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The Man Who Killed Houdini Paperback – September 28, 2005


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The late Don Bell's gripping examination of Houdini's mysterious death dismisses popular theories and possible perpetrators, eventually zeroing in on a reclusive divinity student who all but disappeared after he sucker punched Houdini and caused the ruptured appendix that would soon kill the vaudevillian escape artist. In the wake of Houdini's death, innumerable potential culprits surfaced, not least among them the spirit mediums Houdini frequently ridiculed. Bell, however, identifies J. Gordon Whitehead, a self-described divinity student, as the punch thrower. The book documents Bell's search for witnesses and corroborators in an alternately dry and creepy fashion. A visit to Whitehead's grave in Montreal maintains an air of expectancy, and Bell's visit to Whitehead's hometown seems to suggest the intrepid reporter was being shadowed, either by his own paranoia or Houdini himself. The eeriness mounts as Bell gets closer to Whitehead, a man who seemed to want to give the impression he was hiding something. While scrupulously researched, the book will appeal mostly to Houdini enthusiasts and conspiracy theorists. Photos.
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Review

"[Don Bell] decided to track down the Montrealer who dealt Houdini's fatal blow. And he came away with a book full of surprises." —National Public Radio
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Vehicule Press (September 28, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1550651870
  • ISBN-13: 978-1550651874
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,008,712 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By John Cox on May 15, 2005
Format: Paperback
This is a definitive investigation into the events that occurred in Harry Houdini's dressing room on Oct 22, 1926, and the man at the center of the fatal "attack," J. Gordon Whitehead. It's a remarkable work that will blow the minds of Houdini scholars.

Within the first few chapters, author Bell rewrites Houdini history by discovering that the magician was attacked (or at least "tested") three separate times during that fateful week in Montr?al. A native of Montr?al, Bell finds independent eyewitnesses to each of these other, non-lethal "punches" who readily corroborate the facts. It's a stunning discovery.

Unfortunately, Bell doesn't investigate these other incidents in detail, but remains focusing in the final and most infamous dressing room attack by J. Gordon Whitehead. Bell's hypothesis is that Whitehead may have been acting as an agent for spiritualists. Considering Houdini's vehement anti-spiritualist crusade, this is not a far-fetched theory. Trouble is, absolutely nothing is known about J. Gordan Whitehead (and some have even questioned whether or not he even existed).

It's Bell's search for the phantom Whitehead (which takes up a good middle of the book) that presents my only criticism with the book. Bell describes in detail every step of his 20 year investigation, including his many false leads. Okay, dramatizing a few false lead is entertaining and adds to the detective story (not to mention makes the eventual discoveries all that more exciting), but Bell relates EVERY false lead, devoting whole chapters to lines of inquiry that never pan out. This does becomes a bit tiresome after a while.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mario Gomes on September 11, 2010
Format: Paperback
I recieved this as a gift from my friend in the U.S. He knew I was a Houdini fan and lived in Montreal, the city that somehow brought Houdini's downfall. I enjoyed Bell's tenacious trial and tribulations trying to get survivors to regurgitate any worthy evidence that would shed light on this world reknowned famous incident. He had his work cut out for him, as time had erased most of the evidence and many of it's players had one foot in the grave. People who diss this work, do not, or cannot fathom what actual research entails. It's a thankless and tiresome job that sometimes does not get us a smoking gun, but at least shows us that there are real versions of events that put into question the holier than thou image of the befallen escape artist, that was Houdini. Houdini was an intelligent man, the supremo amazing escape artist, but his lack of care for his own health and well being was totally mind blowing. He totally cared for his fans by not missing a show, even with a broken ankle, but these selfless actions are revealed in Bell's book as part of the reason Houdini died so tragically and needlessly. Sure, Mr. Whitehead did a very stupid thing and is partly responsible for Houdini dying. Houdini had his part in his attitude that "the show must go on even if I don't feel so well". It was only a matter of time before his speeding train would run out of steam.

I thank Mr. Bell in spirit for doing this work.

I got a kick out of visiting Whitehead's grave and seeing his old street where he used to live. I found out that I had lived across there 15 years after his death. Certainly a small world.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Doreen Turner on October 31, 2004
Format: Paperback
This was a detective story with real people and events involvled. A true story. Well written and well researched.The author was dedicated, and it is sad that he did not see the fruit of his labor.
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I have enjoyed very much reading this book. The topic is fascinating for experts and laymen alike.
I have not read any other book about Houdini's death but this is probably the best example of painstaking research and investigation on the subject. The research is very detailed and shows Don Bell's commitment to his mission. That's likely to be the reason why his work unearthed very rare information that had never before seen the light. Highly recommended.
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