Thursday, October 27, 2022

The mystery serum

It's the lynchpin of the Houdini murder conspiracy. The story goes that in final days of Houdini's life, when he was showing improvement, a shadowy outsider, sometimes identified as Dr. George Lefevre, came in and administered a mysterious serum. This caused Houdini's relapse and death. Clearly murder!

Hollywood is a chief offender here, with The Travel Channel's Mysteries at the Museum literally reenacting the scene with a mysterious black clad figure creeping into Houdini's room with a syringe. Watch out Harry! He looks French Canadian!

But here's an article that ran 96 years ago today that injects a little reality into the story of the mystery serum.

Baraboo Daily News, Oct. 27, 1926

This article shows that the serum was administered by Houdini's own doctors right after his operation. It was not administered by an outsider and not in the final days. Furthermore, this article states that Dr. George Lefevre was not even in Detroit when the serum was used. He came later in the week to report on the serum's effects. 

It is true that the serum was experimental and we don't know what was in it. But I expect it was a cocktail of ingredients believed to fight infection in this world before antibiotics. It also may have helped. Houdini did show some improvement by Thursday and his temperature dropped below 100 for the first time. But he relapsed the following day and a second operation was performed for paralysis of the bowels. That operation was not successful and, as we know, Houdini died on Halloween.

I know this isn't as sexy as murder. But I'm willing to let the facts get in the way of a good story.


  1. I would assume Harry gave permission for that experimental serum. He must have known he was in trouble.

  2. Great article. And Yes, serum administered 10/25 right after his first operation. According to NYT articles, ,Dr Lefevre was summoned 10/25 (Mon.), arrived 10/26 (Tues) and first saw Houdini 10/27 (Wed).

  3. We know that Houdinis doctor at Grace Hospital, Dr. Charles Kennedy, left his archives and they still exist today. Would these papers reveal more about this serum?

    1. Thank you for the link. I wasn't aware of this archive. Looks like the majority is from after Houdini's death.

    2. The doctor had a very long career and his archives represent that career. If read there is a folder concerning his treatment of Houdini. Sounds like if one had a valid reason to view this information it would be granted.