The Houdini Murder Theory

Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.

Postby Iceprincess » 03/22/09 01:39 PM

The Houdini Murder Theory

Today it is popular to talk about the Houdini murder theory but I remember when it was not and know a man who took a lot of flak for it when he introduced the very first written report on the murder theory. It was escape artist Norman Bigelow who published the first item ever written on the subject called "Death Blow" in 1983 and it has been on sale ever since. Todays works are based on that manuscript and although new research has been introduced much of the theory is an exact copy of Bigelow's work.
Norman Bigelow's teacher The Great Reno told Bigelow that Houdini was murdered. At the time Bigelow was about sixteen and more interested in handcuffs and straightjackets but he kept his eye on the ball and did his research and spoke to many old time escape artist who backed up Reno's story. When Bigelow started to suggest around Boston Houdini was murdered he was approached by Joan Silverman who was Sophie Rosenblatts niece. Sophie was Houdinis nurse and was there when the blows were struck. Joan set up a meeting with Sophie for Norm. Sophie said it was a brutal beating and that mediums were behind it and she told Norm the whole sorted story. Sophie herself was threatened and stayed quiet until Bigelow went public. Walter B Gibson also backed Bigelow in an article about the murder theory and Walter Gibson knew Houdini well. Death Blow is still available at www.bigelowphilofophy.com
I happen to know Bigelow did not put everything he learned about the whole affair in Death Blow. Norm talked to a lot of old time escape artist who believed Houdini was murdered and he held back on some information given to him by Sophie and Walter.
I have tried to get Norm to write more on several occasions as he is moving up in age. I think what he has to say is very important but Norm is just about a total recluse and only talks to about twelve people. I can't tell the story because it would be second hand. When I asked him why he held back the information, he said, "because you know someday someone will copy my work and I want an ace." Also at the time Death Blow was written Norman was given a hard time even threatened, not that Norm has any fear of threats, but he said when the time is right and there is interest, I will speak.
I call Norm once a month to convince him now is the time but Norm says perhaps I will write it up and leave it behind.
He seems to have moved on to other things and at the risk of being crude I fear he may pass away and we will never know what else Sophie and the old timers told him.
Believe me when I say there is much more to the story. Bigelow was once told by officials in one magic society to leave it alone. When Bigelow said what is the matter with the truth and that he did not believe the story we have been told, he was told, "what makes you think we want to know the truth." A message was then sent to him by his own agent that some people liked the story just the way it was and if he Bigelow kept it up he would be buried out there with Harry under the monument. I have written this and enlisted the aid of his daughter to try to convince him to tell the whole story. His reply so far is, "I am working on picking a high security cuff that no escape artist alive can pick and when I am done we will talk."
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Postby David Alexander » 03/22/09 05:58 PM

I thought Sophie Rosenblatt was Houdini's nurse when he was in the hospital. What evidence is there for Houdini having a private nurse with him apart from when he was in the hospital?

How did the nurse happen to be present when Houdini was beaten, as she claims?

Was there another beating, other than the one by the student or is the claim that the punch by the student backstage when Harry wasn't prepared a fabrication?

Houdini exposed mediums for years. Is there any theory why it took them so long to get around to knocking him off?

Another problem: if Normal Bigelow was 16 when Houdini died that would suggest he was born in or around 1910. That means he is approaching his 100th birthday. Some one would have to demonstrate to me that his memory and mental faculties are still in good working order.

Then there's the idea that he didn't write about this until 1983, 57 years after Houdini's death. Why did he wait so long?

You don't want to tell the story "second hand" but unless Bigelow has evidence of the murder, all he is doing is repeating second hand stories that other people told him. That's not evidence. It's called "hearsay" and while there are exceptions, hearsay is not generally admissable in court.
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Postby Iamslick » 03/22/09 07:35 PM

