Friday, June 08, 2007

Lords of Acid

Tangentally part of surfing's history. Nick Schou's "LORDS OF ACID, How the Brotherhood of Eternal Love Became OC’s Hippie Mafia," originally published in the  Orange County Weekly, July 7, 2005, and long out of print, is excerpted below:

Thumper knew it was time to run away from home when he saw his dad’s car in the driveway. He was walking home from Laguna Beach’s Thurston Middle School, heading up the hill to his house, reflecting on the fact that, months after the Summer of Love, his mom and dad weren’t quite finished beating the hell out of each other. His dad was vice president of a major perfume manufacturer, rich, and angry. His parents had separated four years earlier and now were beginning the second round of a bruising reconciliation. Dad had come home with a 5-year-old kid from a relationship with another woman. Thumper’s stepbrother was there, during all the arguments that would follow, “tucked into a corner,” he says.

Later that day, Thumper’s older sister, home on break from UCLA, called. “We were on the phone, and she’s like, ‘What’s he doing there?’” Thumper recalls. “And I was like, ‘You don’t understand: he’s back.’ And my sister said something like, ‘That is so not happening. That is not groovy.’” His sister never came home. She moved into a house in Laguna Canyon. His parents didn’t seem to care. “She was old enough to do what she wanted to,” he says. “And my mom and dad were more into trying to save their own marriage for whatever goofy reason than caring about us, quite frankly.”

A month later, Thumper came home from school and heard yelling and screaming again. “So I go into the house and Mom’s all bloody and Dad’s beating the hell out of her,” he recalls. He pretended to call the police—a desperate ploy to scare his father—grabbed his stepbrother, and ran out of the house.

“So I went in search of my sister and stopped by Mystic Arts right across from Taco Bell” on Pacific Coast Highway. Unbeknownst to Thumper, his sister was already notorious. “Everyone called her Sunshine,” he says. “I asked a bunch of people where she was and they said, ‘Yeah, she’s at a group grope.’ I had no idea what that meant, because I was 14 years old.”

Thumper thumbed a ride. “There are these guys out front of this house smoking doobies,” he says. They told him Sunshine was inside. “So I go in there. They’re having this massive orgy. They looked like maggots. So I’m like, ‘Excuse me, pardon me, excuse me.’” Finally, someone pointed out his sister. She was “like, busy every which way.” It’s easy to imagine the 14-year-old Thumper, barely entering puberty, standing fully clothed in the middle of an orgy, the sitar of Ravi Shankar dripping thick from the ceiling, incense and pot smoke hanging in the air like cotton, naked bodies writhing around him.

He tapped his buck-naked sister on the shoulder. “I’m hungry,” he said. “Mom and Dad are fighting. Do you have five bucks? “She’s like, ‘Not on me.’ Which was pretty apparent.”


In the midst of that throbbing mass of passionately entwined bodies, Thumper set foot on a path that would take him into the arms of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, a legally registered nonprofit religious institution centered on Mystic Arts World, a head shop in downtown Laguna Beach. The church’s figurehead and high priest was Timothy Leary, a world-famous former Harvard psychology professor turned proselytizer of psychedelic drugs. Leary and the Brotherhood preached spiritual awakening through Buddhist meditation and drug experimentation. Leary’s mantra—Tune in, turn on, drop out—had already led countless disaffected middle-class kids to quit their jobs or classes, head to California and drop acid.

The Brotherhood’s bible was Leary’s Psychedelic Prayers, his idiosyncratic translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Mystic Arts sold copies of Leary’s book, along with incense, candles and imported counter-cultural paraphernalia. Behind a bamboo-covered wall, church members gathered in a secret meditation room decorated with a massive Taxonomic Mandala, a technicolor spiral depicting the evolution of life, from primal ooze to Homo sapiens.

But Mystic Arts was more than a head shop or meditation center. And although it didn’t start out that way, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love wasn’t just a church. It was also Orange County’s first major international drug smuggling network. The Brotherhood viewed marijuana and acid as sacraments. Many of its members were serious, spiritual people who hoped to end the war in Vietnam and inspire a generation to achieve worldwide peace and harmony. It funded vegan soup kitchens and promoted an array of local artists, but it also financed a complex conglomeration of underground pipelines that would eventually funnel untold quantities of hash and marijuana—and later cocaine—to Southern California from such exotic locales as Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Costa Rica.

The Brotherhood also ran secret local laboratories for the production and distribution of Orange Sunshine, a powerful orange acid tablet that turned on thousands of young people in Laguna each year. By the time Thumper met the Brotherhood during one of its sacred sex rites, the group’s inner light was already dimming. Less than a year later, on Dec. 26, 1968, an ambitious young Laguna Beach police officer named Neil Purcell arrested Leary for possession of 2 kilos of marijuana and hash. Leary would spend a brief stint in state prison before escaping—with the help of the Brotherhood—to Algeria.

Four years after his arrest, the Orange County grand jury indicted 46 Brotherhood members and fellow travelers on charges of belonging to an international drug ring. A 1972 Rolling Stone article dubbed them the “Hippie Mafia.” Local law enforcement officials declared victory.

