Thanks to Blaine Cornell for sending me this story.
James Kidd was born in Ogdensburg, New York, on July 18, 1879. Nothing is
known of his early life and career. Indeed, very little is known of his subsequent career
What is known is that James Kidd spent the last three decades of his life in Arizona. He
had worked as a pumpkin for the Miami Copper Company for 28 years (from 1920 to
1948) before he cashed his last pay check and moved from Miami, Arizona, to an
unpretentious rented room at 335 North 9th Avenue, Phoenix.
His rent was $4. 00 per week, which Kidd considered exorbitant and he often paid his
rent by exchanging odd jobs and yard chores. Kidd was a recluse, had as few contacts
with other people as possible, and never spoke of any family or relatives. He seemed to
be a lifelong bachelor and was never known to have consorted with any woman. He
was excessively frugal, living in spartan conditions, never leaving a tip at a restaurant,
where he scoured the menu for the cheapest meal, making a 5 cent cigar last all day,
and wearing the same clothes for months at a time.
It was nothing unusual for James Kidd to disappear for days or even weeks at a time.
In fact, it was a regular habit. If anyone asked, Kidd would politely but succinctly say
that he was going mining. With a pick on his shoulder, but little else in the way of
equipment or supplies, Kidd traveled east from Phoenix to Apache Junction.
Prospectors talk very little about their claims and Kidd was no exception. Kidd let drop,
or his acquaintances assumed, that sometimes he continued on foot or horseback over
the Peralta Canyon or Dutchman’s Trail towards Weaver’s Needle in the Superstition
Mountains, and that sometimes he continued to Globe/ Miami and into the Pinal
At 6 am on the morning of November 9, 1949, James Kidd left his Phoenix apartment,
once again in order to grubstake in the Superstitions or Pinals with a borrowed pick. He
was never seen again. His disappearance raised very little fuss or speculation. Kidd
was not unfriendly but merely reserved and did not encourage close acquaintanceships.
Also, he was in the habit of mining alone for extended periods and therefore his
prolonged disappearance was not a signal for concern.
It was not until December 29 that Kidd’s landlord reported that his tenant was missing.
The rent was in arrears and if Kidd was not intending or able to return it was only fair
that a new renter should move in. The police made a search of the room, contacted
Globe and Miami police for further information and interviewed neighbors. There was
not much else to be done. There was no pressure forced on the police by concerned
relatives and the clues were few and insubstantial.
By 1954 the Kidd file in the Missing Persons Department of the Phoenix police was still
sparse. A routine request, five years after the disappearance, for “confidential
verification of death” was filed with the Division of Vital Statistics of the Arizona
Department of Health. The Department answered with a brief notation: “There is no
record of the above death in our files. Searched from 1942 – 1953. ” The search for
James Kidd was abandoned.
And that might have been the end of the story, except that a new act became state law
in 1956. This was the Uniform Disposition of Unclaimed Property Act of Arizona. This
act states that in the absence of a known will or heirs then the property of the deceased
would be turned over to the State of Arizona, in a process known technically as
escheating. Now previously stagnant assets in bank vaults could be freed for use by
These ghostly unclaimed accounts and safety deposit boxes would be
collected in a large vault in a branch office of the First National Bank in Phoenix. Over
the years this vault amassed a formidable pile of cartons, awaiting eventual disposition
by the Estate Tax Commissioner of Arizona. With the accumulation of new work for the
department since the passing of the new act it was barely possible to keep up with the
routine work of inventory and audit, and therefore some boxes remained unopened for
years. One such carton would become unknowingly a Pandora’s Box.
On January 11, 1964, nearly fifteen years after Kidd’s disappearance, the Estate Tax
Commissioner and several auditors descended into the bank vault and, using flashlights
due to an electrical failure, began opening boxes of unclaimed accounts. One was in
the name of James Kidd. It included a bulging white envelope containing scores of
buying slips for stock certificates as well as references to other bank safety deposit
When an appraisal of James Kidd’s estate was compiled, it was discovered that this
frugal, hermit-like Arizona prospector had amassed assets to the total of $174,065. 69.
With accumulated interest this amount was now worth in excess of a quarter of a million dollars.
It looked as if the State of Arizona would receive a sudden and unexpected windfall.
However, from the stock certificates fell a smallish slip of paper containing a handwritten
note. Torn from a ledger-type book, the lined notebook page was a holographic will,
dated and signed by James Kidd. In full, the note 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 100 one hundred dollars to some preacher of the gospitel to
say fare well at my grave sell all my property which is all in cash and stocks with
E. F. Mutton 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 there can be photograph of soul leaving the
human at death, James Kidd.
This small slip of paper would have immense repercussions – and the struggle over its
contents began immediately. Members of one faction within the state office made no
bones about their feelings. They said the paper should be destroyed and the funds
deposited in the state’s general funds avoiding the otherwise inevitable legal hassles
and expenses. As it turned out, the Phoenix Gazette learned of the strange will and
made its contents public. From that moment on, there could be no question of secrecy.
The Superior Court of Maricopa County, Phoenix, after a great deal of legal
maneuverings, accepted the will for probate, and the word spread like wildfire that a
fortune could be claimed by the person or organization best qualified to conduct the
search for a soul, preferably with photographic evidence.
Over 4,000 letters from 26 countries arrived at the court. Fortunately not all these
claimants filed official court papers, and of those who did serve notice some
applications were denied and others were withdrawn. By the time the first witness took
the stand on June 6, 1967 there were still 133 individuals and organizations making
formal claim to the Kidd estate. The judge, Robert L. Myers, Jr. had allotted 18 days
for the hearings which, as it turned out, continued through the Arizona summer and
concluded on September 1. The “Ghost Trial of the Century” had consumed 90 days
and its testimony ran to 800,000 words.
There were 38 births, 12 marriages and 28 deaths recorded in the clerk’s office for the township of Lanark ,for the past year. Middleville news