Craig Wright Dave Kleiman death
Bitcoin,  People

EXCLUSIVE: Cocaine, benzos, booze and a bullet hole—the mysterious, tragic death of the man Craig Wright says helped him create Bitcoin

With a $10 billion lawsuit looming, we asked a medical professional to look at Dave Kleiman’s autopsy in order to shed light on moves by Wright’s legal team to paint his friend and partner as too ill and drugged up to code the first cryptocurrency

Possible Bitcoin pioneer Dave Kleiman had been using cocaine, pills, and alcohol before he died, according to a Palm Beach medical examiner. There was also a bullet hole in his mattress.

A close friend and one-time partner of Wright, Kleiman has been called a brilliant computer forensics specialist. He has also been called a co-creator of Bitcoin by Wright, and would have been capable of the technical side of building Bitcoin.

Kleiman’s death is at the heart of the $10 billion bitcoin lawsuit that will likely prove once and for all if nChain chief scientist and Bitcoin SV creator Craig Wright is also Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto, as he claims. The vast majority of the cryptocurrency industry considers Wright a liar.

A sad end

The circumstances of Kleiman’s death are mysterious, tragic, and ugly. 

Dave Kleiman (via Wikimedia Commons)
Dave Kleiman (via Wikimedia Commons)

He died alone and in poverty sometime before April 27, 2013, when his body was discovered by a friend. 

Kleiman died of a heart attack at age 46. The investigators who found his body several days later described a filthy house. They found open bottles of alcohol and bloody feces tracked around the house.

Kleiman had been confined to a wheelchair since a 1995 motorcycle accident, and had been hospitalized frequently before his death. He had recently checked himself out of a free Veterans Administration hospital, against the advice of doctors. Much of the end of his life was spent in a free VA hospital.

Dave Kleiman’s half-brother and heir, Ira Kleiman, told the court Dave should have had around 320,000 bitcoin—then worth more than $40 million—when he died. Yet, his house was in foreclosure and he had been refused a tiny payday loan days before he died.

In a recent court filing Wright suggested Kleiman’s brother Ira bought a $400,000 house with bitcoins found on Kleiman’s computer after his death. Ira Kleiman is suing Wright for half of the 1.1 million bitcoins the pair would have mined if—as Wright claims—he and Dave Kleiman were the brains behind the first cryptocurrency. 

Guns and drugs

According to a toxicology report, Dave Kleiman had used the tranquilizers including benzodiazepine (a class that includes Xanax, Ativan, and Valium) and nordiazepam, as well as remnants of cocaine, in the days before his death. The autopsy reported a blood alcohol level slightly above .10%—legally drunk. 

Investigators also found a fully loaded gun. Someone had recently fired another gun into the bed’s mattress, but no shell casings from that weapon were recovered.

That leaves a lot of mysteries. 

A June 2016 article in The London Review of Books, “The Satoshi Affair,” says that unnamed sources close to Kleiman claimed he was a drug user and online gambling addict. 

It adds, “there is evidence he was associated with Silk Road, the online marketplace for all things illegal.”

The article also alleges that before he came out publicly as Satoshi Nakamoto, Wright was visited in Australia by Ross Ulbricht, founder of the Silk Road dark web marketplace. 

Still, cocaine is a surprising thing to find in the blood of a middle-aged cybersecurity expert and former Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy

So, in an effort to get the best information on what role drugs played in Kleiman’s death, I spoke with a nurse practitioner who is my primary care provider. 

To allow us both to speak freely I will include sources as well as our conversational conjecture, but for legal reasons I won’t name this person.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Was he capable?

Recently released depositions make clear that Craig Wright’s legal team intends to make Dave Kleiman’s medical conditions—and the drugs used to treat them—a key issue in the lawsuit seeking half of Satoshi’s bitcoins. And, perhaps even more importantly, half of the intellectual property of Bitcoin.

Among the reasons many prominent people in the bitcoin and cryptocurrency community do not believe Craig Wright’s claim to be the pseudonymous Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto is that he did not have the coding chops to turn the idea into a white paper. One strong answer to that has been that Dave Kleiman did. Now Wright’s attorney’s have challenged that core argument, saying that Kleiman did not even know the programming language C++, in which Bitcoin was written. 

More unkindly, they have targeted his ability to have done anything as complex as that due to prescription drugs that he had been taking for nearly two decades—notably Valium, which a doctor testified could have affected his memory.

Wright’s lawyers told the court, “Dr. Stewart MacIntyre’s opinions are not only relevant but important for a jury to hear because they go to a core fact of Dave Kleiman’s life during the period in which plaintiffs assert that W&K Info Defense Research, LLC was actively mining and developing valuable intellectual property and without which the jury’s understanding of this critical figure in the case will be incomplete.”

