June 13, 1927
Famed illusionist Harry Houdini died October 31, 1926, but until today, his widow, Bess, didn’t know whether she’d see any of the insurance money. After months of investigation, the New York Life Insurance Company decided to accept the claim that Houdini died as the result of a blow struck by J. Gordon Whitehead, a McGill University student. Bess Houdini would receive a settlement of $25,000 ($296,962 USD 2007).
Of course, New York Life had good reason to be confused. Even today, Houdini’s death is surrounded by uncertainty. Some accounts say that Whitehead challenged Houdini to take the punch fair and square, while others claim that he and his buddies lambasted the illusionist while he reclined on a sofa. According to some, the blow to the abdomen could have ruptured Houdini’s appendix, while others today say that this would only have aggravated a pre-existing condition. Still others speculate that he was actually poisoned by the angry Spiritualists he’d discredited. As recently as March of this year, Harry’s descendents were seeking to have the body exhumed, while Bess’s sought to block it, claiming that the whole thing reeked of a book promotion stunt.
What’s a humble claims adjuster to do?