James Kidd

James Kidd (1879–1949?) was an American prospector who disappeared in 1949 and left a will stating that his estate of nearly $200,000 should be given to Scientific research to prove Survival After Death. The will was contested and the money sought by numerous parties in a controversial trial nearly 20 years later. That a poorly educated, reclusive miner would bequeath his estate to researching the soul created a mystery that was never solved.

Little is known about Kidd. He arrived in Arizona in 1920, and lived alone in a rented room. He worked at a copper mine and prospected. He never married. He told others that he was from Ogdensburg, New York, though no records exist of his birth there. He never gave any indication of metaphysical interests.

On November 9, 1949, he went out to prospect at his claim and never returned. His body was never found; it was speculated that he perished in a fall into a canyon in the Superstition mountains. Seven years later, when Kidd was declared legally dead, authorities gathered together what was an astonishing amount of assets in cash and stocks: slightly more than $174,000. A safety deposit box held his unwitnessed will, written in his own hand on lined notebook paper. It read:

this is my first and only will and is dated the second of January 1946. I have no heirs and have not married in my life and after all my funeral expenses have been paid and #100. 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 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

The will was declared legal. Relatives of Kidd contested and attempted to have the will declared invalid and the estate divided among themselves. In 1964, the University of Life Church, an Arizona nonprofit organization, filed suit against the heirs apparent in support of the will. These suits were the beginnings of a lengthy court battle over the money by numerous interested parties.

Kidd’s will was probated in Superior Court in Phoenix in 1967. Judge Robert L. Myers heard 133 petitions from various individuals, universities and research organizations, all claiming to be best suited to carry out Kidd’s intent. The media called it “the Ghost Trial of the Century.” Myers awarded the estate to the Barrow Neurological Institute of Phoenix, stating that they were best equipped to carry out the research “in the combined fields of medical science, psychiatry, and psychology.”

The ruling was appealed. A higher court awarded a large portion of the estate to the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR), which used some of it to finance research in Deathbed Visions.

Science nonetheless has been unable to prove that the soul exists and survives death.



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


The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits – Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007