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Williams' Family Battle Lives On

After baseball legend's son dies, his body is said to be sent to cryonics lab too. Legal fight continues.

March 09, 2004|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

The odd tale of Ted Williams and his frozen remains took another twist this week with the death of the baseball legend's son at a Los Angeles hospital.

It was that son, John Henry Williams, who made the controversial arrangements to suspend his father in liquid nitrogen less than two years ago.

Now John Henry has died, succumbing to leukemia at UCLA Medical Center on Saturday, and his body has been transported to the same Arizona cryonics lab, a source close to the family said.

At the same time, rival family members have vowed to launch another legal challenge to gain control of Ted's corpse and have it cremated.

"John Henry's death makes no difference," said Mark Ferrell, Ted's son-in-law. "As long as we are breathing, we will never stop trying to get Ted out of there."

Such controversy hardly befits the legacy of a Hall of Fame player who spent much of his life trying to avoid the spotlight.

Even as he established himself among the game's all-time greats, batting .406 in 1941, the man called "Teddy Ballgame" and "The Splendid Splinter" was known to be gruff and prefer the solitude of fishing. But soon after he died of heart failure in July 2002, Williams' name became fodder for talk-show banter and Internet jokes.

John Henry, who had cared for his father in later years, made arrangements to have Williams' body transported to the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale.

There, for a cost of more than $120,000, the Hall of Famer's body was frozen and stored in a stainless-steel tank, the hope being that scientific advances might someday cure the ailments that killed him.

John Henry and his sister Claudia claimed it was part of an informal pact they had signed with their father "to be put in biostasis after we die. This is what we want, to be able to be together in the future, even if it is only a chance."

Another faction of the family opposed the arrangement.

Bobby-Jo Williams Ferrell, an elder daughter by a previous marriage, and her husband Mark insisted that Williams wanted to be cremated, his ashes scattered across the Florida Keys where he often fished.

A series of highly publicized court skirmishes ensued. Bobby-Jo dropped her opposition when a circuit court judge gave her an equal share of Williams' $645,000 trust.

Mark Ferrell said his wife relented only because she had spent $87,000 in legal fees on an effort that ultimately might have cost $250,000.

But the Ferrells renewed their efforts last summer when Sports Illustrated reported that Ted Williams' body had been decapitated and mishandled, the skull cracked, and that the lab might evict the remains if John Henry failed to settle a $111,000 bill.

While all of this was going on, John Henry was making several unsuccessful attempts to follow in his father's footsteps, playing for minor league and independent baseball teams.

Last fall, the 35-year-old was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia. He underwent chemotherapy and received a bone marrow transplant using a donation from Claudia.

His sister, mother and attorney Eric Abel were at his bedside Saturday.

By Monday, the website tedwilliamslastwish.org carried a brief comment from Bobby-Jo, who wrote that she "never had a relationship" with her half brother and "does not feel comfortable making any comment on his passing."

Speaking by telephone from their Florida home, her husband said, "We're still going ahead with our lawsuit."

They hope to force Alcor to produce documents proving that Ted Williams agreed to be frozen after his death. "To show that he did, in fact, sign over his body as they say he did," Mark Ferrell said.

An Alcor official said his company has a policy of not commenting on its "patients."

Ferrell was seeking to confirm that John Henry's remains are at the Arizona lab. Given reports of unpaid bills, he said he was dubious.

Williams family attorney Peter Sutton declined to comment on the matter.

A source close to the family, who spoke on condition of anonymity, referred to the handwritten pact between Ted, John Henry and Claudia.

"I think it's safe to assume that John Henry is with his father," the source said. "Wherever Ted is, you can assume John Henry is with him."

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