Methology - Part II
Methamphetamine is an all-American drug. It should come as no surprise that many embrace a high that can make running errands feel like the quest for the golden fleece.
As early as the 1830s, the French writer Alexis de Tocqueville wrote: "It is odd to watch, with what feverish ardor the Americans pursue prosperity and how they are ever tormented by the shadowy suspicion that they may not have taken the shortest route to get it."
Those shortcuts often have been expedited through chemicals. In 1885, the pharmaceutical firm of Parke, Davis and Company pitched its new product, cocaine:
"A drug, through its stimulant properties, can supply the place of food, make the coward brave, the silent eloquent, free the victims of the alcohol and opium habits from their bondage, and, as an anesthetic, render the sufferer insensitive to pain . . ."
Amphetamine was created two years after that, in 1887, but it didn't become popular until almost a half-century later. In 1932, another pharmaceutical company marketed amphetamine under the name Benzedrine, as an inhaler for asthmatics and cold sufferers. Soon, doctors began to prescribe amphetamine for depression.
Benzedrine caught on, and became a widely used--and sometimes abused--drug. A 1937 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association detailed a study at the University of Minnesota that had taken on a life of its own:
"Benzedrine tablets were used at the Department of Psychology to study effects on human thought. It was found that the substance increased alertness. . . . Apparently, the effectiveness of the drug in delaying the onset of sleep has induced many students to seek the drug in local pharmacies."
Methamphetamine's progenitor is ephedrine, commonly found in the Chinese herb mahuang. Physicians documented its stimulant properties more than 5,100 years ago.
The Japanese first synthesized the drug in 1919. It's easier to manufacture than amphetamine, and more potent.
According to several biographers, Adolf Hitler was a major-league tweaker, taking regular injections of meth. So was John F. Kennedy, if Seymour Hersh's new book is accurate. Hersh claims that Kennedy received regular meth injections during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.
No great stigma attached itself in the 1950s to the use of speed in the States, and many doctors prescribed it upon request. Three types of speed were available by prescription--Benzedrine, a stronger form sold as Dexedrine, and the strongest, Methedrine.
Speed attracted athletes, bored housewives, The Wild One-era motorcycle gangs and truckers, among others. Beat Era poets and jazz musicians wove the drug into their subculture.
Allen Ginsberg said he wrote his classic poem "Kaddish" on a three-day speed jag. Jazz great Charlie "Bird" Parker habitually dipped an amphetamine-soaked cotton strip from a Benzedrine inhaler into his coffee.
Dealers illegally sold speed on the streets, but clandestine labs didn't exist in the 1950s, as there was no need for them. Federal Drug Administration reports indicate that, in 1962, eight billion--yes, billion--amphetamine tablets were sold in the U.S.
Drug police in the mid-1960s tried to restrict public access to speed with federal laws against rampant manufacturing and prescription of the drug.
As the demand began to outstrip supply, underground methamphetamine "labs" were born. Easier to synthesize and far stronger than straight amphetamine, meth was an obvious route for underground drug chemists. They guarded their recipes like those of gourmet cooks, far from the slipshod manner in which many of today's ersatz "cooks" operate.
The first U.S. meth lab busted was in Santa Cruz, California, in 1967, during the so-called "Summer of Love" in nearby San Francisco.
By then, however, speed had supplanted psychedelics as top dog in the trend-setting Haight district. That meant the streets of San Francisco were far meaner than most outsiders reckoned.
But the "speed kills" public-relations campaigns of the late 1960s and beyond was a rousing success. Speed fell out of mainstream favor in the 1970s and into the 1980s, replaced mostly by cocaine.
Speed did retain its blue-collar, white, mostly rural core constituency. Often called "crank"--bikers and truckers were said to conceal bags of dope in their vehicles' crankcases--methamphetamine for years was produced and controlled nationally by outlaw motorcycle gangs.
But as meth started its comeback this decade, the Mexican drug gangs jumped headlong into the game. Law enforcement sources differ on whether the Mexicans fueled the resurgence, or whether they responded to a burgeoning demand.