One of the founding members of the Brotherhood wasn’t indicted: John Griggs, an Anaheim-raised hippie who worshiped Leary and hoped to install him as a prophet on a church-owned island. By the time the convictions came in, Griggs was gone, dead from an overdose of psilocybin in 1969. Most of those arrested spent, by today’s standards, a relatively short time behind bars. Many lived on the run under assumed identities for years, like Nicholas Sand, who evaded capture until 1996, when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police caught up with him in British Columbia. Police finally arrested Brother Russell Joseph Harrington in 1994, at his home near Lake Tahoe. But few of the survivors did as well as John Gale. Briefly jailed in the 1970s and early ’80s, he went on to earn millions of dollars dealing drugs long after Purcell and the rest of Orange County law enforcement claimed they had crushed the Brotherhood.

If the cops didn’t actually destroy the Brotherhood, drugs did. Cocaine trafficking and the money that came with it perverted whatever was genuine in the church’s spiritual origins. The Brotherhood’s drug empire produced great wealth, addiction and a surplus of paranoia that lasts even today, more than 30 years later. Many people, including those only peripherally involved in the famed Hippie Mafia, are still reluctant to talk about it. One of those people, a Laguna Beach shop owner, was among those named in the original indictment. Although the charges against him were dropped when it became clear he wasn’t a party to the Brotherhood’s criminal dealings, he refused to discuss his past. “All Leary did by coming to Orange County was bring a lot of heat on a lot of people,” he says. “Nobody’s going to talk to you, and if they do, you shouldn’t trust what they say they remember. “If you remember it, you weren’t there.”


When Sunshine’s group grope ended, she dressed and took Thumper and their stepbrother to a communal house on Bluebird Drive. Her “friends” included Griggs and Gale. Thumper remembers being immediately drawn to Gale, a Jesus look-alike, the extrovert son of a wealthy Newport Beach boat manufacturer who also owned a Harley-Davidson distributorship.

“Gale was a beach boy, a surfer, musician, ladies man and man about town,” Thumper says. Some of the other Brothers, like Griggs, were “inlanders.” Thumper thought Gale was the real deal, a generous, larger-than-life character who loved playing practical jokes on his friends and took the time to make a lasting impression on total strangers.

“Gale used to go down to Taco Bell, and would hand out two dollars to everyone there,” Thumper says. “Two dollars doesn’t sound like a lot of money. But back then, tacos cost 19 cents. And he would literally give away $100 every day.

"The original conception of the Brotherhood wasn’t about making money. We were funding soup kitchens. We had this one vegetarian kitchen called — what was it? — Love Animals Don’t Eat Them. The Brotherhood wasn’t about being greedy. It was about feeding people.”


Kent Kelly, a soft-spoken, pensive veteran of Laguna Beach’s hippie scene, owns Blind Faith, an aptly named art gallery in San Clemente. He moved to Laguna Beach from Chicago in 1968 and served food at the Love Animals Don’t Eat Them food kitchen. He also managed Mystic Arts, after landing a job sweeping floors there. That’s when he first met Timothy Leary, whose son Jack already worked at the shop.

“Sometimes we’d have Leary’s whole laundry load from the dry cleaners in the store for two weeks, and it was nothing but Leary’s silk robes,” Kelly says.

The store was a mecca for eccentric Laguna Beach hippies with odd nicknames, like Crazy Horse, a towering sword swallower who often wore a safety pin through his nose, and Cocaine Carol, who avoided pot, hash and LSD but always seemed to be snorting a hitherto-unknown white powder. He remembers the Brotherhood of Eternal Love as a bunch of “very generous” guys. “They might have had thousands of dollars, but they’d still hitchhike.” But Kelly wasn’t a fan of Leary, a man he regarded as irresponsible.

“I thought his message was too willy-nilly, everyone taking LSD,” Kelly says. “It wasn’t for everyone.” Although he knew the Brotherhood ran Mystic Arts, he doesn’t remember taking orders from anyone. “I was a worker bee,” he says. Occasionally, 30 or 40 people, sometimes Leary himself, would attend store meetings. “Leary just sat there and smiled and never said much,” he recalls. “The Brotherhood is just as much a mystery to me as it is to you. I didn’t really have any communication with them. They were really secretive . . . You heard rumors about people running around the world to Afghanistan, but no one in the Brotherhood told me about it.”

Among other things, Kelly was unaware that Mystic Arts had become part of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s marijuana, acid and hash distribution network. But hippies came to the shop from around Orange County to buy LSD in bulk.

“We would make frequent trips down to Laguna Beach,” says a woman whose housemates in Silverado Canyon included drug dealers. “I was on the very fringe, and the people in the Silverado house were on the fringe too. They were connected by virtue of the fact that these guys were selling their LSD. The Brotherhood didn’t use the term ‘Brotherhood.’ It was more like a secret, a fraternity . . . it wasn’t a staple of their conversation.” Every time she and her housemates drove to Mystic Arts, they re-painted their Volkswagen minibus to avoid police detection. “Now it seems silly,” she says, “but back then it seemed serious.” Her commune collapsed when some members moved to Hawaii and others headed north to Big Sur. She went to work in a San Francisco soup kitchen called The Living Room, where she met a wild-eyed man who thought he was god. “Charles Manson came into The Living Room every day for a week,” she says. “He was on his way to the desert and I had just come from there, so we had a lot to talk about. He was already out of his head, but so were a lot of people. He didn’t stick out until we saw him on the cover of some magazine.”