This is the man, remember, who Wright says he entrusted with locking away the private key codes to that now-$10 billion Bitcoin cache in a series of encrypted Tulip Trust documents

In eulogizing Kleiman in a television interview, Wright says Dave Kleiman “was trusted” by the many people he helped. 

And, Wright added, “even when he was in his hospital bed, towards the end, he gave webinars.”

Kleiman’s attorneys also smell another attack on their client coming. In trying to get the Dr. MacIntyre’s testimony thrown out they complained that it “blames David’s death, at least in part, on a ‘lack of care by family, friends, or medical personnel after his discharge.’”

Among other reasons, they said it should be stricken because it “is a back-door attempt to prejudice, [to] make the jury ‘punish’ Ira for alleged familial failings. Oddly, Dr. Wright himself does not think Dave died as a result of lack of visitation—he claims it was suicide.”

Could Dave Kleiman have been half of Satoshi Nakamoto? Judge for yourself.

The medical perspective

Brendan Sullivan: Dave Kleiman’s medical report said he had .107 ethanol. Does that compare to a drunk driver who has a breathalyzer reading of .10?

Nurse Practitioner: Yes. At .08 it is illegal to drive in many states.

There were some prescription benzos. Could that have mixed with the alcohol in a bad way? A Marine friend of mine gets benzos from the VA and he said they warned him not to mix with alcohol because of blackouts. Does this tell us anything about his mental state at the time?

Benzo might only be enough to make someone mildly sleepy or relaxed. That much Benzo isn’t enough, even combined with alcohol, to make a significant impact. What David had in his system is no different than if we checked my blood after having some wine while I clean my apartment. A few glasses, of course, because I hate cleaning.

How long does cocaine stay detectable? As in, could he have done some a long time ago and it was still there? Or, if he was at a party the week before would it still be detectable?

The urine tox[icology] report uses a qualitative—positive or negative—cocaine test instead of a quantitative test that gives us a specific amount. Because of this, we don’t know the exact level of cocaine in his urine except that it exceeded the low limit of detection (0.150 mg/L) for this particular test and lab. So, it is there, but not likely a significant amount as there is no evidence of cocaine in his blood. The coke was on the way out of his system which means he may have done the drug as long as 10 days prior to his death. 

New research shows cocaine takes longer to leave our bodies than we originally thought. Especially if someone has underlying health issues like Mr. Kleiman.

What does the official literature say about what we can tell about these reports and drug use? 

Particularly this from the National Institute of Health (NIH):  “From several single-dose studies, the assumption has been that most of the cocaine is eliminated within a few days of its administration, i.e., the half‐life is on the order of several hours In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that the benzoylecgonine metabolite can be detected [by a urine test] up to 10 days after a cocaine binge. In contrast, other studies have described longer detection times after cocaine use. The NIH report said, “In conclusion… elimination of cocaine is initially very rapid followed by a slower phase taking many days to weeks.”


Maybe he wasn’t [using cocaine] when he died, but he was drunk. The small amount of benzo in his system may or may not have impaired his neuro functioning. Depends on his tolerance for the drug.

[Editor’s Note: Given that Kleiman had been prescribed Valium for 18 years at the time of his death, his tolerance would likely have been high. In addition, the autopsy describes the nordiazepam in Kleiman’s system as being in the “therapeutic range”—suggesting it was prescribed]

Does this report look different to you than it would to a layperson?

Interestingly, I am working at John Jay College of Criminal Justice right now on a side hustle. I have access to professors who teach crime scene investigation and all aspects of this sort of thing. Not medical people. But people with an interesting perspective who work in the biz. 

Can you walk me through what a health professional sees when they get a report like this?

I take care of living patients, not dead ones. So I would approach this differently than a medical examiner. The things I wanted to know were: “Do you have any info about how long he used meds/drugs? Underlying conditions? I see he was 46. Single or married? There are lots of factors that impact how much someone’s system can handle before they die. Or if it was the cause of death—stopping breathing type of [overdose]—or if the drugs exacerbated an underlying condition, like heart arrhythmia.”

What I know from cop shows is that these medical reports just outline what we can learn, not what we can prove.

The police report and full medical examiners report helped a lot. But I would love to get my hands on his medical records from the VA. That would fill in a lot of gaps. 

It is interesting to think what a medical professional thinks of us. A Medical Examiner’s report at the time of death is much different from, say, your medical chart over time. For example, if you told a doctor you wanted to quit smoking and improve your body mass index over time. How would you talk to another medical professional about this?

