Who was ’Petaluma Al?’

In this week’s ’Oliver’s World,’ humorist Oliver Graves stands up and asks a few questions about one of Petaluma’s wildest and weirdest mysteries.|

Petaluma is lucky enough to be on the map for a few things. For example, one of my favorite movies, “Peggy Sue Got Married,” was filmed here. And the old Petaluma sign was seen on an episode of “Battle Bots,” thanks to some dedicated robotic experts. All of that is nice.

But let's not forget one of the world's biggest mysteries -the infamous Petaluma Al.

Just who is Petaluma Al?

We don't know. No one knows. That's the mystery.

If you've never heard of Petaluma Al, let me fill you in real quick. They were involved in the trafficking of LSD back in ’70s. If you don't know what LSD is, just know that ... it's a drug.

I’m talking about LSD, not LDS.

One opens your mind.

I’ll let you decide which one that is.

Now evidently, it takes some work to create LSD correctly. Decades ago, a guy named William Leonard Pickard had access to the materials and equipment needed, and made a lot of it. Lots and lots and lots of it. Think “Breaking Bad,” even the New Mexico part, with the drugs going world wide. Now, how do you get drugs to go world wide?

Back then, it was Petaluma Al.

At least, that's the name of the mysterious person who supposedly existed, and was reportedly getting the LSD from the U.S. to Europe. While William Leonard Pickard was eventually caught and sent to jail, Petaluma Al was not.

Through all the trial and sentencing, his name was kept secret.

It probably should stay that way.

While I’m having fun talking about this mystery, I think for this person and their potentially family or friends, it's best if we just let them stay hidden. Because it’s fun to wonder, who were they? I mean, really, who could this person have been? An eccentric junior high school science teacher? Someone with a pilot friend who hung out at the Petaluma Airport? That vaguely mysterious person you know who constantly reeked of LSD?

Yeah, I don't know what LSD smells like either.

William Leonard Pickard, just released from prison, for whom the legendary and mysterious “Petaluma Al” once trafficked large quantities of LSD.
William Leonard Pickard, just released from prison, for whom the legendary and mysterious “Petaluma Al” once trafficked large quantities of LSD.

This really is, in a way, Petaluma's own DB Cooper type of mystery. There have been all kinds of theories on this subject. Some believe that Petaluma Al didn't exist, or that “Al” was short for Alabama, a state that also has a Petaluma.

We now know that the infamous Watergate entity known as Deep Throat ended up in Santa Rosa in the 90's, so hey, what if Deep Throat was Petaluma Al?

Or maybe, Petaluma Al was picked up on some drug-related charge at some point, never telling anyone how involved in that world they really were.

Or once had been.

And how they’d connected Petaluma to Europe in a very unique way, back when LSD was inexpensive. In the early 2000s, evidently, you had people at raves complaining about the price of LSD going up.

Not that I would know anything about that.

Meanwhile, through it all, Petaluma Al could have standing next to you at the Butter and Eggs Day parade complaining about the parking ... not that I would know anything about that either.

Anyway, the point is, the mystery persists.

And I like that.

Due to COVID-19, William Leonard Pickard is now being released, since our prison system is overcrowded and full of non-violent people with life sentences. Sure, if I ever met him, I might be tempted to ask him, if I ever saw him, who Petaluma Al really was.

But if he told me, that would end the mystery.

The fact it's a mystery, and a Petaluma mystery, is what makes it fun.

(Oliver Graves is a stand-up comic and writer who can be followed on Instagram and Facebook, or through the website OliverGraves.com. ’Oliver’s World’ runs every-other-week in the Argus-Courier.)

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