Manitowoc detectives find 'magic mushroom' operation
Death investigation spurs discovery
MANITOWOC — While investigating the Dec. 24 death of a 26-year-old man, Manitowoc police detectives discovered what they called the city's largest psilocybin mushroom growing operation yet.
Kristopher J. Huycke, who lived at 2408A Wollmer St., died while hospitalized on Dec. 22. He had collapsed at his home.
Toxicology reports released Wednesday showed the man died of natural causes attributed to existing health problems.
Huycke tested negative for psilocybin, Detective David Vorpahl said. Psilocybin mushrooms are not considered lethal themselves.
However, cocaine metabolites were found in his system, Vorpahl said, indicating that Huycke used cocaine prior to his death.
Because Huycke was a young man, detectives and medical staff at St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay initially didn't rule out the possibility of an accidental drug overdose or suicide, Vorpahl said.
Unexpectedly, Vorpahl found a "very sophisticated" psilocybin mushroom growing operation in Huycke's apartment. The mushrooms are known for their hallucinogenic effects.
"We don't see psilocybin very often here," Vorpahl said.
On Dec. 23, Vorpahl and Manitowoc County Coroner Curtis Green were authorized to go to Huycke's home to take photos of damage the door sustained from it being forced open by paramedics and to find a possible suicide note.
While inside, some items pointed to a possible growing operation, including:
A book the explains how to grow psychedelic mushrooms, a note taped on his computer screen and one scribbled on a phone book cover referencing being under the influence of psychedelic mushrooms, plastic bins all over the apartment, a pressure cooker and syringes.
A family member of Huycke, who was present, also found a plastic tub containing what appeared to be spores inside of the refrigerator.
Vorpahl, along with Detective Sgt. Brian Swetlik and investigators from the Metro Drug Unit, obtained a warrant from the district attorney's office to search the home for psychedelic mushroom cultivation.
Because of possible danger from mold and spores, the Manitowoc Fire Department and other state law enforcement agencies advised the men to wear protective suits, gloves, footgear and masks.
In nearly every room of his small apartment, there were several large plastic tubs with psychedelic mushrooms growing inside.
Shortly after the initial gathering of evidence, a family member who was cleaning behind a refrigerator found a door behind it that led to a hidden room with additional tubs containing mushrooms and called detectives to the apartment again.
Vorpahl said a weight or value estimate that would quantify the amount of drugs seized was not available.
"If he was alive and we were to pursue him, the evidence list would have to be very detailed," Vorpahl said. "The investigation has been turned over to the Metro Drug Unit for any further analysis."
Items On List
Some items on the evidence list included dozens of jars of spores growing in liquid placed among 16 plastic tubs. Two smaller tubs also containing growing spores were taken from the apartment. Other tubs contained organic white material with spores growing in the mycelium stage.
Every tub was dated and labeled according to what type of spore was growing, Vorpahl said.
Many of the tubs were outfitted with tubes so Huycke could put his hands in the tubs to manicure the mushrooms without them being exposed to air, Vorpahl said.
Some tubs had thermometers attached or were modified with screens and airflow holes, Vorpahl said.
The syringes were used to inject jars with liquids through self-sealing lids made from wax, Vorpahl said.
"Mushrooms require a very controlled environment," Vorpahl said.
A family member of Huycke told Vorpahl that he didn't use or sell the psychedelic mushrooms, but was more interested in the science of growing them.
"His friends said he was 'ridiculously, stupidly good at it,'" the family member told Vorpahl. "I wish he had found a different outlet to use his intellect."
More On Psilocybin Mushrooms
These "magic mushrooms" are generally grown in Mexico and Central America. Psilocybin is structurally similar to serotonin, and produces its effects by disrupting normal functioning of the serotonin system, according to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America Web site.
Once ingested, mushrooms generally cause feelings of nausea before the desired mental effects appear. The high from using magic mushrooms is mild and may cause altered feelings and distorted perceptions of touch, sight, sound and taste, according to the Web site.
Other effects can include nervousness and paranoia. Effects can be different during each use due to varying potency, the amount ingested, and the user's expectations, mood, surroundings and frame of mind, according to the Web site.
BY MEGAN SCHMIDT
HERALD TIMES REPORTER
FEBRUARY 9, 2010