face by turning in Leonard. He furtively began recording conversations and compiling evidence. This led to Leonard's arrest, and a nationwide (and possibly global) LSD drought that lasted throughout the early 2000s.
In October 2000, Todd formally contacted the DEA and declared, "I have what I believe is the world's largest LSD conspiracy... and I would like to try to work something out." Todd received total immunity for his involvement with the laboratory and walked away a free man, while Leonard was given two concurrent life sentences without parole. In the wake of the trial, Todd and Krystle traveled across America, dealing kilos of crystalline MDMA to survive. As time passed, Todd became increasing violent and paranoid, and in September 2003 he was arrested and began a protracted legal battle that culminated with a sentence of life in prison for assault with a dangerous weapon (a hypodermic needle) and kidnapping.
In the years since the arrests, Krystle has parlayed her experience into a series of books and YouTube videos, the most popular of which involves an in-depth discussion of an intrarectal DMT-administration technique termed "the shamanic colonic." Apparently, it burns. Krystle is one of very few people who participated in the LSD operation who is not currently incarcerated, and so I flew to Kansas to meet her, ask some questions, and pay a visit to the legendary missile silo. Despite all she has gone through, Krystle is an ebullient bundle of entheogenic energy. When I picked her up to drive to Wamego she was wearing a tie-dyed shirt that read ".&."
At one time, the silo was a testament to Todd's unrestrained profligacy. The main missile bay was filled with fine Persian carpets and luxurious leather couches. He owned a $120,000 stereo system, which he used to listen to Deep Forest and Sarah McLachlan at high volumes. The bathroom alone contained a shower with three heads and a bathtub that could easily accommodate half a dozen people. Krystle said it was fun. After the bust, the silo was gutted, and everything of value was sold. The space was vandalized and abandoned, it flooded with water, and eventually Todd's henchmen broke inside to steal a cache of MDMA, LSD, and DMT hidden within the varicose pink marble walls. Today, very little of the original silo is intact, and the property is owned by a military-vehicle fanatic, who uses the missile bay to store a collection of WWII-era Soviet T-34 tanks. After leaving the silo, I sat down with Krystle for a chat.
Krystle and Hamilton cut loose with a steamed-vegetable platter at Houlihan's.
Vice: How did you and Gordon Todd Skinner meet and subsequently fall in love?
Krystle Cole: I was stripping at a place called Club Orleans. Todd didn't frequent strip clubs, but his employees did, and one of them saw my act and told Todd, "There's this girl down there you should really see." I did an interesting act—a bondage act. I certainly stood out for the Kansas crowd that was in there. I was really goth because I hated Kansas. I would play death-metal music and have this chain that I would wrap around the pole, and then I would whip myself with the chain. I wanted to rebel against everything Kansas was about. When Todd came in, he wasn't like the other customers, he didn't want lap dances or anything like that. He would just sit in the VIP room and hand me lots and lots of money. Eventually, he asked if I wanted to see where he lived. At strip clubs they always preach a rule: "Never go home with a customer; you'll be chopped into pieces and raped." So I was nervous, but I said, "OK, I'll go." After driving for hours we arrived at these huge metal gates with barbed wire along the top. He had at least ten security cameras outside, as well as these motion-sensing floodlights. There were no other buildings in sight, and the door to the missile silo was large enough to accommodate a semitruck. As he led me inside, I was freaking out.
Why did Todd choose to live in a decommissioned nuclear-missile silo as opposed to, say, a house?
When I first met Leonard and Todd, their story was that they were eccentric investment bankers, and Todd said he had been stockpiling food and machine guns to prepare for Y2K—we met right after the millennium. Todd had everything you would need to survive the apocalypse in the silo. They explained that they carried briefcases stacked with foreign currency and $1,000 bills because they thought the US financial system was on the verge of collapse. They threw around money, drove Porsches, bought me Armani clothes, and I didn't have to work at the strip club anymore. Here in Kansas you aren't raised to scrutinize people about whether they are lying to you or not, you know?
So Todd said he was an investment banker-cum-survivalist preparing for post-Y2K financial collapse, but how did he explain the kilos of MDMA?
Todd very much hid it. When I first met him, I never got to see anything like that. I had virtually no experience with drugs. I did the basic drinking alcohol and smoking pot, but I had never even heard of MDMA. He said, "Try it just once, you'll like it." And boy did I... but I only got to see this small amount. Eventually, I began to suspect something was going on, but I didn't know exactly what. Everyone was so nervous. If you talked about drugs on the phone, or visited drug-related websites, there would be a major chew-out session. It was only later that I was shown the stockpiles of drugs and I found out they had an LSD lab in addition to the MDMA lab, but it never got busted.
I've read that he told people he was using the missile silo to manufacture high-performance springs for NASA.
Technically, at one time, they had springs being made out at the missile silo. Some of his employees said they had tried to make a few springs, but it was mainly just a cover.
Did you see any springs at all?
No, I never saw a single spring at the silo, but Todd's mother actually does own a spring factory in Tulsa, and they do make springs for NASA.
An apparatus consisting of 182 batteries Todd claimed to have designed for experimental electrochemical MDMA synthesis.
So once you figured out that Todd and Leonard were involved in an LSD-manufacturing ring, did you want to end your involvement with them?
As I started to figure it out, I didn't, I wanted to get more involved! I didn't find out exactly what was going on until after Leonard had been busted. I was on a lot of drugs, and I was only 18. I didn't have enough foresight or world experience to be able to discern the things that were happening around me. Before I was just like, "Hey, let's party." I didn't think about the consequences or the future or anything, really.
What were some of the substances that the group synthesized and experimented with?
Todd's specialty was tryptamines. He would perform Mimosa hostilis extractions but could also produce synthetic DMT. He was very proud of all the different chemicals he had. If you got close enough to him, you would get to see this huge "library" of different substances—hundreds of different drugs. This was back in 2000 before most of these substances could be purchased online as research chemicals. Todd would go around giving everybody stuff, and we were like, "Give me!" I don't know what most of the things were. Back then I was on so many different substances, it was like living in an entheogenic monastery. I didn't have to work. I didn't have to worry about paying bills. I didn't have to do anything other than take psychedelics. I had the opportunity to use all kinds of unusual things like ALD-52 and ergot wine, as well as some totally novel things that I have not heard of before or since.
What were some of the novel substances?