Martha Krupp slides a snapshot of her daughter, Leslie Burroughs, across a table in her Tucson home.
"You'd never even think there was a thing wrong with her, would you?" she says, studying the photo of a smiling young woman.
Krupp reaches for another photo, this one of Leslie and her husband, Bill. At 40, Leslie looks fit and happy. "She took great pride in her appearance," her mother says.
Then, pointing to her daughter's face, Krupp adds, "She didn't have these lines before. She just looks very tired to me." She waves her hand dismissively. "I guess it's something only a mother would notice."
On February 12, 1994--not long after that photo was snapped--Krupp's pager beeped. When she called the Flagstaff phone number on the pager, her son-in-law answered.
"I said, 'Hey, what's up?' And he said, 'Well, Leslie's in the hospital--she's in a coma. And I guess there's no way to tell you, but she's HIV-positive.'"
Stunned, she drove to Flagstaff.
Krupp, a woman of uncommon wit and eloquence, tells the story with a degree of detachment, as if the legal battles and wrenching inquiries that followed Leslie's death have somehow inured her. But her composure slips when she describes the scene that awaited her in her daughter's hospital room.
"She was totally brain-dead," Krupp remembers. "She was just lying there with her eyes open, but there was no recognition, nothing. I took one look at her and I knew, I just knew, she was going to die."
That night, Bill Burroughs told Krupp that her daughter had carried HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, for 11 years. She had contracted it from sperm used to artificially inseminate her. Although stricken, she had been extremely lucky--taking care of herself, staying fit, somehow delaying the onset of the infections that inevitably kill.
But Leslie's disease was only the first in a series of boggling revelations.
Krupp would soon learn that her daughter's coma was not induced by AIDS, but by a treatment suggested to her by a doctor who had become her last, desperate hope for survival. This treatment had, until then, undergone only the crudest of testing--on a sick dog and two other AIDS patients, all of whom later died.
The purported miracle cure involved injecting into Burroughs' blood stream a substance manufactured out of dirt. The production site? A farmer's barn.
For Leslie Burroughs, the cure was worse than the disease. Authorities would list the cause of death as a massive infection, triggered by swarms of bacteria in the substance the doctor had told her to take.
Her death is vivid testimony to the lengths to which mortally ill people will go in the hope of a miracle cure.
It also raises questions that strike at the core of man's quest to conquer disease. Who has the right to tell a dying woman she can't try an unapproved treatment? After all, crazy notions sometimes become medical breakthroughs--who would have believed 100 years ago that a miraculous antibiotic might sprout from mold?
And what should be done about well-meaning medical professionals whose unorthodox actions might endanger, even kill, such a patient?
Martha Krupp has her own answers.
Though two years have passed since she lost her daughter, she barely conceals her contempt for Dr. David LaVon Payne, the Mesa osteopath in whose hands Leslie placed her life. The state Board of Osteopathic Examiners censured Payne and placed him on five years' probation for his treatment of Leslie Burroughs, but he continues to practice medicine to this day.
Krupp's views are equally unambiguous about David Hudson, an enigmatic farmer-cum-New Age guru who claims to have discovered a DNA-repairing miracle cure in his soil--and who has now embarked on a campaign to mass-produce it.
"He's like some mad scientist," Krupp says, "and the scary thing is, he's still out there."
When he's not on the road, telling rapt audiences about the life-sustaining substance he makes from ordinary dirt, "out there" for David Radius Hudson is the farming village of Laveen, southwest of Phoenix. For three generations, his family has raised cotton and alfalfa in the shadow of the Sierra Estrella.
It was apparent early in his life that Hudson possessed extraordinary intellect. Upon graduation from Laveen Elementary School in 1960, he was chosen valedictorian. He was the salutatorian of the Tolleson High School Class of '64, as well as its president.
Hudson graduated from Arizona State University in 1968 with degrees in agriculture and business, married his high school sweetheart, Kathryn, and returned to Laveen to run the family business. By all accounts, he was as skilled in the cotton field as he was in the classroom--he helped build the farming operation to more than 7,000 cultivated acres.
