|Houdini--the Key is still available. Contact Patrick Culliton at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ernst, Fox, & Cane
Counselors at Law
25 W. 43rd St.
Bernard M. L. Ernst
Melville H. Cane
David J. Fox
Telephone Vanderbilt 10421
May 9, 1927
New York Life insurance Company,
New York City.
Attention Mr. Cook
Upon the occasion of my recent conference with Mr. Cook and Mr. Haskell in connection
with the claim for double indemnity under one of the Houdini policies in your company, I
obtained the impression that you were quite satisfied by reason of your investigations
and the statements furnished by the five Detroit physicians among others, that Houdini’s
death was caused directly by the blows struck by Mr. Whitehead in the dressing room at
the Princess Theater, Montréal.
At such conference I was advised that certain alleged information had reached you that
Houdini had not been in good health for some time prior to his death and also and
specifically that he had been ill on the railroad train going from Schenectady to Montréal
a week or two before his death. I have now made further inquiries in this connection and
have entirely satisfied myself that Houdini was in excellent health for many years prior to
his death and was in the best of health and condition on his trip from Schenectady to
Montréal except for the fact that he had sustained an injury to his ankle shortly before at
Albany and such injury was naturally bothering him after leaving Schenectady less than a
week after the injury had occurred.
I have obtained and send you herewith affidavits of Julia Karchere and Julia Sauer both
of whom were with Houdini on the trip in question and who knew him personally and in
fact lived with him a number of years prior to his death. I have also located three other
persons who were with him on the train going from Schenectady to Montréal and were
closely in touch with him for a number of years prior to his death and will be glad to get
affidavits from them if the enclosed affidavits do not entirely satisfy you. I can also
procure an affidavit from Dr. Stone, Houdini’s personal physician to the effect that his
health for a number of years prior to his death was of the best but I understand that your
representative has already seen Dr. Stone and obtained his statement.
The writer knew Houdini intimately for many years and saw him at least two or three times
each week for many months prior to his death and can independently testify to his
exceedingly good physical condition and state of health during a period of years prior to
I feel that there is absolutely no question about this and will be glad to meet any rumors
or statements specific in their nature which may have reached you to the contrary.
At the conference above referred to, Mr. Cook called attention to statements contained
in the affidavit of Mr. Whitehead, the student who struck Houdini at Montréal. It is only
fair to say that Mr. Whitehead was and is naturally in a most embarrassing position. No
one wants to think or believe that he was the cause of another man’s death and
particularly of one of the prominence of Houdini, even if such cause was unintentional
and accidental in its character. Mr. Whitehead declined to make any statement for us
stating that he had been advised by his attorney not to do so and fearing that there
might be some personal liability on his part for having occasioned Houdini’s death. We
did not pursue him further after this statement was made by him or his attorney to our
representative in Montréal but we will gladly procure an affidavit to this effect for you if
desired. We therefore cannot attribute very great weight to the statements contained in
Mr. Whitehead’s affidavit as human nature is such that he will naturally and
understandingly minimize what he did because of the grievous consequences of his
acts. We have nevertheless submitted a copy of his affidavit which you were good
enough to furnish to us to Mr. Jacques I. Price and Mr. Samuel J. Smilovitz, the two other
McGill students who were present when the blows were struck. These gentlemen are
absolute strangers to us and have given us affidavits of what actually happened quite
voluntarily and without any payment or promise of reward and in reply to letters asking
that such affidavits be furnished. They are entirely disinterested and as far as we know,
entirely friendly to Mr. Whitehead. They have now sent us new affidavits, the originals of
which we send to you here with, from which it would appear that the affidavit of Mr.
Whitehead is incorrect in many particulars. These other students saw directly everything
that happened and saw that Houdini was entirely unprepared for the blows when struck;
that he had no opportunity to prepare himself against the blows; that he did not intend or
think that Mr. Whitehead would strike him as suddenly as he did and that he plainly did
not intend to be struck from above while lying undressed in his dressing room without
the opportunity of rising and preparing for such blows as might be struck and that in any
event he was unable to rise from his couch quickly for the purpose of steeling himself
against the blows because of the injury to his foot and that he made such statements at
the time and in the presence of all three students. They say that at least four very hard
and severe body blows were struck and that they and Houdini protested against what
they described as “the sudden onslaught” on the part of Mr. Whitehead but that the
latter continued to strike Houdini with all his strength.
Houdini naturally told his wife about the occurrence immediately upon her return to the
dressing room but as she is the claimant and the party in interest, we have obtained no
affidavit from her for you but will of course, be glad to do so at any time. He also and we
think as a part of the res gestae stated to at least six people during the same afternoon
what had happened; that he had no intention of being struck as he was or at the time he
was and you will find proof to this effect in the enclosed affidavits made by Julia Sauer
and Julia Karchere.
We had hoped to obtain similar affidavits from four of Houdini’s stage assistants who
were present at the time but they are now playing with Houdini’s brother at Vancouver,
British Columbia, and have been out of town for several months. We will be glad in due
course, if you desire, to obtain affidavits from them and from other members of his
company but such affidavits will merely be corroborative of the statements of Miss
Sauer, Miss Karchere, Mr. Price and Mr. Smilovitz.
We feel most strongly that the facts are such as would indicate beyond doubt that
Houdini did not intend to be struck, or offer himself to be struck in the manner, and at
the time he was struck, and that therefore the cases which Mr. Cook cited are not
applicable to the situation here presented. In any event, there is a question of fact which
might properly be submitted to a jury for determination.
We trust that on the basis of these additional proofs and of additional evidence which
we understand you have obtained independently since our last conference, the New
York Life Capital Insurance Company will see its way clear to pay this claim. Houdini was
insured in your company for upwards of $80,000. He had been a policyholder for many
years prior to his death and through him a number of his relatives hold policies in your
Your appreciation of his patronage and the value of it was evidenced by the
advertisement over the signature of Mr. Thomas A. Buckner, your Vice-President,
inserted in your trade paper under date of December 4, 1926.
Mrs. Houdini cannot understand in view of the statements of all of the physicians and
the additional evidence furnished in her behalf, why the New York Life insurance
Company should hesitate to pay her claim.
We must therefore asked that you give the matter further consideration and advise us.
Very truly yours,
Ernst, Fox, Cane
What do the sworn affidavits really say?
|Ernst to Cook May 9, 1927