X-Message-Number: 24789
Date: Sat, 09 Oct 2004 14:08:24 -0700
From: Mike Perry <>
Subject: Robert Nelson

Reading Ken's posting (#24785) on Robert Nelson, I'd like to comment. 
First, to make it easier for readers, I'll quote from the posting of Joseph 
Zarka that is referred to (#24145):

>1. Was Robert Nelson a person who truly was interested in making cryonics 
>work for the better of humanity and failed because he made some poor 
>decisions?  Or..........
>2. Was Robert Nelson just hoping to cash in on the possibility of cryonics 
>taking off and making a lot of money? Was he being deseptive to his clients
>in the hopes that he could hold on long enough to cash in on the boom he 
>thought was soon coming?

Ken says

>... answer 1 is more correct. Bob Nelson was infatuated with the idea of 
>cryonics and worked very hard to make it a reality. He did make some poor 
>decisions, the most obvious one was taking on suspensions without the 
>means to follow them through.

I do think he started with good intentions and wanted to make cryonics work 
more than to make any money out of it. (On the other hand, Ed Hope, who 
started a freezing operation in Arizona, Cryo-Care, was interested mainly 
in the financial side by appearances but still acted honorably, and also 
opted out early when he saw it wouldn't be profitable. The irony is that 
Bob stuck with it for so long when it *wasn't* making money, and was sued 
for his trouble and subjected to a trial and other humiliations. But 
Cryo-Care didn't have any rotting bodies, or patient's relatives who 
thought they'd been wronged and/or thought they could win big in a lawsuit.)

>  He honestly wanted to give his friends; Marie Sweet, Helen Kline and 
> Russ Stanley the suspension they wanted. He kept them in temporary 
> suspension, busting his behind keeping them on dry ice for around two 
> years. Money was not his motivation. When Bowers came around with Nisco 
> and his capsule, he saw an opertunity. Placing the other three in the 
> capsule, to Bob at the time, was a better temporary solution for them 
> than the dry ice storage he had been maintaining.

So four people (Sweet, Kline, Stanley, and Nisco) ended up in one capsule, 
which was then maintained with liquid nitrogen. The capsule was the old, 
horizontal kind on rollers that was welded shut when in use, and originally 
intended for a single occupant. It was manufactured by Cryo-Care Equipment 
Corp. in Phoenix, AZ, and it was there that Nisco was originally placed in 
the capsule, in (as nearly as I can tell) September 1967. The transfer of 
the other three to the capsule required cutting it open, removing Nisco and 
an interior support, then fitting the four patients back in--an awkward 
maneuver. The capsule then was welded shut again. This would have occurred 
in March 1969, according to an article in *Detroit News Magazine*, Jul. 13, 
1969, where the daughter of Nisco, Marie Bowers (then Mrs. Gricius) is 
interviewed. The capsule was maintained at a mortuary until May 1970, when 
it was transferred to an underground vault in the Oakwood Memorial Park 
Cemetery in Chatsworth (CA). According to court testimony, Bob Nelson 
maintained the capsule for an additional year and a half. Then he quietly 
abandoned it. There is nothing in any cryonics literature of the time, as 
far as I know, that notes that these suspensions were terminated; the first 
mention is in 1979, in an article by Art Quaife who was not connected with 
Bob's operations. It is quite possible that Bob petitioned his friends and 
associates for funds to keep the suspensions going but there was no public 
appeal around the time of the termination.

>With the money the CSC received from Russ Stanley, Bob purchased a capsule 
>that would hold up to twenty patients.

This is something I hadn't heard before. I have a picture Bob himself gave 
me showing him standing by this large capsule, however.

>He needed enough income from paying suspensions to get a large vault and 
>keep the large capsule filled with LN2. Unfortunately the Nisco capsule 
>was leaking badly and the money needed to keep it going dried up before he 
>could get the large capsule in service.

Presenting his dilemma to the cryonics community at this point might have 
resulted in some assistance. How much money was involved, you wonder. If 
the time we are talking about is around 1970-71, CSC's main competitor, 
CSNY, was having its own troubles. It may not have offered much in the way 
of obstacles or competition if Bob had made an appeal.

>If there was any dishonesty it was in not telling Bowers that he intended 
>to add other bodies to her capsule, but the capsule was donated to the CSC 
>and it was his to do what he wished with it. Bowers herself abandoned the 
>capsule and failed to pay the required maintenance and storage fees. She 
>sent Bob a letter telling him that she couldn't make payments and washed 
>her hands of it.

That seems correct.

>Bob didn't hear from Bowers again until 1979, after the lawsuit had begun. 
>She won a $35,000 claim against Bob which, in my opinion, she was not 
>entitled to.

It seems she did behave as if she expected the capsule to be maintained, 
even without her input. Of course, nowadays we strongly advocate up-front 
payments at the time of suspension that cover the cost of indefinite 
maintenance through interest income. As far as I know there was no such 
arrangement in this case.

>As for taking advantage of the potential upcoming boom in cryonic 
>suspensions, Bob did prepare for that by starting Cryonic Internment, 
>Inc., and by purchasing the large capsule. While his main vision was to 
>advance cryonics, he was aware of the potential for profit and expected to 
>earn money eventually... who didn't?

It seems clear that Bob was hoping the cryonics business would soon gain a 
large following and the business would expand and cover initial costs.