"David could have been just about anything he wanted," says a longtime acquaintance who spoke on condition of anonymity. Along with his mental powers, though, the acquaintance adds, Hudson received another, more dubious trait: monumental arrogance.
During a deposition two years ago, Hudson claimed to possess an IQ of at least 164.
Hudson spoke only briefly with New Times, and declined repeated requests for interviews. The best glimpse of him is gained in a videotaped lecture he delivered in October 1995 in Mesa that is marketed on the Internet. Several of his lectures, which are designed to dredge up investors, have been transcribed and are also available on the Internet.
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.
It was during the bankruptcy, Hudson says during a July 1995 lecture, that an uncle handed him a book about alchemy, the ancient science whose practitioners seek to turn common metals into gold and discover "white powder gold," a mythical elixir of longevity. Hudson became convinced that his material was this same elixir.
"Basically, what I have done is create a basic analytic breakthrough," he says during one lecture. "What it means is, you can fill yourself with light."
This light, Hudson says, actually corrects faulty DNA, restoring perfect health to all who ingest it. During a May 1994 deposition with Robert Q. Hoyt, a Tucson attorney representing Leslie Burroughs' survivors, Hudson waxed poetic about his miracle substance.
Hudson: "Think for a minute if all of us could read the hearts and minds of everyone in this room."
Hoyt: "We would be like gods."
Hudson: "That's right. We don't need attorneys, we don't need courts . . . because all of us already know the truth."
In 1983, about the time David Hudson was launching his quest to determine the makeup of his miracle substance, Leslie Burroughs was checking into University Medical Center in Tucson, filled with hope.
Unable to conceive a child with her husband, Bill, Leslie had turned to the hospital in the hope that artificial insemination would allow her and Bill to start a family. She would, in fact, conceive, but lose the child to a miscarriage.
She was inseminated several more times, without success, her mother, Martha Krupp, says.
Several years after losing the baby, Leslie learned she was HIV-positive, and that she had contracted the virus during the first artificial insemination. The sperm donor, it turned out, had the disease. Of the 13 women to receive his sperm, though, Burroughs was the only one who tested positive for HIV. She received an out-of-court settlement from University Medical Center.
In hindsight, Krupp says, there were indications that all was not well with Leslie.
"I just figured she was under a lot of pressure from work, from not being able to have a child, those kinds of things," Krupp says. "I had no idea what those pressures really were."
Though infected with HIV, Leslie continued to put in long hours at the thriving Tucson nursery in which she was part owner.
She applied the same vigor to the fight against her illness, making every effort to stay on top of the latest breakthroughs in treatments. Despite her efforts, the disease was beginning to wear her down by 1992. Growing progressively weaker as her immune system shut down, Leslie sold her share in the nursery and sought refuge in the cool climes of Flagstaff.
It was around this time that Leslie tuned in to a television show featuring discussions with doctors who were at the forefront of AIDS research. Leslie called the California office of one of the featured doctors, and was referred to Dr. David Payne of Mesa.
Krupp says, "She had heard that he was one of the best."
Despite the dressing down he took last month at the hands of the Board of Osteopathic Examiners, Dr. David Payne remains defiant and unflappable.
The embattled doctor says he has agreed to an interview because there are issues that have been overlooked in the rush to vilify him as a quack. Mainly, he says, those issues have to do with a patient's right to choose alternative therapies.
"Patients basically have two options when they're at the end stage of HIV disease," Payne says. "They can sit around and say, 'Woe is me.' Or they can say, 'Maybe there's something out there that will work for me. If it works, I'll have bought myself some time. And if it doesn't, at least I'll have added to the pool of knowledge.'"
Payne lists several common AIDS treatments that once were viewed as ludicrous. One of them is a treatment for a type of pneumonia that, early on, was among the most lethal infections accompanying AIDS. In desperation to stop the pneumonia, a group of physicians, including Payne, began having patients inhale a mist containing small amounts of a drug. Until then, the drug had been administered intravenously.
"Everyone said, 'You can't do that--you'll rot their lungs out,'" Payne says. "Well, we didn't rot their lungs out, but what we did manage to do was drastically cut down on the incidence of that type of infection."
