X-Message-Number: 1971.1
Date: 14 Mar 93 22:47:26 EST
From: Charles Platt <>
Message-Subject: Chatsworth

To: Timothy Freeman
Dear Tim:
I've done a lot of interviews with people re Chatsworth 
(including Bob Nelson himself, and Michael Worthington, the 
attorney who brought the suit on behalf of various 
plaintiffs). Here's what I have learned. If you want to use 
it as a FAQ, and if you want to announce its existence on 
Cryonet, please feel free.
The "Chatsworth Meltdown" 
by Charles Platt
Disclaimer: I am not a cryonics historian, and have been 
active in cryonics for less than two years. However, I am 
writing a book about cryonics, and I have interviewed many of 
the people who were personally involved during the 1960s and 
1970s. The following summary is from my MEMORY of these 
interviews, together with notes derived from court 
transcripts. My interview tapes have not yet been 
transcribed, edited, and made into a smooth, coherent story. 
Since it may take me another six months to deal with that 
chore, please accept the following as an APPROXIMATE history, 
subject to revision. 
The Chatsworth incident is the only known case where several 
cryonics patients were allowed to thaw and decompose, causing 
allegations of fraud. 
In the mid-1960s, the Cryonics Society of California was led 
by a man named Robert Nelson. Nelson is said by some to have 
been "charismatic." What this probably means is that unlike 
most cryonicists, he was street-smart and knew how to present 
himself to the media. Having met Mr. Nelson, I must say he 
has charm, but he does not possess charisma as the term is 
generally understood among rock stars and TV personalities. 
According to Bob Nelson, he suffered a traumatic home life. 
His father left home when Bob was three, and his mother 
remarried. The man she chose was in organized crime, was 
violent and abusive, and was ultimately killed in a mob hit. 
Bob himself married young and had to earn his own living when 
he was a teenager. He made money for a while selling flowers, 
managed to further his education, and ultimately set himself 
up in the Los Angeles area doing TV repairs. 
When Bob Nelson heard about cryonics in 1964, he became 
energized and in some ways managed to transcend himself. He 
largely organized the first known cryonic suspension, of Dr. 
James Bedford, in 1967, in collaboration with an Italian 
doctor who devised most of the protocol. The suspension was 
featured in LIFE magazine, although production of that issue 
was halted one-third of the way through the print run, and 
the cryonics story was replaced with a last-minute feature 
about the death of three astronauts who had been trapped in a 
burning Apollo capsule at Cape Kennedy. 
The full account of Bedford's suspension was subsequently 
written up in "We Froze the First Man," a paperback book co-
authored by Nelson, published by Dell in 1968. 
CSC was a relatively successful cryonics organization, 
largely because of Nelson's ability to "sell" cryonics. 
However, at that time (late 1960s/early 1970s) cryonics was 
not funded as rigorously as it is today. Many members of CSC 
made small donations to the group, but did not have formal 
financial arrangements for their own eventual suspension. The 
group itself did not actually own an installation with 
suspension facilities. Thus the whole setup was amateurish, 
based more on hope than on realistic planning and protocol. 
On more than one occasion, when CSC members died, Bob Nelson 
felt compelled to say, "Don't worry, we'll find a way to take 
care of them." For example, in 1968, Helen Kline, a longtime 
CSC member, died without making financial arrangements. 
Nelson ended up freezing her anyway, either out of genuine 
compassion, or because he feared adverse publicity. 
With the collaboration of a very generous local mortician, 
Nelson stored some patients in dry ice for up to a year, 
because he couldn't pay $10,000 per capsule for liquid-
nitrogen storage, and he lacked a purpose-built storage 
facility. Eventually, he made arrangements with a cemetery in 
Chatsworth where he built a small underground vault capable 
of storing several liquid nitrogen tanks. All CSC patients 
were moved there in 1970. However, there still wasn't enough 
money. As a result, Nelson put more than one patient in each 
tank. In one case, he managed to get four people in a tank, 
according to the mortician I talked to. Members of CSC were 
not told about this. Nelson basically said, "Don't worry, 
leave everything to me," and most of them were happy to do 
just that. 