My first thought reading the cover of the ME report was, “This guy [was] a train wreck.” That’s what we call patients with a lot of problems—the sum of the problems put them at high risk for negative outcomes. He had a lot of significant health issues. 

Some people decide for themselves when it’s time to go. He had money problems that he didn’t tell others about and his house was in foreclosure. He didn’t go to a private medical clinic, he went to the VA. Is there a way to tell from this report whether Dave had a habit or if this one just one night of partying?

As I read the ME report I see, “The nasal septum is intact.” The nasal septum of heavy coke users can be compromised or have a hole. There was no fatty liver so he wasn’t a raging drinker.

I do a lot of work with people who use prosthetics. Did the report say he had any health problems related to his use of a wheelchair?

Bedsores on his feet and buttocks mean that he spent a lot of time in his chair and didn’t reposition himself. Poor health and nutrition contributes to bedsores and makes them difficult to heal. He had deep and large ulcers. [Those] would likely require skin grafting at some point to repair. Did you know that [actor] Christopher Reeves—Superman—died of [an] infection related to his bedsores?

[Editor’s Note: Reeves wrote a blog post describing his own battle with pressure sores. In it, he called them “My nemesis.”]

Wow. I did not know that. Our ableist culture doesn’t understand what it’s like very well. We keep talking about the physical aspects of the report. But what about the mental stress of this? We have talked to some people who use wheelchairs and a bad bedsore can be a death sentence. Is it possible that when Dave checked himself out he was in a depression? 

The thought about him knowing it is time to die crossed my mind.

[Editor’s Note: I spoke to a friend who has used a wheelchair for 35 years. He described serious bedsores as something he has “dreaded.” The skin grafting recovery period can take 30-60 days on your stomach in a hospital. When Christopher Reeves died, I recall him being very shaken. He said at the time that if Reeves, with the best medical care money could buy, died due to complications from bedsores, it could be impossible for anyone to prevent. He also told me that if Dave Kleiman left the hospital with “deep and large ulcers”—which he couldn’t feel but would lead to severe infections if untreated—it likely meant he had decided to “go out on his own terms” and was self-medicating with drugs and alcohol.]

But the medical examiners did not say this was a suicide.

I see that his LAD (left anterior descending) artery is severely calcified. When I was a cardiac nurse we referred to the LAD as the “widow maker.” Any problem in the LAD can cause sudden death in an otherwise healthy person. 

Sometimes these reports tell a story to the people reading them. What is that story to you?

If he was in the hospital, and checked himself out, he may [have known] that he had a terminal condition. Maybe he wanted to party with his friends one last time and die at home? Maybe he was being treated for a GI [gastrointestinal] bleed at the V.A. [Editor’s Note: There was blood in his stool.] And the hospital experience was so degrading he didn’t want to be readmitted when [he] started bleeding again. And wanted to die instead. 

His drinking could have caused a GI bleed. It isn’t estimated in the reports how much blood he may have lost. Blood loss can make someone’s blood pressure low and elevate their heart rate. The elevated heart rate can evolve into an arrhythmia and cardiac arrest. Or the calcification in the LAD could have lead to cardiac arrest. 


The GI bleed probably caused the enlarged spleen. However, if his spleen was enlarged due to lymphoma or leukemia, and not the GI bleed, he might have just wanted to die. Spleens can become enlarged if he had liver disease. But, his liver looked okay at the autopsy. His medical records would show us if the liver enzymes ALT and AST were elevated. But we don’t have those. 

So his liver was in good shape. What’s up with his spleen?

Spleens can also be enlarged by infections and HIV. Again, no medical records. 

There are other risk factors with that.

Oh wow. He was only 46 so that is noteworthy.

He had a gallstone that could have caused significant pain or it could have been asymptomatic. Hard to know without the medical records. Likely caused by obesity and minimal exercise.    

Are drugs and alcohol as much of a health risk as obesity?

The LAD calcifications are most concerning. 

I can show you this. Investigator Doug Jenkins made a report about how he was found. There was a fully loaded gun found at the scene.

I am confused about his fully loaded gun. And a bullet hole in the bed from a different gun. 

Maybe he was hemorrhaging [from a GI bleed], made worse by drinking, and was ready to kill himself. Then he had a sudden cardiac infarction [a heart attack]. 

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Brendan Sullivan is a writer, producer, and author of the memoir Rivington Was Ours: Lady Gaga, the Lower East Side, and the Prime of Our Lives. Disclosure: he owns cryptocurrencies. Follow him on Twitter.