German Slander Third Trial?


HH Slander Trial Cologne Germany PosterThe poster above lists a third trial on Sept 26, 1902.

According to The Adventurous Life of a Versatile Artist:

It being a disgrace for Schutzman Werner Graff to have this punishment on him, with the assistance of the police, he took it to the highest court in Germany, ” Oberlandesgericht, ” and there [Third Trial] the learned judges again gave Houdini the verdict from which there is no appeal.

According to Kellock:

Werner Graff took an appeal to the highest court.  There was much legal argument.  Houdini, the Schutzmann admitted, had indeed opened certain cell doors and handcuffs, but Houdini advertised also that he could open safes, and he had not opened a single safe in Germany.  Therefore, Werner Graff contented, the libel should be dismissed.  Houdini’s attorney ridiculed this argument.  Houdini, he said, had opened all of the Werner Graff’s locks, and he could open safes as well.

Finally the justice wearied of the argument.  He declared that he had a safe in his chambers, which offered an easy means of settling the dispute.  If Houdini could open it, obviously Werner Graff had lost his case.  If Houdini failed to open it, there was merit to the Schutzmann’s contention.

Houdini was in a dilemma.  He had never tackled a German safe, and he suspected that this untested strongbox might have a secret in its combination that would prove beyond his skill.  There was nothing to do, though, but accept the test.  He requested that he be permitted to work at the safe alone, and this plea was granted.

The justice himself led the way to his chamber, and indicated a heavy steel chest of German make against the wall.

Glancing significantly at his watch, he said: “You will summon the court as soon as you are ready.” Then he closed the door as soon as you are ready.” Then he closed the door and Houdini was alone in the room.

For a minute or so, Houdini dared not take a step toward the formidable box.  Was his continental career to end ignominiously in that room? He forced himself to cross the room, and he gave a vicious yank at the safe door.  It swung open — it had not been locked.

After a decent interval he called in the court to reveal his task completed.

Werner Graff was fined thirty marks, as well as all costs of the three trials, but most humiliating of all, he was compelled to publish a public apology, “in the name of the Kaiser,” in all the principal German newspapers, and Houdini was permitted to insert notices of the verdict in all the newspapers in Cologne at Graff’s expense.  German judges had a sense of the realities.

Thereafter in Germany Houdini was more than a handcuff king and distinguished Ausbrecher.  He was the young man who had actually whipped the Polizei in a court of law.

So was there a third trial and did it include an escape from a safe?

FWIW: Silverman does not mention the third trial with the safe.

That said, the definitive answer is most likely in the Houdini’s German Slander Trial Archive, 1902 that sold for $26,000 at the Potter and Potter auction on Aug 23, 2014.

Lot 60 HH German Slander Trial Archive AKA Cologne PapersNo Houdini biographer to date (which includes Silverman) has had access to this folio.  Hopefully the next major Bio will include any new information from this folio and answer any unanswered questions.


German Berliner Handcuffs used during trial?

HH German Berliner Handcuff

According to The Great Houdini Handcuffs and Legirons:

These are the cuffs [lock?] that Houdini had to open during his trial in Klon, Germany, February 19, 1902 [July 26, 1902].  After Houdini escaped he handed them to the judge.  One of Houdini’s assistants, Franz Kukol, managed to get hold of them and passed them back to Houdini who fleeced them out of the court room.  Kaiser Bill’s best policemen never knew what became of them. The cuffs got locked again in all of the excitement and have never been opened since.  Houdini said there was not another set like these in the world because the Supreme Court of Germany had these custom built for the trial.

Is the German Berliner Handcuffs really the “special lock” that got built [used] for the trial on July 26, 1902, that after it was once locked, no key would open it?

The story of the trial(s) appears in The Adventurous Life of a Versatile Artist – Houdini. Below is the text:




A Condensed History of the Lawsuit Against the Cologne Police!

The police of Germany are very strict in matters of false billing or misrepresenting exhibitions to the public, and the case of the well-known Dr. Slade, also a well-known American ” thaumaturgic” performer, as also an equally familiar “magnetic ” woman, and several others who have clashed with the German police will probably also call in mind the latest case of the flower medium, Mrs. Rothe, who was sentenced to two years in prison and 500 marks fine.

What for? Well, she deceived the public in telling them that she could obtain communications from the spirit world.

This the police claim was obtaining money under false pretense, and there you are.

The Cologne police claimed that Houdini was also traveling about misrepresenting, and that all he did was “swindle.” The chief one was Schutzmann Werner Graff, who openly published a false story in the Rheinische Zeitung, which put Houdini in a very bad light, and, as a man of honor, Houdini could not overlook the insult.

