Kidd, James (1879-ca. 1949)

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Kidd, James (1879-ca. 1949)

American copper miner and prospector whose disappearance in 1949 led to the discovery of his will bequeathing nearly a quarter of a million dollars to "research or some scientific proof of a soul of the human body which leaves at death." As a result, there ensued what newspapers called "the Ghost Trial of the Century," in which at least 134 scientific researchers, organizations, and institutions filed a claim on the Kidd estate.

Kidd was something of a mystery man, a quiet, well-mannered, unobtrusive loner who lived in Phoenix, Arizona, and worked in the copper mines or prospected in the mountains. He vanished after undertaking a prospecting trip in the area of Superstition Mountain, claimed as the locale of the legendary Lost Dutchman gold mine. Kidd set out November 9, 1949, and his disappearance was not noticed until some weeks later. Routine inquiries ascertained that he was born July 18, 1879, in Ogdensburg, New York, and had lived in Reno, Nevada, and Los Angeles, California. He worked for the Miami Copper Company of Arizona, lived simply, and had few acquaintances.

By 1954 Kidd was officially registered as a missing person but no proof of death was established. It was not until 1957 that the contents of Kidd's unclaimed safe deposit box, including stock certificates, were delivered to the estate tax commissioner's office in Arizona. In January 1964 official examination of Kidd's papers disclosed assets totaling $174,065.69 and a will written in Phoenix, Arizona. It reads,

"This is my first and only will and is dated the second of January, 1946. I have no heirs and have not been married in my life and after all my funeral expenses have been paid and one hundred dollars to some preacher of the gospel to say fare well at my grave sell all my property which is all in cash and stocks with E. F. Hutton Co., Phoenix, some in safety deposit 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."

Even before the will was validated, the first claim to the estate came from the University of Life Church, Inc., Arizona, as an organization conducting research on scientific proof of the existence of a human soul. Meanwhile two Canadians, claiming to be blood brothers of Kidd, contested the will. By now, wide-spread press coverage had resulted in claims to the estate from a number of individuals and organizations, including the Parapsychology Foundation, the Psychical Research Foundation, and the Neurological Sciences Foundation of the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

On May 6, 1965, the Court of Maricopa County, Arizona, declared the will fully acceptable for probate. More petitions flooded into the court, some of them merely facetious and invalid, others from reputable organizations like the American Society for Psychical Research. The hearings were presided over by Judge Robert L. Myers of the Supreme Court of Maricopa County and occupied 90 days and some 800,000 words of testimony. Eventually a decision of October 20, 1967, awarded the Kidd funds to the Barrow Neurological Institute, Phoenix, Arizona.

After an appeal, the court's decision was overridden and the money was split between the American Society for Psychical Research (two-thirds share) and the Psychical Research Foundation (one-third share).


Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.

Fuller, John G. The Great Soul Trial. New York: Macmillan, 1969.