Not long after moving in with his sister, Thumper lost his virginity to a 23-year-old woman. There was no shortage of free love. He figures he had sex 100 or 200 times with various, more-than-willing female partners. “It was a pretty wild time, a promiscuous time. There were things a 14-year-old shouldn’t know and shouldn’t do.

“Here you had a bunch of kids doing such crazy things as selling all the pot in the world, all these commercial kilos that they would wrap up and sell as four-finger lids,” he says. “They would get the money and go buy, like, a new surfboard. Everything was so innocent. They were literally making LSD in some laboratory by Mystic Arts. They made thousands and thousands of these tabs called Orange Sunshine.”

Thumper says the Brotherhood kept him and other kids away from LSD. He talks about Leary as a kind of father figure. It was Leary who gave him the name “Thumper”—after the hyperactive rabbit in the Disney movie Bambi—for his nervous habit of tapping his foot. And it was Leary who gave him his first joint—not to smoke, but to sell. “Tim was very kind to me,” Thumper says, but also told him he’d have to work for his cash. As Thumper describes him, Leary, in the vanguard of the counterculture, was puritanical when it came to money.

Leary “gave me this paper bag,” Thumper says, and told him to go down to San Clemente, find Marines on leave from Camp Pendleton, and offer them four “fingers” — rolled-up packages of marijuana — for $10. “And I’m literally, honest to God, going, ‘Are you kidding? Fingers?’ And he goes, ‘Not anatomical. Just tell them that and, trust me, you’ll get your money.’”

“So I went down there and waited all day long until I saw some jarheads I thought I could outrun,” Thumper says. “I had hair down past my shoulders, and they were fighting each other over who was going to give me the money first. And not only did they not beat me up or call me ‘fag’ or ‘girl,’ but they thought I was cool. And I got $10.”

The next day, Thumper says, he asked Leary for four more fingers. Leary agreed and Thumper made another deal. “I did this pretty much five times a week for several months.” Usually Griggs or another Brother would hand him the paper bag. When Thumper asked if he could have several bags at once, they told him that wasn’t the agreement: just one lid at a time—which would give Thumper and his stepbrother just enough money to buy lunch at Taco Bell or Orange Julius.

“Right then,” he says, “I was learning this goofy work ethic.”


Everyone has their stories, and the notion of Leary or anyone else handing a 14-year-old marijuana didn’t sound right to Robert “Stubby” Tierney, one of the original members of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. “I never seen him do that—ever,” he insisted. “Timothy was pretty high-strung. And we didn’t have 14-year-old kids on the front line.”

A Buddha-shaped, baby-faced man with a gentle smile and quick laugh, Stubby speculates that Thumper could be one of the countless people he’s met over the intervening decades, people who claim to be part of the Brotherhood but weren’t really involved. “Everyone says they were part of the Brotherhood,” he says. “And in reality, that’s what we wanted—we wanted everyone to feel part of it.” On the other hand, he points out, it would be impossible for everyone to remember those days the same way.

“We’re all just sitting around a big campfire,” he says. “He might have seen the campfire from a different angle than me. There were branches of our family that I didn’t know. I’m not going to completely deny what the guy is saying. I just know I was there. I was one of the officers of the Brotherhood. I was third in command on the FBI’s flow chart. What I’m saying is, some of it doesn’t match up with what I remember, but I can’t discredit the guy either.”

Stubby is used to hearing stories that don’t quite add up, and says nobody was guiltier of self-aggrandizement than Leary. “I could never figure Tim out,” he says. “He would always take credit for our experiences and talk about them in the first person.” And then Stubby drops a bombshell of his own: “Unbeknownst to me, Timothy Leary worked for the CIA. He came to infiltrate our gang.”

If anyone would know the Brotherhood’s inner dealings, it’d be Stubby. Although many claim the Brotherhood originated in 1965 with John Griggs and his Anaheim-based gang the Street Sweepers, Stubby says his branch of the family originated two years earlier, in Newport Beach.

In 1963, Stubby began hanging out with a bunch of surfers known as the 15th Street Gang, in a house called the Animal Farm. “We were the potheads in town,” he says. “We were longhaired kids. The cops got on our case as a public nuisance.” One of those cops was Neil Purcell, who then worked for the Newport Beach Police Department and who would go on to lead the charge against Leary and the Brotherhood.

With a push from Purcell, Stubby and his friends moved down to Laguna Beach in about 1966. “We called ourselves the Tribe of the Rising Sun,” he says, displaying a medallion that depicts a flaming orb of sunlight. “We merged with the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. The cheapest rents were in the canyon. So we rented two houses on Victory Walk. We dealt drugs out of one house and lived in another. I had seven houses at one point because when one house got hot I had to rent another. Johnny Griggs and Leary lived next door on Roosevelt Lane.