The old biker labs were capable only of producing relatively small quantities of meth--like most homegrown labs today. But the Mexican superlabs that dominate today's meth market have everything going their way:
* Access to key chemicals needed to make potent methamphetamine in bulk.
* A labor force willing to do perilous grunt work in Mexico and the States--the production, smuggling and distribution of the drug.
* NAFTA. The trade agreement has increased truck traffic from Mexico across the border more than 50 percent since 1993. Traffickers often hide drugs in shipments of food that would spoil if the trucks were searched thoroughly.
* Government corruption in Mexico and among U.S. border agents.
* A generally porous border.
In the early 1990s, the Mexican gangs started to smuggle unprecedented amounts of the drug into Arizona and other border states. That surely accounts in large measure for the unprecedented surge of meth use in the Valley then and beyond.
It's surprising it took so long for the Mexicans to get involved. They already had smuggling routes for coke, pot and heroin, sometimes as middlemen and sometimes on their own. And the profit margin for the gangs is staggering.
Seizures of meth along the Mexican border concurrently soared from about 14 pounds in 1992 to 1,350 pounds in 1995. New Times spoke with Douglas residents who say they've smelled the stench of meth cooking right across the border in Agua Prieta.
The extent to which the Mexicans are involved in methamphetamine became clear in June 1994, when DEA agent Richard Fass was murdered during an undercover operation.
Fass, 37, had passed himself off as a dealer willing to pay $167,000 for about 22 pounds of meth. But his Mexican suppliers tried to rob him of the money, which led to a shoot-out at a Glendale strip mall at 51st Avenue and Grand.
Three Mexicans were convicted of murder in the case. A fourth, the alleged mastermind of the plot, apparently fled the country. Two DEA agents work full-time to find him.
The Mexicans aren't just smuggling methamphetamine into the States, they're cooking it here as well, with chemicals smuggled across the border. U.S. agents seized just 14 pounds of raw ephedrine--its importation is tightly controlled in the States--at the border in 1992. In 1996, agents seized about 1,700 pounds of the substance.
This month, the feds arrested more than 100 people in California, Texas and North Carolina after a months-long investigation centered on the Mexican drug gangs. They also uncovered a large meth lab in downtown Los Angeles during the dragnet.
And in May, a Mohave County narcotics task force arrested 23 Mexicans after the unit uncovered a lab in a Lake Havasu City home. The lab was cooking almost six pounds of meth per week, capable of netting about $1 million a year.
Price Report. Excerpts from an August 1997 global drug price report site on the Internet:
Speed: USD $20/1U4 gram
$150 1U8 oz
Quality: B One gram good for a three day weekend
of nonstop action, depending on tolerance.
Notes: Best contacts for bulk are Sinaloan Cowboys
from Mexico, but these guys are scary. Very tight
group. Don't fuck with them.
1) Peanut Butter
Both USA $25/1U4 gram $100 1U16 oz.
Quality: 1) Long and Strong
2) Not worth its weight in dirt
Notes: Should get better now that the Hell's Angels
are in town.
USD $250 1U4 oz
Notes: It helps to know your friendly illegal Mex brother
working at the resorts. They're bringing in
USD $300 1U4 oz
Quality: B (what damn elves)
Notes: Big batch just in from Phoenix. Very clean
and strong. No ammonia. I can type 500 wpm now!
Even my mom slams this shit!
Summit County Ice
USD $950/ 1 oz
Quality A: Up for weeks w/very little amounts.
Availability: Make your own lab. We did, and so did
our friends! Ephedrine reduc. method is best.
Red P. widely available right now.
Built for Speed?
While meth (or any drug) is an inert substance that we cannot attribute blame to, by its nature it has raised the question, "Are we really built for speed?" It seems that the human body, while naturally resilient to much self-inflicted abuse, may not be a reliable container for the soul at high speeds. While methamphetamine may have the ability to chemically fuel the ride, physically it may just prove the limitations for human society.
