An excerpt from Bitcoin Widow: Love, Betrayal and the Missing Millions By Jennifer Robertson with Stephen Kimber
Where’s the money? … The hot wallets? … Gerry’s safe? … Did he have a safe? … Did you get the e-mail he promised? … Who’s his lawyer? You need to contact his lawyer … Where’s the money? … We need the money … $250-million – today! … Was there a will? There must have been a will! … Where’s the will? You’re the executor … Open casket? Closed? … Have you got a lawyer? … Where’s his laptop? … The safe isn’t where you said it was! … What about the CIBC cheque? … Did you find the cold storage yet? … That safe in the basement? You must know the codes … think! … Where’s the money? Where’s the money?!
My comfortable, peaceful, satisfying world, which had been cratered by the sudden earthquake of Gerry’s death barely two days earlier, was now being washed away by a massive tsunami of questions I couldn’t answer and demands I wasn’t ready to deal with.
Today – Tomorrow? What day was it in India, anyway? – Gerry and I should have been flying from Jaipur to Hyderabad, then on to Venkatapuram by car for the official opening of the Jennifer Robertson and Gerald Cotten Home for Orphaned Children. I should have been handing out the teddy bears I’d brought, one for each of its 12 children.
Instead, Gerry was dead, his body at a funeral home in Halifax, and I was back in Fall River, overwhelmed with grief and wanting nothing more than to crawl into our bed and cry myself to sleep.
My mother and Tom had flown to Toronto to meet my overnight flight from India and then accompanied me back to Halifax on an Air Canada flight early Tuesday morning. My dad, my brother and his wife, a number of cousins, an aunt and my best friend, Aly, were all waiting for me in the airport chapel, the only large private space where we could gather.
So, too, were Gerry’s parents and his brother and sister-in-law. They’d flown in the night before and were staying at our house in Fall River.
[Quadriga contractor] Alex Hanin had already texted that he was on his way from England. “Do you have his laptop?” he demanded again. “With you?” I hadn’t let it out of my sight.
Inside Kinross, I saw that Gerry’s office was open, the door’s lock smashed. My stepdad and my father had done that on Sunday after I called from India, desperately looking for Gerry’s health card so I could give the number to the doctors in Jaipur.
When we’d departed Canada for India, Gerry had left his office its usual mess – classic Gerry – and Tom and my father hadn’t been able to find his health card in the jumble. Tom later told a private investigator they’d opened one desk drawer to look for the card, and “it was jammed full of papers, so much that they couldn’t get the drawer closed. They left it as is.”
Not that they could have found the card anyway. Soon after Gerry died, I discovered it in India, in a pocket of his briefcase.
Now, on my way to our bedroom, I glanced into his office and was astounded at the number of people there – Gerry would have hated that – and how un-Gerry the room looked. Jess, Brad, Gerry’s parents and Alex had cleaned his office, organizing Gerry’s papers, making it seem even more un-Gerry-like. They’d probably been looking for his will.
“Where’s the will?” Cheryl asked that first night after I landed in Halifax. “Did Gerry have a will?”
I didn’t want to deal with that. I didn’t want to confront my own feelings of guilt, either, but those wouldn’t let me go. What if I’d found Gerry’s health card sooner? Jess sat on my bed and reassured me. It had been a Sunday, she said again. It would have been impossible to track down Gerry’s records in time, and they might not have helped anyway.
But we went to India, and Gerry didn’t want to go. What if …? “Could have happened anywhere,” she reassured. Gerry had been lucky. He’d been in a good hospital with a modern intensive care unit. I tried to process that.
After Alex arrived, the tension and intensity levels inside the house immediately ratcheted up. Alex was clearly panicked. “Where’s the money?” he kept demanding in a thick French accent that seemed even more brusque than the words themselves. “We need money now!”
To keep Quadriga operating, he told me, he needed to get access to Gerry’s cryptocurrency accounts. I tried to log in, but I didn’t have the correct passwords for his computer. In retrospect, I think Alex and I – and the other contractors I’d meet later – were all stunned by the fact that none of us knew what we now desperately needed to know.
I, for one, didn’t even totally understand all the jargon – hot wallets, cold wallets. I had to learn quickly. Since you can’t securely keep cryptocurrency in conventional bank accounts, people use virtual “wallets” to store and protect their holdings. The wallets don’t contain actual cryptocurrency, but are just tools for managing the blockchain – the official recording of what’s been bought and sold.
“Hot wallets” are connected to the internet and can be used by investors to buy, sell and trade cryptocurrency with other users in real time. The downside of hot wallets is that, because they’re connected to the internet, they’re vulnerable to hackers and assorted mischief makers.
Which is where “cold wallets” enter the picture. They exist offline, often on USB sticks and CDs, so they’re more secure, but that makes it more difficult and time-consuming to move them online for buying, selling and trading. It’s all way more complicated than that, but that’s probably all a layperson like me needed to know to understand how it all worked.
