THE GREAT SOUL TRIAL
An eccentric miner – who very few people even noticed – may have accomplished as much to advance the progress of research into survival of death as Dr. Moody achieved when he wrote Life After Life.
James Kidd was a reclusive prospector and miner who lived in a ramshackle hut on the edge of a small town in Arizona. He was so poor that he had to borrow a pick when he went out searching for minerals. He kept mostly to himself and often disappeared for long periods, so his failure to return in 1949 initially caused no alarm. It was only when his rent became due that police launched an investigation. Failing to find his body or evidence of foul play, he was eventually declared dead.
Several years passed before tax commissioner Geraldine Swift received a report from a stock brokerage firm addressed to Kidd’s estate and referring to $18,000 worth of stock belonging to him.
Intrigued, Swift made further investigations and discovered over $174,000 – a hefty sum in the 1950’s –invested in Kidd’s name in various banks and brokerage firms!
As Kidd had no living relatives, this appeared to be a nice windfall for the state treasury. The state treasury, however, were in for a big disappointment.
Swift was determined to learn more about the enigma that was Kidd. Fifteen years after his presumed death, she located his safety deposit box in the underground vault of a bank. Inside, she found a scrap of paper covered in scrawled handwriting.
The grammar and punctuation were poor, some words were misspelt, and the handwriting was untidy, but this single piece of paper would spark the strangest court case ever known!
This is my first and only will and is dated on the second day in January 1946. I have no heirs have not been married in my life after all my funeral expenses have been paid and one hundred dollars to some preacher of the hospital to say fare well at my grave sell all my property which is all in cash and stocks with E F Hutton Co Pheonix some in safety box, and have this balance money to go in a research or some scientific proof of a soul of the human body which leaves at death. I think in time their can be a Photograph of soul leaving the human at death. James Kidd.
A court case was launched to determine if the unwitnessed and poorly-written document was valid. Word got out, and the judge was overwhelmed by more than 4,000 letters from people all over the world insisting they could prove the existence of the soul and should thereby inherit Kidd’s fortune.
Throughout the next 3 years, lawyers argued back and forth about the will’s legitimacy, and it was finally declared valid in 1967.
Now the real fun began! How should this money be used to satisfy the contents of Kidd’s will?
One hundred and thirty three petitioners packed the courtroom to stake their claim. These included a man who announced that visitors from outer space had confided the secret of the soul to him, and a woman who declared that the spirit of Kidd had materialized in her bedroom.
Although Kidd had no family, this didn’t stop an endless line of people purporting to be relatives. Two elderly Canadians claimed him as their long-lost brother. One woman presented herself as his widow. Two sisters insisted they were his daughters.
In the midst of all this wrangling, Judge Myers received an intriguing typewritten letter in which the writer expressed amusement at all the bickering, adding that he hoped that these funds would eventually find their way into worthy hands.
The letter was signed “Quite Alive, James Kidd.”
The true identity of this letter-writer was never established. If he was still alive, Kidd would have been about 88, so it’s possible the letter was genuine. I find it amusing to imagine the reclusive Kidd standing silently on the sidelines, a hint of amusement on his weather-beaten old face and a mischievous glint in his eye as he watched total strangers claiming to be long-lost family members and squabbling over their claim to his fortune.
Once the crackpots had been dealt with, Judge Myers considered testimonies from those representing various parapsychology groups.
The Great Soul Trial, as it came to be known, ran for 3 months and the money was awarded to the Barrow Neurological Institute of Phoenix, even though they freely admitted they had no idea how to go about locating the soul.
This caused a sensation. Several parapsychology groups banded together to appeal the decision, which led to a further 5 years of legal wrangling.
The American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) put their case forward:
“We present the hypothesis that some part of the human personality indeed is capable of operating outside the living body … and that it may continue to exist after the brain processes have ceased and the organism is decayed.”
In 1972 – 23 years after Kidd’s disappearance and 8 years after the discovery of his will – the original ruling was overturned.
Due to accrued interest, Kidd’s fortune was now worth $270,000. The court awarded two-thirds of it to the ASPR, and the remaining third to the Psychical Research Foundation.
As an esteemed member of the ASPR, Dr. Karlis Osis had much-needed funding for a planned multicultural study of deathbed visions. He joined forces with colleague Dr. Erlendur Haraldsson and together they designed a research program aimed at collecting deathbed data through surveys of physicians and nurses in India and the U.S.
Kidd’s legacy, however, was worth far more than dollar bills.
James Kidd’s will captured the attention and imagination of people around the world. The court battles throughout the 1960’s were sufficiently newsworthy to ensure that the international media kept the public well informed on their progress.
As a result, people began to openly discuss the possibilities these trials suggested.
Was there more to us than just the physical body?
Could science really prove the validity of the soul?
Did the afterlife really exist?
The time was now ripe for many people to begin the process of questioning long-held assumptions.
Was it a coincidence that a mere three years later, the public eagerly embraced Dr. Moody’s ground-breaking book, Life After Life?
Two years later, in 1977, Drs. Karlis Osis and Erlendur Haraldsson detailed their research on deathbed visions in India and America in their book, At The Hour of Death.
It is said that everyone’s life has a purpose. While James Kidd may not have made a big impact on the world while he lived, his death – and the note he scrawled 3 years earlier – certainly helped to open more than a few minds.