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June 5th, 2007

HOUDINI WHODUNNIT

by Chip Maloney

houdinis-grave.jpgTHE BEST-SELLING BOOK BY LARRY SLOMAN AND WILLIAM KALUSH, THE SECRET LIFE OF HOUDINI: THE MAKING OF AMERICA’S FIRST SUPERHERO, HAS SPARKED A DEMAND FOR THE EXHUMATION OF HOUDINI’S BODY.

Even in the certainty that is death, many uncertainties exist in the mysterious and untimely death of legendary escape artist and magician Harry Houdini. So many uncertainties in fact, that in a startling case of life imitating art, bombshell research revealed by authors Larry Sloman and William Kalush in their best-selling book, The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero, has sparked a demand for the exhumation of Houdini’s body from Machpelah Cemetery in Queens for a new hi-tech, forensic investigation into the exact cause of Houdini’s death.

The call for the new investigation is being issued by George Hardeen, the great nephew of Houdini, and is being supported by Anna Thurlow, a descendant of Houdini’s arch-nemesis, Spiritualist and phony medium, Mina “Margery” Crandon. The investigation into the exact cause of Houdini’s death at the age of 52 in 1926 will be undertaken by a prestigious team of forensic experts, toxicologists, pathologists, and anthropologists led by Dr. James Starrs, the David B.Weaver Research Professor of Law at George Washington University and Professor of Forensic Sciences at the University’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Starrs is best known for his work on the cases of Jesse James and “Boston Strangler” Albert De- Salvo, and is the author of A Voice for the Dead.

At a press conference recently assembled in New York City by attorney Joseph Tacopina, who is representing Hardeen and Thurlow in their quest for answers, Dr. Starrs stated:

“Houdini’s death has always been unsettling, especially among those who knew of the many virulent and even violent enemies he had during his lifetime by virtue of his rabid anti-Spiritualist activities. Newly found discoveries reported in The Secret Life of Houdini make his death even more unsettling…and devilishly suspicious.”

Other prominent members of the team assembled for the investigation include Dr. Michael M. Baden, Chief Forensic Pathologist with the New York State Police (ret.); Dr.William Bass III, Professor Emeritus of anthropology at the University of Tennessee; and renowned pathologist Dr. James Frost, former Deputy Chief Medical Examiner of West Virginia. The team will also include many other experts from universities, law enforcement organizations and military agencies across the country.

At the time of his death, Houdini was in the midst of a very public campaign to debunk the Spiritualist movement and it’s most prominent members, many of whom were fraudulent mediums who claimed they could contact the dead. Two of the most powerful and politically well-connected Spiritualists in America were Mina “Margery” Condon and her husband Dr. Le Roi Condon. Houdini had set about to expose “Margery” as a fraud, and in the course of his investigation, learned that several young boys adopted by Dr. Condon had gone missing. Houdini contacted the Secret Service to begin an investigation, and since the boys had all been adopted in England, he also asked one of his contacts in England’s Parliament to begin a probe of Dr. Condon’s activities there.

According to authors Sloman and Kalush, “Houdini’s attack on the Condons and other Spiritualists was the motive for murder.” In addition, no autopsy was ever performed on Houdini’s body, and new medical evidence indicates that it is not possible to rupture an appendix with a blow to the region (the currently accepted cause of Houdini’s death). The Condons were fervently supported by Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, himself an ardent Spiritualist and whose wife, Lady Doyle, was the titular leader of the Spiritualist movement. Doyle led a relentless and orchestrated campaign to permanently co-opt Houdini’s legacy, and in turn, Houdini’s vicious comments about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle made front-page headlines.

Correspondence that has not been seen in over 80 years and found by Sloman and Kalush in the Condons’ personal papers during their research for the book indicate that Spiritualists in both England and America threatened to murder Houdini for over a year, and historically, their preferred method for eliminating enemies was the use of poison. Both Houdini and his wife suffered numerous hospital visits and bouts with what they thought was food-borne or ptomaine poisoning, and Houdini acknowledged to many of his friends and associates that his crusades against fraudulent mediums was putting his life in jeopardy. In the months before his death, he had even taken to packing a Derringer, and instructed other members of his psychic debunking team to do the same.

“The cause of Houdini’s death has been shrouded in mystery since 1926, and exhumation and re-examination of his remains along with the application of today’s advanced knowledge of toxicology, DNA, X-rays, pathology and other forensic sciences should answer this and other questions,” said Dr. Michael Baden. “Eighty years after he died, Houdini will indeed demonstrate that he can contact us from the grave.”

Kalush and Sloman say they are humbled that the years they spent researching their book may be shedding some light on a heretofore hidden chapter of history, and that it’s very exciting to see their work being validated by some of the top scientists in the world. We all anxiously await the results.

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