Scottsdale company’s role in death probed
Bill Bertolino, Tribune September 28, 2003
Los Angeles homicide detectives are investigating the 1992 death of a man whose remains are frozen at Scottsdale-based Alcor Life Extension Foundation, the cryonics company known nationally for storing human bodies, including that of baseball icon Ted Williams.
At the heart of the investigation is whether or not a former Alcor employee injected a terminally ill AIDS patient with a paralytic drug to hasten his death, the Tribune has learned.
Brian Carr, a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department, confirmed that the death is being investigated as a result of allegations and evidence turned over by former Alcor chief operating officer Larry Johnson, who left the company in August.
“I can’t really talk much about it at this point,” said Carr, who works in the department’s robbery and homicide division. “It’s still under investigation.”
Carr said he interviewed Johnson about the case.
Johnson first notified Los Angeles authorities of an “unusual homicide” through his attorney.
In a letter sent in mid-July, lawyer John A. Heer told police that Johnson had evidence that “instead of waiting for nature to take its course, one of the members of the suspension team injected the victim with a paralytic chemical which stopped the victim’s heart and breathing within minutes.”
Evidence Johnson and his attorney said they have turned over to investigators includes conversations Johnson secretly recorded with two men he identified as Alcor executives. The Tribune has obtained copies of the recordings.
On one recording, a man Johnson identified as Alcor senior board member and facilities engineer Hugh Hixon states he was at the scene of the AIDS patient’s death when a then-Alcor employee injected the man with a drug known to have the ability to paralyze patients and stop their breathing.
The then-employee administered the injection, “and after about seven or eight minutes (the patient) quit breathing, which was entirely to be expected,” Hixon states on the recording. The Tribune is withholding the name of the former employee Hixon identified because the employee could not be located for comment. Contacted Friday, Hixon said, “I’m declining comment.” He referred questions to Alcor CEO Jerry Lemler, who did not return calls from the Tribune seeking comment.
On another recording, a man Johnson identified as another Alcor executive states he has knowledge of the AIDS patient’s death. He said the information would “absolutely destroy” Alcor if it became public.
The executive adds: “If it came down to a court issue, you know, who’s gonna say anything? Who is going to admit anything? It’s deniable.”
The Tribune is also withholding the identity of the executive at this time because he could not be reached for comment. The investigation into the AIDS patient’s death is the latest inquiry for Alcor, a nonprofit organization in north Scottsdale that freezes human bodies and brains in liquid nitrogen, in the hope that medical breakthroughs may one day restore the dead to life.
The company has the remains of at least 58 people frozen, at a charge of about $120,000 for a full-body suspension.
Last month, Alcor received national attention for its treatment of Williams — the Hall of Fame Boston Red Sox slugger whose remains are stored at Alcor.
Sports Illustrated first reported in August that Alcor severed Williams’ head, drilled holes in it, fractured the skull and misplaced DNA samples, among other allegations. Alcor has never publicly acknowledged ownership of Williams’ body and has denied that his DNA is missing from the facility.
The story spawned a lawsuit by Alcor against Johnson, who supplied the magazine with the information on Williams. Among other claims in its lawsuit, Alcor charges Johnson violated a confidentiality agreement and stole company information and property.
Johnson worked for Alcor from January until Aug. 11, when he said he was fired. He has since filed a counterclaim against Alcor, charging the company falsely accused him of committing theft, fraud and breach of confidentiality. Johnson also charges the company has slandered him.
Alcor also has a contentious history with California authorities.
In 1987, the company was rocked by a scandal involving the death of Riverside, Calif., resident Dora Kent. Authorities questioned whether she was legally dead when her head was removed and frozen. The case was dropped after extensive legal wrangling.
Alcor moved its headquarters in 1994 from Riverside to Scottsdale, where the company is housed in a building in the Scottsdale Airpark. It has 12 employees.
On the audio recording between Johnson and Hixon, Hixon states that he was at the home of the AIDS patient whose death is now under investigation because he was in charge of transporting the man’s body.
As the crew waited for the man to die, Hixon states they prepared a makeshift operating room inside a detached garage near the home. Alcor workers put together plastic drop cloths, lightweight wood and twine, “and we built ourselves a little operating suite in the garage,” Hixon states.
The Alcor crew eventually carried the dying man down the stairs of his home, placed him on a gurney and wheeled him down the street to the garage, where they waited for him to die, Hixon states.
“We waited quite a while,” Hixon states. “He was not very far away from dying.”
Hixon then states that the former Alcor employee asked an assistant to prepare an injection of Metubine, a paralytic drug.
The assistant, Tanya Jones, “didn’t know what it was for,” Hixon states.
Later on the recording, Hixon adds: “Anyway, so the guy quit breathing. He wasn’t very far from quitting breathing, but, uh, we don’t like that kind of thing.”
Reached on Saturday by cell phone in Southern California, Jones initially declined comment.
“Let me just find out what is going on,” Jones said. “And what I can say and what I can’t say, you know. It would be simple enough to either confirm or deny the presence of that someone. “I haven’t thought about that case in a very, very long time.”
Jones added that she took a job with Alcor on Friday after a 6 1/2-year hiatus from the company.
Hixon also indicates on the recording that a growing concern was that the Alcor team might get tied up in traffic when they had to transport the AIDS patient’s remains.
“It wasn’t anything that wasn’t going to happen,” Hixon states regarding the man’s death. “And we did beat the traffic.”
The other Alcor executive indicates on an audio recording that he was not at the scene but had knowledge of the circumstances that caused the AIDS patient’s death. He states the AIDS patient’s death occurred in 1992 in Los Angeles.
“Look, morally I have no objection to doing that sort of thing,” he states. “I think Dr. (Jack) Kevorkian is a great man. But we live in a real world. We just can’t do stuff like that.”
The company executive states that the incident caused Alcor to sever its relationship with the employee who injected the paralytic drug.
“That’s when we decided, Alcor decided, this guy is just too dangerous to have around,” he states.
Johnson, who agreed to an interview with the Tribune only on the condition that the newspaper not reveal his address or publish a photo of him, said he became frightened when he learned that a former Alcor employee may have hastened the death of the AIDS patient.
He said he prompted his attorney to contact Los Angeles police. Heer said Saturday that he had several conversations with detectives in early July. Heer is also the attorney for Bobby-Jo Ferrell, Ted Williams’ eldest child, who was at the heart of a family dispute last year over the handling of the former baseball star’s remains.