March 23, 2007 / 6:51 PM / in 12 years

Kin to seek OK next week for Houdini's exhumation

Forensic scientist Jim Starrs speaks at a news conference in New York March 21, 2007. Houdini's great-nephew wants to exhume the escape artist's body to determine if enemies poisoned his renowned relative for debunking their bogus claims of contact with the dead. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Harry Houdini’s great-nephew said on Friday he will seek permission next week to have the legendary escape artist’s body exhumed from a New York cemetery and tested for evidence he was murdered.

George Hardeen told reporters he became interested in the circumstances surrounding Houdini’s death in 1926 after publication of a book last year that said the magician’s enemies may have poisoned him.

“His death shocked the entire nation, if not the world. Now maybe it’s time to take a second look,” Hardeen, believed to be Houdini’s closest living relative, said by telephone from Arizona.

Houdini’s death in Detroit at age 52 was attributed to a ruptured appendix that may have been caused by a punch to the stomach. No autopsy was performed and the body was embalmed, shipped to New York City and buried in Machpelah Cemetery in the borough of Queens.

William Kalush and Larry Sloman said in their 2006 biography, “The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero,” that there was substantial evidence that “spiritualists” linked to Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had wanted Houdini dead.

Houdini had worked to expose their claims of being able to speak with the dead and received death threats from at least one prominent leader of the group.

Anna Thurlow, the great-granddaughter of two of figures in the circle possibly linked to Houdini’s death, has said she supports the exhumation.

A team of forensic scientists led by professor James Starrs of George Washington University has agreed to examine Houdini’s remains.

One theory the forensic team will test is whether Houdini was poisoned with mercury or other heavy metals, which can cause appendicitis, Starrs said.

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