For 10 years Daryl Ashby has been interviewing dozens of people, including a police informant living under an assumed name, to unravel and set straight the life of notorious Ladysmith drug manufacturer Art Williams.
The Nanaimo author said Williams, a purveyor of the Love Drug MDA, made headlines across the Pacific Northwest in the ’70s. Williams disappeared in a plane crash shortly before being tried for drug possession and trafficking in 1977, and his whereabouts remained unknown.
Ashby’s investigation started at the Victoria Library archives, where he spent a week going through every newspaper article about Williams he could find to track consistencies in the story. That’s also where he found names.
“I was looking for the truth. I know that sounds cheesy, but in reality that’s what it was,” Ashby said.
He said he tracked down and interviewed “everybody who possibly had a connection [to Williams.]” This included family members, former associates and law enforcement officers who spent years trying to lock him up.
“There’s nobody we haven’t touched and everybody was open,” he said, adding that only a couple of people were “somewhat guarded.”
“Statute of limitations are long gone. The only thing that doesn’t affect is murder and rape, so they don’t have a lot of fear.”
Ashby also visited the Vancouver Appeals Court to view evidence and trial notes. It was in those court documents that Ashby found the primary witness, a police informant identified only as “E752,” a prolific drug dealer with gang connections who participated in sting operations buying MDA from the Williams organization. Ashby managed to track down E752, who he said is living under witness protection.
“We have the internet today and invariably most people – it doesn’t matter how careful they are – something ends up on the internet. And that’s how I found him,” Ashby said, adding that he met with the man four times and is confident he is E752.
In the book E752 alternately states that the RCMP took advantage of him and he took advantage of the RCMP. In one of the book’s courtroom scenes, Williams’ lawyer estimated that the informant made $2.5 million as a result of police “concessions,” as he was permitted to continue drug trafficking during his time as a mole.
Ashby said through E752 he got and audio tapes between the informant and Williams. Other primary documents include undeveloped film negatives courtesy Williams’ stepson. Through his interviews, Ashby met Williams’ right-hand man, who took the author on a tour of derelict drug labs Williams kept on the Island, photos of which Ashby captured for his project.
The result of Ashby’s decade of research is 85 Grams – Art Williams: Drug Czar. The title refers to the weight of an MDA capsule. Ashby is debuting the book at the Nanaimo North Library on Tuesday, July 3.
While nobody knows what really happened to Williams when his personal aircraft reportedly crashed in the Strait of Georgia, Ashby said the circumstances are “explainable.” He said poor conditions couldn’t have contributed to the crash because Williams was a trained pilot capable of flying through worse. While some of interviewees believe that Williams did go down, others postulate that the wreckage that was recovered did not originate from the same plane.
In one chapter, Williams travels to Belize, bringing a large sum of money and looking for business opportunities. Ashby said he developed photographs from that trip; a 360-degree panorama of a marina that begins and ends on a house.
“As his stepson suggests, he never did anything without a reason or a purpose,” Ashby said of Williams.
Ashby’s interviewees also recall Williams creating a false passport and discussing the logistics of leaving the country alone and with his closest associates.
“Plans to leave the local area were already in place. Everything was done…” Ashby said.
“In a matter of months prior to the disappearance he turned to [an employee], he says, ‘The problem with people that are trying to disappear is they don’t have the ability to leave family and friends without a second thought.’ Everything sums up to a man that was not going to stick around.”
WHAT’S ON … Book launch for Daryl Ashby’s 85 Grams – Art Williams: Drug Czar takes place at Nanaimo North Library on Tuesday, July 3 at 6:30 p.m.