"This was right after we opened Mystic Arts World, which is how we got to be known around the world. We used to go into the back room and smoke out.” Much more than simply a group of people interested in puffing joints or dropping acid, Stubby insists, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love was a family of people seeking spiritual enlightenment.

“We were totally spiritual, religious people,” he says. “Acid and marijuana were sacraments to us. We were so upset about Vietnam. We were like soldiers. We brought Timothy Leary to us to approach famous people like Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane — all the San Francisco bands — so we’d have control of the music. We really had power.”

Part of that power was the Brotherhood’s trademark orange acid. “Orange Sunshine was the purest form of LSD,” he says. “But we made it a little too stony” — that is, too powerful. Tierney and his friends would manufacture hundreds of doses at a time by taking a piece of plywood, drilling holes halfway into it, then rubbing the acid paste into the plywood to dry.

“We did it right in the canyon,” he says. “We distributed Sunshine for 10 cents a dose. There was nothing in the world that would get you high for 12 hours for just 10 cents. If a person wanted a bunch of doses, the price went down to 5 cents and I’d give them a case of Leary’s Psychedelic Prayers. We always distributed the money we made so everybody could have a house. We weren’t greedy. We just wanted people to get high.”

Stubby says he and John Gale would play football each New Year at Laguna Beach High School. The losing team brought a kilo of pot to the after-party. They also took turns showing up at Grateful Dead concerts, passing out free doses of Orange Sunshine. Gale would usually dress in an orange jump suit.

They also inserted their spirituality into the surf industry. With financial support from Stubby, Gale founded Rainbow Surfboards, around the time the Brotherhood made “Rainbow Bridge,” a 1970 Hendrix film in Hawaii. Stubby still has outtakes of the film where Brothers open up a surfboard to reveal stashes of pot hidden in the tail fin. Rainbow boards featured Buddhist mandalas, dolphins, religious symbols and “things you could reflect on,” Stubby says. “We had the widest boards and the most unique designs,” including one based on the dimensions of an 87-foot boat the Brotherhood owned. The company still survives, under new management whose website echoes its genesis: “A legend reborn! Rainbow Surfboards was founded by Johnny Gale in 1969 in Laguna Beach, California. The late 1960s and early 1970s were a time of mind expansion, new music and pure cosmic surf soul.”

But music, meditation and surfing became secondary to drug smuggling. Stubby had friends in Mexico who provided the Brotherhood with tons of cheap pot smuggled on the bodies of people who simply walked across the border. Soon, he and other Brothers were transporting marijuana and hash from all over the world.

“Everybody started traveling and getting involved in it,” Stubby says. Serendipity bred instant smuggling routes. “You’d be somewhere halfway around the world and bump into a Brother and they would take it from there. It was like the Lord put it there for us.”

The favorite source of cheap, highly potent pot was Afghanistan. From there, the Brotherhood would transport it to Germany. “Then we’d buy a Porsche, ship it to Canada and then drive it across the border.” The police were always one step behind them, even after Officer Purcell moved from Newport to Laguna, seemingly bent on busting the Brotherhood.

At night, cops would stalk through Laguna Canyon with parabolic antennas aimed at windows, attempting to pick up coughing sounds or drug-related conversations. Stubby heard rumors that the police thought the Brotherhood employed a pack of guard dogs capable of sniffing gunpowder to protect their stashes and used to impound any stray dog they came across. Sure, the Brotherhood had dogs, Stubby says, but they didn’t know gunpowder from dog food. In reality, Stubby says, he had a brother-in-law who happened to be a federal drug agent based in Tustin.

“He would call up and say they were going to do a bust on Tuesday or Wednesday,” he says. “So I was being warned.”

Being isolated in the canyon afforded the Brotherhood a certain redoubt. But the cops kept coming. “There were telephone taps on one of our smuggling operations. They considered us a threat to global security because we were avatars playing God and hooking up with the Yogananda and exposing it to the youth. And we had a lot of naked women running around. The police really envied us, and it made them want to get us even worse.”


The biggest bust of Neil Purcell’s career also marked the beginning of the end of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. At about 11 p.m. on Dec. 26, 1968, Purcell, who had followed Stubby and the Brotherhood from Newport Beach to the Laguna Beach Police Department, drove his cruiser up a twisting stretch of Woodland Drive. He spotted a station wagon parked in the middle of the road. People were moving around inside. They appeared to be arguing. They were too busy to notice him.

Purcell tapped on the window and demanded the driver’s identification. But he didn’t need to read the name on the license. The driver was Timothy Leary. Purcell knew Leary well. He ordered him out of the vehicle and, after calling for backup, searched the car. He would later say that he could smell the acrid odor of marijuana emanating from the station wagon through Leary’s rolled-down window. According to Purcell, a quick search turned up two kilos of marijuana and hashish, some of it hidden in clothing and luggage strewn throughout the wagon. Purcell arrested Leary for marijuana possession.

