Art Williams, the Wizard of Ladysmith
Over the years there has not been much scandal or crime in Ladysmith. However, one of the strangest and still unsolved mysteries surrounds Arthur James Williams. The legendary “Wizard of Ladysmith”.
The story starts with the
immigration of a slim, slightly built man emigrating from
He was never one of the favourite characters with local police. His political views were public record. He made no bones of the fact that the Prime Minister of the time, Pierre Trudeau, was not his ideal as the leader of our country. In fact he declared a sort of “economic war” on him when the tax man started checking his returns, or lack of them.
Over the years he was linked to the local motorcycle gang and their activities, but the real interest in his activities had to do with his “BC Institute of Mycology. This foundation was set up by Williams, with a considerable grant from the Government to do research on the cultivation of mushrooms. He built a considerable home; a duplex, barn and many out buildings. The extent of the site was eventually going to be the strangest part of the whole story.
In 1972 Art Williams came under
the microscope of the US Bureau of Drugs and Narcotics in
The timing of the shipment was 9 days after the incorporation of The Institute. Williams' name popped up immediately. The shipment was secretly marked in the hopes that Williams or Elliott could be caught using it for the manufacture of MDA. At first the investigation was intermittent due to the pressures of other higher profile investigations. But eventually it was ramped up to consume thousands of dollars and man hours over a period of 5 years. During all this time Williams knew he was being watched. What resulted from this was the construction of the strangest fortresses in Ladysmith.
Williams had a penchant for invention. That was proven out by his archery bow. But the police had no idea of the extent of his talent. For 5 years they watched his property. They bugged his phone, read his mail and followed his every move. But it took an un-named informant to close the trap. MDA needed gelatin capsules and the police had managed to virtually dry up the supply. When the informant approached Williams with an offer of a supply he was immediately accepted into his confidence. What Williams did not know was that the capsules were being supplied by the RCMP and each of them was secretly marked with a special dye.
As well Williams had a pilot's license and his own plane. The informant led the police to the Delta airport where he had arranged to meet Elliott and Williams to purchase a shipment of MDA. The informant paid $4500 of money supplied by the RCMP for the shipment. The main purpose of their investigation at this point was to find the location of the laboratory making the MDA. They had a strong suspicion that Williams was making the MDA, they just did not know where. The phone taps were producing useful information, but time was running out. It was now time to close the trap. The informant had left the area and the investigation was at a critical point.
Charges were prepared against
Williams and Elliott and teams were formed for simultaneous raids on their
property. A third individual,
What began then was the strangest revelation of Williams' operation. The police were already wary of booby traps as two other suspected laboratories Williams constructed had been destroyed before they could be examined. They found ramps and staircases with counter weights and winches. One led by a roof top walkway to a laboratory and 2 bedroom apartment. The doors were 2 ½” thick, protected by locks which no one had ever seen. If they had not found a weird looking key they might still be trying to break in! The laboratory they found was as modern and well equipped as anything of the day. Air and water was filtered. Heat was thermostatically controlled. Lights had ultra-violet filters. He even had an electron microscope supposedly valued at $72,000. Further investigation revealed spring loaded ladders, a narrow shaft led to a storage area. But no manufacturing facility.
A chance investigation had revealed the shelves to have double sides. When tugged they swung back to reveal a solid steel door with two round keyholes. All the time that the place was being searched the police were on the lookout of bomb booby traps. Fortunately, none were found, but it made for quite a stressful search. The locks had to be opened, but all that could be found were a couple of strange tools that fit the holes. Neither of them would open the door. Finally they tried turning them both together, and as if by magic the door unlocked. The door revealed a vertical steel culvert with foot grips driven into the side. The top had a metal hatch, which when opened led into a 10 foot square concrete room. The MDA manufacturing facility had finally been found. This room was as well equipped as the laboratory. But it had some strange features. All the water, electrical and air ducts led through concealed conduits to the second floor. In the floor was a 3 foot sump culvert that one could crawl through. It came out at a dry creek bed some 50 meters away. No drugs were in production, but police found traces of MDA in water splashing above the sink. The evidence was conclusive. Now the police had enough evidence to charge the gang.
The investigation had been long, expensive and painful for many people. Police bugged Williams' shed and installed the receiver in a neighbor's property. This bug resulted in a raid and the arrest of 3 youths. Ironically they were arrested on suspicion of killing Robert Ferguson the uncle of Williams's common law wife. Williams found the bug, called the neighbor and told him that he had found “his bug”. He started a campaign of harassment at that point. The campaign of harassment by Williams caused the neighbor to have to sell the property. The police had never attempted a bugging before this time and the evidence gathered was of little use. The youths did however get convicted of Manslaughter. But, with the discovery of the laboratory and facilities the police finally had enough evidence to actually charge the gang. With the exception of Elliott who was still hiding out Williams and Ridge were out on bail in two weeks. Police virtually destroyed the property looking for evidence.
the first twist in the trial against Williams and his associates. Because
Williams had his own plane he flew to and from
Ridge was convicted of trafficking. He was sentenced to over 5 years, but an appeal and an order for a new trial on the charge of Conspiracy resulted in him only serving less than a year.
Elliott was arrested on a boat in
the Lynnwood Marina in 1979. He had grown a beard to disguise his face. He was
in the process of setting up a drug lab in
The story does not end here
however. Williams left behind an estranged wife and considerable property. On
March 7, 1979 Margaret Catherine Williams, Art's wife disappeared. Her personal
belongings were still in the house, but there was no sign of her. Several
months later she was declared missing and Lawyer Peter Ramsey was appointed as
curator of the estate. Within 2 years the property was put up for sale. It was
advertised as a virtual fortress with all its concealed doors and tunnels. The
new owners, Ken and Nancy Heal set it up as an attraction and charged admission
for tours. It was a legend in the area and a considerable tourist attraction. A
film crew came up from
But, the mystery remains. Did Williams arrange his so called death? What happened to Williams's wife? Who torched the property? Was there treasure to be found on the property (a cache of over $75,000 had been found by police)? For years the Heals pursued the legend. But, nobody has come up with an answer.
©Thomas Wagner, January 26, 2007
This information originally from the Ladysmith and District
Historical Society -
my thanks for their
my thanks for their assistance
Created January 25, 2007