Only days before his death from peritonitis on October 31, 1926—the result of a ruptured appendix according to his doctors —Houdini was struck repeatedly in the abdomen, first by a “college student” during a dressing room visit, and then by a mysterious burly stranger while he was sitting, reading the newspaper in a Montreal hotel lobby.
Today, medical science tells us that it was impossible for an appendix to be ruptured by blunt trauma caused by blows. In fact, coroners maintain that it is just as likely that Houdini was poisoned than he fell victim to a ruptured appendix caused by a blow to the stomach.
If one were to suspect Houdini a victim of foul play, then the fraudulent spirit mediums, who were a highly organized group, must be considered likely suspects. The spiritualist underworld’s modus operandi in cases like this was often poisoning. Houdini’s life was threatened by them and both Houdini and Bess suffered from non-specific poisoning in the weeks leading up to Houdini’s death.
After Houdini’s death, an organized network of spiritual fanatics—led by Sherlock Holmes’ creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—worked relentlessly to orchestrate a campaign that would destroy Houdini’s legacy for all time. A Spiritualist minister named Arthur Ford was dispatched to seduce Houdini’s widow and orchestrate a bogus séance where Houdini returned to affirm that the Spiritualists were right and that death was not the end.