WOOSTER, Ohio — The toxic waste that John Marlow hoarded under the floorboards of his hovel and in a broken-down shed did more than disgust his neighbors.
It also terrified authorities, who feared the witch’s brew could ignite a fireball and torch the neighborhood.
Marlow, 54, is accused of cooking a mega-lab worth of methamphetamine in a small house in Wooster, a city 90 minutes southwest of Cleveland. Authorities said they found 40 small labs in the home. The chemical stash marks the latest large-scale meth operation unraveled in Ohio in recent years.
What makes this case different is that the garbage-filled home is still standing and the accused cooks were not harmed, as fires have become so much more common, especially in such sizable labs, according to records and interviews.
Marlow and Charity Hinton, 34, were indicted this month in Wayne County Common Pleas Court on charges of illegal manufacturing of drugs and illegal possession of chemicals to make methamphetamine. They have denied the charges. Their attorney, a public defender, did not return phone messages.
Records show that Marlow and Hinton are accused of being part of a growing wave of meth cooks, who make the drug in the so-called “one-pot method.” It allows cooks to mix a batch of household items together in a 2-liter pop bottle and shake it to create a reaction that produces the highly addictive stimulant. The method has not only turned cooks’ teeth to rotted enamel and their skin to a pasty, pocked surface, but also has caused explosions across the state and country.
And that’s what has terrified neighbors.
“From what they found in that house, it could have leveled this whole neighborhood,” said a man who lives near Marlow and Hinton but declined to give his name. He said he watched as authorities spent two days pulling chemicals from the home.
“We just thought they were just selling it,” the man said. “But selling it is one thing, and cooking it is something else.”
Another neighbor, a woman, said: “I wish I had never moved here.”
What authorities accused Marlow and Hinton of doing is nothing like the high-tech meth production of the popular television series, “Breaking Bad.” Marlow and Hinton, according to court records, are accused of running a crude system that used jugs of chemicals to fill pop bottles with the homemade drug.
Nearby residents complained of smelling an ether-like chemical odor, which is typical of meth cooking. They also said they grew tired of seeing people walk into the home at all hours, staying a few minutes and then bolting.
In addition, they watched Marlow explode in a paranoid rages that prompted him to threaten his neighbors, according to court records and interviews.
Court records indicate the meth cooking at the tiny, two-story frame house on West Vine Street took off after June 1. That day, Gerald Hinton, Charity’s father and the owner of the home, was charged with raping a 3-year-old child at a nearby residence, records show.
Marlow and Charity Hinton began brewing the drug soon after Gerald Hinton’s arrest, according to documents, and they continued through early February.
On Feb. 4, Charity called police and reported a domestic disturbance involving Marlow. Once officers arrived, they found chemicals scattered around the house, according to court records.
Drug agents obtained a search warrant for the house and found about 30 labs, according to court records and authorities.
Agents also found a makeshift chemistry lab filled with gallon containers of drain cleaner and camp stove fuel, four hydrogen-chloride gas generators, packages of lithium batteries and 40 blister packs of cold medicine — all ingredients used to make methamphetamine, the records show.
The next day, Wooster firefighters and drug agents went back to the house and found 10 more discarded labs, authorities said. Some of the labs were days old, while other were much older. Much of the trash was buried under the floorboards, authorities said.
“Just because the cooking process is over, that doesn’t mean the danger is gone,” said David Posten, supervisor of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s clandestine lab unit. He said flammable chemicals and solvents remain long after the drug is brewed, potentially causing fires.
Nathan Murphy, the acting fire chief in Wooster, said the chemicals are a major concern, as nearby departments have battled recent house fires caused by meth labs.
“Unfortunately, it has become quite the epidemic,” Murphy said.
In an interview with drug agents, Marlow admitted that he and Hinton had been cooking meth from the house for months, according to court records. He said he made the drug at least 50 times since last summer, and he usually cooked from the living room, the records show.
Don Hall, the director of the Medway Drug Enforcement Agency, which fights drugs in Wayne County and the city of Brunswick in Medina County, estimates Marlow and Hinton made about $100 a gram or $400 a lab.
Marlow and Hinton were not charged with dealing the drug, mainly because police never made an undercover purchase from them. But Hall said he suspects the couple were selling to others.
Marlow hardly kept it a secret that he cooked methamphetamine. Last September, he was arrested for shoplifting camp stove fuel at a department store. He was later convicted and ordered to pay a $200 fine.
Gerald Hinton, 66, pleaded guilty to rape in November involving the attack on the 3-year-old girl. A month later, a judge sentenced him to prison for life.
“Why should I show you any mercy after what you did?” Judge Mark Wiest said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
Gerald Hinton’s house on West Vine Street is condemned. The four-bedroom, one-bath home was built in 1920. The Wayne County auditor’s office values it at $12,850. Prosecutor Dan Lutz said his office will not seek to obtain it through forfeiture.
The neighbor who lives near the house and feared an explosion said there is only one solution for the home, given the amount of chemical fumes in the walls and the toxic trash beneath the floorboards.
“Just tear it down,” he said.