In early 2005, three men lived quietly in Trousdale County, Tennessee. They were polite, if a little bit antisocial, preferring not to spend much time associating with their neighbors, and frequently traveling out of town. They owned a beautiful A-Frame house, complete with an elaborate entrance gate that had an intercom system. From outside, the $1 million dollar house appeared to be the ideal vacation home, with stylish swooping angles and large picture windows. However, this gorgeous house hid a deeper purpose for these three men, who had carefully planned and executed one of the largest marijuana growing operations that Tennessee has ever seen.
Meet the Mastermind
Fred Strunk (Age 63) was the undisputed mastermind behind the Tennessee growing operation, which had allowed him to live a luxurious and lavish lifestyle. He owned several expensive sports cars, also purchasing exquisite homes in both Florida and Tennessee. Over the years, Fred Strunk had been known by many other names, including Jerry R. West, Fred E. Grant and Fred E. Fox. He had many copies of false identification papers, which were designed to allow him to disappear from the police radar if needed.
Fred Strunk, Greg Compton and Brian Gibson were arrested in December of 2005 by Tennessee police, after reports of suspicious activity. Police raided the beautiful $1 million dollar house, which was located on a country road in the middle of the woods. To their surprise, once they entered the home, they found it to be completely bare, lacking any furniture, appliances and even curtains.
Like a scene out of a Hollywood movie, the police discovered a hidden door that was located in the garage. This door led down into a network of caves, which was over 250 feet long (which is almost the length of a full football field). These caverns were elaborately furnished with living quarters, showers, offices, and a huge area where over 1,000 marijuana plants were being grown. Needless to say, the police were shocked at the sophistication of this operation.
How They Did It
Later, the details about the underground marijuana growing operation run by the three men began to surface. Apparently, their growing facility was able to generate from 12 to 14 “crops” per year, with each crop being valued at approximately $500,000. This means that each year, these three men were making from $6 to $8 million dollars!
In order to process such a large crop, the men had to enlist outside help to package their product for distribution. For this, they hired a half-dozen Hispanic workers from Arizona, and picked them up in a van with covered windows. When the van neared Tennessee, the workers would be required to put on blindfolds, and then led into the underground cave. Once there, the blindfolds were removed, and they were allowed to begin working on harvesting the marijuana.
Upon further investigation, it was discovered that none of the men that were involved in the operation actually lived in Tennessee. In fact, they didn’t even sell their marijuana in Trousdale county, as they (correctly) assumed that this might cause suspicion. Instead, police investigators believe that they took their crop to other cities, perhaps including Nashville, which was 40 miles away from their location.
The Growing Facility
The method used to grow the marijuana relied on a hydroponic system, which is pictured here. This system was sophisticated enough to make maintaining the crops easier throughout their growth.
There were two separate areas that were used to grow the marijuana plants. One of these areas held from 500 to 600 immature plants, which were irrigated by long pipes with small holes for easy watering. This watering system also made the operation much more manageable for the three men.
The second area held maturing plants, which were nearing the age where they could be harvested. From 500 to 600 plants were usually kept inside of this room, with some of the plants being over six feet tall. After the mature plants were harvested, their buckets were re-used for immature plants.
The sophisticated light and climate control system kept the growing areas at 87 degrees, which allowed the plants to mature and grow much faster then they would in an outdoor environment. Every eight weeks, this facility was able to grow over 100 pounds of marijuana.
Beyond the growing plants there was a work area, which was most likely used for harvesting, processing and packaging the marijuana plants.
The Escape Route
In order to prevent becoming bottlenecked in the cave in the event of a raid, the underground facility was also equipped with an escape tunnel. This tunnel began in one of the growing areas, and had a pull-down ladder that could be easily concealed. The entrance hatch to the tunnel was painted to match the ceiling, providing further concealment, and possibly buying valuable time to escape. The tunnel itself ran over 150 yards, ending over 100 yards from the house. The exit hatch was cleverly concealed underneath a rock, which had a hydraulic opening system.
So, How Were They Caught?
Information on how this operation was finally busted by police is subject to a bit of vague information. By the released news reports and other information, it appears that the electrical requirements of the underground facility were drawing attention to the site. However, it was also because these men had done something desperate – they had been stealing massive amounts of power from the electrical grid.
Though the three men had requested the installation of a large transformer (much larger than usually required by a residence) when they were building the home, they discovered that it was not enough. Faced with the increasing power demand of their growing operation, the men decided that they needed to acquire more electricity. They decided against requesting more electricity from the power company, since this would raise suspicions. Also, downsizing their operation to require less power was not an appealing option. So, the men decided to splice directly into the power grid, and begin siphoning power in order to run their growing lights and climate control system.
Needless to say, the power company eventually discovered their illegal splices, after they caused a fluctuation in the area’s power grid.
An official representative from the power company approached the residence, attempting to ring in by the intercom at the front gate. When no one answered, the official slipped over the gate, and began searching around the property. He glanced in the windows, and was shocked by the lack of furniture. For all intents and purposes, the house appeared to be completely empty. Suddenly, a man emerged from the woods behind him, carrying a shotgun. The man warned the official that he needed to leave the property immediately. Suspicious, the electric company official alerted police.
Some information that was provided (from informal or un-backed sources) says that a short time before the three men were arrested, one of their neighbors was found dead. Some officials believe that the escape hatch came out near (or on) the neighbor’s property, and he had a fatal encounter with one of the marijuana growers. Also, around the same time, two immigrant workers were allegedly found dead in outlying properties, which could have been the marijuana growers taking care of “loose ends”.
The Burning of the House
In December of 2006 (one year after the three men were arrested), the beautiful A-frame house that had housed the marijuana growing operation burned to the ground. Since there was another building that burned down around the same time in a different part of town, the cause was immediately thought to be arson. Both buildings were unoccupied at the time of the fires.
When it came to the trial, both Brian Gibson and Greg Compton decided to testify against Fred, who was the “brains” of the operation. Knowing he had been caught, Fred Strunk pleaded guilty to 3 counts of the the 17-count indictment (manufacturing 500+ marijuana plants, theft and money laundering). At 63 years old, Strunk was sentenced to serve a maximum of 18 years in state prison. However, since Strunk did not have a previous criminal record, he could potentially be released after serving 30% of his sentence (depending on his prison record), which would be at the age of 70. Strunk was also sentenced to 12 years for money laundering and theft.
The fines for Fred Strunk were $4,000, with him also being required to pay Tri-County Electric a sum of $60,001 for the electricity that he had stolen.
[Editor’s note: I first saw pictures of this home and story on Reddit.com and found a link in a comment by the submitter that led to the sources of the story listed below. Not all facts may be entirely accurate, but this was a fantastic story regardless. I hope you enjoyed it!]
All photos taken from http://www.ssqq.com/archive/vinlin19.htm