It's a practice that appeals to some people but disturbs many others: freezing the deceased in the hope that science and medicine will progress to the point where it's possible to raise them from the dead. It's called cryonics, and the Alcor Life Extension Foundation is the world leader in the field, according to its Web site.
Larry Johnson worked at Alcor for eight months. Afterward, Johnson revealed to the world some rather unsettling news about the late, great U.S. icon Ted Williams, primarily about the preservation of his corpse, in two parts -- his body and his decapitated head.
Now, after six years of silence, Johnson has emerged with more accusations about the singularly strange world of cryonics at Alcor in his book, "Frozen: My Journey Into the World of Cryonics, Deception and Death." These accusations, Johnson claims, make him "cryonics enemy No. 1."
And for the last three months of his employment at Alcor, Johnson said, he secretly wore a wire to record his conversations, took photographs and collected scores of internal documents not only about Williams but also what he claims is evidence of careless and highly questionable behavior regarding cryonics at Alcor.
"This stuff was so weird, so outlandish, so unbelievable, and it's like, I wanted to know more. I got addicted to it," he said. "People need to know what the hell is going on there."
'They Know I've Got Them on Tape'
Alcor has declined to respond to specific questions for this story but, in a statement released this week, accused Johnson of "exaggerations and misrepresentations," and the company has twice gone to court in an attempt to silence Johnson, calling him a "profiteer in the most heinous sense" in papers filed this week.
UPDATE: Alcor's written response to last night's Nightline report can be found here: http://www.alcor.org/press/response.html
Johnson said, "They know I've got them on tape. What they don't know is what I have on tape. ... I am a threat to their future. I am a person that they need to get out of the way."
For more than 30 years, the Alcor Life Extension Foundation of Scottsdale, Ariz., has been freezing the dead, preserving the bodies (or often just the heads of its members) at ultra-cold temperatures -- 321 degrees below zero. Someday, it believes, medical science will be able to cure what killed them, and they can be thawed and brought back to life. Throughout its history, the nonprofit company has largely been shunned by the medical community.
Johnson, a certified paramedic who claims more than two decades experience, said that as part of the medical community, "I was ... someone who could speak the lingo, so when they go into some of these hospitals to get some of their members out of there, they didn't come across as so odd."
He took a job at Alcor in 2003 -- six months earlier, the company had come under intense scrutiny during the public battle over the remains of Williams, the baseball Hall of Famer.
Within hours of Williams' death, his body was to be flown to Alcor's facility in Arizona to be frozen at the request of Williams' son, and over the objection of his oldest daughter, Barbara Joyce Ferrell.
When a body is brought into Alcor's facility, the patient's blood is pumped out and replaced with a chemical concoction to minimize freezing damage. In many cases, the head is separated from the body with the member's prior consent. Johnson said he began to grow uneasy about his new employer once he saw what went on in Alcor's operating room, where he witnessed three suspensions.
"It was barbaric ... the third suspension that I witnessed, they actually used a hammer and a chisel," he said. "I actually witnessed them remove her head with a chisel and a hammer."
Johnson Claims One Client Helped to Death
Johnson said his concern grew when he was told about an incident that took place in the hills above Los Angeles in 1992. Alcor had received word that Alcor member A-1260, a 39-year-old man suffering from AIDS, was very near death and stopped all his medications. According to a lengthy summary of the case on Alcor's Web site, a response team was assembled at the home of the man and his partner, a makeshift operating room was constructed in the home's garage and the team waited two days for the man to die.
Johnson claimed he was told that an experienced Alcor-contract employee had grown impatient, and allegedly injected the dying man with a potent muscle-relaxant that stopped his breathing and may have hastened his death.
It was at that point, Johnson said, that he "went into whistle-blower mode" and started to wear a wire and record conversations at the company.
Johnson gave ABC News a recording of a conversation he claims is with a longtime Alcor employee who had been present at the home of the patient.
Johnson: Yeah, [---] was telling me the other day about an incident involving [an Alcor employee] where I guess he kind of helped someone along a little bit.
Alcor employee: Yeah.
Johnson: What, who was the patient?
Alcor employee: You'll excuse me if I don't name names.
Johnson: That's OK.
Alcor employee: We had to carry him. Got him onto a gurney and took him up the street to the garage and got him tucked in. And we waited. And we waited quite a while. He was not very far from dying.
Johnson: So did [a longtime Alcor employee] just get impatient and --
Alcor employee: Well, it's a little hard to determine what the hell [his] reasons were. There's the real reasons and then there's reasons he gave ... Plus there were other considerations, too. Traffic was a problem. ... Anyway, so [he] asked [another party] for some metubine iodide.
Alcor employee: Some what?
Alcor employee: Metubine iodide.
Johnson said, "I knew exactly what that drug was and what it did. I wanted to hear him identify the drug."
Alcor employee: And [the Alcor employee] gave it, and after about seven or eight minutes he quit breathing, which was entirely to be expected. ... It wasn't anything that wasn't going to happen, but -- and we did beat the traffic.
Johnson also provided ABC News with another recording, which, he said, is with a company executive, indicating the allegation seemed to be well-known at the highest levels of Alcor.
Alcor executive: We just can't do stuff like that. That would absolutely destroy us. That could kill us.