Bigelow was not 16 when Houdini died, he was 16 when Reno told him the story. What evidence about Sophie being his private nurse. The word of herself, her son Harry, her niece Joan and Walter Gibson for a few. As for why it took mediums took so long, mediums thought they could convert Houdini just like main stream fundamentalist think they can convert everyone. Houdini was the big fish, if they caught him,they could hook millions. Unlike recent writers Bigelow really knew people like Sophie,Gibson and others and has Joan Silvermans letter to him as well as letters from Gibson and Reno. Christophers Untold Story was the first evidence of what happened, HH and the student were in an argument over the Bible. Now there is a book that got many killed. If you have not read Death Blow you don't know Bigelows position on this. As for second hand info I go back to Bigelow knew the nurse, Gibson and many others. Old time escape artist wondered the same question you did, what took so long, but they wondered because they knew how hated he was even in magic. I site The Houdini codes by Bill Rauscher that prove that. Rauscher is another friend of Bigelows and owns all the actual notes of the Medium Ford and also notes and letter of Beatrice. Every day magicians tell stories and write events of other magicians because of what family and friends of the magicians share with them, are they all liars? You have no idea what is really going on and it is still going on today.
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Postby David Alexander » 03/22/09 09:29 PM

I am aware that Sophie Rosenblatt was Houdini's nurse as it was reported in one Houdini biography I read, but is there evidence that she was his private nurse outside of the hospital? That's one of the questions I was asking.

Where did the beating take place and how did Nurse Rosenblatt come to be a witness? Why weren't the police involved?

I accused no one of lying as you assert. I asked questions for clarification. You clarified one error of mine in that Bigelow was 16 when he was told by Reno, not when Houdini died.

Magician's families do indeed provide stories. Some are simple histories that are backed up by newspaper accounts, but occasionally others go beyond. Where possible, facts should be determined and stories checked out. That's how one should approach the writing of history. I know for I have written history.

You would be wise to remember a saying that should be applied in this case: Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.

Stories are not evidence.
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Postby magicam » 03/22/09 10:30 PM

Iamslick wrote: As for why it took mediums took so long, mediums thought they could convert Houdini just like main stream fundamentalist think they can convert everyone. Houdini was the big fish, if they caught him, they could hook millions. Christophers Untold Story was the first evidence of what happened, HH and the student were in an argument over the Bible. You have no idea what is really going on and it is still going on today.


Davids probably an expert in a thing or two, probably knows something about many things, and probably knows little to nothing about even more things. That's how it is for all of us.

The only way to learn about something is to inquire about it (reading, asking questions, etc.). David asked some questions. That shows hes willing to look at the evidence. But "evidence" has varying degrees of credibility (one of his points, I believe).

Im no magic history expert, but what is the source for the claim that the student and Houdini were arguing about the Bible?

Regarding why it took mediums so long to murder Houdini, I suppose one could think of a few theories for that, but the idea that mediums thought they could convert Houdini seems one of the most far-fetched possible what had Houdini done or said that could possibly have given mediums any sane hope that they could convert him?

If you believe that the evidence supports Bigelows theory, by all means please discuss it, preferably with specific, concrete and verifiable information. But responding to a mans inquiries however skeptically couched which seem reasonably calculated to suss out the veracity of Bigelows theory with a youre ignorant retort not only needlessly affirms the obvious (if a guys asking legitimate questions, he probably is ignorant thats why hes asking questions), but it also does little to give credence to Bigelows theory.
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Postby Eric Fry » 03/23/09 12:45 AM

Milbourne Christopher's biography of Houdini says Houdini asked Rosenblatt to care for Bess when she came down with ptomaine poisoning in Providence in October.

Christopher said Rosenblatt had previously worked for Bess as a nurse. He said Rosenblatt was with Houdini, who had a broken ankle, when he spoke at McGill University. So it looks like she was around before Detroit.

Obviously, I don't know anything more than what I've read, but there were at least three eyewitnesses to the punches. They did not describe the sort of prolonged beating that an attacker might hope would cause death. The witnesses do not appear to have ever gone to the police, at the time or after Houdini's death, to report the attack as a crime.

Punching a person a few times in the stomach, no matter how hard, is not a reliable way of killing someone. In fact, it rarely causes death. In legal terms, murder requires the intent to kill. On the face of it, it's not very likely that Whitehead intended to kill Houdini.

Biographers have speculated that Houdini may have been suffering from appendicitis before the attack. If that was the case, it was truly a fluke that the blows contributed to his death.

Don Bell, a Canadian reporter, wrote a very interesting detailed book about Houdini's last days and the background of Gordon Whitehead, the attacker. Bell, who is now dead, found some evidence of three separate attacks on Houdini in Montreal.

