"Houdini Whodunit​" is the fourth episode of the second season of the Murdoch Mysteries and the seventeenth episode of the series. It first aired on February 24, 2009.


Young Harry Houdini entertains the constables at Station No. 4 to promote The Houdini Brothers by escaping from their handcuffs and straitjacket. He gives the skeptical Inspector Brackenreid free tickets to that evening’s performance at the Shaftesbury Theatre. In turn, Brackenreid gives two tickets to Murdoch, telling him he needs to get out more and so does Dr. Ogden. For Julia Ogden the biggest surprise of the evening is the unveiling of the Houdini Brothers' lovely assistant – her younger sister Ruby Ogden.

While Houdini, wrapped in chains, is locked in a vault on stage with only 11 minutes of air to make his escape, his brother Leopold and Ruby entertain the audience as the sands in the hourglass pours. Meanwhile, next door, the Bank of Toronto is being robbed of its deposit of $152,000 from its state-of-the-arts time lock vault. The bank guard, Joe Decker, is killed during the robbery.

Just as Houdini theatrically reappears at the back of the house (audience), a witness enters the theatre announcing the crime and claims he saw Houdini leave the bank and enter the front of the theatre. Like a bulldog with a bone, Brackenreid is convinced that Houdini had time during his 11 minutes escape routine and deliberately invited the constabulary to mock them in the process, but Murdoch is far from convinced.

William catches Julia scrubbing clean the morgue floor, exposing her petticoats as she rises from her knees with her skirt hem indiscreetly clipped up to her belt. The morgue is short staffed so she has yet to start the post-mortem. However, Murdoch shares his concerns about the case made complicated by Houdini refusal to divulge where he was for those 11 minutes when he was not on stage. Out of courtesy, Murdoch informs Dr. Ogden that he will have to interview her sister as part of his investigation. 

Crabtree’s theory of the culprit using butter to slither through the air vent to gain access to the vault may have some merit, but not the butter part. When Murdoch, Brackenreid and the constable check out the vent, they discover Ruby Ogden inside, wearing only her bodice and petticoat. Being a resourceful reporter, Ruby was conducting her own experiment to prove Houdini innocent and found her dress too bulky for the shaft.

With the vent being a viable access, Brackenreid interrogates Houdini again, this time tossing the escape artist in a jail cell out of frustration.

After the stern warning from Murdoch, Ruby (fully clothed) visits with Julia in the morgue and much is revealed about the Ogden sisters as Julia performs the post-mortem. Decker’s body reeks of tobacco and Julia warns her sister if she continues to smoke the way she does, she too will smell the same someday. Ruby is far more curious about Julia’s relationship to the Detective, “Surely, you’ve entertained probing his intriguing mind?” Julia insists their relationship is purely professional. The sisters share an affectionate bond and a judgmental rivalry, each searches for the truth with very different styles and motives.

When the autopsy reveals that the dead man's blood has turned black, it would seem that an exotic poison killed him rather than blunt force trauma. Houdini escapes the jail cell and surprises Brackenreid in his office. The Inspector supervises as Crabtree puts the suspect in both wrist and ankle cuffs and locks him up again.

While searching for the injection site, Julia explains to Murdoch about her arrest for swimming off Hanlan’s Point sans clothing, which ignites an unexpected brief fantasy for William. Julia finds the injection site, in the victim’s eye which suggests that his murder was premeditated. Murdoch tells the Inspector that it was an illusion of a bank robbery gone wrong and Houdini may be a pawn.

The pawn proves to be hard to keep under lock and key, Brackenreid orders a thorough search for Houdini, whom he still strongly suspects. They investigate their separate scenarios, Brackenreid returning to the theatre and Murdoch asks Crabtree to do a background check on the bank manager and Decker, while he examines the Sargent and Greenleaf vault lock.