>Bob didn't abandon anybody, he did everything he could to fulfill the 
>wishes of three of his friends and fellow pioneers of the cryonics movement.

But you have to realize how unforgiving a business cryonics is. Many of us 
are strong advocates of neuro- or head-only preservation, especially in 
cases just like this where funding runs short. The idea that four 
suspensions were terminated (which does mean "abandoned") rather than 
converted to neuropreservation is devastating to us, in spite of any 
problems like the "yuk" factor. (Three other suspensions were later saved 
by this method.) It also seems an unavoidable conclusion that in 1969 Bob 
either authored or at least authorized an article in the CSC newsletter 
that overstated and in other ways misrepresented whatever capability he did 
have at that time. The unsigned article appeared in CSC's newsletter, 
*Cryonics Review*, March-April 1969, and is short enough that I'll quote it 
in full here.

>Cryonic Interment, Inc. (CI), has completed construction of a multiple 
>storage facility for cryonic preservation. The multiple principle 
>introduces high reliability, flexibility, and efficiency into the cryonic 
>preservation process. Tri-check metering precludes malfunction or 
>variation from the critical standards required by CSC.
>         The multiple principle permits addition of patients and ultimate 
> individual withdrawal of patients without affecting the temperature of 
> patients who remain in storage. High transfer costs are eliminated.
>         CI designs are a product of technical studies and intensive 
> investigation over a period of two years involving the services and 
> counsel of engineers and specialists in several related fields.
>         Legally, Cryonic Interment's new facility offers an alternative 
> to burial and cremation. Scientifically, CI meets CSC standards for 
> arresting cell damage after "clinical death" has occurred. With 
> completion of the Cryonic Interment multiple storage facility, a total 
> cryonic suspension program is now available through CSC. The program 
> provides all necessary arrangements from pre-death preliminaries, 
> emergency treatment, and latest method perfusion, to maximum-security 
> suspension storage.

Again, at the time this appeared, March-April 1969, CSC's actual capability 
consisted, as far as I am able to determine, of one capsule with four 
people inside, in a mortuary, plus (maybe) an empty underground cemetery 
vault and a large, empty cryogenic capsule. This is not made clear in the 
above. It begs for more details--are there any? What is this "tri-check 
metering"? What "technical studies and intensive investigation" were done? 
Which "engineers and specialists" in which "related fields" were involved? 
And so on. Is it all just hype or was there some substance? (CI btw was a 
for-profit corporation that handled the actual suspension and storage for 
the nonprofit, membership organization CSC.)

>  He did more than anybody else was willing to and failed. His biggest 
> crime was secrecy, and was that such a great crime? Under the 
> circumstances I think not.

Again, though, cryonics is an unforgiving business, and more could have 
been done to save the suspensions that would not have cost a lot of money 
or otherwise been out of reach, which is difficult for some of us to deal 
with, even if the problems are understandable. As for the "crime"--along 
with the secrecy it seems there was also an element of deception, and thus 
more cause for concern.

>I view Bob Nelson as a true pioneer in the cryonics movement. His drive 
>and willingness to take chances advanced cryonics much further and faster 
>than it would have been without him. Cryonics at that time was a 
>discussion. Bob made it a reality.

He was a pioneer, but credit is also due to contemporaries such as the 
people at Cryo-Care Equipment Corp. and CSNY. Curtis Henderson in 
particular headed the first group devoted specifically to cryopreservation 
with replacement of body fluids with protective solutions as opposed to 
simple straight freezing as was done at Cryo-Care. Henderson's group, the 
Cryonics Society of New York or CSNY, was started in August 1965 and 
happens to be the source of the word *cryonics* that is now used 
generically. Cryonics Society of California (CSC, Bob's group) didn't start 
up until late 1966, though it happened they did their first case before 
CSNY did theirs.

>The science and people were in place, they just needed a leader and a 
>strong salesman to take it to the next level. Bob fulfilled those roles 
>admirably. Instead of just hammering him for his failures, he should be 
>applauded for is successes. I'll be the first to put my hands together. 
>Will anyone else?

Bob did have some successes. His first case, James Bedford, is still in 
cryopreservation today, for instance, unlike all the other pre-1974 cases 
and all the cases that started at CSNY and Cryo-Care. On the personal 
level, I have always found Bob friendly and willing to share information. I 
count him as a friend. However, I don't feel much like "applauding"--the 
failures were just too much. The patients that were lost were not people I 
knew but that doesn't make it easy. If, however, you imagine the patients 
being your parents, siblings, friends, loved ones, and so on, you may get 
some idea how it is possible not to be enthusiastic even though some heroic 
effort was made to save them. The effort was not enough and could have been 
greater. I feel sorrow rather than outrage however.

One point worth making is that the failures at Chatsworth did strengthen 
the movement--by making us try all the harder to keep this sort of thing 
from happening again.

Another point I'll make in closing again gets back to cryonics being 
unforgiving. Posterity, in the glaring light of hindsight, may judge *us* 
critically even though we think we are doing our best, and have certainly 
made heroic efforts and had some success. Yes, we have 
cryopreservation--but it is expensive, at minimum several times the cost of 
conventional burial arrangements. What about lower-cost alternatives, 
which, if workable, might also be easier to "sell" to the pubic and might 
save many more lives than the relative handful we have managed to 

Mike Perry

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