As for Leslie Burroughs, Payne says that her death was unfortunate but inevitable. When she came to see him, he says, her T-cell count--a tally of infection-fighting white blood cells that is used as a barometer of the disease's progress--had already plunged to nine. T-cell count in a healthy person is in the thousands.
"By the time the T-cell count drops below 200, a person is considered to have mature AIDS. By the time it's at nine, the patient is usually dead," Payne says, adding that Leslie Burroughs likely would have succumbed to an opportunistic infection within a month.
Payne says Burroughs was grasping at straws by the time she came to him in early 1994 "or else she wouldn't have sought me out in the first place."
Watching Hudson's videos, it's easy to see how he managed to convince so many people--including Payne--that his material is genuine. He is conversant in the lexicon of physics and chemistry and seems to earnestly believe in what he says. The source who has known Hudson since childhood also believes Hudson is convinced of his rectitude. "I don't think he would have spent all his time and money on it if he didn't believe," the source says.
But had Payne made even the vaguest effort to verify any of Hudson's claims, he likely would have reached a troubling conclusion:
Hudson either cannot or simply refuses to provide concrete proof to back up his claims. Like a poker player who can win the pot with an empty hand, Hudson, it seems, has mastered the art of the bluff.
For example, Hudson has yet to respond to written questions from New Times. He has not provided the names of researchers who he claims can verify his work. He repeatedly has claimed that his material has been tested by researchers at Argon National Laboratory, and that their research backs up his own. But when asked during a brief telephone interview to name anyone at Argon who could support his assertions, Hudson spoke of other matters.
"I don't need credibility . . . what I'm doing is at a level so far above what anyone here can understand, there's no point in even trying to convince people," he says. "No matter what I say, I'm always going to be this poor dirt farmer from Laveen, and that's fine with me."
Dr. Quindus Fernando, a chemist at the University of Arizona, tested the substance administered to Leslie Burroughs. Fernando could find no trace of iridium or rhodium, the two elements Hudson claimed his substance contained, in the sample.
Hudson claims Fernando wasn't using the right method to detect the two elements in their unique "monoatomic" state.
Fernando says that's nonsense.
"Just supposing he has made this great discovery, what does it mean to me? It means nothing," Fernando says. "He has not offered any proof. He has not published any of his procedures, and he has not given anyone the chance to duplicate his procedures. Unless he does, everything he says is meaningless."
Sol Green, a retired cancer researcher from New York, is an acknowledged expert at debunking miracle cures. Before the Hudson case is even described to Green, he asks, "Does he claim his material perfects the body? Does he claim it evokes the 'vital essence,' or something similar?"
Green continues to list attributes he views as common to miracle healers: The government is out to smother their work or, worse yet, steal it; they are unconcerned with proving anything because "as far as they're concerned, they couldn't care less about the doubters."
The litany sounds eerily familiar. For example, during one lecture, Hudson claims that the Department of Defense squelched his attempt to patent his discovery because it wanted it for military applications.
Hudson has also claimed that his material is being tested as an AIDS therapy by the National Institute of Health. The NIH does sponsor research into alternative AIDS therapies at Seattle's Bastyr University, but Dr. Leanna Standish, who heads the research there, says she has never heard of Hudson or his work.
In short, no one has stepped forward to substantiate anything Hudson says.
Except for Dr. David Payne.
Despite what happened to Leslie Burroughs--and despite a dearth of scientific inquiry into the substance--Payne maintains that Hudson's material offers miraculous benefits to both man and beast.
Payne first administered Hudson's elixir to a golden retriever that had a massive abscess. After a short time, the abscess had subsided and the dog was on its feet again. It later died, after treatment with the elixir was discontinued.
Impressed by the dog's recovery, and after seeing sterilization equipment in the "research barn" located at Hudson's farm, Payne was satisfied that the material was safe.
He prescribed it to two patients suffering through the advanced stages of AIDS. Both have since died, but Payne says the material, administered intravenously, brought incredible reversals in their conditions--a claim that is backed up by one of the men's companions in a letter to the osteopathic board.
