Monday, March 27, 2017

The Sunshine Makers, LSD and a St. Louis Connection

Netflix recently made "The Sunshine Makers" available for streaming.

This 2015 documentary chronicles the life and times of two men, Nicholas Sand and Tim Scully, who together set in motion the psychedelic revolution of the late 1960's. Both men were idealists who thought that if everyone would just drop a little acid, the world would be a better place. People would be kinder to each other and the planet, have a larger awareness outside of one's own selfish desires, etc, etc.

Scully was a sharp scientist who knew the formula to make lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and had a method to produce and tablet it for distribution. Sand was driven by idealism and spiritualism and bent on bringing the psychedelic experience to the masses. The two became underground chemists who made the drug and did indeed change the world...for a little while anyway. They made massive amounts of LSD and got it in the hands of an entire generation, globally.

Their product was called "Orange Sunshine".

It changed the culture and political climate for a brief period of time until the Federal Government could catch up and bust them all. Both men had connections to Timothy Leary, the Grateful Dead, the Hell's Angels, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love (the Hippie Mafia) and wealthy heirs who bankrolled the operations.

The documentary did a wonderful job with pacing and shining a light on the personalities and renegade aspects of the two men behind story, while not getting too bogged down with pro-hippie nostalgia or anti-government commentary. It was pretty objective...and thoroughly entertaining. Even the soundtrack branched out in refreshing ways, avoiding the Jefferson Airplane "White Rabbit" and Jimi Hendrix "Purple Haze" trappings one would expect. In fact, the soundtrack was great.

If you are reading between the lines, the parallels to Breaking Bad are all there, from the identity with color (blue meth in Breaking Bad - orange acid in Sunshine Makers), a duo working in basement labs, sidling up to dubious distribution networks, the whole nine. Scully even referred to making acid as "cooking". Walter White and Jesse Pinkman were in my mind from the onset.

Here's the official trailer for the film:
It is well worth a viewing if you are interested in drug culture, the 1960's, psychedelia and 20th Century American history.

But here's why I'm writing about "Sunshine Makers" on this St. Louis website:

One of these LSD evangelists, Nick Sand, eventually came to St. Louis to avoid the Feds in Millbrook, New York (~90 miles north of NYC), the Bay Area of California and the Denver area in Colorado where they were manufacturing LSD in larger and larger quantities.

I perked up when the story unexpectedly turned to St. Louis. 

There was a photo of Sand driving toward St. Louis with the Arch in the background. I was locked in...because you know when St. Louis comes up, it is not always a lock that they are talking about St. Louis...people generalize. Even intelligent, well-meaning people don't understand how the various city's in the suburbs of St. Louis ARE NOT ST. LOUIS but they naively, deceptively or charmingly call themselves St. Louisans (depending on your perspective).

Either way, Sand came to the St. Louis region to set up shop to manufacture more LSD and escape some of the trappings and heat in California and Colorado.  Sand set up his new lab downtown and eventually was busted near St. Louis and the jig was up...the psychedelic revolution hit a major snag with the arrest...right in our own backyard.

As it turns out, the documentary followed the same missteps with location accuracy that even the St. Louis media hasn't consistently figured out...but there were enough hints from the film that tipped me off to investigate where the LSD revolution continued to prosper and then came to an end just nine miles from St. Louis.

So here were my clues from the movie:
Notice the addresses? As it turns out the lab at 2209 Delmar Boulevard is just 2.3 miles from my home. The Sunshine Makers got it right, the lab was really in St. Louis, not the suburbs. Sand refers to the lab as "Downtown St. Louis"...and I will give him a solid "A" on that as the lab is located in the Downtown West neighborhood. The operation was called Signet Research and Development.
When Sand spoke of the move to St. Louis he mentioned that he purchased a two-story brick building in Downtown St. Louis. Everyone was happy, he got "kudos from the Mayor" for bringing industry to an "impoverished area". This is the early 1970's and St. Louis was already being described as "impoverished".

I had to check it out to see if the building is still there.