He claimed that he had been slandered, and asked an apology, also a retraction of the false stories, which all the press of Germany had copied; but was simply laughed at for his trouble.

Engaging the best lawyer of Cologne, Herr Rechtsantwalt Dr. Schreiber, Louisenstrasse 17, this able lawyer defended Houdini in all three instances.

HH Chained Frist Trial Cologne 001


The first trial occurred in Cologne, Feb. 19, 1902; in this trial Houdini charged the Schutzman Werner Graff for publicly slandering him, whereupon, as answer, Herr Graff told the judge and jury that he was willing to prove that Houdini was misrepresenting, that he could chain Houdini so that he could not release himself. Houdini permitted himself to be chained by Herr Transport Police Lott, and to show how easy it was he willfully showed to the judge and jury how he opened [“escaped”] the chain and [“opened”] lock. [Note: “Escaping” the chain and “opening” the lock were two separate demonstrations during the first trial according to Silverman]

After a four days’ trial, Houdini won the lawsuit, and the Cologne police were fined, and were to publicly apologize to Houdini, “In the Name of the Kaiser.”

Instead of so doing, they took it to the higher court, ” Strafkammer” [where again the court put Houdini to the test of opening one of Graff’s prepared locks]. At this trial they had specially manufactured a lock, which was made by Master Mechanic Kroch, a lock that when once locked nothing would open it; even the key could not open the lock.

The police asked that Houdini should show his ability by opening this lock after it had once been locked.

The following is a free translation of what the press had to say at the second trial.

In the highest court (Strafkammer zu Koln Yuli 26, 1902) [July 26, 1902] Police Officer Werner Graf! Was found guilty of Slandering Harry Houdini, heavily fined, he must pay all costs, and insert an advertisement in all of the Cologne newspapers, proclaiming his punishment, at the same time, ” IN THE NAME OF THE KING,” openly apologize to Houdini for insulting him.

This open apology is the severest punishment that can be given to a royal official, and as the lawsuit has been running over a year, the costs will run into the thousands of marks.

The case was first tried in the Schoffengericht Koln, Feb, 19, 1902, and Werner Graff was found guilty, but he took it to the highest court, and again Houdini won.

The Cologne police claimed that all Houdini advertised to do was misrepresentation (this was the cause of the lawsuit); for the trial they had a special lock made that, after it was once locked, no key would open it.

This lock they challenged Houdini to open, to prove that he was not misrepresenting.

Houdini accepts the challenge, walks into the room selected by the jury where he could work unhindered. In four minutes, with a quiet smile, reenters the court room, and hands the judges the prepared lock opened.

Among the thirty police officials that testified against Houdini were some of the highest officials of Cologne, but Houdini won; in fact, he was “one ” too many for them.

It being a disgrace for Schutzman Werner Graff to have this punishment on him, with the assistance of the police, he took it to the highest court in Germany, ” Oberlandesgericht, ” and there [Third Trial] the learned judges again gave Houdini the verdict from which there is no appeal.

HH Slander Trial Cologne Germany PosterAccording to Kalush:

One of the Cologne papers covering the sensational trial indicated that Houdini “had brought an entire suitcase filled with cuffs and locks and made all sorts of experiments to prove his skill.”

On March 1, 1902 Houdini wrote Bard again to crow about the verdict.  “I win my case hands down… [Graff] swore to a whole pack of lies, and when the other witness [Lott] came in, why I made him look like a dummy, and he gave the whole plot away.”  After some self-righteous indignation over his honor, Houdini admitted how he came out on top.  “What really saved my cas[e], was that I showed the judge how I opened my cuffs, and that was really the best thing that I could have done.”

Lot 60 HH German Slander Trial Archive AKA Cologne PapersAccording to a snippet of the Aug 23, 2014 Potter and Potter auction description for Houdini’s German Slander Trial Archive, 1902 (sold for $26,000):

“These reproduce the handwritten account and detail the proceedings, which included escapes by Houdini from locks and chains, as well as a demonstration of how to escape handcuffs.”

So I will ask the question again:

Is the German Berliner Handcuffs really the special lock that got built [used] for the trial on July 26, 1902, that after it was once locked, no key would open it?

Or could the German Berliner Handcuffs be a Houdini creation?

According to a comment on regarding some thoughts on the Houdini Berliner:

I was at one of the Cannon Conventions and got to handle the cuff.  We are talking about the Houdini cuff.  There is a magazine called the Virginia State Trooper (or close to that) and Hardeen was interviewed.  I believe this is 1949.  In the discussion, Hardeen asked Houdini what is the cuff and why does it not have a key? Houdini replies, this is the only cuff like it in the world and I had to pick it open in the court room in Cologne in front of the judge.  This quote is not perfectly quoted and is from memory. I can quote this accurately if desired. At some time after this went to press a key was made for these cuffs [and it worked perfectly].