Payne, however, was never able to show the board any evidence in the form of charts or test results showing that Hudson's substance was even used, let alone used successfully. Likewise, Burroughs' treatment went completely undocumented.
According to court records, Payne told Leslie Burroughs about the good results with Hudson's substance and he gave her some of it. She took it in capsule form for several weeks with no noticeable effects. After that, Burroughs decided to try the medication intravenously. Payne's nurse installed a line in Leslie's arm through which her husband could inject the potion.
Back at home in Flagstaff, Bill Burroughs took one of two vials that Payne had provided and shook it until the fine, grayish material that had settled to the bottom turned the water milky white.
(The substance would later be described with disgust by hospital staffers in Flagstaff. "It had this whitish-looking stuff in it that looked like you might have gotten it from a dirty pond or something," a lab technician would testify. "It was really scary.")
Bill Burroughs did as he had been instructed. He plunged a needle through the red rubber stopper, withdrew two ccs of the liquid and injected it into the line installed in his wife's arm.
Leslie was overcome by chills and nausea, and her temperature rocketed to 105 degrees. Concerned, the couple called Payne, who told them that Leslie's reaction was normal. Still, as a precaution, he told them to wait a few days, then cut the dosage in half and try it again. Leslie's symptoms subsided, and after several days, she gave the medication another try.
As before, she developed chills and nausea. But this time, things got much worse. Her skin turned clammy, and Bill could do nothing to keep her warm. After three hours, she stopped breathing. Bill called 911, and notified Payne. The paramedics who responded managed to resuscitate Leslie and rushed her to the hospital. Payne sped to Flagstaff from his cabin in Strawberry.
But the damage had been done. Two days later, when Leslie was flown to Tucson's University Medical Center for further treatment, her brain, deprived of oxygen for too long, had begun a slow march toward death. One by one, as vital functions ceased, Leslie's body was wracked by a series of seizures. She never regained consciousness, and died on March 24, 1994, six weeks after receiving the second injection.
The primary cause of death was a type of general blood infection known as sepsis which, autopsy reports state, can be triggered by the kinds of bacteria found in the vial. Apparently, the substance Hudson gave to Payne was about as sanitary as the pond water the lab technician said it resembled.
Even before Leslie Burroughs died, people were wondering exactly what kind of medicine Payne was practicing. The first was Dr. Kellen J. Ronnau, who treated the comatose Leslie Burroughs at a Flagstaff emergency room.
Next came Leslie Boyer, a toxicologist with the poison control center at the University of Arizona who tried to determine whether Payne's treatment was responsible for Burroughs' grave situation.
Both Boyer and Ronnau took a step that is rare in the collegiate medical world: They filed letters of complaint with the state Board of Osteopathic Examiners, which is responsible for overseeing Payne's actions.
"I guess the bottom line is that the level of care was so horrendous that I'm not willing to drop the issue," Ronnau wrote.
After a series of well-publicized hearings, the board voted 6-1 to censure Payne and place him on probation. The board based its decision on recommendations from an administrative law judge who, after sifting through mounds of testimony and evidence, pronounced that Payne's actions were "more isolated than general," and that Payne's role in treating AIDS patients made his practice worth sparing.
While there can be no doubt that Payne is a compassionate caregiver whose practice caters to the special needs of AIDS patients, it is equally clear that, in Burroughs' case, Payne turned his back on the scientific method.
Equally troubling are contradictions in Payne's testimony that led the board to refer his case to prosecutors for a review of criminal charges. The referral stems not from his administration of the panacea, but from allegations that Payne removed one of the vials from Burroughs' hospital room. Payne denies taking the vial, saying it would make no sense given that the hospital's lab already had one vial for analysis. A spokesman for the Coconino County Attorney's Office says the referral has not made its way to his office.
Anne Marie Berger, executive director of the Board of Osteopathic Examiners, says Payne's case was never referred to prosecutors for consideration as negligent homicide because the board only votes on recommendations provided by the administrative law judge.