Alcor executive: We're pretty secure in all this stuff because even though a lot of people nowadays know about it, nobody can really prove anything and if it came down to a court issue, you know, who's going to say anything? Who's going to admit anything?
Alcor executive: And it's deniable.
"Nightline" received a call Tuesday from a man who identified himself as Ron Hennes. Hennes said he was the nurse caring for the patient in question at the time of his death. He said he had never worked for Alcor, and that the patient's death occurred in the man's bedroom with only Hennes and the patient's partner present at the bedside.
He told "Nightline" that nobody injected the patient with anything that hastened his death.
But Alcor's CEO at the time, Carlos Mondragon, told ABC News that the allegation that the patient's death was hastened was brought directly to him, and that his response was to cut Alcor's ties with the employee accused of administering the injection.
Ted Williams, Alcor Member A-1949
Johnson also set out to reconstruct the story of Alcor's most famous frozen resident -- and Johnson's admitted childhood hero -- Ted Williams. By the time Johnson began work at Alcor, "Teddy Ballgame" had been on ice for half a year.
"They put his head into a vessel called the Cryo-star, which is really not meant for freezing human heads, OK? It was faulty, they didn't know how to use it ... it was having very dramatic temperature swings."
Johnson said Williams' head remained in a malfunctioning machine for more than a year, and claimed he recorded this conversation about the Cryo-star:
Alcor official: ... We're not actually supposed to use that to put any human heads in it because they never really had time to test it very much.
Alcor official: We're supposed to be doing some testing on it.
In one of the most potent allegations in Johnson's book, he said Alcor cut off Williams' head without prior approval from his family.
"He was supposed to be a whole-body suspension," Johnson said. "He was supposed to be in one piece. They got him to the O.R. at Alcor and proceeded to cut through his neck."
But, in this instance at least, Johnson's version seemed to be incorrect. ABC News found notarized agreements, signed by Williams' oldest son and youngest daughter allowing Alcor the option of removing their father's head. The papers were signed in Florida just after 9 p.m. ET -- at least an hour before the operation began in Arizona, according to the log Johnson cites in his book.
Johnson said he was going by what he had been told.
In a statement posted to its Web site, Alcor says: "Ted Williams was cryopreserved with the care and scientific rigor that Alcor devotes to all its patients," and that "it is absurd for Johnson to make these allegations because he had yet to be hired when Williams was cryopreserved."
But Johnson said he was there in July of 2003 when Alcor determined it was time to move William's head into its permanent home.
"They put him in another vessel called the LR-40. ... They take a tuna can, a Bumble Bee tuna can, they set it down on the bottom of the LR-40. ... They put his head into the LR-40, set it on the tuna can. Without that tuna can, the head would just topple over."
The next day, Johnson said, he watched in horror as an Alcor employee moved the head into the silver pot that would store it for years to come.
"They actually carry the heads around on hooks to move them from one point to another," he said. "Well, the tuna can is frozen to the top of his head. The only way to get that off is with a hammer or a wrench ... gets a wrench, cocks his arm back to strike that can to knock it off, misses, and hits the side of Ted Williams' head. Then he cocks back, takes another strike, hits the can square on. It goes flying across the room."
Johnson gave ABC News an e-mail he said was sent to the Alcor staff later that afternoon, announcing matter-of-factly that "A-1949 is now in permanent storage."
In yet another statement posted to its Web site, Alcor denied "mistreating the remains of Ted Williams." Johnson said, "that incident was the turning point for me. I had to get out of there."
'Scared Beyond Belief'
Johnson left Alcor in August of 2003, and took his story to Sports Illustrated, which spread the lurid tale across seven pages. But he also took to the Web with a site called Freeted.com, seriously damaging his own reputation by briefly offering viewers a "pay-per-view" pass to see gruesome photos of Alcor's procedures.
Johnson said he charged $20 to see the photos, and "it was a very bad decision. I was freaked out. I was scared beyond belief."
Johnson took his allegations about the suspicious 1992 death to the Los Angeles Police. He said they "played the tapes, they shook their heads, they couldn't believe it."
An investigation was launched but no charges were filed.
Johnson took the evidence he collected about Williams to his daughter, Barbara Joyce Ferrell, who had opposed the freezing of her father -- but it was too late. Ferrell had long since settled the dispute.
"I have done what I believe is the right thing," Johnson said. "I have exposed them to the authorities. Nothing has been done. The general public needs to know what is going on in that facility. People who are considering their services, probably ought to read this book first."
And, while the Alcor members frozen here hope to meet again, perhaps in hundreds of years, one thing seems sure: Larry Johnson and Alcor seem destined to meet again much sooner than that -- in court.
Official statement by the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in regard to the publication of "Frozen: My Journey into Cryonics, Deception and Death":
This book is the worst kind of scandalous tabloid muckraking. In the interests of the members of Alcor and the community of scientists with whom we work, we cannot respond regarding the many lurid and fictitious assertions in this book while we are at the inception of serious legal action to protect the future of our work and the privacy of our members. Information about our actual procedures and why we do them is available on our comprehensive website at www.alcor.org.
More detail on Alcor's response can be found here: http://www.alcornews.org/weblog/