Next week we will explore the third trial.

Houdini’s Connection with the Police

HH NYPD Challenge Coin frontHH NYPD Challenge Coin back

I recently acquired this Rare NYPD 104th Precinct Detective Squad Houdini’s Final Rest Challenge Coin.

And it made me reflect on the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks of 2001 that caused more law enforcement line of duty deaths than any single incident in American history.

It also got me thinking about Houdini’s Connection with the Police.

Bob Loomis new book, Houdini’s Final Incredible Secret (which I highly recommend) has a section titled, Using the Police, that references a number of sources that document Houdini’s Connection with the Police.  Below are a couple of the sources:

  • In their book, Ernst and Carrington tell us that Harry always worked hand-in-glove with the police, and they availed themselves of his expert knowledge on more than one occasion.  Houdini’s police connection was confirmed in a July 4, 1925 letter he wrote to fellow psychic researcher Harry Price.  The letter (from the files of The Harry Price Library at The Univerisity of London) states:

“You know I am instructor here to the Police Academy to about hundred and fifty detectives.


  • Silverman said Houdini cultivated lawmen and stayed abreast of their affairs. He bought tickets to the Policeman’s Ball; and, as President of the Society of American Magicians, he arranged a benefit dinner for the widows and orphans of slain policeman. The Commissioner of Police attended that meal.  Houdini even owned a New York City Police Department pass that authorized him to cross “all police lines”.  My favorite quote from Silverman is the statement: “He of course knew his way around police and other law enforcement agencies and was able to enlist their help.”

Image courtesy of Library of Congress

Our friend, David Saltman at did a nice post that also references a number of sources that document Houdini’s Connection with the Police.

Houdini’s Death Officially Laid to Boy’s Blow?

I recently came across the following newspaper clippings that contradict one another and thought they were worthy of sharing. Enjoy!

According to the following newspaper excerpt dated June 13, 1927:


June 13 1927 HH DEATH CAUSED BY BLOWAccording to the LEWISTON GAZETTE Nov. 1, 1926 Lewiston Maine:


Nov 1 1926 HH DEATH NOT CAUSED BY BLOWMcGill University Professor Denies Magician Struck by Student-Secret of Conjurer’ Mystic Performances Sealed in Mystery of Death

MONTREAL.  Nov. 1 Harry Houdini did not die of an injury received on Oct. 22 but was so sick when he came here that he was under care of a trained nurse the two men connected with his Montreal appearance asserted today.

The magicians family in Detroit expressed the opinion that the fatal illness was due to a blow dealt by a McGill University student in testing the magician’s strength.

Abie Wright, manager of the local theatre where Houdini recently appeared, said Houdini was ill when he came to Montreal and forced himself, with great difficulty to go through with his performance.

Dr. William D. Tait, professor of phychology at McGill University where Houdini delivered a lecture before the McGill Union, said there was no encounter between the magician and a student, as reported from Detroit.

So was it illness or accident?  Did the blows aggregate an existing condition?

It was vital his death be ruled an accident as opposed to being caused by a physical ailment in order to collect double.

An interoffice memo from a Mr. Cook to a Mr. McCall summarizing the New York Life Insurance Company case mentions that although there were rumors that Houdini had been suffering from stomach trouble prior to this time we have been unable to verify them and I think it must be conceded from the doctors statements and from affidavits submitted to us that the appendicitis resulted from the blows.

Special Thank You to Pat Culliton (aka Houdini’s Ghost) for Cook to McCall reference.


According to Bernard C. Meyer:

Abdominal trauma has also been cited as a cause of peritonitis when it resulted in the rupture of an already diseased organ or abscess. This raises the possibility that Houdini had been afflicted with an inflamed appendix before he had been punched in the abdomen by Mr. Whitehead. Although there is no record of his having suffered symptoms referable to such a condition prior to the blow, one observer, Doctor William D. Tait, professor of psychology at McGill, who escorted Houdini to the lecture platform on the afternoon of the nineteenth, noted that at the conclusion of his talk he sat down immediately, “as he was suffering great pain from his fractured ankle.” Conceivably, it was his abdomen that was causing his distress and not his ankle, which had been fractured eight days earlier.  This account appeared in the November first issue of the Montreal Daily Star under a headline which read: “Houdini . . . looked ill at lecture.” A newspaper reporter claimed to have seen “the stamp of death on his countenance.” [Houdini: A Mind in Chains, pages 176 – 177].

Does the size of his appendix (“a long affair”) indicate it was diseased?

Special Thank You to Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brookz for the Bernard C. Meyer reference.