--Todd C. Roberts, URB Magazine, October 1995
DeiDra Mounce wraps her month-old baby boy in a comforter, and rests him gently on a sofa next to her. Sitting inside the cluttered Scottsdale apartment she shares with her mother and stepfather, she can't stop yawning.
"Yeah, I'm tired," she says. "But it's for a different reason than it used to be. It's a good tired."
"I was tweaking in that one," she says. "Look at those eyes. Scary. You can't see the big, dark circles under them. I was real pale. And I was a real bitch."
The card says DeiDra turned 18 on November 5. Two days later, she gave birth to Avery Austin. They're both lucky to be alive.
Before she became a legal adult, DeiDra was a methamphetamine dealer, miscarried twins, was expelled from school, ran away from home, got shot, did time in a juvenile detention center, and got pregnant again.
DeiDra says she hates what her meth habit did to her, and to those around her, especially her mother. But she is refreshingly open about the drug's allure.
"Being on meth, you can get stuff done if you keep after it," she says. "You can be with it, alert. You think you're going big places."
The only place meth took DeiDra, though, was down.
Her world wisdom belies her ninth-grade education. Her story, which juvenile officials confirm, defies the sharp-witted, healthy-looking young woman she is.
Born in Galveston, Texas, she moved to Scottsdale with her mother at the age of 10. By the time DeiDra turned 13, her mom was working nights, which allowed the new teenager more freedom than she could handle. She started ditching classes, smoking cigarettes and drinking.
"Got drunk on Jack Daniel's the first time," she recalls. "It was pretty cool."
From there it was pot, then acid.
At 15, she ran away from home with a boyfriend. Soon after she split, she says, she snorted meth for the first time.
"We went to a place in Scottsdale and there were lines sitting there on a mirror. I did it, and I liked it. 'This is the drug for me.' I tweaked for days. I liked all the weight I was losing--I lost about 30 pounds just like that--and I liked the high, being very much there."
DeiDra's mother found her after two weeks and yanked her into a car.
"I remember what she said. 'You're doing drugs!' 'No, I'm not!'--all that typical crap," DeiDra recalls.
DeiDra got pregnant at 15, though she says she didn't know it until the fourth month. She did meth until she found out. Then she miscarried.
"It was the drugs," she says. "I know it, and I have to live with it."
DeiDra ingested meth every way possible, she says, except by injection. Once, someone put a gram--a huge amount--into a capsule and gave it to her.
"I thought I was seeing devils," she says. "I stayed in a bathroom for eight hours, no kidding. People were trying to get in there, but I held the door back. It was almost as bad as coming down off of a binge."
DeiDra attended Sahuaro High for about a month as a sophomore, but was expelled for smoking cigarettes "and other stupid stuff."
She started dealing meth at 16 with a 28-year-old man--"Not a boyfriend," she says--she'd met along the way.
"We concentrated on Scottsdale and north Scottsdale, real hot spots. I sold to a lot of parents. Sometimes we'd all get high together--kids, parents and me, the dealer. I was up all the time, because tweakers are like werewolves--they're nighttime people. That's when you make your money."
DeiDra's arrangement with her meth source was basic: He'd front her whatever amount she needed. She and her partner kept half of the proceeds, plus "personal"--enough meth to keep them both high. She spent whatever she earned--as much as $2,000 a day, DeiDra says--on clothes and fast times.
Her source lived in Scottsdale, DeiDra says, but he wasn't a cook. She didn't know where he got the meth, and she didn't want to know.
In 1996, DeiDra was shot outside the Atomic Cafe in Scottsdale, an innocent victim, she says, of a clash between people she didn't know.
She points to a blotch of scar tissue below her right knee.
"Hit me right there," she says.
DeiDra was bleeding badly, but she had the presence of mind to toss her stash to her partner before help arrived. "I had just gotten shot," she says. "I didn't want to go to jail."
