Ted Williams Tale Gets Stranger by the Day

The New York Times/August 14, 2003

The executive who disclosed that Ted Williams's head was removed after his death and frozen said yesterday that he came forward because of "horrific" and "unethical" practices by the company, the Alcor Life Extension Foundation.

Larry Johnson, a former chief operating officer of Alcor, accused company officials of dumping bodily fluids and hazardous chemicals behind the company's building in Scottsdale, Ariz., and of macabre suggestions, perhaps joking ones, that they would dispose of Williams's separated body if his son, John-Henry, did not pay the $111,000 he owed for the $136,000 cryonics preservation process.

"One director said that if John-Henry didn't pay, they should ship the body in a cardboard box to him, then to Bobbi-Jo," Johnson said in a telephone interview, referring to Barbara Joyce Ferrell, Ted Williams's eldest daughter.

Johnson, who resigned this week, provided documents, tape recordings, e-mail messages and photographs to Sports Illustrated for an article that appears in its current issue.

Three photographs of the surgical detachment of a head at the Alcor facility are posted on Johnson's Web site, but he would not say if the images were of Williams, whose head was removed hours after his death on July 5, 2002.

Johnson said he had seen Williams's frozen head. "It's been in there for a year, and it's ghastly," he said.

Johnson also posted a letter dated May 16, 2003, and signed by Jerry Lemler, Alcor's president, that gave him broad permission to publish photographs and documents. The permission was granted for Johnson to cooperate for an article about cryonics in a trade publication, but appears to allow any type of use.

Carlos Mondragon, a member of Alcor's board of directors and a former president of the company, said the letter would be examined to assess its legitimacy.

Johnson said he was troubled by the handling of Williams's remains soon after he went to work at Alcor last January, but did not learn much about the details of Williams's cryo-preservation until after he agreed to sign up to be frozen, which made other employees more open to him. But he said he subsequently wrote a will that negated any prospect of being preserved in liquid nitrogen.

"The last thing I wanted to be was Ted's roommate," he said.

Johnson's claims - including one that DNA samples taken from Williams are missing -- have resurrected the nasty legal feud between Ferrell and her younger half siblings, John-Henry and Claudia Williams.

Ferrell wanted to ensure that her father was cremated, as he stated in his will, but John-Henry, with Claudia's consent, had his body sent to Alcor, where his head and body are stored in containers at subzero temperatures, in the hope of one day being reanimated. Ferrell withdrew her court challenge last year, having exhausted much of her and her husband's retirement savings.

Alcor, citing confidentiality, refuses to confirm that Williams is at its facility.

The company said it was examining civil and criminal charges against Johnson for violating confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements. "I know he was unhappy with his supervisor and upset that he wasn't paid enough. But when you have those problems, you go elsewhere," Mondragon said.

Johnson said: "Alcor has one fact right. I am disgruntled, because of what happened to Ted and their cavalier mentality about breaking the law."

The company also filed a complaint yesterday with the Scottsdale police, alleging that Johnson had stolen a cellphone, a pager, a laptop and a company credit card. But by the time the police interviewed him that night, Johnson said that he had sent the items, except the laptop, back to the company. Mondragon said that he had not seen them.

A Scottsdale police spokesman, Scott Reed, said if it is proved that the items were returned, "It would be unfounded as a theft."

Mondragon also disputed Johnson's claim that Alcor has violated environmental laws. "Nothing is dumped out back," he said, except for excess ice. "There's nothing toxic. We have lots of bathrooms and drains in the building."

"We have nothing to hide."

Regarding Johnson's claim of missing DNA samples, Mondragon said none are collected or stored. "We don't need to do that," he said.

But one person who saw the two-and-a-half-foot-high cylindrical steel container with Williams's head, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was told that the several silver packets floating in liquid nitrogen above the head were tissue samples of Williams to be harvested for DNA.

The person said the samples -- far fewer than the 182 that Johnson told Sports Illustrated existed, eight of which he said were missing -- were taken at the request of John-Henry Williams, who wanted to sell them. John-Henry refused to comment.

Mondragon also disputed the seriousness of Johnson's claim that in the process of preserving Williams's head, which is called a neuro, it sustained "huge cracks."

Separately, a Florida prosecutor said yesterday that a grease-stained note said to be signed on Nov. 2, 2000, by Ted, John-Henry and Claudia Williams, in which they all pledged to have their bodies preserved by Alcor, is being investigated for its authenticity. Mark Ferrell, the husband of Barbara Joyce, said Tuesday that he had proof that Claudia Williams was not in the hospital room when the note was signed.

"We have to see if a crime occurred," said Ric Ridgway, chief assistant state attorney for Citrus County, in Ocala, Fla. "Simply telling a lie isn't a crime." He said even if the note were forged, it would have to be a "material fact" in a crime to be prosecuted.

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