When cryonics goes horribly wrong

For Big Think, Tom Hartsfield examined the many ways cyronics can fail—and fail badly:

Small freezing operations began in the late 1960s. While the practice of storing bodies has become more sophisticated over the past 50 years, in the early days, technicians cooled and prepared corpses with haste on dry ice before eventually cramming them into Dewar capsules. By in large, these “preservations” did not achieve preservation. They were nightmarish, gruesome failures. Their stories were researched and documented by people within the field, who published thorough and frank records.

The largest operation was run out of a cemetery in Chatsworth, California by a man named Robert Nelson. Four of his first clients were not initially frozen in LN but placed on a bed of dry ice in a mortuary. One of these bodies was a woman whose son decided to take her body back. He “hauled (his dead mother) around in a truck” on dry ice for some time before burying her.


Nelson froze a six-year-old boy in 1974. The capsule itself was well maintained by the boy’s father, but when it was opened, the boy’s body was found to be cracked. The cracking could have occurred if the body was frozen too quickly by the LN. The boy was then thawed, embalmed, and buried. Now that there was a vacancy, a different man was placed into the leftover capsule, but ten months had elapsed between his death and freezing, so his body was in rotten shape — no pun intended — from the get-go and was eventually thawed.

Every cryonic client put into the vault at Chatsworth and looked after by Nelson eventually failed. The bodies inside the Dewar capsules were simply left to rot. Reporters visited the crypt where these failed operations had taken place and reported a horrifying stench. The proprietor admitted to failure, bad decisions, and going broke. He further pointed out, “Who can guarantee that you’re going to be suspended for 10 or 15 years?”

Folks, don’t waste your money. Live on as a memory and leave a legacy behind (a good one!). Nobody wants a thawed putrid mess to clean up because you thought the future would be cool to live in.

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