The answer is yes; but you wouldn't recognize it from the photo above. In fact, the entire building was refaced and covered in stucco at some point.
So, it is two-stories which is corroborated by Sand, and the address is right. Also, the attached building just west of 2209 Delmar sports the blonde and red brick color combination that is evident from the photo in the film.
From three St. Louis Post-Dispatch articles from 19731, 2, 3 that documented the police bust of Nick Sand and his girlfriend it is hard to determine if LSD was actually manufactured here in St. Louis or mainly at their home in what the movie claimed was St. Louis (see photo below), but turned out to be the city of Fenton, Missouri about a 17 mile drive from the St. Louis border.
Anybody who knows St. Louis knows this is not a St. Louis house. This is more a product of the subjective "St. Louis": the 90 or so cities in the suburbs west of St. Louis. When Sand was arrested he told authorities he lived at 425 North Highway 21 in Fenton2. But, the actual address was 425 North Highway 141. The home was razed for interchange expansion at Gravois and 141 and was the area that is currently the Swing Around Fun Town. 

This home is where the evidence piled up that Sand who went by Leland Jordan and his girlfriend Judy Neil Shaughnessy, who went by Judy Jordan.

How did they get caught? Well two things really. Per a 1973 Post-Dispatch article, the Fenton Post Office called the local police to do a check of a "house in the 200 block of North Highway 141" as mail had not been picked up for ~ a month by the occupants of the house that rented the post office box1.

When the Police Chief of Fenton visited the property that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described as a "secluded mansion on a hilltop in Fenton....which is on an 18-acre tract and is reached by a narrow gravel road blocked by a gate near the property line"2, they found a interior laden with falling plaster and evidence of flooding. Fearing an accident, the police entered the residence. The furnace had run out of fuel and the pipes froze and burst, hence the sounds of running water from the outside and the interior damage witnessed by the police.

When the cops entered, and investigated the source of the leak, they came across 825 gallons of materials for the manufacture of methamphetamine, LSD and other hallucinogens.1

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote that it was "the largest illegal drug manufacturing operation ever seen in St. Louis County."1 The police described the Fenton home as having "the general appearance of a hippie crash pad", but when they found photos believed to be the residents in the house they were "the straight type." Which Sand and Shaughnessy certainly were.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch Photo

The photo of the Fenton house used in the documentary wasn't the only evidence of activity in the suburbs of St. Louis County; Sand points out that when the bust was going down, the "sheriff in that town got him".  Another clue that "that town" had to be a small town suburb. 

He was busted and booked in Kirkwood, MO per the mugshot:

The couple were returning from a visit to California when they dropped their car off for repairs at 10160 Manchester Road in Kirkwood, MO. They were pulling away from the repair shop when the cops busted them.2

The site is still an auto repair shop today:


The police were on the case. A couple days later, the press used to tablet "half the world's LSD", was recovered from a taxi cab of Leslie Daniels, a young man who was going from a bus stop in Downtown St. Louis to the home in Fenton.3 This bust further provided the evidence needed to make the case against Sand. This press for making the LSD "sunshine tablets" was being sought by the FBI for eight years.

These arrests along with LSD evangelist Timothy Leary (who Richard Nixon claimed was the most dangerous man in America) in the 1970's  brought an end to the psychedelic revolution.

And who would've thought the demise was so closely associated with a lab in St. Louis, a drug house in Fenton, MO and a bust in Kirkwood, MO.


Photographs of the basement of the lab in Fenton showed chemical drums, including at least one marked clearly as being manufactured by Malinkrodt Chemical of St. Louis. Ready access to required chemi cals may have been one of the reasons that the LSD operation was centered in St. Louis.
So maybe raw materials and supply made St. Louis appealing. I reached out to the author of the sourced blog post above, and have not heard back as of publishing. I'll update this post if I hear from him.

So anyway, thanks to the makers of "The Sunshine Makers" for shedding light on a piece of history of my city that I did not know existed and giving me a new adventure to track down.

When I drive by 2209 Delmar, I'll always think of acid and the early 1970's.

I'll be searching for this documentary on DVD to add to my St. Louis collection. Check it out, it's a solid movie with a local connection.

Sources:

1 "Quantity of Drug Materials Seized". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. January 18, 1973. pp. 1, 5.
2 "Pair Arrested in Fenton Drug Case". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. January 20, 1973. pp. 1, 3.
3 "Press for LSD Tablets Confiscated in Fenton". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. January 22, 1973. p. 12b.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just watched this last night and was curious if anyone had sussed out the locales. Thanks for doing the digging and posting this!