Whenever Quadriga’s internet-based hot wallets were low on cash, contractors told me they would simply contact Gerry, who would magically top up the funds from an offline cold wallet so they could continue processing payments for clients.
No one seemed to know where Gerry kept the cold wallets he used to replenish the hot wallets. Even if they had known that much, they still wouldn’t have had a clue as to how to get into them if Gerry wasn’t available. Or now that he was dead.
As surprising as that initially seemed, I quickly realized with a start that it was vintage Gerry. He was always the leader, the authoritative voice to whom others inevitably deferred. Knowledge was power, and Gerry held it all.
Alex eventually tracked down some permission forms he said he needed me to sign as Gerry’s executor. He believed they might help him get inside Gerry’s locked laptop. “You have to sign these,” he said. “Now.”
I’d never met Alex before. I knew he’d grown up in France but now lived in the United Kingdom. Once, Gerry showed me a photo of Alex with his family, travelling somewhere in Europe. That photo was the only reason I even knew what Alex looked like. I did know he was Gerry’s main web designer and programmer, and that they had been working together since the first days of Quadriga. They communicated daily.
“There’s no one in the world who could steal from me, except Alex,” Gerry would joke. “That’s why I pay him so much.” He told me he paid Alex a million dollars a year.
Gerry trusted Alex. I knew I should, too. I needed his help to figure out how to cope with Gerry’s business affairs, but that didn’t stop me from resenting his presence. Didn’t he care about Gerry? Gerry might have paid him very well, but I also believed they’d been buddies. So, why did he care so much about Quadriga and so little about Gerry? Who cared about money at such a moment? Who cared about Quadriga at all? Gerry was dead! Honestly? In that moment, I wanted to tell Alex to fuck off.
It was only later, when I began to understand the full scope of the crisis Gerry’s death had triggered for Quadriga, for Alex, for its investors and ultimately for me, that I finally began to comprehend why Alex had been so panicked.
Did Gerry have a safe? Alex wanted to know. Perhaps the codes he so desperately needed might be inside. Maybe there would be cash, too. Yes, I said. Gerry had installed a safe in the attic of the garage a few months earlier. “I found an awesome spot to hide my safe,” he’d told me at the time.
But the safe wasn’t there. Someone checked and reported back that they’d only found an indentation in the ceiling insulation where the safe had been. What the …?
There was another safe, I remembered. In the basement. Gerry told me once he had several million dollars in that safe. Brad and Alex went to look. It was locked.
“What’s the passcode?” Alex demanded. “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know the passcode?” Alex was incredulous.
“Why would I?” I retorted, becoming more frustrated by the moment. “I didn’t need the money. I never needed it. I had all the money I could possibly want. And if I ever did need money from the safe, I could just ask Gerry.” Except now I couldn’t. (Later, we hired a locksmith to come and blow the lock off. When he did, it turned out the safe was completely empty.)
It took everyone a while to realize that yet another safe sat on the floor in Gerry’s office. Was it the one that had been in the attic of the garage? It looked like it. Had Gerry moved it there before we left for India? Left it in his office and locked the door? Or was it a different safe altogether?
No matter. It was already open. But it was empty, except for a bunch of envelopes, each labelled with the name of a currency: U.S. dollars, etc. The envelopes were empty.
Perhaps Gerry had sent the cash to Quadriga customers, I thought, or maybe he took the cash so he could exchange it for rupees while we were in India. It didn’t surprise me that messy Gerry might take down the safe from the attic, empty its contents and then leave the safe opened on the floor. What did surprise me as I looked around the office was that there was now no cash anywhere in his office. There’d always been loose cash everywhere.
Alex asked where else Gerry might keep cash.
There’s always money in the banana stand! It had been a standing joke between Gerry and me. Gerry used to visit me in my office in the afternoons, sit on my blue lounge chair with his glass of wine while we chatted about everything and nothing. “Your chair has a big hole in it,” he would say, flipping it over, pointing out a Velcro fastener that sealed a hole in its bottom. “You know, you could put a lot of money in here.”
As a joke, Gerry had stuffed money into the bottom of the blue lounger. “There’s always money in the banana stand!” he would say, and smile and wink.
Gerry was a fan of Arrested Development, an American television sitcom with a cult following about a formerly wealthy California family still trying to maintain their lifestyle, even after they’d gone from “riches to rags.” The show featured a running gag about a “banana stand” the family patriarch, played by Jeffrey Tambor, opened in 1953.
After Tambor ends up in jail for fraud, he insists, “There’s always money in the banana stand.” The family assumes that simply means they’ll always be able to generate revenue from selling frozen bananas, but they discover – after the banana stand burns down – that Tambor had literally hidden hundreds of thousands of dollars inside the banana stand’s walls.
“Look in the chair in my office,” I said. But they found no cash there, either. What had happened to it?
Excerpt from Bitcoin Widow: Love, Betrayal and the Missing Millions by Jennifer Robertson with Stephen Kimber ©2022. Published by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.