But even if those all occurred, they might not indicate a concerted effort by spiritualists to hurt Houdini, let alone murder him. They seem to have been attacks by students who heard Houdini boast about his resistance to pain at a McGill lecture.

I think the most likely explanation is Houdini unintentionally caused his own death by not having a serious illness treated by doctors.
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Postby David Alexander » 03/23/09 09:42 AM

Thanks to Eric for the clarification. It's been decades since I read the Christopher biography and I couldn't recall the details.

A Google search brings up Jocelyn Gordon Whitehead as the person who threw the punch or punches. Whitehead is described both as a "divinity student" and "boxer" or "boxing student." If the description of his birth date is correct he was 30 at the time of the incident.

See: http://www.fact-archive.com/encyclopedi ... _Whitehead

The whole matter seems straightforward without a conspiracy to kill Houdini. As Eric observes, punching someone in the stomach is a poor way to murder someone.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 03/23/09 10:31 AM

Given the latest in sonic technology I'm almost surprised nobody has pointed some voiceovers at the sance crowd at Halloween.

Okay, what would people do if Houdini's spirit did say something about all this?

IE what would happen if there were sufficient (even circumstantial) evidence to make a claim of conspiracy and if so why not put the Vatican behind it?
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Postby Eric Fry » 03/23/09 12:08 PM

It's safe to assume Houdini's ghost would be a chronic liar. That would be hilarious, wouldn't it? Ghosts do exist but they're the same unreliable people that living people are.

You know, I can imagine some circumstances in which Whitehead could be said to have murdered Houdini.

I don't know what Canada's laws were in 1926, but in some places you can be charged with murder if your intent is merely to inflict grevious bodily harm and the victim dies.

An interesting point is we don't know what Whitehead would have done if his attack hadn't been interrupted. What damage would he have done if he was alone with Houdini?

Also, there are types of criminal homicide that fall short of murder, such as negligent homicide. And in some places you can be charged with murder if you're committing one crime and a person accidentally dies because of the crime. Could Whitehead at least have been charged with assault and some type of homicide?

I've never heard of a Canadian criminal investigation about the Houdini matter. I suspect that the eyewitnesses saying that Houdini gave permission to be punched (and he seems to have broadcast that challenge at McGill) pretty much eliminated a criminal charge.

Still, it's possible that Whitehead took advantage of Houdini's offer to really try to hurt him.
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Postby Iamslick » 03/23/09 12:12 PM

I would like to clear up one thing, Normans position is not that the punches killed Houdini but rather that mediums killed Houdini,exactly how he dosn't claim to know. As to Houdini dying from not taking care of himself he said, "as a rule I would believe that, he had a fever, a broken ankle and waited until he got all the way to Grace hospital before he would be treated and that well may be the case."
But he added, "although it took me years to be convinced of murder, I am, from talking to people who knew him and from a life time of study of how some religions operate but I am not going to open that area in a magic forum." I would like to add this, Norm was told by Gibson, Sohie, Reno, Many Weltman and several others to research one area that has never been checked into.It could be done, it could shed some light on the subject. Bigelow's reply, "I am one guy, I can't do it all alone, I put the theory out there. I have other stuff to do like get escape information out there for the young, like my series Talks which I hope will save some lives. If someone is serious about research and wants to do it I might give them an area to check and and get all the stuff off my chest that Sohie, and others told me that I have held back." I would like to add, there are other legends about Houdini that seen seperate but may tie into the murder theory. Norm was told at sixteen by Reno, "they shot him up and killed him." Years later he was told by Manny Weltman, "they shot him up and killed him." I just want to find a way Norm will agree to tell everything he was told about this. I need to find the right people. Atleast we should get the rest of the story from him, he is a very gaurded man. He won't talk about any ideas he is working and he won't let other escape artist tell him about ideas that they are working on.This includes his best friends who get so frustrated with him. Thank you. George Warner
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 03/23/09 03:05 PM

"although it took me years to be convinced of murder, I am, from talking to people who knew him and from a life time of study of how some religions operate but I am not going to open that area in a magic forum." I would like to add this, Norm was told by Gibson, Sohie, Reno, Many Weltman and several others to research one area that has never been checked into.It could be done, it could shed some light on the subject. Bigelow's reply, "I am one guy, I can't do it all alone, I put the theory out there...



Unlike a story or conjecture, a theory is a hypothesis which is not only testable but has survived a generation of testing by both the person who proposed it but also by their most clever peers seeking to find fault.