Ruby invites Murdoch to dinner to explore questions of her own, while back in the morgue Julia searches for the exotic poison that would turn blood black. At the start of the dinner, Ruby seems to be probing William to find out more about his relationship to Julia, until Julia’s unexpected presence sparks their sparing for Murdoch’s attention. Murdoch is rescued by George who has new information, but before leaving the table the Detective whispers in Ruby’s ear that if she hears from Houdini, he would like to talk to Harry.

With Crabtree, Murdoch goes to question the bank manager Mr. Simms about Decker being more than a bank guard, but they find him dead.

Hoping that the exotic poison may be a key to the case, Murdoch assists Dr. Ogden in testing more poisons. Julia apologizes for the behavior at dinner and explains that she and Ruby are usually at opposite ends of a good debate that Ruby always wins. With one expectation, she might have persuaded Ruby to stop smoking and how the both bodies reeked of tobacco – nicotine! They discover it does indeed turn blood black.

Working with Houdini, who explains that illusions are steeped in deceptions, and that something that makes the audience believe one thing to be true while clearly it isn't. Murdoch is able to show how the robbery itself was based on illusion to Brackenreid and Crabtree, which proves Houdini is innocent.

Murdoch and Brankenreid capture the real suspect whilst making their way out of Toronto via catching a train.

Character Revelations

  • We meet Ruby Ogden, Julia's sister, who is a reporter/writer.
  • Julia Ogden was a tomboy with the nickname Jules which Ruby still calls her with affection.
  • Julia was once arrested for skinny dipping at Hanlan's Point, Lake Ontario.
  • Dr. Ogden's interests outside the morgue are reading, cycling, tennis, and attending the theatre.
  • Their mother is deceased and Ruby has an aversion to cemeteries.
  • Julia has not seen their father for months and he will not accept "no thank you" to his invitation to lunch at the rowing club


  • Before joining Houdini, Ruby's parting request of William is to get “Jules out of the morgue every once in a while”.
  • He tells Julia he’d like to go over a case about a young swimmer’s blatant disregard for clothing and perhaps discuss it with him over dinner, and Julia responds that she'd be delighted.
  • William asks Julia begin dating.

Historical References

  • This episode takes place in Toronto 1896 – Victoria (Alexandrina Victoria 1819 - 1901) is Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, and Empress of India.
  • In 1896, Harry Houdini and his young wife were broke and stranded in Nova Scotia. He toured the Canadian Maritimes as a humble magician’s assistant.
  • Hanlan's Point Beach was officially recognized as being clothing optional (nude) beach in 2002.
  • H.G. Wells The Time Machine was published in May 1895
  • Murdoch references the Sargent and Greenleaf vault lock and Jesse James


  • The first time a character other than Murdoch has had their name used in an episode title.
  • Shaftesbury Theatre may be a reference to Shaftesbury Films.
  • Murdoch meets escape artist Harry Houdini and attends his show, filmed in the Cathedral (a theatre-in-the-round) at the Scottish Rite Club of Hamilton.


  • The type of air duct large enough to crawl through weren't around at the time as steam pipes were used for central heating. Large air ducts require electric fans to force the air but they weren't in general use until the 1920s.
  • Harry Houdini did start working with his brother Dash (real name: Theodore) until he met and married his wife Bess, another stage performer in 1894. From then on, she became his on-stage assistant. As this episode takes place in 1896, the real Houdini would have been performing with his wife at that time.


Main Cast

Yannick Bisson as William Murdoch
Hélène Joy as Julia Ogden
Thomas Craig as Thomas Brackenreid
Jonny Harris as George Crabtree

Recurring Cast

Sarah Gadon as Ruby Ogden

Guest Cast

Joe Dinicol as Harry Houdini
Joris Jarsky as Leopold Romanow
Matt Baram as Edward Simms
Pamela Johnson as Secretary
Kit Lang as Fred/Passerby
David Ben as Consultant


Murdoch Mysteries Season 2
Mild Mild WestSnakes and LaddersDinosaur FeverHoudini WhodunitThe Green MuseShades of GreyBig Murderer on CampusI, MurdochConvalescenceMurdoch.comLet Us Ask the MaidenWerewolvesAnything You Can Do...
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