NEW YORK - The family of Harry Houdini's widow wants to block a plan to exhume the escape artist's remains, saying a disinterment to determine whether he was murdered smacks of sensationalism.
"It is our firm belief that Bess Houdini would never approve of this," said a statement from her grandnephews, John and Jeffrey Blood. "The family believes this is likely being done to promote sales of a recent book on Harry Houdini, suggesting he may have been murdered."
A spokesman for Houdini's grandnephew, who supports the exhumation, and one of the new biography's authors on Tuesday quickly protested the Bloods' suggestion.
"I'm sorry that Bess' side of the family feels that way, because this is not a publicity stunt in any shape or form," said Larry Sloman, co-author of "The Secret Life of Houdini." "This is not something frivolous. This is a serious scientific study."
Houdini's grandnephew George Hardeen announced last week he was backing an exhumation to determine whether his famous relative was poisoned. The biography suggests Houdini was possibly targeted because of his relentless public ridicule of the Spiritualists, a group whose members claimed they could contact the dead.
Before his death in 1926, at age 52, Houdini had received several death threats from people within the Spiritualist movement, according to the biography, published in October 2006.
Houdini died on Halloween at a Detroit hospital and is buried in the Queens borough of New York City. No autopsy was ever conducted, but his death certificate cited peritonitis caused by a ruptured appendix as the cause of death.
A team of top forensic investigators, including James Starrs and former New York City medical examiner Michael Baden, have agreed to join the investigation on a pro bono basis. Starrs presided over the exhumations of gunslinger Jesse James and "Boston Strangler" Albert DeSalvo
The Bloods - their mother, Marie, was Bess Houdini's niece - said they were considering legal action.
"We are adamant against it," said Jeff Blood, who lives in upstate New York. "There's no need to have his body exhumed."
Bruce Bobbins, spokesman for the Hardeen side of the family, said the Blood relatives - in an odd twist of phrase - "are not blood relatives of Harry Houdini and therefore have no legal standing on the issue."
Bobbins, of Dan Klores Communications, said that the Hardeen contingent was willing to meet with the Bloods to discuss any concerns, but that "we are still committed to moving forward in an expedient manner with the exhumation process."