She left the hospital in a leg brace and crutches after a few days and "got right back to my job, dealing."
A month later, police busted DeiDra and her partner for possession of meth. She was released on house arrest after she vowed to stay at her mother's place.
Caught after about a week in Phoenix, DeiDra spent 17 days in a juvenile facility before returning home, then ran away again. Juvenile authorities weren't as forgiving after police found her, locking her up for 52 days.
It was during that time, DeiDra says, that she began to reflect on her life: "I hated it, obviously, because I don't want to go back there, but I also had time to think about what I was doing to myself and to my mom."
She submitted to intense counseling sessions in "anger management" and substance abuse. And she resolved to quit meth. DeiDra continued on intensive probation after her release--including a month during which she wore an ankle bracelet that monitored her whereabouts.
DeiDra says a true test of her sobriety came after her probation officer allowed her to visit friends on weekends.
"My friends pulled out some meth first thing and put it right in front of me," she says. "It was the first time I ever said no to it. I had worked real hard to get myself to where I was, and it just wasn't worth it. I left, and I haven't been back."
Her efforts to stay straight earned her a coveted gold medal from juvenile authorities.
DeiDra got pregnant early this year, by a boy she'd met during group counseling sessions at the juvenile detention center. He was in adult jail for most of her pregnancy on gang-related charges, and recently was released. DeiDra says he's never been a tweaker.
He got out of jail in late November and saw his son for the first time. DeiDra says she and Avery's father plan to find an apartment when they get enough money together.
She worked at an Arby's until a few weeks before her son was born, and returned to work last week. But she has bigger plans.
"I'm getting my GED in a few weeks and I'm going to start school to be a nursing assistant," she says brightly. "But I'm still going to keep going back to the [detention] center to talk to the other kids. They're always saying they can't quit using. Well, I had lots and lots of problems and I quit. And I'm not going back to the stuff. I've got better things in my life."
With that, DeiDra Mounce leans down and kisses Avery on the cheek.
Anti-meth warriors are always on the lookout for sensational--and preferably blood-drenched--poster children. However, the families, friendships and careers squandered to meth addiction aren't often sexy enough to pass muster.
"I guess that abused and abandoned kids, and strung-out moms with eyes the size of goldfish bowls don't make for big enough stories," says Maricopa County's presiding juvenile judge John Foreman.
But meth abuse, sadly, provides ample poster material.
Few Arizonans have forgotten the July 1995 murder of 14-year-old Eric Starr Smith Jr. What possessed his father to stab him to death, and then to behead him on a New Mexico highway?
Smith himself blamed Satan.
But many experts attributed the crime to methamphetamine psychosis, a diagnosis akin to paranoid schizophrenia.
Smith tested positive for meth after his arrest, which followed a 100 mph chase. He told police he'd believed his son to be demon-possessed. The story went international. "Man Who Beheaded Son Was On Speed," a headline blared.
Police records show Smith's woes predated his introduction to meth in the early 1990s. Before that, he was a violent alcoholic with misdemeanor convictions for domestic abuse.
In hindsight, it seems clear that Smith--now serving a life prison sentence--became a time bomb once methamphetamine started racing through his blood.
The same can be said for Mesa's Lynn Cox, sentenced last May to 13 years in prison for killing her 4-year-old son, Chris. Cox, now 31, was arrested in September 1994, after police found the single mother seated near an open door to her apartment. She was gazing on the body of her son, who had suffered more than 150 knife wounds.
An eight-inch chef's knife lay a few feet away from Cox, who was bleeding from superficial knife wounds on her arms and legs, and from one deep abdominal wound. Minutes earlier, she'd fallen or jumped from her third-floor balcony onto a parked car.
Cox tested positive at a hospital for an undetermined amount of methamphetamine, and also for a greater-than-prescribed amount of the prescription stimulant Cylert. Some experts speculated the combination of meth and Cylert sent Cox over the edge.
Witnesses told police that Cox had acted oddly in the days before the murder, rummaging through garbage, wandering into apartments uninvited, ending conversations in midsentence.
