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Hudson, who resembles a bronzed version of comedian Jonathan Winters, appears comfortable in front of his audience. His speech is punctuated with witty asides and anecdotes. He mugs amiably for the crowd, which chuckles on cue.
During a lecture to a New Age conference in Oregon, he boasts: "I had a 40-man payroll. I had a $4 million line of credit with the bank. I was driving Mercedes-Benzes. I had a 15,000-square-foot home. I was Mr. Material Man."
The monologue has acquired a polish that comes with repeated tellings. From an introduction that includes everything from his farming background to his disillusionment with the banking system, Hudson segues to the day in 1982 that would change the course of his life. It all started innocently enough, he explains, as he was performing tests to determine the makeup of his soil.
"We were coming across materials, and no one seemed to be able to tell us what they were," he tells the audience.
After performing some preliminary tests, he says, he set a sample of the substance in the sunshine to dry and "it exploded like no material I've ever seen in my life . . ."
Hudson took a sample to an unnamed scientist at Cornell University, he says. He was told that the material could not be identified.
"I came back to Phoenix totally disillusioned with academia," he lectures. "I was not impressed with the Ph.D.'s. . . . I found out that it was just a big system where they worked the graduate students to generate paper but they never say anything . . ."
From that point on, Hudson would turn his back on academia. He was on a mission.
Hudson contacted Phoenix analytical chemist John Sickafoose, who owns a lab and is known as an expert at isolating rare metals. Hudson has claimed in lectures, as well as in court depositions, that he paid Sickafoose more than $100,000 to figure out what the substance was. Along with Sickafoose and a cadre of other technicians, Hudson says, he worked to solve the riddle from 1983 until 1989, pouring more than $5 million of his own money into the venture.
His quest has led him to the following conclusions: Millions of years ago, volcanoes showered the Southwest with an ore rich in certain precious metals, referred to as platinum group elements. All platinum group elements, which include such metals as osmium, rhodium and iridium, are rare--and valuable--because, even in the best ores, their concentrations are in the parts-per-million range. But in soils in the Southwest, including Hudson's farmland, the concentrations are much higher, in the hundreds-of-ounces-per-ton range.
So why aren't all Southwestern farmers as rich as Rockefellers? Simple, Hudson explains. Although these precious elements are everywhere, they exist in a form that can't be detected by most analytical methods. Hudson calls this form "monoatomic," and he has labeled his find "orbitally rearranged monoatomic elements," or ORMEs.
Hudson goes on to say that although the metals exist in the desert's alluvial sediments, he has managed to trace their origins to an area where they exist in much greater abundance. Hudson never says where this site is, but sources close to him have said that around the time his research began, he acquired a mining claim in the Bradshaw Mountains.
In February 1993, Sickafoose wrote Hudson a glowing letter, but the researcher made it clear that it was not to be used "for advertising, promotion or sale of securities." Hudson has alluded to the letter in at least two of his lectures.
"You came to this laboratory on August 30, 1982, with an incredible story . . ." Sickafoose gushed. "Your understanding and depth of knowledge is [sic] impressive because it shows how much you have exerted in educating yourself on the subject."
But when it came time to pronounce whether Hudson had, in fact, uncovered a rich deposit of platinum group elements, the researcher hedged: "With all my work to date, I have not disproved your claim . . . nor have I concluded positively what the major metallic constituency is which we have isolated."
Sickafoose did not return messages requesting an interview. Likewise, researchers at Giner, Inc., a Massachusetts company which Hudson claims has verified the existence of ORMEs, were unwilling to discuss Hudson's work. Tony LaConti, the company's president, did, however, acknowledge that he had worked with Hudson in the 1980s.
"It's just not our policy to discuss the results of tests we have conducted for clients," LaConti explains.
In 1988, according to filings at the Arizona Corporation Commission, homebuilding giant Bill Estes Jr. signed on as a partner of Hudson's in RRM Associates, Inc. The filings list Estes as the company's vice president and director, and Hudson as its president. However, the corporation never declared any assets or made any money. In 1995, RRM stopped updating its file at the Corporation Commission.
It is impossible to say with certainty how much money Estes pumped into Hudson's venture. Knowledgeable sources have put the figure at close to $1 million. Estes did not respond to requests for an interview.
Hudson filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in 1992. He has given various reasons for the collapse of his farming operation. He has said, for example, that he was wiped out after he was forced to assume the debts of his father's farm and, alternately, that he was forced to file for protection after his bank refused to continue funding his research and called in a massive loan.