Leary remembered things differently. In his 1983 memoir, Flashbacks, he claimed Purcell planted two joints on him. “That’s bull,” says Dion Wright, an artist who was staying with Leary, Griggs and other members of the Brotherhood at Woodland Drive that night. “You can’t believe anything Tim says. If it makes him look good, he’ll say it. It doesn’t have anything to do with the truth.” Wright painted the Taxonomic Mandala that decorated the hidden meditation room inside Mystic Arts. A good friend of Griggs, Wright says Leary’s son Jack—and by extension, Leary himself—was responsible for the bust.

“Jack was taking all the Brotherhood wives into bed with him, and John Griggs had a very different idea of what the Brotherhood was supposed to be about,” Wright says. “John got fed up with what Jack was doing and told Tim that Jack had to go, or else everyone else would.” So Tim put his wife and son in the car. “They drove down the hill in an emotional furor; they just spun out of there arguing.” That recollection would explain why Purcell was able to creep up on Leary without being noticed.

“Purcell had been stalking Leary for months,” Wright adds. “They had ‘Purcell Watch’ at the house—a whole system of alarms and whistles so everyone knew when Purcell was around. It was Tim’s folly that got him busted. But to this day, I don’t think Purcell knows the reason he was able to bust Leary that night.”

Earlier, Griggs had been trying to raise money through Mystic Arts to purchase an island where he, Leary and the rest of the Brotherhood could establish a utopian society founded on Leary’s religious teachings. Leary convinced Griggs that a ranch in the mountains was more practical. “Tim didn’t want to go to an island,” Wright says. “He wanted access to the media, and that’s what set off the conflict that destroyed the Brotherhood. John liked Tim, but the rest of the Brotherhood didn’t. They moved off to Hawaii.”

Wright says even Griggs grew disillusioned with Leary. “John Griggs viewed Leary as a Christ-like figure and viewed himself as John the Baptist. But after Leary got here and they got involved with each other, it was an erosion of reality.” Wright wasn’t impressed with Leary. “He was a very charming guy. But he was a very irresponsible hedonist—with a great brain. He had legs as a psychiatrist, but as a social being, he was too caught up with the jet set. John worshiped Tim, and Tim wasn’t careful about that. He was careless.”

Wright met John Gale while living with Griggs in Laguna Canyon. Gale had just sold a bag of dog feces to a pair of undercover detectives, escaping into the bushes with their money. “The cops started shooting at random into the hill,” Wright says. The gunshots fouled up a nearby unrelated anti-Brotherhood sting operation by state narcotics agents. The agents weren’t happy. They came over and started yelling at the cops. The shooting also drew a crowd of people, and everyone started Om-ing, chanting the Buddhist mantra in mockery of the cop clusterfuck.

“The local cops started streaming onto the scene, and they joined the shouting match,” Wright says. “Then the cops started billy-clubbing people and arresting everyone for resisting arrest.” Wright was up the hill at Griggs’ house, watching the melee. “Gale came out of the bushes and ran up to us laughing his ass off and counting all the money he took off the agents.” Gale would eventually gain a reputation as one of the most successful drug dealers affiliated with the Brotherhood, but Wright considered him a hanger-on. “There were a lot of obnoxious people around, and Gale was just one of them,” he says.

Wright says the Brotherhood’s glory days ended less than a year later, when Griggs died after overdosing on psilocybin. “By the time he died, he was ready to die, because if he didn’t, he would have had to face the reality about Tim,” he says. “It was the end of the era as far as I’m concerned. He was the true believer. When he died, the chance of his vision becoming reality was gone. People like Gale didn’t have any vision. He didn’t have the message at all. An exploitative criminal with the trappings of psychedelia is all he was. I would say Gale is the guy who turned the Brotherhood into the Hippie Mafia.”


Before Purcell busted Leary, Thumper says, police raided the house on Bluebird Canyon. “There was a cave out near El Toro Road,” he says. “And we went down the canyon and wound up living in the cave for a while. “There was about 10 of us: me, my sister, Cocaine Carol, Tipper and Beaver and Johnny Gale, who didn’t really live there but thought it was cool.”

Living in a cave didn’t mean an end to responsibility. “There was a sense that if you needed money, if you wanted to buy a surfboard, you had to earn your money,” Thumper says. “That was totally the Tim Leary edict. Another edict of his was you had to go to school. Beaver always seemed to get out of it. Leary always used to be yelling, ‘Where’s Beaver? Where’s Tipper?’” At the mention of those names, Thumper pauses for a moment. “If you ever bump into somebody that claims they were there back in those days, and you want to know if they’re the real deal, you have to ask them: ‘Where’s Tipper and Beaver?’ If they don’t know, they weren’t really there.”

After staying at the cave, Thumper moved into a house with Cocaine Carol, Tipper and Beaver. He says John Gale drove him to school every day after discovering that he was playing hooky to go surfing. “John Gale became my designated driver. He would sit there pestering me to get my ass in school.”

