A Freezing Before Bedford’s

by Mike Perry
Physical Immortality 2(2) 7 (2nd Q 2004)

James Bedford’s freezing in January 1967 is usually regarded as the first true cryonic suspension, done immediately after legal death under controlled conditions which, though primitive by today’s standards, may have opened the possibility of eventual reanimation. Yet there was an earlier freezing that, while more problematic from the standpoint of viability, was nonetheless important in the beginning cryonics movement.

An unidentified woman in her 60s from the Los Angeles area who died sometime around February 1966 was placed in liquid nitrogen storage April 22 that year, by technicians of Ed Hope’s Cryocare Equipment Corporation, at their facility in Phoenix, Arizona. Ted Kraver, one of the technicians who handled the freezing, has given a detailed recounting.

Prior to freezing the patient had been embalmed after being dead about 18 hours. She was refrigerated “maybe four or five days later,” and stored for approximately two months at slightly above freezing temperature. Outwardly, at the time of her freezing, she presented an appearance of good preservation. “There was no deterioration we could notice except for a little bit of discoloration in the fingers.” (The brain, however, is a very delicate structure that would not be well-preserved under the conditions that reportedly occurred.) The woman was frozen at any rate, placed in a horizontal, cylindrical capsule, and maintained at Hope’s facility for several months by periodically adding liquid nitrogen. At about the time Bedford was frozen relatives of the woman who had been funding her freezing changed their minds, and she was thawed and buried. (As it turned out, Bedford himself would be placed, initially, in another Hope capsule, a more advanced model. He would change capsules several times over the coming decades, always remaining frozen; he has been in his present housing with Alcor since May 1991.)

Some additional details Kraver relates are interesting. In September 1965 he and another engineer, Frank “Rick” Rickenbacker, were working in the technical services department of the AiResearch Manufacturing Company in Phoenix. They had built a large cryogenic test facility for their company and had just completed a year of testing of components for the Saturn S IV B missile. Both were taken by the whole cryonics concept and decided to get involved with a startup effort by the local entrepreneur, Ed Hope. Over the next two months Ted and Rick constructed their first cryogenic capsule, a large, double-walled, insulated cylinder capable of holding a human being. It was shown at the annual conference of Ev Cooper’s Life Extension Society, held January 1 the following year in Washington, D.C. The second model, with some improvements including aluminized mylar for insulation in place of aluminum foil and glass matte, was finished in time to be used for the freezing just noted. Further details will be found in an article in Cryonics, March 1989.

Despite its problematic nature, the first freezing triggered some jubilation in the fledgling cryonics movement; after years of frustration and some near-misses someone had finally been cryogenically preserved. It was hoped that more progress and more freezings would soon follow.