Laguna Beach was the LSD capital of the world starting in mid-1960s
and was still home to droppers, dopers and dealers until 1981,
according to an unpublished book, "The Jesus Dealers," written by
Ted Taylor in collaboration with former Police Chief Neal Purcell.
In its heyday, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, founded by Timothy
Francis Leary, was allegedly selling dope in Laguna at health food
stores, juice bars, psychedelic shops, record stores, surf shops and
even a used car lot. Woodland Drive was considered their base, known
to local law enforcement as "Dodge City."
Purcell joined the police department as a rookie in 1968, one of
two officers assigned to narcotics investigations. He had previously
been a patrol officer in Newport Beach.
His career in Laguna Beach lasted until 1997, when he retired
after 15 years as chief of the department. He has subsequently taken
on interim assignments in communities that are searching for new
Taylor is the prolific author of books for young people and
adults. He is internationally known for "The Cay," which is required
reading in many schools.
"Neal first got in touch with me in 1996 and said please, do the
story," Taylor said. "I was working on three or four things at the
time, but we finally got together.
"The Jesus Dealers" is dedicated to Purcell's wife, Michelle, and
their children, as well as to members of his law enforcement "family"
who worked countless hours trying to bring down Timothy Leary and the
Brotherhood, and to the "unfortunate young victims of this ruthless
organization of greedy, self-serving zealots."
The Purcells make their post-retirement home in Montana.
In the book, Purcell recalled his belief when he joined the Laguna
department that the Brotherhood was harmless.
"The BEL [Brotherhood of Eternal Love] still appeared to be just
an unorthodox, goofy location operation, a pain ... but no hippie
mafia," Purcell writes.
"Some of the trouble was with the town itself. Many people still
didn't believe a dope problem existed, aside from personal stash
sales. The new liberal members of the City Council kept hemorrhaging
around the heart. They were total losses. Caught in the backwash of
the Flower Children, the whole thing was transient, they said, and
would sooner or later go away."
Purcell hadn't yet met Leary, although he knew of him and didn't
like what he knew. They crossed paths for the first time just before
midnight on Dec. 26, 1968. As fortune would have it, Purcell's arrest
of Leary that night was the only one by any police officer that ever
According to Purcell, he spotted a car in the middle of Woodland,
illegally parked near Roosevelt Lane, blocking traffic. Inside the
vehicle he saw a gray-haired man pushing a younger man who was trying
to get into the front seat of the station wagon. Purcell could smell
the distinctive odor of recently burned pot when the gray-haired
driver rolled down the window. It was Leary, the man Purcell already
"Can this truly be?" Purcell thought. "Maybe I have gotten lucky."
Purcell said he had probable cause to search the vehicle, based on
the reek of pot. He called for backup, then asked Leary to step out
of the vehicle and began his search. He said he found two roaches in
an ashtray, a pound of marijuana, two ounces of hashish and some LSD
Even near death, Leary swore Purcell planted the drugs. However,
the courts saw it differently, and he served three years in jail --
but not before managing a jail-break in September 1970 while serving
a one- to 10-year sentence.
Fleeing to Afghanistan with his wife, Rosemary, Leary eluded
capture for three years, but his luck ran out in 1973. Rosemary ended
up spending 23 years living underground -- her original sentence was
six months to a year.
Leary died in his sleep on May 31, 1996.
To this day, Purcell has not forgiven Leary for what he did to the
city and residents of Laguna Beach, particularly young people. It's
all there in the manuscript, a work in progress.
"And it's all true," author Taylor said. "The manuscript is the
first draft. It is now being edited -- I am a writer, not an editor.
That should be completed in two or three weeks. The final version
will be typed and sent to New York.
"My agent has three prospective publishers. So we should know in
about a month."
The book represents a significant chunk of Laguna Beach history,
and should be preserved, preferably in both manuscript and book form,
either at the Laguna Beach Library or the Laguna Beach Historical
While Neal Purcell may have cooked Timothy Leary's goose, Tom de
Paolo's illustrations and tested recipes have jelled into a dandy
little cookbook featuring some recipes from Laguna's past and some
De Paolo has lived in Laguna on and off for most of his life. He
spent his business career in marketing, working for the J. Walter
Thompson Advertising Agency and for the Disneyland Resort.
"'Laguna Cooks' seems more of a promotion piece for Laguna than a
cookbook, and perhaps it will help tourism," de Paolo said.
o7OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline
Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Write to Barbara Diamond, P.O. Box
248, Laguna Beach, 92652; call (949) 494-4321 or fax (949) 494-8979.