"That [recommendation] never came before the board," Berger says, adding that the Burroughs family has the option of filing a criminal complaint against Payne.
Martha Krupp says it never occurred to her to file such a complaint until a prosecutor who represented the state before the osteopath's board approached her about it last year.
"He said, 'You know, it's always puzzled me why you never filed a criminal complaint against this guy,'" Krupp says. She posed the question to Robert Hoyt, who was representing the family in the civil case against Hudson.
"He said, 'Really, we're waiting to see what the board does. If they slap his hands, you're going to have a hard time getting a conviction,'" Krupp says.
A "slap on the hand" seems to be exactly how Payne has come to view his punishment. "Basically, they just said, 'You were a naughty boy and don't let it happen again,'" Payne says.
Through it all, Payne has maintained that his treatment of Leslie Burroughs was appropriate. What's more, he believes that Hudson's potion showed enough promise to warrant further testing.
"What they've done is turn this into a contamination issue," he says, "and what's been lost in all of this is that the Hudson material--the monoatomic iridium and rhodium--had nothing to do with her death."
When asked about the fact that Fernando--the UofA chemist--was unable to find any trace of iridium or rhodium in a sample taken from the one vial seized as evidence in the case, Payne echoes Hudson's assertion that the chemist simply didn't know how to find it in its unique state.
Payne concludes: "My feeling was, I didn't care what it was, it could have been dog shit . . . I didn't care if it was iridium or rhodium or what, I only knew it was extremely important for treating the kinds of patients that I had."
Though she would have liked to have seen stronger action taken against Payne, Martha Krupp says she is not surprised that his medical license was not yanked by the board.
"AIDS patients are largely viewed as throwaway people," Krupp says. "The prevailing sentiment, at least until recently, seemed to be, 'Well, they're all going to die eventually, so what difference does it make how or when they go?'"
Ever since David Hudson wound up on the losing end of the civil suit filed by Leslie Burroughs' mother and husband, he has stopped giving his miracle cure to people who hope to conquer diseases or achieve spiritual enlightenment or gain the ability to read men's hearts and minds.
Instead, for $500, those hoping to better themselves can now purchase a "membership" in the Science of the Spirit Foundation, a Tempe-based outfit that works in conjunction with ORMES, Ltd., a company founded by Hudson to help fund the construction of a $2.5 million plant aimed at producing--you guessed it--ORMEs.
According to the literature, ORMES, Ltd., will hand over 25 percent of the plant's output to Science of the Spirit once the facility goes online in 1997. Science of the Spirit will then distribute the "sacramental" material to its members.
But before those life-giving shipments can begin, a prospective member must sign a waiver aimed at indemnifying Hudson against every conceivable calamity.
Apparently, all these preparations keep Hudson a very busy man, and the pressures have begun to take their toll.
On September 9, Hudson's wife, Kathryn, told New Times she was certain her husband would not agree to a face-to-face interview because "he just doesn't think the world is ready for this discovery yet."
Two days later, she phoned New Times after receiving a list of questions that had been mailed to her husband. She admitted she "wasn't being completely truthful."
"What I really should have told you," she says, "was that David had a heart attack."
She says her husband went to the hospital earlier this month with severe chest pains, but has since been allowed to return home. Sometime next week he is scheduled to undergo tests to determine whether he's a candidate for angioplasty or bypass surgery. Kathryn says David would prefer to treat his condition nonsurgically.
In the meantime, he's under doctor's orders to eat sensibly and, above all, rest, which pretty much rules out interviews.
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It's not easy telling a man like David Hudson to slow down, Kathryn says, especially when so many people depend on him.
"We get 20, 30 calls a night from people, and sometimes they're very sick," she says. "They all want David to help them."
Now, it's time for David Radius Hudson to help himself.
Which leaves just one question: If the substance Hudson stumbled across 14 years ago is truly the elixir of life, if it has the power to "correct the DNA and perfect the body," as he has repeatedly said, why does its discoverer still have to take medication to control his blood pressure?
From the tone of Kathryn Hudson's voice, such questions are absurd.
"Oh, he never takes it himself," she explains. "He never thought there was anything wrong with him.