Houdini exhumation to test for poison
BY ANNMARIE COSTELLA
TUESDAY, MARCH 4, 2008, 2:10 AM
Larry Sloman and William Kalush, authors of The Secret Life of Houdini, theorize that the magician was fatally poisoned by a vengeful clairvoyant on Halloween of 1926, and not felled by a ruptured appendix as long believed.
They want Houdini unearthed from his grave at Machpelah Cemetery in Ridgewood so tests can be performed.
"Houdini's memory would be honored so much more if we knew how he died," Sloman said.
Since their book came out last March, Sloman and Kalush said they have been assembling a team of forensic specialists and exploring legal strategies, though they have yet to file court papers to have Houdini's body exhumed.
"We want to do this the right way," said Sloman. "We don't want to offend anyone."
But their controversial campaign has divided the Houdini family, angered magicians and sparked some nasty accusations.
Sloman and Kalush teamed with Houdini's great-nephew, George Hardeen, who initially told reporters: "Maybe it's time to take a second look."
However, Hardeen now appears to be indifferent. "It's all speculation," he said. "I am not intimately involved in this."
Jeffrey Blood, the grandnephew of Houdini's wife, Bess, is against exhumation.
"Bess Houdini's family feels strongly that there was nothing improper resulting in Houdini's death," he said. "It would be disgraceful to disturb his body based on a theory."
George Schindler, a spokesman for the Society of American Magicians, of which Houdini was president from 1917 to 1926, accused Hardeen of getting involved with the authors for "publicity purposes."
Dick Brooks and Dorothy Dietrich, directors of the Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pa., would love to learn more about Houdini's death, but they do not believe he was poisoned.
"In my opinion, it is a ploy to sell books," Brooks said.
Sloman, Kalush and Hardeen deny the accusations. "It's absolutely reprehensible," Sloman said.
Houdini, born Ehrich Weiss, relished publicity. His death-defying stunts and showmanship made him one of the biggest celebrities of the early 20th century. He was still a top performer when he died at age 52.
Renowned forensics expert Dr. Michael Baden noted there were common poisons available in the 1920s, such as arsenic and strychnine, which can remain in bones and teeth long after death.
Sloman and Kalush plan to keep pushing for exhumation - and hope to put the name Houdini back in the headlines soon.
"I think Houdini would have been delighted with all this attention," Kalush said.
One thing that really jumps out at me in this report is the fact that Sloman and Kalush "have yet to file court papers to have Houdini's body exhumed." Again, hmmm...
UPDATE: Time to bury the Houdini exhumation.
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