Wednesday, January 11, 2012

This is J. Gordon Whitehead

This is the only known photo of Jocelyn Gordon Whitehead, the McGill University student who punched Houdini in his dressing room at the Princess Theater in Montreal on October 22, 1926. Whitehead's blows either started, contributed, or covered-up (lots of debate about this) the appendicitis that would take Houdini's life nine days later on Halloween.

J. Gordon Whitehead circa 1950

This photo comes from The Man Who Killed Houdini by Don Bell, a MUST read for anyone interested in the events of 10/22/26. It shows Whitehead in Rodick's Bookstore in Montreal around 1950. Bell says Whitehead was 31 when he delivered the blows, so this would put him in his mid 50s here. Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz of the Houdini Museum in Scranton posted this image (and have graciously allowed me to share it) on a page of photographs related to Houdini's death on their website at Houdini.org.

Sort of creepily ironic that Whitehead is holding a book here. Returning a borrowed book was how he gained entry to Houdini's dressing room that fateful day. He was also charged with shoplifting books twice in 1928.

According to Bell, the troubled Whitehead died a recluse and hoarder in 1954. He is buried in an unmarked plot in Hawthorn-Dale Cemetery in Montreal, Canada.

UPDATE: Is this J. Gordon Whitehead at McGill in 1926?

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17 comments:

  1. His unmarked grave on "Find A Grave": http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?GRid=11432883&page=gr

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  2. Interesting. Thank you, Joe. Funny they call him a boxer. He wasn't. That's part of the myth. Bell and Smiley both say he was a divinity student.

    You know, as he died in '54, I wonder if he ever crept out into the night to see the Tony Curtis Houdini movie? If so, what thoughts must have been going through his mind?

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  3. Well if we're giving out sites for Whiteheads grave, go here http://deadconjurers.blogspot.com/2011/01/j-gordon-whitehead-man-who-killed.html
    This is my Dead Conjurers site. Interestingly, Whiteheads grave has received more hits than all the magicians graves combined, even Houdini's.

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    1. Thanks Dean. I had forgotten you posted this last year. I've linked to it in my post.

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  4. What's an unknown nothing like Whitehead doing with borrowed books from one of the most famous people in the world? Is there any info concerning how these two met and how he got to borrow books from Houdini? Seems weird that HH knew this guy well enough to let him borrow books!

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  5. You know why no one answered that? Who is asking?
    Anonymous posts don't belong on a site like this.

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  6. Oh, I don't mind Anonymous comments. Some people are still spooked about putting their names online.

    I've wondered about the book(s). Did Whitehead and Houdini meet before? It's just one of the outstanding mysteries.

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  7. Patrick needs to relax. Why would anyone care if someone is called anonymous, Bill, Tom or anything else? I have no issues having my name on here but never thought it necessary. We are talking about incidents that occurred nearly 90 or more years ago not the secrets of the CIA! Many have responded to my posts including you in the past. Anyway.....they must have met prior to Houdinis dressing room if he was returning books to him. On another subject my wife is a nurse for many years and the idea of the punches to the gut causing an eventual infected and ruptured appendix is a real possibility. She said that several doctors she works with had seen this type condition over the years.

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  8. One tiny comment regarding the first line "the only known photo of J.Gordon Whitehead". John, you've actually got an older post on Whitehead and a photo there that was on the cover of some sort of program. So maybe the photo here is the last known photo of Whitehead. http://www.wildabouthoudini.com/2011/02/j-gordon-whitehead-takes-stage.html

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    1. Oh, that's not Whitehead. That's a fictional book with just a pic of some dude. A Whitehead stand-in.

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  9. just imagine how he must have felt, i`m not saying i don't blame him but after the incident he just vanished. Then when he died his grave was unmarked and now it`s just covered in grass :/

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  10. Whitehead allegedly asked Houdini if it was true that he could be punched in the stomach without harm, then unloaded a barrage of blows on the magician's midsection. Why did he ask that particular question? I find it very curious that a man who apparently knew Houdini well enough to borrow his personal property i.e. books from him, would not also know about Houdini's famed ability to withstand blows to the stomach! I find Whitehead's actions to be highly suspicious. We've all heard the speculation that Whitehead may have been a hit-man sent by the mediums that Houdini angered. Perhaps there's something to it after all!

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  11. Was Milbourne Christopher the first to divulge Whitehead's name as the assailant or was it revealed in an earlier Houdini biography? The Christopher book is the only older biography I know of to divulge the name. Many books just referred to him as a "McGill University student."

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  12. A magazine article by Sam Smiley revealed Whitehead's name in 1953.

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    1. Actually, the article in the September 12, 1953 "Weekend Magazine" was by Stanley Handman. But Smiley was the source who revealed Whitehead's name in his interview with Handman. I'd like to read that article. Very important piece of Houdini history.

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  13. Here is the 1953 article from Weekend Magazine. As I have only seen a typewritten transcription, I can only assume that Handman gave his column that week to Smiley. You will recognize descriptions later used by Christopher, Silverman and others.
    http://www.houdinisghost.com/smiley1953.html

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