One of the longest and most sensational trials in Arizona history revolved around a Miami man, James Kidd who lived in the area and worked for the Miami Copper Company for nearly 30 years in the early 1900’s. While his life in the area, as well as his disappearance in 1946 was barely noteworthy, his final will & testament launched him into the history books and initiated what became known as, The Great Soul Trial.
Kidd disappeared from his little cottage in Miami in November of 1946. When the police investigated they found nothing missing in his apartment, and very little information on the man: he had no driver’s license, or police record. He had no family. He had few friends. He left behind little for the police to go on. Was he murdered in the Superstition Mountains looking for gold, or killed and thrown into one of his own mine shafts? No one knows. Police here closed the case in 1954.
In 1956 the State passed a law requiring all financial institutions to report their findings of any dormant, inactive accounts to the Estate Tax Commission. It was then that a safety deposit box which had been abandoned for eight year in Douglas, Arizona was opened, and tracked back to James Kidd. Officials discovered Kidd’s will….and $175,000 in cash and stock. Astonishingly, the handwritten will stated in part, “…that the bulk of his estate should go towards, ‘…research of some scientific proof of a soul of the human body which leaves at death.”
When news of the will, and the attached “booty” was published in newspapers it drew a feeding frenzy from psychics, churches, philosophers, research institutes and a variety of eccentrics who all wanted to lay claim to the money. The ensuing trial to determine the recipient of Kidds’ last wish became known as, The Great Soul Trial.
The Trial took place in Phoenix in 1967 and brought with it some of the most bizarre testimony including; those who rigged a camera to a rifle-trigger to photograph the exact moment of an animal’s death, and others who provided photographs of smoke-like images said to be souls or spirits ascending, and a psychic who demonstrated for the court how her spirit guide could answer questions through her while she kept a hair-drier running so she couldn’t hear what was being asked. There was even a philosophy teacher from a junior college in California who argued he could prove the existence of the soul through logic.
But it was the Arizona-based Barrow Neurological Institute who petitioned the courts to use the money for some of its practical research on brain activity that won the day. Judge Robert J. Myers awarded the funds to the Barrow people believing that they best represented the intent of Kidd when he wrote his will. This angered several petitioners including the American Society for Psychical Research and the Psychical Research Foundation who argued that the Barrows people expressly stated they did not deal with issues of the soul and “life-after”. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court where the judge’s ruling was reversed and the funds were awarded to the ASPR who in turn shared them with the PRF.
So in the end, the Great Soul Trial did not prove that life exists after death.
It did provide sensational testimony, and fodder for newspapers during its lengthy run,
and launched the name of James Kidd into the history books. One of the biggest questions still remains, “How did a simple miner in Miami amass $175,000? It is said that he was a miser and lived simply, but that is not enough to account for a stockpile of that magnitude. In today’s dollars it would translate to nearly 2million dollars.
There is some evidence of active stock trading and an injury claim against Miami Copper Company, but nothing showing any proceeds from his mines he had staked out in the area, or any other income. Had he not left his money to such a lofty pursuit, Kidd may have just disappeared on paper as he did in the desert. As it is, he remains an enigma of history and the one who “…helped to set a precedent in a trial which legally acknowledged that the question of life after death could be scientifically studied.”
Read more about the trial in John G. Fuller’s 1969 book, “The Great Soul Trial.”
A copy of the book is on file at the Gila County Historical Museum.
The ASPR, who received the funds is still operating in the United States and is currently one of the oldest psychical research organizations in the United States. Founded in 1885 by a group of scholars which included the renowned Harvard psychologist and Professor of Philosophy, William James, the organization has headquarters in New York City and it maintains satellite laboratories and offices throughout the world. Its archives include rare books, case reports, letters and manuscripts which date back to the 1700’s. They maintain a website: www.aspr.com.
Writer, photographer. Passionate foodie, lover of good books and storytelling. Lives in Globe. Plays in the historic district. Travels when possible.