The Adventures of America's Original Meth Queen - Page 2

By Jeff Maysh 03/21/11

Lori Arnold single-handedly turned meth into an American plague, earning millions of dollars and two stints in prison. What does America's most notorious meth mogul (and Tom Arnold's kid sister) have to say now that she's out of the hole? An exclusive interview.

Lori Arnold (with then-husband Floyd Stockdall) transformed the drug landscape
of Middle America
Photo: Coleman-Rayner

(page 2)

In less than two years, Arnold’s rapidly-growing merchandising operation had tangled the Midwest in an ever-tightening stranglehold of addiction—affecting not just teenagers and college students but workers, manufacturers and suburban moms. After spending several years using her Iowa hometown as the distribution hub for her imported booty, Arnold decided to increase profits by dumping her California supplier and producing the drug herself on-site. In this way, meth slid in the barn door unnoticed, leading to a steady march through America’s heartland. Arnold had introduced the region to its first cook-it-at-home drug: now anyone could make it.

When her brother, Tom Arnold, married Roseanne Barr, a woman with her own strong grip on Middle America, Lori’s celebrity connection helped confirm her status as the newly crowned Queen of Crank. “My brother Tom had problems of his own at the time,” she says now. “I don’t think my activities affected his career. We’re still close, we speak all the time.” (According to People magazine, he and Barr actually covered her legal fees in 1991. These days, Tom Arnold, now sober,  uses his sister’s drug dealing as material in his comedy routines.)

Reding, whose Methland is the pre-eminent book on the subject, described Arnold’s meteoric rise this way: “Lori, who had not made it past tenth grade… bought 52 race horses—hired a dozen or so groomers, trainers, veterinarians, and jockeys to maintain them—and purchased a 144-acre horse farm.” She was rolling in money and had her business not been in narcotics, she might have been named Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

In 1989, she owned a couple of bars, a car dealership and 14 houses. By then she had dumped her biker hubby and become a mother to an eight-year-old son. This was the same year most of the farms in that part of Iowa went into foreclosure and most of the railroad and meatpacking jobs in the area disappeared in a puff of smoke. But the area's economic devastation only seemed to bolster Arnold's business. There was just one industry on the rise in Iowa at the time, and it was Arnold’s crank factory. Unfortunately for her, she had long flagrantly violated the golden rule of any successful drug dealer, by dipping into her own stash. Growing careless with her success, Arnold was consuming vast amounts of crystal with reckless abandon. “When people start making money, it goes to their heads—just like meth does,” she admits. “I was having the time of my life. But I knew it couldn’t last forever.”

She was right. After fielding tips from several disaffected clients, the feds finally caught up with her in 1990, and Arnold was sent to prison: “After the court hearing, the lawyer said to me, ‘We can get you a good deal if you enter a plea agreement,’” she recalls. “He told me that I should plea for 25 years. I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. My hands started to shake uncontrollably.” She pled guilty and was convicted of drug trafficking, money laundering and the distribution and manufacture of meth, among other counts. “The court case was so emotional,” she says. “I tried to remain strong and smile for the jury, but whenever they mentioned my boy I broke down, sobbing. Eventually they handed me 12 years." By all accounts a model prisoner, she was eventually released after serving just eight.

By the time of her departure from prison in 1999, Iowa had beome an increasingly despondent state. With factories closing almost daily, unemployment shot up to sky-high rates. The average wage in the state dropped to five bucks an hour. Back in her hometown, Arnold tried to go straight for a time, working as a butcher at a Cargill meatpacking plant. But slicing up hogs was a gig the grandiose gangster couldn't settle for. Still, her time at Cargill was well spent: It was there that the ever-resourceful Arnold first noticed the gap in quality between the homemade crystal meth the factory's white workers were consuming and the much higher-grade stuff enjoyed by her Mexican colleagues. Eager to get back into the business, Arnold decided to circumvent the local meth dispensaries and struck up a lucrative relationship with a group of Mexian dealers. In just a few months, they were supplying her with huge bales of "quality Mexican meth," which she distributed across the Midwest in return for a generous commission.

“I was proud to say the product I was dealing with was very pure. It was good stuff,” she says. “You didn’t see those scary before-and-after pictures that you see today.” (In fact, pure meth may be safer than the stuff on the street, but it's no less addictive.) Once again, Arnold had shrewdly spotted a gap in the market. By 2001, she was selling so much crystal that she got back into the nightclub game to launder all the money. But this time her high life was short-lived. After selling four ounces of the drug to an undercover cop, a meth-addicted Arnold was sent back to prison in October 2001 for seven and a half years.

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Jeff Maysh is a British/American non-fiction writer based in Los Angeles. He writes about unbelievable true crimes for publications including The Atlantic, BBC News Magazine, Los Angeles, Playboy, Smithsonian, and The Daily Beast. Jeff’s subjects have included bank robbers, spies, wrestlers, undercover cops, fake cheerleaders, pornographers, and candy smugglers. He is the author of The Spy With No Name and Follow and Handsome Devil. Follow Jeff on Twitter.