Cox spoke openly to authorities about her abuse of alcohol, and of her longtime addiction to cocaine. However, the ex-stripper, waitress, bartender and salesclerk told varying stories about the extent of her meth use:
She told a psychologist after the murder that she'd been using about $20 of meth per week. She told the same psychologist, Dr. Lorna Cheifetz, that devices at her apartment were "talking" to her, and that someone was hiding messages for her in nearby Dumpsters.
She told a psychiatrist she was trying to wean herself from cocaine addiction by periodically using meth, usually on weekends.
Although she had meth in her system when arrested, Cox told a presentencing officer she'd only used meth a few times, and not around the time of her son's demise.
Court-appointed psychiatrist Jack Potts blamed meth:
"Had it not been for the defendant's use of the illicit drug methamphetamine, I believe the alleged offense would NOT have occurred," he wrote.
Just two days after Lynn Cox murdered her son, another tragedy floored the Valley--the suicides of 14-year-old Crystal Williams and 13-year-old Heidi Ehmke.
On September 9, 1994, passersby found the girls' bodies on a dirt slope across the street from Apache Junction High School. Both girls died of single gunshot wounds to their right temples. A .22-caliber revolver lay a few feet away.
The two left no note.
During lunch hour, the girls had hugged friends and said their goodbyes--friends said they thought the girls intended only to run away.
Blood tests indicated that Crystal and Heidi--both products of troubled homes--had ingested methamphetamine the day before they died.
Heidi's short, difficult life included placements in crisis shelters and foster care. A few years before her own death, she'd watched an older brother's friend kill himself with a gun. Against the odds, she made straight A's as a 12-year-old and was a member of the National Junior Honor Society. Crystal, too, was a fine student, but those successes masked a mercurial home life.
The girls grew close in the months before they died.
It's impossible to say for sure why someone chooses suicide. But the girls' use of meth--a powerful, mood-altering drug--so close in time to their deaths surely was a factor.
It's one thing for two impressionable teens to fall prey to methamphetamines. It's another for a star undercover narcotics cop to become a meth addict and murder unarmed colleagues.
It happened in Yuma, on July 4, 1995.
Yuma County sheriff's deputy Jack Hudson shot and killed deputy lieutenant Dan Elkins and DPS sergeant Mike Crowe at the offices of the Southwest Border Alliance--an antidrug task force where all three worked. Hudson pulled the trigger to shoot a third officer, but his gun misfired.
That deputy, Jim Ehrhart, asked Hudson what he was doing.
"You know what I'm doing," he recalled Hudson's reply. "Fuck the cops. Fuck the dopers."
Hudson, then 36, was arrested without further incident and tested positive for methamphetamines. He swore he didn't remember shooting anyone.
Six weeks before the murders, a superior evaluated Hudson's performance favorably: "Officer Hudson is a self-starter and creates his own activities and gets the job done."
Hudson was a married father with two small children, his agency's 1994 rookie of the year.
But by then, according to mental-health evaluations of Hudson obtained by New Times, he already was on the road to methamphetamine addiction.
During a search of Hudson's home, detectives found drugs--methamphetamines, heroin and marijuana--that he'd stolen from an evidence locker and from arrestees. They also seized 23 guns, many of them also stolen from the police station, and more meth in a small safe.
What led this decorated ex-Marine to proudly watch his young daughter in a Fourth of July parade, then, just hours later, to assassinate two fellow cops?
Historical indicators were scant: Hudson's past was noteworthy only for a troubled early family life--his father was an abusive alcoholic. Hudson's own battles with the bottle also suggested an addictive personality.
Several mental-health experts say Hudson's fatal explosion was fueled by his abuse of methamphetamines.
His superiors bear some culpability for not keeping a better eye on him after he went undercover in 1994. Most police agencies make undercover drug officers submit often to drug testing. But records indicate Hudson had no such monitoring.
