T. Williams' heirs in fight over his body

Eldest daughter says brother wants to freeze baseball legend's corpse

July 07, 2002|By THE BOSTON GLOBE

BOSTON - The heirs of the late Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams yesterday prepared for a legal fight over the final resting place of his body, the latest and most macabre chapter in a family feud that rages even amid the tributes and eulogies for one of America's most enduring sports figures.

His only son, John Henry Williams, has arranged to deep-freeze Williams' corpse - or perhaps only his head - for future revival or cloning, according to Williams' eldest daughter. Barbara Joyce "Bobby-Jo" Williams Ferrell said yesterday that her lawyer was preparing a restraining order halting those plans, to be filed tomorrow.

An attorney for Williams' estate refused to deny her claim, but emphasized that all the preparations under way are being conducted precisely as Williams wanted. There will be no funeral, though Williams' body yesterday rested at an Inverness, Fla., funeral home.

"Ted Williams was a private person in life, and in death he wished to remain private," Eric Abel, Williams' attorney, said in a statement. "He did not wish to have any funeral or funeral services."

But it remains unclear where or in what state Williams' body will ultimately end up - an issue that soon could be the subject of debate in a Florida courtroom. The dispute underscores the bitter rivalry between the Red Sox legend's three children - Bobby-Jo, John Henry and Claudia - who will not equally share in his considerable estate, according to close family friends.

Williams sought to legally and emotionally distance himself from Ferrell over the years, family friends said. But she counters that John Henry's manipulation of the aging baseball great during his final, most feeble, years, led to the estrangement.

The dispute became most strained in recent years, as the formerly vigorous ballplayer succumbed to strokes and heart disease, allowing John Henry to increasingly run his life and business interests.

Williams' only son has led a string of ventures into legal troubles and insolvency, and has been accused of exploiting his father's legacy for profit, even pushing the ailing slugger to sign profit-making memorabilia in order to secure future income.

John Henry Williams did not respond to several phone messages left yesterday. For the moment, the Williams family feud appears centered on the famous patriarch's corpse.

The Scottsdale, Ariz., non-profit allegedly contracted to store Williams's remains, the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, refused to confirm or deny that it will take possession of the body. Typically, the company, part of the fringe industry of cryonics, almost immediately places client corpses on ice, then flies them to Arizona, an Alcor official said.

Ferrell said her father, indifferent toward religion and disdainful of elaborate funerals, desired to be cremated in a simple ceremony. She added that she will seek to enforce that in her legal action.

"In my 53 years, my dad has told me, and anyone that was around him knew, that his wishes were to be cremated," she said. "My dad would flip out if he could see what was going on. And he would flip out if he thought his son was going to do that to him."

But Al Cassidy, executor of Williams's estate and a longtime family friend, said the Red Sox great would be more disturbed at his first-born daughter's behavior.

"We're all sitting here together, we're all grieving, and we don't want to attack Bobby-Jo," he said. "But Ted had private wishes, and he would not like to see it happening like this."

Cassidy said he would meet with the family's lawyers tomorrow to start the process of handling Williams' estate. He declined to say how large the estate was that would be divided among the children.

A close friend of the family, who asked not to be identified, said that all three children were left with individual trusts. Bobby-Jo, born to Williams's first wife Doris Soule Williams, will not receive an equal share but "she will be taken care of," according to the family friend. John Henry and Claudia, born to Williams' third wife, Dolores Wettach Williams, will receive larger trusts. Williams personally told all the children how the distribution would be handled, the friend said.

Abel, who answered the phone at Williams' Hernando, Fla., home yesterday, identifying himself as the family spokesman, said Ferrell has been estranged from her father for more than a year and that John Henry and Claudia were doing nothing to contradict the slugger's last wishes.

But Abel wouldn't say whether there were, in fact, plans to send Williams' body to the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, calling it a personal matter. "The family is dealing with many issues right now, and that is the least of their concerns," he said.

He pointedly refuted Ferrell's accusations that John Henry sought to preserve his father's body in order to sell Williams' DNA. But he did not deny that Williams would be frozen in liquid nitrogen and warehoused at Alcor.

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