Friend details gruesome visit to cryogenics lab

Updated: March 13, 2003, 1:18 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

What would Ted Williams have thought if he knew his body would be hanging upside down in a nitrogen-filled tank with perhaps four other full bodies and five heads at a cryogenics lab inside a strip mall in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Williams' close friend, Buzz Hamon, said the last time he spoke with The Splendid Splinter, Williams said, "I need a lawyer ... Because I made a mistake."

Then the phone went dead.

Hamon provided the details to Bill Madden of the New York Daily News for a story that was published Wednesday. The impetus behind Hamon's cross-country journey two weeks ago from his home in Greenville, S.C., to the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale was simple: He wanted to see for himself Williams' final resting place.

Hamon was Williams' constant companion for 4½ years and director of the Hall of Fame hitter's museum in Hernando, Fla. Hamon arranged all of Williams' travels -- to Cooperstown each summer, the All-Star Game and various other baseball events -- and their relationship grew strong enough that Hamon was thought of as an "adopted son."

According to the newspaper's account, that was the problem as far as Williams' real son, John Henry, was concerned. So, John Henry gradually eased Hamon out as director of the museum and assumed total control of his father's life.

When Ted Williams died last July 5, John Henry arranged to have his father's body frozen and moved to Alcor.

Sources familiar with what took place that day told the Daily News that the minute Williams drew his last breath, hospital officials filled his body with blood thinner and stuffed it into a bag filled with dry ice for transportation to the airport in Ocala, Fla., where a plane chartered by Alcor was waiting on the tarmac to fly it to Arizona.

In the months that followed, Wiliams' daughter Bobby Jo Ferrell spent more than $50,000 in a failed effort to convince a judge to have the body released from the cryogenics lab so that it could be cremated per Williams' wishes.

Meanwhile, no one with close ties to Williams was allowed access to the lab as Williams' body hung suspended in a giant cylinder.

Hamon couldn't accept that.

With the help of Bobbie Sgrillo, a friend and former mortician who lives in Phoenix, Hamon gained access to Alcor. According to the Daily News, Sgrillo's knowledge of the mortuary business enabled her to gain the confidence of overly protective Alcor officials, who -- after interviewing her for a half-hour -- agreed to give her a tour of the facility. She then asked if she could bring along Hamon, whom she introduced to them as "my friend Art, a public-relations man."

"After what I saw and experienced, I just can't contain myself any longer," Hamon told the Daily News by phone Tuesday. "I want the whole world to know what they've done to Ted. This was absolutely horrifying."

Hamon told the newspaper he was "appalled" by the cluttered conditions inside the facility, then gave the Daily News the following account of entering the containment room where Williams' body is stored:

"There were six huge cylinders along the wall, one of which was filled with liquid nitrogen to supply the other five. I was stunned when [Alcor CEO Jerry Lemler] told me they had 55 'patients,' as he called them. How could they have so many?

"Then he told me there were four full bodies and five heads in each of the cylinders. In addition, there were two short cylinders with just heads in them."

Hamon said he "was horrified" to hear that Williams' body was not stored in a separate cylinder.

"All I could think of was Ted and what he would have thought if he'd known what John Henry had done to him," Hamon told the Daily News. "It was bad enough knowing that somewhere in one of these cylinders, Ted was hanging suspended, upside down, with his head in a bucket. But he was in there with four or five other bodies and assorted heads.

"For all the money this supposedly cost John Henry, he wouldn't even see to it that Ted was alone."

"I was a little taken aback at the sanitary conditions because of my experience in the mortuary business," Sgrillo told the newspaper when reached in Phoenix. "But what really concerned me were the dangerously low levels of nitrogen in each of the tanks. It was when I asked (Lemler) about that he said: 'Tour's over!'

"When I asked them about this whole process, they said: 'We don't promise anything. We don't know what's on the other end.' "

When reached by the Daily News on Tuesday, Lemler said he does not recall the visit by Hamon and Sgrillo and denied that there are problems with nitrogen levels in the Alcor facility. When asked by the newspaper about its sanitary conditions, he said "no comment."

"I just can't believe people believe in this," Sgrillo told the Daily News, "that their loved ones can be brought back to life. Are they really that stupid?"