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Mystery of virtual currency CEO’s death in Singapore

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by Zafar Hassan Anjum of ComputerWorld

Ever since the news of the ‘unnatural’ death of Autumn Radtke, 28, hit the headlines on Wednesday (though The Wall Street Journal had reported it on Feb 27), the picture of the deceased from a less grim time, where she poses smilingly with a dog (her pet pitbull?), has gone viral internationally.

Radtke, the CEO of Singapore virtual currency exchange First Meta, was found dead on February 26. Her body was discovered on the roof of a ground floor rubbish collection point at a Cantonment Close Housing Board block (The Straits Times, March 7, 2014) in Singapore.

Many observers and readers are not able to reconcile to the fact that a pretty and young high-achiever like Radtke could take her own life. Before joining First Meta, Radtke had worked in major corporations such as Apple, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, Clear Channel and Universal. Starting at the young age of 22 in the tech industry, she had worked closely with Richard Branson as a Virgin Charter consultant.

So, who killed Radtke and how? Or did she take her own life? According to Singapore police, initial investigations suggest that there was no suspected foul play and toxicology reports are still awaited. Nothing is conclusive about her death yet.

A case of suicide?

While investigations are on, many facts are emerging about her recent life. Apparently, in the reports that quote her friends and acquaintances, Radtke faced business challenges prior to her death.

That might well be the case but facts, quoted in the same report, suggest otherwise. First Meta’s business grew 20 to 30 percent from 2012 to 2013 (The Straits Times, March 7, 2014). How could a 20-30 percent growth in business not be considered good enough for a startup? The new company had attracted investors such as Plug and Play Singapore and National Research Foundation, a fact Radtke proudly mentions in her LinkedIn profile.

According to a report by Reuters, Douglas Abrams, director of First Meta, ‘denied the company was struggling or up for sale’, and said Radtke “did a great job as CEO”. But he also told Reuters that ‘selling the company always remained an option’.

It is also being reported that Radtke missed her home (United States). This brings an emotional angle to the case.

She has been staying in Singapore since 2008 (some reports say 2012). She used to visit the States two to three times a year to cure herself of her home sickness. If she visited her home country so often, where was the point of missing her motherland? And if she did miss America so badly, why wouldn’t she go back and run the virtual currency exchange business from the Silicon Valley or New York? Those are places that are renowned for being start-up friendly. What was stopping her?

After the Mt. Gox episode that busted the Bitcoin business (an estimated $500 million worth of virtual currency was lost by Tokyo-based Mt. Gox), it might have seemed end of the road for many who had banked on bitcoins, including Radtke.

In this light, some are linking her death to the troubles with the digital currency. If the Mt Gox hacking had not happened, would Radtke still be alive?

The problem with this assumption is that Radtke was found dead on 26 February whereas Mt. Gox filed for bankruptcy protection in Tokyo District Court on 28 February only. If Radtke committed suicide (just a conjecture at this point), did she know of any of the troubles with Mt. Gox (besides the loss of value of the Bitcoins)?

Again, this is doubtful because, as noted by a report, “though First Meta acts as a virtual currency exchange, Bitcoins make up only a fraction of the firm’s overall business.”

“Even if [Radtke] did commit suicide, how do we know it had anything to do with Bitcoin’s troubles? We don’t. And for the record, suicide is rarely the result of any single cause,” wrote Slate.

The Reuters report, however, mentions friends of Radtke who held that she was a huge fan of Bitcoin and had invested in it personally. One of her friends said ‘she had persuaded friends to invest as well. Her Facebook page includes several links to bitcoin stories, mostly celebrating last year’s rise in value’.

“It would be naive to think it (ups and downs of Bitcoin) didn’t have a role (in her death),” said one friend (as quoted in the report). Others contested any role the virtual currency had in her death, the report caviled.

At the moment, there are more questions than there are answers. We will have to wait for the final police report on this matter to establish the truth behind Radtke’s death. Meanwhile, we can only pray for the peace of her soul.

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