Deep Web film
Silk Road appeared on the dark web, hidden from the eyes of Google Epix HD

Silk Road, the notorious billion-dollar website known as 'the Amazon of illegal drugs', was almost killed off by police before it even launched – due to a water leak.

Ross Ulbricht, currently serving a life sentence for creating and running the website, began growing a batch of magic mushrooms in early 2011, which he planned to list as the first item for sale on Silk Road. He hoped the listing would earn him tens of thousands of dollars, but more importantly it would kickstart the site, encouraging both buyers and sellers to start using it and earning Ulbricht commission on their sales.

Ulbricht rented a tatty apartment on the outskirts of Austin, Texas, for $450 (£350) a month, in a location only he knew; he had taken his girlfriend Julia there once, but insisted she wear a blindfold for the journey there and back. There, he grew enough mushrooms to fill two large rubbish bags.

Having tested the mushrooms to confirm their potency, Ulbricht was ready to gather them up and list them on Silk Road, which he had built on the dark web, an anonymous part of the internet hidden from Google searches and only accessible through an anonymising browser known as Tor.

But, according to American Kingpin, a new book by Nick Bilton documenting the rise and fall of Silk Road, Ulbricht's amateur mushroom farm was moments away from being busted by police.

Bilton writes: "Austin had been in the middle of a heat wave a few weeks earlier, and somehow there had been a water leak in the apartment housing his secret magic mushroom farm. The landlord has gone into the space to inspect the flood and instead had found Ross' drug laboratory. Irate, the landlord called Ross to tell him the next phone call was to the local police."

Ulbricht jumped in his truck and sped across town to retrieve his mushrooms and all evidence of growing them before the police arrived. "Ross tore through the space... and thankfully screeched away just in time."

When Ulbricht returned home that evening, he "was so shaken up it took Julia hours to calm him. The thought of what would have happened had he been caught was enough to put Ross on the edge of a panic attack".

While this near-disaster would have been enough to put off most wannabe drug lords, Ulbricht's fear quickly turned into determination to launch the site, sell the mushrooms and grow the Silk Road from a startup into an empire.

Ulbricht went ahead and launched Silk Road in late January, then advertised it on a website called Shroomery at 4.20pm on 27 January, claiming he had stumbled across the site and encouraged others to check it out. Days later, the first customers began to arrive.