Nobody was expecting Gerald Cotten, the CEO of Canadian Bitcoin exchange QuadrigaCX, to die at 30. Cotten was young, energetic, passionate about cryptocurrency — so when he passed away in December 2018 during his honeymoon in India, due to “complications from Crohn’s disease,” everyone was taken by surprise.
And not everyone bought the story. Netflix’s new documentary about Cotten and the mystery of his death, Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King, explores the mystery of Cotten’s death and the paranoia and conspiracy theories that circulated amongst Quadriga investors about whether or not he might still be alive. It’s not the first project to dig into the mystery: Journalists Aaron Lammer and Lane Brown investigated the story for two years for their podcast Exit Scam, and Vanity Fair published an extensive investigation in 2019. The prospect of a rich young entrepreneur faking his own death and running off with millions is a compelling story — it just doesn’t happen to be true. Gerald Cotten did die in India in December 2018. Here’s how it happened.
Why do some people doubt that Gerald Cotten died?
After his wife, Jennifer Robertson, announced his death on Facebook in January 2019, conspiracy theories quickly began circulating amongst Quadriga users who believed Cotten wasn’t dead at all, and had in fact pulled an “exit scam”: faked his own death and dropped off the map, taking the money they’d put into Quadriga with him. These user-investors found a number of the details surrounding Cotten’s death that they believed to be suspicious: people don’t often die from Crohn’s disease, especially not at 30; and Robertson didn’t post about Cotten’s death until a month after the fact, and claimed that she couldn’t access the exchange — that only Cotten had had the ability to transfer investors’ money, meaning that their Bitcoin was lost forever. To many, it seemed implausible that Robertson could have lived with Cotten for years without knowing something about how his business worked. And Cotten’s funeral had been closed-casket. Who could be sure there’d been a body in there at all?
How did Gerald Cotten die?
The mystery of Cotten’s death was finally put to rest when Nathan VanderKlippe, a journalist at Canada’s Globe and Mail, traveled to Jaipur, India, to investigate Cotten’s death firsthand. He published a comprehensive account of Cotten’s final days, which began with the couple’s arrival at the luxury resort Oberoi Rajvilas, a palatial hotel complete with resident peacocks. Cotten didn’t have time to enjoy the resort, though: He was feeling sick upon his arrival and would be dead within 24 hours.
Before arriving in Jaipur, Cotten and Robertson had already traveled to some of India’s biggest tourist destinations, including the Taj Mahal and Varanasi. According to VanderKlippe’s reporting, they planned to stay in Jaipur for four days. Almost as soon as they arrived at the Oberoi Rajvilas, however, they left to seek medical care for Cotten. They wound up at the Fortis Escorts Hospital, a private hospital that offered superior medical service to most of India’s public hospitals. Dr. Abhishek Sharma, the general manager of the hospital, told VanderKlippe that Cotten “was admitted with symptoms of acute gastroenteritis.” He proceeded to vomit repeatedly and suffered diarrhea — not unusual symptoms for travelers in India.
Suddenly, though, Cotten’s condition grew dramatically worse, and he was transferred to intensive care. His condition was so severe that there were few options for treatment. Dr. Sharma explained that, at this point, performing surgery or even a CT scan was no longer an option: “First we had to stabilize him. He didn’t give enough time.” Shortly thereafter, Cotten’s heart stopped beating. He was resuscitated twice, but, as Dr. Sharma said, “The third time he could not be revived.” He was dead.
Medical experts told The Globe and Mail that Cotten’s symptoms and rapid decline suggest he had a perforated bowel, which can cause extremely sudden death. But no autopsy was performed on Cotten’s body, so nobody can be sure why, exactly, he died — a fact that’s encouraged conspiracy theorists who believe that Robertson poisoned her husband or that he’s not dead at all. In December 2019, investors were clamoring for Cotten’s body to be exhumed in order to verify the cause of death. They’re still waiting.