During his imprisonment, Albizu suffered deteriorating health. He alleged that he was the subject of human radiation experiments in prison and said that he could see colored rays bombarding him. When he wrapped wet towels around his head in order to shield himself from the radiation, the prison guards ridiculed him as El Rey de las Toallas (The King of the Towels).
Officials suggested that Pedro Albizu Campos was suffering from mental illness, but other prisoners at La Princesa prison including Francisco Matos Paoli, Roberto Díaz and Juan Jaca, claimed that they felt the effects of radiation on their own bodies as well.
Dr. Orlando Daumy, a radiologist and president of the Cuban Cancer Association, traveled to Puerto Rico to examine him. From his direct physical examination of Albizu Campos, Dr. Daumy reached three specific conclusions:
1) that the sores on Albizu Campos were produced by radiation burns
2) that his symptoms corresponded to those of a person who had received intense radiation,
3) that wrapping himself in wet towels was the best way to diminish the intensity of the rays.
The most shocking moment [of the video above] occurred from 7:15 to 8:45—a 90-second segment where he described Albizu Campos as a lunatic who constantly wrapped himself in cold wet towels, in order to protect himself from “mysterious machines throwing nuclear rays at him from a great distance.”
On national TV, Muñoz Marín and Pearson scoffed at this madman from Puerto Rico. The implicit message was that anyone who believed in the independence of Puerto Rico was as crazy as Albizu Campos.
But Albizu Campos was not crazy.
He was, in fact, being subjected to lethal TBI (Total Body Irradiation) in his prison cell. This radiation continued for several years, until it finally killed him.
On February 18, 1951, while in solitary confinement, Albizu saw “ribbons of light on all the walls, in all colors, brilliant as the aurora borealis. Sometimes it looked like a cascade of melted gold.” Then, for the first time in his life, he passed out. When he regained consciousness, he had a splitting headache and what felt like a full-body sunburn.
The next day the lights returned, and so did his headache. Sometimes there was no visible light, but he could feel the rays. After a week he noticed that each wave of radiation swelled his legs, hands, head, and whatever other part of his body it hit.
Within a few weeks, Albizu’s legs had swollen to elephantine proportions. His arms were covered with burn marks, and the skin was peeling from his hands and wrists. His feet, ankles and calves were swollen red balloons. His chest and back were covered with stripes, as if someone had flipped him over on a barbecue grill.
In every way, from every angle, Albizu Campos looked like he was burning alive.
— King of the Towels: The Torture and Murder of Pedro Albizu Campos, by Nelson A. Denis