Marjorie Hicks is no fool.
Hicks, 75, figured something was not quite right with her new tenants several years ago. They paid their $160 weekly rent on time, but she never saw them leave their trailer, a stone's throw from her home on the outskirts of Clayton.
Nothing prepared her for the mischief she eventually found there.
"I have seen a great deal in my day, but I never ..." Hicks, a retired cook, said this month, nearly four years after Johnston County Sheriff's deputies found a meth lab in her tenants' home. The same tenants, Philip Ryan Kyzak and Peggy Ruth Love, were arrested a year before in Cary after police say they caught the two cooking meth in a motel room. That case was pending when they were caught in Johnston County; both were eventually convicted on those charges.
Hicks discovered their new enterprise by snooping. The shed behind their house smelled noxious, like strong gases mixing together. The trash barrel reeked, too. Hicks returned home one day in April 2003 to find a large black pipe protruding out their bedroom window, sticking through a hole cut through the glass. Hicks hopped in her car and raced to the sheriff's office.
Hicks knows she's lucky. There could have been an explosion in her rental trailer, which would have threatened her own home. Meth cooks often spark dangerous fires when they mix several toxic and combustible chemicals.
Hicks is glad state officials are regulating cold medicines and trying to make it harder for people like her tenants to cook meth at home.
Experiences like Hicks' helped inspire state officials to crack down on homemade meth cooks. State officials guess only about 15 percent of the meth being used in North Carolina is obtained from these small scale labs; the rest is hauled in by traffickers from drug cartels far away, narcotics agents say.
But it's bystanders like Hicks who have borne the burden of the home-cooking craze.
Although Hicks didn't get hurt, she did feel a pinch when she had to clean up her tenants' deeds. Before anyone could set foot in the trailer they rented, Johnston County officials demanded she decontaminate it. New carpet and a visit by a professional cleaning crew set her back about $1,500. Loss from four months' rent totaled $2,560.
"It took me so long to get this straightened out," Hicks said. "But, boy, did I learn a thing or two."