Ironically, his first apparent exposure to amphetamine came via a police doctor, who prescribed the stimulant Phentermine in 1994 for weight loss. Hudson stopped taking the drug, court papers show, after suffering from insomnia and other problems often related to speed consumption.
In his undercover role as a "biker/druggie," Hudson in 1995 grew a full beard and shoulder-length hair. He soon erred by bonding with those he'd been assigned to infiltrate.
"These people become your acquaintances," Hudson later told a psychologist. "You look alike, smell alike and, at times, you get to the point that you're not being honest betraying them, betraying yourself."
It took Hudson little time to embrace methamphetamine, which flourishes in Yuma County. (In fiscal 1997, the Southwest Border Alliance seized 161 pounds of meth, more than any Arizona task force.)
Hudson admitted he'd first stolen meth after an arrest, probably in May 1995. His wife recalled seeing him at home with a vial and small spoon around that time. He'd told her he was "practicing" how to handle drugs as part of his assignment.
By June, Hudson was tweaking for four and five days at a stretch--much of the time away from home. Hudson lost 55 pounds in the two months before the murders. When he was home, he'd often peek through the shutters in the wee hours, sure he was seeing and hearing things. He, too, saw the shadow people.
By the time he committed murder, Hudson said, he was snorting about one gram of meth per day--a hard-core habit. "I had a hard time figuring out what day it was," he said.
On that fateful July 4, Hudson had been awake, by his own account, for a week straight.
In January, a Yuma County jury convicted Jack Hudson on nine felonies, including two counts of premeditated murder. He was sentenced in April to life in prison.
In Mohave County, state Department of Public Safety Sergeant Emmett Sturgill doesn't have time to dwell on "drug trends."
"Meth is definitely the drug of choice in this county," says Sturgill. "Everybody knows how to make meth here. Everyone thinks the problem is in Maricopa, but listen up, folks, little old Mohave does 50 labs a year."
He's the supervisor of MAGNET, a multiagency narcotics task force based in the northwest Arizona county. MAGNET's mission is blunt: Seek and destroy meth labs, and put the cooks in prison.
Mohave County authorities busted just six meth labs in 1995. The number rocketed to 47 in 1996, and 52 so far this year. People have been busted cooking the stuff in motels along Interstate 40, which bisects the county. Others make the drug in their homes, both in outlying areas and in the county's largest towns, Bullhead City, Lake Havasu City and Kingman.
Published accounts say that convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh sold meth in Kingman while he resided there in the early 1990s.
The county's meth dealers have a built-in clientele at the eight truck stops off I-40. (Truckers have been doing speed since there were truckers.) The frenetic 24-hour lifestyle common to the area--Las Vegas is but 100 miles northwest of Kingman, and Laughlin is across the Colorado River from Bullhead City--also helps business.
"Ninety percent of what we've been doing involves meth," Sturgill concludes. "We can't even target the users."
Tom Collins was Maricopa County attorney from 1980-88. He moved to Cochise County shortly after ceding the helm to Rick Romley. The southeast Arizona jurisdiction abuts the Mexico border for 83 miles.
Collins is a drug prosecutor, and is knowledgeable and thoughtful about what he's been seeing.
"Everybody down here seems to be in the meth business," he says. "Anybody can cook meth, and it's become a dangerous little industry. A lot of the time, you'll find small children floating around the stuff. The guy who's making it is a meth freak himself, so how smart was he before he started to put stuff made with brake fluid, muriatic acid, Red Devil lye into his body and brain? Most of the people who are using this stuff aren't evil by any means, just schmucks."
As in Arizona's urban areas, those who use methamphetamines in Cochise County transcend the stereotype of speed being strictly a low-class, biker-based drug. For example, the son of Sierra Vista's police chief is serving prison time on a meth-related conviction.
From a mere 16 methamphetamine-related felony cases filed in 1996, Cochise County prosecutors this year have filed 51 cases (many have multiple defendants) against meth users and sellers.
Christy Dye of the state Department of Behavioral Health Services says the current meth craze differs from past infatuations with speed.
