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Williams family pact: Freeze us all at death

Three days after his famous father was admitted to a Gainesville hospital for congestive heart failure, John-Henry Williams scribbled two brief sentences on a piece of scrap paper.

"JHW, Claudia and Dad all agree to be put into bio-stasis after we die," said the note, dated Nov. 2, 2000. "This is what we want, to be able to be together in the future, even if it is only a chance."

Then Ted Williams and his two children signed the pact. John-Henry folded it into quarters and tucked it in with some files in the trunk of his car, where it became stained with oil.

That's the version of events described Thursday by a lawyer for the two Williams children, who submitted the ink-splotched note to the Citrus County courthouse as proof that the former Hall of Famer wanted to be cryonically frozen after his death.

"This agreement makes clear what Ted Williams' final wishes were," said Naples attorney Robert Goldman.

For the past three weeks, Williams' remains have been the focus of a strange and macabre battle between the two siblings and their older half-sister, Bobby-Jo Williams Ferrell.

Ferrell, 54, believes her father wished to be cremated after his death and have his ashes sprinkled over the coast of Florida, as dictated by his will on Dec. 20, 1996. She has fought to retrieve his body from an Arizona lab, where it was sent hours after his death July 5 at an Inverness hospital.

Ferrell has accused her half-brother of attempting to profit from the death, possibly by cloning or selling their father's DNA.

But John-Henry and Claudia Williams issued a statement Thursday saying their only motivation was to someday be reunited with their father. While originally skeptical of cryonics, they said their father gradually accepted the idea.

"The faith that many people place in God we place in science and other human endeavors," the statement read. "Every day, we see countless examples of scientific achievement _ space travel, the Internet and various medical advances _ that would have seemed impossible to prior generations."

The pact was created while Williams was a patient at Shands at the University of Florida in Gainesville, just days before the baseball legend underwent surgery to have a pacemaker inserted into his chest on Nov. 6, 2000.

Goldman said the agreement was created during a "tender, private" moment between Williams and his two children, a trio so close they called themselves "The Three Musketeers."

There were no outside witnesses and the pact was never notarized. Despite its non-official appearance, it is still an acceptable legal document, Goldman said.

"Putting a notary on it doesn't make it any more or less legally significant," he said during a telephone conference Thursday.

Goldman would not discuss where the pact was stored since it was retrieved from John-Henry Williams' car, but he said he had no doubt it was authentic.

Asked why he waited so long to produce the document, Goldman said the two siblings had hoped to keep their plans for the afterlife private.

"We wanted to work it out in the family living room with all the kids participating and understanding these wishes, and then move on as most families do. Bobby-Jo hasn't allowed us to do that," Goldman said.

While the note may look shabby, it could have a persuasive effect on a judge, said Tom Allison, a professor specializing in estates and trusts at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport.

Because two witnesses _ John-Henry and Claudia Williams _ oversaw the signing of the note, it should be considered valid. And as the most recent document addressing Williams' last wishes, it likely supersedes the will, he said.

However, the case won't be a slam-dunk for the two younger Williamses. Because the handwritten note was created at a time when the baseball legend's health and state of mind may have been questionable, it could be challenged.

"In this particular case, the informality of (the pact) could be something the judge will consider when deciding whether Ted Williams really did change his mind," Allison said.

One of Ferrell's lawyers said Thursday he had serious doubts about whether the note was real.

"Somebody's got to prove that this is legitimate," said Richard "Spike" Fitzpatrick. "Why would a guy who told so many people he wanted to be cremated not tell anyone he changed his mind?"

Several of Williams' friends and former caretakers have come forward after his death to say he wanted to be cremated with his Dalmatian, Slugger, and have their ashes spread over Key West, where Williams kept a home.

Fitzpatrick said that if the feud goes to trial, he has witnesses who can testify Williams told them he wanted to be cremated after the pact was made.

Former Williams aide John L. Sullivan wondered why John-Henry Williams, who learned the importance of proving authenticity when selling his father's signed memorabilia, wouldn't take more care when drafting such an important document.

"I don't know why a man who would have cameras everywhere would not have him sign it in front of a camera," said Sullivan, who worked for Williams from 1997 to 1999. "Wouldn't that be proof positive? The ink spots and smudges . . . I think it smells."

Sullivan questioned whether Williams would have known what he was signing. The former Boston Red Sox star had been slowed by a series of strokes and heart problems during the last decade of his life. He required daily kidney dialysis, and an especially severe stroke in 1994 damaged his eyesight and limited his mobility.

Sullivan said John-Henry would often present papers for his father to sign without explaining what they were. "Ted at this point could not read and he wouldn't wear the glasses they gave him."

_ Times staff writers Alex Leary and Jim Ross contributed to this report.

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