Grandnephew seeks to 'set record straight' about Houdini's death

More than 80 years after Harry Houdini's sudden, surprising death, his grandnephew is seeking to have his body exhumed to determine the true cause of his death.

More than 80 years after Harry Houdini's sudden, surprising death, his grandnephew is seeking to have his body exhumed to determine the true cause of his death.

George Hardeen, whose grandfather Theodore was the famed magician and escape artist's brother, is spearheading an attempt tore-examineHoudini's remains using modern-day forensics to determine if — as many have rumoured for years —he was murdered.

"Papers will be filed in court Monday," Hardeen told CBC News by phone on Friday from Tuba City, Arizona, where the former print reporter currently works as a spokesperson for the president and vice-president of the Navajo Nation.

The next step will be "to see if permission is granted for exhumation."

Attorney Joseph Tacopino, who is assisting Hardeen with the legal hurdles surrounding the proposed exhumation, revealed details of the project at a news conference in New York on Friday.

"There was a motive to murder Harry Houdini and it was suppressed and covered up,"Tacopino said.

Houdini, whose real name was Erich Weisz, died in Detroit at the age of 52 on Oct. 31, 1926. He was buried in Machpelah Cemetery in Queens, N.Y.

The commonly held story surrounding Houdini's death attributes his demise to a ruptured appendix that may have been caused by being repeatedly punched in the stomach by a McGill University studentafter a show in Montreal,in a test ofHoudini's reputedphysical strength.

However, speculation about the circumstances of his passing have been fuelled by the fact that no autopsy was ever performed on Houdini, who was reportedly in extremely good health, and that a death certificate wasn't filed until three weeks after he died — and after he had been embalmed in Detroit, shipped to New York and buried in Queens.

In 2006, authors William Kalush and Larry Sloman published the biography The Secret Life of Houdini, which raised the issue again.

The book suggested that enemies, likely members of the Spiritualist movement, poisoned the magician because he often used his time on stage to debunk their fraudulent claims of being able to talk to the dead.

The book details a 1924 letter by Spiritualism devotee and Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle that threatens Houdini would "get his just desserts."

Because it has been more than 80 years since his granduncle's death, Hardeen admitted he thinks there isn't likely much to be done if it is determined that Houdini was indeed poisoned, "except set the record straight," he said.

"It's a curiosity to me, just as it is to anyone else."

With files from the Associated Press.