There were exceptions, however. Fred and Linda Chamberlain 
were unhappy with the suspension protocol being used by CSC, 
because it hadn't really progressed since the early days and 
basically consisted of forcing glycerol into the body via an 
embalming pump. Nelson seemed unresponsive when Fred pressed 
for a better protocol. Ultimately, Fred and Linda left CSC 
and started the Alcor Foundation, where they subsequently 
worked with Jerry Leaf (who was joined by Mike Darwin) to 
establish cryonics on sound medical principles. 
Meanwhile, CSC entered a relatively dormant phase, and at 
some point, Nelson stopped refilling the tanks with liquid 
nitrogen. How and when this happened has never been 
conclusively established. Nelson maintains that he deputized 
someone to do it, and that person let him down. I find this 
story hard to believe. Mike Darwin, who was still out in 
Indiana at the time, did some detective work, telephoning 
suppliers in the Los Angeles area. He found that none of them 
were making deliveries to Nelson. Nelson then claimed 
(according to Mike Darwin) that he had an informal 
arrangement with a delivery service, which brought "leftover" 
liquid nitrogen to him at the end of their route. 
It is certainly true that Nelson had very little money, and 
was receiving relatively little support from CSC members. In 
1978, he was sued (for reasons too complex to get into here), 
and an attorney named Michael Worthington was hired by the 
plaintiffs. Worthington was unable to find Nelson. 
Nelson problems became considerably worse when the parents of 
a young girl who had been suspended by CSC in 1976 demanded 
to inspect their daughter and exhumed her in 1979. They found 
that decomposition had occurred, and were outraged. Michael 
Worthington set to work a) contacting other potential 
plaintiffs to sue Nelson for fraud, and b) publicizing the 
story in national newspapers. 
ALL members of CSC were named as co-defendants, which was 
thoroughly unfair, since none of them had known anything 
about Nelson's activities. Fred and Linda Chamberlain ended 
up settling out of court, which cost them dearly. The suit 
also named Nelson's mortician as a co-defendant, and in fact 
he was the prime target, since he had insurance. (Nelson was 
not in any financial condition to pay damages personally.)
The jury trial took place in Los Angeles in April 1981. The 
case was not quite as clear-cut as it sounds, because almost 
all of the patients at Chatsworth had been financed either by 
donations or by their relatives, and all of the relatives had 
stopped paying for upkeep at least a year before the 
"meltdown" was discovered. Nelson was able to show that he 
had begged and threatened the relatives, demanding money for 
upkeep, without response. However, these same relatives were 
more than ready to sue him when they discovered he had failed 
to maintain their next of kin. 
The jury was particularly affected by graphic photographs of 
the decomposed patients, and Nelson was found guilty. He 
tried to appeal, mainly on the grounds that his attorney was 
taking Lithium and other drugs, and had been incompetent. 
(There is some evidence for this.) However, the appeal was 
Today, Bob Nelson is back in the TV-repair business and is 
not involved with cryonics in any way. 
My personal opinion is that Nelson wanted very much to do the 
right thing, but his instincts and his upbringing left him 
ill-equipped to decide what "the right thing" might be. He 
entered cryonics at a time when the field was so small, 
anyone could become an "expert." He succeeded because he 
dreamed of glory (he literally saw himself saving thousands 
of lives) and he infected other people with that dream. He 
failed because he lacked the personal and financial resources 
to follow through. He is widely reviled for having allowed 
many frozen patients to decompose. His real mistake, however, 
was to freeze them in the first place, without sufficient 
funds, or on the basis of promises from relatives to pay 
maintenance costs. In every case where a cryonics 
organization has accepted this kind of "third party" 
arrangement, the relatives ALWAYS stop paying after a year or 
two, and the cryonics organization is left with the 
responsibilities and no income. 
For this reason, the Alcor Foundation has a specific policy 
of accepting ONLY members who are prepared to make financial 
arrangements, in advance, sufficient to cover their own 
suspension and storage costs in perpetuity. I believe other 
cryonics groups follow a similar general policy. Certainly, 
they are all aware that no incident like Chatsworth can be 
allowed to happen again. 
--Charles Platt 

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