After Leary’s bust, Thumper noticed the vibe changed. “There were a lot more psychedelics, and there were a lot more cops. And at that point, I really didn’t want to be around there anymore.” But because he needed money, Thumper continued to hang out with Gale, who, like Stubby, had become a major smuggler.

“As a kid of about 18, I had the job of going to every bank in Laguna, Dana Point and San Clemente to exchange fives, tens and twenties into $50 bills and most preferably $100 bills in $9,000 increments; that was the most you could do without having to fill out some forms,” he says. By then, the Brotherhood had all but ceased to exist. “They were running their own Amway. The Brotherhood was nothing more than a pyramid scheme. Guys like Gale had money like you wouldn’t believe.”

At one point, Thumper says, Gale and a friend went surfing in Sri Lanka and discovered the villagers grew a powerful variety of marijuana. Gale offered to buy their whole crop. But the villagers didn’t want money; they wanted Levi’s jeans. “They headed back [to Laguna] and made everyone go to every Sears, looking in the paper for a cheap pair of Levi’s,” says Thumper. “And they shipped them over there and bought all this pot. They called it Mars pot. It was high-grade pot; it put Oaxacan, Michoacan and Colombian Gold to shame. And we drained Orange County of Levi’s. And that’s cool, you know, that’s entrepreneurial. What wrecked it was coke.”


With the possible exception of John Gale, nobody grew richer — and ultimately lost more — from cocaine than Robert “Stubby” Tierney. At one time, Stubby had millions of dollars, all the beautiful women he could want, and friends in high places. Now he has nothing but memories and mementos: a signed photo of late Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, a faded picture of Timothy Leary in Algiers, and a photo of himself with director George Lucas. He lives off a Social Security check of less than $900 each month in a Newport-area senior citizens’ home, doesn’t drive a car, and eats at a Costa Mesa soup kitchen.

“Cocaine destroyed our scene,” he says. “Brothers started taking opium and doing cocaine and amphetamines. That took all the spirituality out and made people selfish. We took so long to destroy the ego. We were a Brotherhood, a family beyond family. In the beginning it was really strong, and later the coke would make everyone paranoid. Some of the Brothers got turned around,” he says, meaning they became police informants. “Others got into worse stuff.”

Stubby left Orange County within months of Leary’s arrest and headed to San Francisco, where he enjoyed music and dealt marijuana. “Then I got into cocaine, because it was a small package with a big profit,” he says. He helped arrange the sale of a Brotherhood-owned ranch in Oregon to raise cash to bust Leary out of prison. “We took $50,000 or $60,000 and gave it to this guy saying he represented the Black Panthers and that the Weathermen would get the money.”

Soon thereafter, Leary jumped a prison fence at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo and climbed into a waiting van driven by members of the Weather Underground, the radical group responsible for a string of anti-Vietnam War bombings. He made his way to Europe, then to Algeria, and finally to Kabul, Afghanistan, where he was arrested in 1973. Leary spent the next three years in prison before moving to Beverly Hills, where he died of prostate cancer in 1996. At his wishes, his ashes were placed in a rocket and blasted into space.

Before Leary died, Stubby says, he hounded Leary to get his money back, but Leary kept dodging him. After arranging Leary’s release, Stubby headed to Mexico, and thanks to his connections with the Mexican mafia, carried papers identifying himself as a federal agent investigating marijuana smuggling. Posing as a narc, he conned his way onto the Brotherhood’s yacht, which had been confiscated in Mazatlan.

“I couldn’t believe it, but I got the boat out of there,” he says. He spent the next two years on the boat, traveling the Pacific and eventually the Panama Canal, where, in 1973, he was captured and deported. He spent the next year at Lompoc Federal Penitentiary. After being released, he headed to the Caribbean and then to northern California. “That’s when I started really dealing cocaine, and it made my life miserable,” he says. After serving time, Stubby lived under an assumed name, which helped him find work in television while he continued dealing drugs. He became a successful TV producer for NBC, working on both Real People and That’s Incredible. He even developed his own Real People character, Captain Sticky. (The actor who actually played Captain Sticky recently died in Thailand, where he moved to establish a sex-tour business.)

In between shoots in San Diego, Stubby flew to San Francisco and met an ambassador from “a foreign country” who would walk through airport security with diplomatic immunity and 25 to 50 kilos of coke in two suitcases. “We’d bring it to a stash house in Daly City, and El Salvadoran soldiers with their whores and girlfriends and submachine guns would guard it,” he says. “We had millions of dollars.”

Stubby had a close call at San Diego’s airport, when two FBI agents stopped him in the terminal and said he fit the profile of a drug dealer; Stubby had a few grams of cocaine and a suitcase full of money with him. At the last minute, an airline representative told the agents they had just stopped a TV producer. After ditching the drugs in a toilet, he landed in San Francisco and told his coke connections he couldn’t take the pressure.

