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Cocaine lab found under Auburn home

BARROW COUNTY - Twice now, the clues have led investigators underground.

First, a Florida socialite was buried alive nearly 40 years ago at the hands of Gary Krist. Last week, police found an underground cocaine lab at his Auburn-area home.

The lab was discovered underneath a shed at the home of the man who is known for the 1968 kidnapping of Emory University student Barbara Jane Mackle.

Krist, 60, was arrested last week in Point Clear, Ala., with more than 38 pounds of cocaine on his 40-foot sailboat, according to authorities.

Barrow County Chief Deputy Murray Kogod said the Sheriff's Office received information about the possible underground lab from the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. They served a warrant to Krist's home at 134 Ga. Highway 324 on March 10.

Kogod said the lab was hidden underneath a storage building, in what appeared to be an underground fuel tank.

"Basically, there was a trap door," he said. "It was wood covered with linoleum. Unless you knew you were looking for something, you wouldn't notice it."

An 8-foot ladder led down into the 27-foot-long lab, Kogod said, which had a countertop at one end and a ventilation system enclosed in glass at the other.

The lab was fully equipped with water, light and electricity, and had an escape tunnel that let out into a covered barrel about 50 feet from the lab, Kogod said. The barrel was camouflaged with debris.

The amount of cocaine that was being processed through the lab - 38.6 pounds, valued at more than $1 million, were seized in Alabama - was not being distributed in Barrow County. For that reason, Kogod said he had no idea that the operation was taking place.

"In no way, shape or form was he on our radar at that point," Kogod said. "Based on that kind of quantity, he was not distributing in Barrow County. He was distributing somewhere else. Much larger cities like Atlanta, or other states."

Kogod said Krist has been living at that location for seven years. He did not know if the underground tank was already there when Krist first bought the property.

Auburn Police Chief Fred Brown said police had also taken money and documents from the Hilltop Circle home of 47-year-old Henry Greeson, who was arrested with Krist, on March 7. Brown said he could not say what exactly was taken, but indicated that a large amount of money was found in the home.

Krist and Greeson were charged with drug smuggling in Alabama. Kogod said the investigation into the cocaine lab is ongoing but said he did not know if the county would press charges against Krist because of the federal charges he is already facing. Four illegal immigrants who each had allegedly paid $6,000 for the trip from Colombia to Alabama were also arrested on the boat.

Krist told authorities he picked up the illegal immigrants because ''he felt sorry'' for them and wanted to assist in making their lives better, according to an affidavit in the case.

The two declined further comment.

Krist was paroled from a Georgia prison sentence in the Dec. 17, 1968, kidnapping of Mackle.

Mackle, a Florida heiress, was buried in a plywood box in then-rural Berkeley Lake rigged with air hoses and a fan.

Krist and his accomplice, Ruth Eisemann Schier, were convicted in the kidnapping. He was sentenced to life in prison but was released after serving 10 years.

Mackle's father, Robert Mackle, a wealthy developer in Coral Gables, Fla., paid a $500,000 ransom. FBI agents found Mackle after three-and-a-half days, dehydrated, but alive.

Brown, the Auburn police chief, said he had no idea the county had such an infamous resident.

"It was a shock, knowing not only who he was, but what he did," Brown said. "You never know who's living in your backyard. This guy's been off the radar for a long time."

The lab, constructed to turn the cocaine paste into a powder, was dismantled by members of the county's Meth Task Force, Kogod said. Cocaine is usually brought into the country, so finding a lab is extremely unlikely.

"I was very shocked," Kogod said. "It's surprising. Very few have actually been found in Georgia."

Kogod said he will be meeting with the district attorney's office to determine the county's course of action. He had no indication that the lab was part of a larger operation in Barrow, he said.

- The Associated Press

contributed to this story.