Or we could go with 'magical thinking' which is close to fairy tales but uses names of people who may have actually been part of the past as reflected in newspapers which sometimes described things which other living people feel really happened.
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Reason: Houdini, like Aunt Jemimah but for handcuffs.
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Postby Eric Fry » 03/23/09 03:45 PM

Sorry if my comments about the punches missed the point. I assumed the murder rumor was related to his known cause of death, peritonitis.

If you think the mediums murdered Houdini, does that mean you don't think he died of peritonitis, or do you think he did die of peritonitis but the mediums caused it? Or maybe just before he died a natural death of peritonitis, the mediums murdered him?

I wonder if the murder rumor is being confused with the rumor dating from shortly after Houdini's death that experimental serums given in the hospital prematurely caused his death, which was certain to happen soon thereafter, anyway.
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Postby David Alexander » 03/23/09 10:05 PM

I was about to post something similar to Eric's last paragraph. Houdini died years before antibiotics were developed and available commercially. See here for details of Houdini's death:
http://www.ballvase.com/tfrank/weblog/2 ... tuary.html

I would not find it unreasonable that people who did not understand what was done to Houdini would think he was "shot up" and that the serum was the proximate cause of death. Apparently, it wasn't.

And here's another article that mentions the experimental serum:
http://www.intervalmagic.com/houdinimus ... 10.26.html

In doing a bit more digging I found that the serum was announced but never identified, nor was it logged into Houdini's hospital chart, according to this nursing site that discusses historic trauma:
http://nursing.advanceweb.com/editorial ... ?cc=101425

It also seems from other reports I've read that the serum did reduce his fever but a second operation was performed to relieve paralysis of the bowels" whatever that means. Two days later he died.

This site discusses Houdini's will and how Bess collected on the double indemnity clause from a policy with New York Life, but she had to fight to collect. See: http://www.myhistorymuseum.org/houdini/HHlastwill.asp

Finally, on peritonitis itself, here's what Wikipedia says:

If properly treated, typical cases of surgically correctable peritonitis (e.g. perforated peptic ulcer, appendicitis, and diverticulitis) have a mortality rate of about <10% in otherwise healthy patients, which rises to about 40% in the elderly, and/or in those with significant underlying illness, as well as in cases that present late (after 48h). If untreated, generalised peritonitis is almost always fatal.
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Postby hicko » 03/23/09 11:24 PM

I met Bigelow after a lecture at Boston SAM right after Death Blow came out. He never believed the shot the doctors gave Houdini was what killed Harry. He knew people who believed it. He believed quite different, that Houdini was being followed for a time around his death and some one other than the doctors finished him off. I know he met the nurse because I knew the people who turned the niece on to Bigelow, Boston magicians.
Bigelow talked a bit about more he was going to write. I think the nurse is a better witness than anyone now who simply dosn't believe the theory. Anyway I am another one who wants Bigelow to tell everything that the nurse and Gibson said so at least people can have a look at that information. This information should at least go on the RECORD because it really does tie in with other parts of the HH story which now seems not related. I am one of quite a few who want him to finish what he started. No one else has given the nurse a voice. Hicko
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 03/23/09 11:34 PM

Gee, do I think we have someone posting under more than one name on this thread?
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 03/23/09 11:44 PM

LOL! This one had troll written all over it. I'm glad I stayed on the sidelines for this one. ;)
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Postby Kevin Connolly » 03/24/09 12:56 AM

Now it's time. Happy Birthday Harry. :grin:

And let me be the first to wish you well for your April 6th birthday. That one counts too. ;)
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Postby Iceprincess » 03/25/09 03:22 PM

My father says you will find the discussion of the student and Houdini and the Bible in Christophers book as well as the nurse said so.

Christopher also wrote his book by talking to people who knew Houdini, so do we discount all that second hand knowledge? my father is not confused about the punches or the two injections given to Houdini.

He does not beleive the punches killed Houdini or the doctors unless it was an accident. He does however believe someone on the staff did kill him. This is based on talks with his nurse, Gibson and what Reno had to say, but mostly his nurse.

Regardless of what people have to say about second hand reports I am going to try to get my father to write up or let me write up everything the nurse and Gibson had to say and people can decide for themselves if they want to believe it.
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