“They paid me $250,000 to retire from the coke business,” he says. That money bought Stubby some video editing equipment, and he reinvented himself as a TV and film editor and, later, a video producer. His company supported dozens of employees and their families; he says he also raised hundreds of thousands for charities. But a series of unfortunate events — business partners ripped him off, a fire destroyed expensive equipment, he got screwed out of royalties—conspired to pull him down. Whatever hopes of keeping his career together ended when Costa Mesa police busted him for possessing a kilo of marijuana. Although the charges were reduced to possession because he had a doctor’s note saying the drug helped him fight symptoms of his diabetes, he spent six months under house arrest. His wife left him, and his brother-in-law took custody of his youngest son. “I lost my family and everything because of drugs,” he says.

Now Stubby takes a bus to the Newport Beach Pier and hustles lessons on video editing to help pay his bills. “I’m talented and I lose a lot of opportunities because of my record,” he says. “When I was rich, I thought I was infallible. Now that I’m poor, I don’t get a lot of people visiting me.”


Thumper credits his first glimpse of coke to the legendary Cocaine Carol. “All she did was coke,” he says. “It was like her job. Fifteen years later, I was addicted to it. But back then, she was way ahead of her time.” But he says his first taste of the betrayal and greed that came with dealing cocaine occurred in the early 1970s, when he went to Peru on a surfing safari with John Gale.

“We went to this fishing village called Chicama,” Thumper says. “We surfed the perfect wave. It was a mile-long perfect left. It was absolutely the best wave I have ever seen in my life. Gale paid for the trip. We stayed there seven days. And on the third day there, Johnny says, ‘I need to use your surfboard. I’m going to another place and I’m probably going to be gone the night.” Gale headed over a surf break with Thumper’s board, returning shortly before they were to fly back to Orange County. When they landed at LAX, Gale handed him $500. “He says, ‘Here, Thump.’ And I’m like, ‘What the hell’s that for?’” Gale laughed — and then explained that he’d stashed eight ounces of pure cocaine in the tail fin of Thumper’s board. “They didn’t tell me about it because it would make me nervous,” he says. Thumper threw the money in Gale’s face. “I was pissed. I wasn’t 14 anymore. I was big. And I said, ‘You know what? That is fucked up. I could have ended up in prison. You’re a fucking prick.’ At that point, I knew everything had changed, because I was a patsy.”

Thumper kept away from Gale for the next few years. But while attending college in Fullerton, he got a call from Gale. His old friend told him he had a lot of cocaine and needed help unloading it. “He was known as the king of cocaine at that point in time,” Thumper says. “I wanted money, so I started selling it to all the groovy people in northern Orange County. I was selling like, six, seven, eight ounces of blow a week through Johnny. And then I got busted in San Clemente.”

By the time he was arrested, narcotics detectives had been following Thumper all day; he faced 21 drug-related counts. The cops wanted him to set up Gale. “They said, ‘You work with us or go to jail.’ I said, ‘I guess I’m going to jail,’ because I wasn’t ready to talk about anybody. But I soul-searched and realized how I wound up where I was. And I was looking at a shitload of years. And you know what I thought about: that surfing trip to Peru.” After getting a stern lecture on the folly of dealing drugs, Thumper agreed to work as an informant. But he refused to snitch on Gale. “He would have killed me. He had bodyguards and Ferraris and all this crazy shit — a brand-new Mercedes — and you know what? The weird thing was he was not a nice guy anymore.”

Thumper says he helped the police set up a massive sting against a drug ring competing with Gale and then said he wanted out. He’s never looked back—except once, a few years ago, when his daughter attended a DARE class at school. She returned home with a pencil that the cop who gave the speech had passed out to all the kids. The pencil was inscribed with the name of the cop who had arrested him. He called the cop and thanked him for turning his life around.

Now a wealthy corporate executive for an organic food distributor, Thumper recently shared his story over dinner at Oggie’s Pizza in Huntington Beach. Fifty-one years old, he’s married with two kids, and agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity. At 6 feet 4 inches, he still surfs, but he looks more like a linebacker. (Ironically, his stepbrother went on to become a defensive tackle in the NFL.)

Thumper’s not proud about his involvement with the Brotherhood and only agreed to the interview because he wanted to explain how, even though the group became nothing more than a cynical network of drug dealers, it didn’t start out that way. During the interview, his wife and youngest daughter ate pizza at a nearby table. After two hours, they joined us. Thumper mentioned he has a signed coffee table that Leary sent him on his sixteenth birthday while Leary was hiding out in Algiers. As a kind of proof for me, he asked his wife to tell me who had more influence on him: his biological father or Leary. “Tim,” she immediately said. “But it depends on what you mean by ‘influential.’ If you mean who had a positive influence, then Tim. Not your father. He didn’t influence you in a good way.”


The cop who busted Thumper is Jim Spreine, who became chief of the Laguna Beach Police Department after Purcell retired. Reached by telephone while on vacation in Oregon, he says he plans to retire next year. In the early 1970s, he was a narcotics detective with the San Clemente police force. “I made a lot of arrests during that time, so it’s hard to remember him,” Spreine says. “I know some former narcs, and they really hated the dopers. That wasn’t me. These people got caught in it for greed or personal necessity. I felt it was a vicious circle and a lot of innocent people got sucked into it and some very greedy, wealthy people took advantage of them. And in this particular case, I could tell he had a lot more going for him than the average guy, and I told him he should make something of his life.”

