Dead Man’s Switch: a crypto mystery

A 30-year-old CEO responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in cryptocurrency and cash dies suddenly in India. $215M disappears, kicking off a major scandal and fuelling speculation that his exit was only one of many scams.

Dead Man’s Switch: a crypto mystery is a timely documentary that unpacks the mysterious and improbable story of Canadian CEO Gerald Cotten and his failed cryptocurrency exchange, QuadrigaCX.

On November 30, 2018, 30-year-old Cotten traveled to India to open an orphanage and celebrate his honeymoon. Nine days later, he was allegedly dead due to Crohn’s disease, and $215 million in cash and cryptocurrency were suddenly missing.

A month later, when his widow, Jennifer Robertson, announced his death to the world with a post on the Quadriga exchange website, creditors, journalists, regulators and cryptocurrency enthusiasts all jumped on the story. They were determined to get to the bottom of what happened to Cotten and who held the keys to the fortunes of 115,000 creditors.

Filmmaker Sheona McDonald fleshes out the story of Cotten’s life, death and business dealings through interviews with skeptics like crypto-activist Mitch Airey and author David Gerard, independent journalists and financial analysts Amy Castor, Alexandra Posadzki and Taylor Monahan plus compliance regulators, friends and creditors suffering real and sometimes significant financial losses.

Every player has a different perspective on what happened, what didn’t happen or what needed to happen. But with over $200 million worth of Canadian fiat and cryptocurrency lost, there is one question they all ask: “Where’s the money, Gerry?”.

QuadrigaCX is not the first exchange to be hacked or go under, and it won’t be the last. Questionable activity is a constant threat in a contemporary industry growing quickly in an unregulated environment. The fact that more than 100,000 clients trusted QuadrigaCX with their money and left their funds and coins on the exchange shows that we are used to trusting a regulated system of banking and securities. But what happens when there is no system to trust?

Cotten’s story couldn’t have happened in a vacuum. Without creditors eager to pounce on quick, tax-free, unregulated gains, Cotten wouldn’t have had a business or anyone to take advantage of. This raises questions about not only regulation but responsibility, both individual and collective.

On the surface, Cotten’s story is one of personal tragedy, not just for him, but for the thousands of creditors who trusted the young entrepreneur with millions of their dollars. This is a film about human nature, greed and the pitfalls of navigating the Wild West of a dark new world.