This 1990s LSD Lab Built Inside An Underground Missile Silo Gave Us The World's Acid

By Sophia Maddox | May 24, 2024

Believe it or not, the military didn't anticipate people making LSD in their silo

From the outside, it's just a slate gray, Cold War–era missile silo, but the inside is a different story. No one can agree on exactly what happened on there, but we know it involved the manufacture of a lot of mind-altering substances. From the late 1990s to fall 2000, Leonard Pickard and Gordon Todd Skinner used the silo as an LSD lab that supposedly produced much of the world's supply of the drug. If they'd kept their cool, Skinner and Pickard would probably still be producing LSD today.

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Source: Atlas Obscura

Built in 1961, this Topeka-area silo was a part of the Air Force's missile defense system until it was decommissioned in 1965. No one in Kansas wanted to take over such a hefty chunk of real estate, so it just sat empty until the '90s, when it was purchased by the heir to a spring fortune: Gordon Todd Skinner.

Before he became half of a midwestern cartel, Skinner bounced around various universities while bouncing around various scams: fake money orders, cashing checks with fraudulent ID, that sort of thing. He was briefly an FBI informant in 1984, helping to bring down cocaine trafficker Boris Olarte in Oklahoma. Nearly a decade later, he made a $40,000 down payment for the decommissioned missile base in Wamego, Kansas. The entire payment was in traveler's checks. He quickly got down to business, outfitting the silo with leather couches, multiple showers, and a killer sound system.

Leonard Pickard was a genuinely talented chemist

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Source: Rooster Magazine

Before joining up with Skinner, Pickard had made a life out of science. After just one semester at Princeton, Pickard dropped out and started hanging around Greenwich Village, but his lack of formal education didn’t matter. His preternatural gift for chemistry earned him a job as a research manager at the Department of Bacteriology and Immunology of University of California, Berkeley in 1971. After leaving the job in 1974, he got into manufacturing LSD, eventually getting busted in 1988 with 200,000 doses of the stuff. He was basically the real-life Walter White.