Williams' will says cremate; friend differs
By ALEX LEARY and CARRIE JOHNSON
INVERNESS -- Five days before Christmas 1996, Ted Williams put his famous signature on one of life's most personal documents, saying in his will that he wanted to be cremated and his ashes sprinkled off the coast of Florida.
Then he apparently changed his mind.
The Boston Red Sox legend later decided he wanted his body cryonically frozen, the executor of his estate said Tuesday.
"While many may not make the same choice for themselves, I hope people will respect this as a private family matter," Al Cassidy, a lifelong friend of Williams, said before a wall of television cameras at the steps of the courthouse here.
In the latest twist of a bizarre family quarrel that has stirred emotions nationwide, the last will and testament of baseball's last .400 hitter was filed in Citrus County. But it still left many unanswered questions and the prospect of further legal battles.
The will says Williams, who seemed as proud of his fishing conquests as those on the baseball field, wanted his ashes scattered in deep water, with no funeral or memorial service.
It also specifically excludes Bobby-Jo Williams Ferrell from any inheritance, with her father explaining he had provided for her during his life. The will said that Ferrell, his eldest daughter, "shall be deemed to have predeceased me."
Some friends and relatives had maintained that Ferrell had fallen into disfavor with her famous father, but she insisted otherwise and pledged to "rescue" his frozen remains from an Arizona cryonics lab.
"My client remains convinced in her position that her father's last wishes were to be cremated," Ferrell's attorney, John Heer, said Tuesday.
The will did not indicate how Williams' estate should be divided. That decision had been laid out in a 1985 trust, which has not been made public.
But other questions remain.
Cassidy, the executor, asked a probate judge on Tuesday to decide the fate of Williams' remains. Ferrell's lawyers have 20 days to respond, then a hearing date will be set.
Other than his brief statement, Cassidy provided no evidence of Williams' change of mind about his remains. Cassidy refused to answer reporters' questions.
Without a written document, Cassidy will have a difficult time pleading his case in court, said Tom Allison, a professor specializing in estates and trusts at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport.
"Certainly Mr. Cassidy is going to need to provide some evidence as to Mr. Williams' supposed change of heart. The judge has one solid piece of evidence -- the properly executed will. That will carry a lot of weight," Allison said.
But the strange feud is veering into a vague area of probate law. Case law provides little guidance in who has final control over a body. While Florida statutes protect those who seek to cremate a body, they are not typically used to compel someone to do so, Allison said.
The controversy began one day after the 83-year-old Williams died of natural causes at Citrus Memorial Hospital in Inverness.
Bobby-Jo Williams Ferrell, 54, went public with the plans of her half-brother, John-Henry Williams, to ship the body to Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Until now, cryonics, the process of freezing a deceased human so that it can be resuscitated, was little-known. But the practice has its advocates, including, apparently, John-Henry, 33, and his sister Claudia Williams, 30.
John-Henry's friends have said he is guided only by devotion to his father and the belief that science could one day revive him. Ferrell, however, has accused him of masterminding the "insane" plan for financial gain.
She also suggested that her half-brother, who became intimately involved with Ted Williams' business and personal life in the early 1990s, built a barrier between her and her father.
'Not about money'
Ferrell's exclusion from the will brought speculation that she was interested primarily in a financial settlement from John-Henry Williams.
But her attorneys vigorously sought to dispel that notion.
"Let me make this very clear: This is not about money. It never has been. It never will be," Heer said.
It appears that Williams did try to take care of his eldest daughter.
Donna Fleischmann, Ted Williams' former aide and a witness to the will, said Williams set up a $250,000 trust for Ferrell to collect after she turned 50.
Fleischmann said she was aware Ferrell had been cut out of the will and disapproved strongly.
The relationship between Ferrell and her father was rocky at times, said Frank Brothers, also a former Williams caretaker and the other witness to the will.
He recalled a 1995 incident in which Williams was angry after discovering checks he was sending to cover his granddaughter's college tuition were not going toward an education: She wasn't even enrolled in school, Brothers said.
Heer said Tuesday the incident was a misunderstanding. The granddaughter fell in love with a man and dropped out for one semester to marry him, he said.
By then, John-Henry Williams had taken over most of his father's accounting, and reported to him that the girl was no longer in school, casting the incident in an unfavorable light, Heer said.
Still, father and daughter never had a major falling out that Brothers can remember.
"He used to get irritated with her at times but there was nothing big that I really know of."
Williams post office?
U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman wants the post office building in Hernando in Citrus County named after Ted Williams, who lived in Citrus Hills and served as pitchman for the development. "This is a very interesting idea, and we're looking forward to seeing what happens to it in Congress," said Joseph Breckenridge, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service in North Florida.
-- Times staff writer Jim Ross contributed to this report.
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