Spreine says he was never able to arrest Gale. “They had a network to scare their people. At the time, we didn’t see a lot of Brotherhood people work as informants. There were guns. They used guys by throwing money at them, or getting them hooked on drugs, and these guys would be scared to death.”

The police did, in fact, arrest Gale a few times. An April 30, 1981, UPI story reported that Gale, “one of the wealthiest drug brokers in Southern California,” had been arrested the day before in a raid on two beachfront homes in Laguna Beach. The raid netted more than $7.5 million worth of cocaine, $100,000 in marijuana and hash, $150,000 in cash and $250,000 in gems, rare coins and gold. But Gale never served serious prison time. He probably would have, but he died in a 1982 car crash in South Orange County when his Mercedes missed a turn. The car hit a chain-link fence, which went through the car, instantly decapitating Gale.

Unlike Thumper, Stubby kept in touch with him until the end. “John Gale was a living god, a pure entity,” he says. “I love him with all my heart. I was proud to know him. It’s too bad his life was so short.” Neil Purcell believes rival drug dealers were chasing Gale when he died. After busting Leary in 1968, Purcell was awarded Officer of the Year and rose to become chief of police in Laguna. After a brief retirement in Big Sky, Montana, Purcell went back into law enforcement, as chief of police in Anderson, California. He’s now writing a book about Leary.

“Gale was an egotist, a greedy-type person, and that’s what got him killed, in my opinion,” Purcell says. But Purcell was apparently unaware that the Brotherhood, led by Gale, moved into cocaine trafficking after the high-profile bust of Timothy Leary. “I can tell you that Johnny Gale did his share in acid and hash and was an extremely large dealer,” Purcell says. “I chased him for a number of years. But if he was a giant in coke, that’s news to me.” Because of his upcoming book, Purcell is reluctant to talk about Leary but can’t resist taking credit for taking him down.

“I personally hold him responsible today, and will to my death, for being one of the main reasons we have such a dope problem today,” Purcell says. “His advocacy of psychedelics and hash and peyote caused a lot of people to die, and in my opinion, he was a ruthless, cowardly, self-serving individual.”

Kent Kelly’s affiliation with Mystic Arts—and the Brotherhood of Eternal Love—ended suddenly when it burned down in 1970. “The building inspector said it was faulty wiring,” Kelly says. He and others suspected arson. The only thing to survive was the meditation room with the Taxonomic Mandala. “By then most people were so scared, they moved to Hawaii or Oregon,” he says. “Neil [Purcell] came up to me and said, ‘You’ve had your day in this town; you’re going back to Chicago.’”

Kelly says he didn’t see Leary again until shortly before his death in 1996, when he drove up to Wavy Gravy’s Hog Farm in Oregon. “One thing Tim asked me to do was give Neil a message. He wanted to know why Purcell never thanked him, because he became policeman of the year and chief of police thanks to that arrest.”

Dion Wright, the man who painted the Taxonomic Mandala that survived the Mystic Arts fire, now lives in Flagstaff, Arizona. But he returns to Laguna Beach each year to display his sculptures at the Sawdust Festival. The mandala isn’t on display, but Wright says he’s willing to sell it to anyone with $150,000. As he set up his booth there on a recent afternoon, he agreed that someone burned down Mystic Arts 35 years ago. “Everyone knows the John Birch Society did it,” he says.

Wright recently finished Drugglers, a 500-page memoir about the Brotherhood. He’s looking for a publisher. He offers a piece of folklore about John Gale, the man he calls “JG.” “You know about the Elvis theory, right?” he asks. “There’s this story in the underground that JG isn’t really dead. Supposedly, his dad removed all his teeth and planted them in a likely corpse and staged the wreck — and JG is happy in Bali or some such idyllic spot. Nobody really believes that story.”

Just then, Wright spotted a man wearing an eye patch who had just finished his lunch. “He’s been here since the ’60s,” Wright says. “Hey Rick,” he calls. “You knew JG, right?” One-Eye Rick walks over, screws up his good eye to a spot near the ceiling and pauses thoughtfully. “Gale got what he deserved,” he finally says, and walks out the door.

A few minutes later, a woman taps my shoulder. “Are you the reporter?” she asks. “The guy in the truck wants to talk to you.” As I approach, I see that the driver is One-Eye Rick. He nervously looks both ways to make sure nobody can overhear him. “Be careful who you talk to,” he says. “Gale could be in witness protection.” I ask him if he knows Tipper and Beaver. “Sure, I knew Tippy and Beav,” he answers, stepping on the gas and nosing his truck out of the parking lot and onto Laguna Canyon Road. “They were Cocaine Carol’s kids.”


  1. AnonymousJuly 18, 2007

    I am looking for a picture of mystic arts. was hoping someone out there has one to share. it brings back alot of memories. thanks suz

  2. I miss my friends Eddie coleman, Chris, Crazy Gordon, Jimmy Rammos, Spade Reggie and Annie Fannie, Steve and our lazy days on Cleo Street beach. The days of Mystic Arts will never die.

    Black James.


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