"It's not just a, quote, city problem anymore," says Dye, chief of the department's substance-abuse unit. "The data we're seeing indicate little difference in meth use between urban and rural areas. That's new."
Last August, the small town of Willcox--off Interstate 10 about an hour east of Tucson--was rocked by the cold-blooded shotgun slayings of a 16-year-old and a 20-year-old man. (A third person survived several shotgun wounds.) Police arrested two teenage Willcox boys, who face trial on murder charges.
Sheriff's reports obtained by New Times suggest a methamphetamine link. According to the reports, the boys may have gone to a home outside town intending to steal meth they believed to be there. Their plan went awry, allegedly ending in murder.
Surprisingly, the number of meth lab busts in Cochise County has been few--just four this year compared with more than 50 in Mohave County, with a similar-size population.
"Maybe if you came back in six months or so, maybe the story would be different," says Bernard Minarik, the Drug Enforcement Agency's resident agent-in-charge for southeastern Arizona. "We are just getting geared up for this stuff."
Adds the 13-year DEA veteran: "None of our enforcement activity in reference to meth has any direct or indirect ties to Mexico that we're aware of. Now, southern California, of course, seems to be a hub for this, so a lot of southern Cal product is being distributed all across the country, and here, too."
Minarik's comment runs counter to data released by his own agency and by other police intelligence. It indicates Mexican drug gangs are smuggling meth into the States by the bushel, some of it through Cochise County.
"There's two sources of meth in Arizona: foreign and domestic," confirms DEA special agent Duncan Lingle. "The domestic meth comes from all over. The foreign meth all comes from Mexico. Some of it's smuggled into California first, but a lot of it comes straight up and in."
Concurrently, Cochise County has a share of independent meth cooks, some of whom have stories with a uniquely rural twist. One such tale emerged last August, after a scraggly man in an old pickup truck bought an exceptional amount of iodine from a Benson feed store.
The feed store carries iodine because it cures horses of thrush, a disease caused by a parasitic fungus. It also can be used in the production of methamphetamine.
"He didn't exactly look like a horse person," Tom Collins says drolly. "I mean, nipple rings and tattoos are not standard fare at Benson feed stores. . . . He was more of the typical, 'I've been on meth for 15 years' sort of guy--one foot in the grave."
The store owner jotted down the man's license-plate number. Soon after that, the customer ordered more iodine by phone. The owner called police, who turned up the name Phillip Olney, with an address in remote Whetstone, north of Sierra Vista.
A week later, another man in Olney's pickup bought a fresh bottle of iodine from the Benson feed store. The owner again phoned police, who pulled the pickup over. The driver fled on foot, but his passenger stayed put and gave up names and locations. ("Something we've noticed with meth people more so than with other druggies," Collins says. "They give up their cohorts in about half a second.")
Officers found the makings of a makeshift meth lab in the bed of the pickup, protected by a large black dog.
The passenger volunteered that the fleeing man was named Harry. "Harry" was Harry Myers, a 47-year-old man already facing meth-related charges after his April 1997 arrest in Pinal County. Myers was soon caught and arrested.
The passenger said Myers lived in a mobile home with Phil Olney. He said he'd seen meth and a "lab" in a travel trailer next to Olney's home.
Police raided the Olney compound, and found the lab where the passenger said it would be. Olney, who turned 50 on December 15, admitted he was a tweaker, but claimed no knowledge of a lab on his turf. Myers' girlfriend, 43-year-old Rita Taylor--who also lived there--said he'd been cooking meth for about a year.
Police confiscated Taylor's notebook, which had primitive sketches of a meth lab, as well as notes on the pitfalls of meth production.
It says in part: "Please destroy this when learned this info, handwriten in your own hand, is as good as a signed confession that will win you about 20 years."
Collins says, "They were a meth bunch out of Central Casting. I mean, the whole nine yards, the trailer, the big dog, the girlfriend--there's always the girlfriend. Pathetic."
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