Harry Houdini was a Hungarian born magician, escapologist, and stunt performer in the early years of 1900. He was famous for somehow getting himself out of locked boxes, straitjackets, and handcuffs. In fact, in 1904 a locksmith named Nathaniel Hard spent seven years in making a special set of handcuffs that he felt would be impossible for any human to escape. In a sensational stunt, Houdini freed himself in one hour and ten minutes. No one knows how he accomplished this feat.
Not to be outdone, I once met a Houdini, of sorts, in Shelby County. I do not know his name but would like to meet him and find out how he accomplished his feat.
While working for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department several years ago my partner, Larry, and I were patrolling the northern part of the county near Joaquin when we saw an old pickup having difficulty in staying between the white lines on the road. After following the vehicle for a mile or so we decided that the driver was intoxicated and pulled him over. After a couple of roadside tests, our suspicions were confirmed - the driver was under the influence and thus a danger to himself and other drivers.
We put handcuffs on the driver and placed him in the back seat of our patrol car. I had brought along a sandwich and soft drink in a cooler for later use. I moved it over to the other side of the floorboard to make room for our prisoner.
It took about fifteen minutes to drive to the Shelby County jail, during which time the prisoner was quiet and, we thought, napping. After booking him into the jail system, we returned to our patrol car for further activities.
Several hours later my hunger was getting the best of me and decided that it was time to eat my tasty sandwich. We pulled into a deserted cemetery to park and fill our empty stomachs. I retrieved my car cooler from the back seat and eagerly opened it expecting to see my sandwich and a cold soft drink. To my surprise there was only an empty can and empty sandwich bag inside. Confused, I asked Larry, “Have you seen my sandwich and coke? They are gone!” Larry gave me a funny look, “Nope. I brought my own. Haven’t seen yours.” “Well, I know that I put them in the cooler and brought them with me”, I stated. “I remember that I had to move the cooler over when we put the drunk driver in the car…”, at which time a light bulb came on inside my brain - the prisoner had eaten my supper!
“Larry”, I whined, “the drunk has eaten my sandwich and downed my coke on the way to the jail. That has to be the answer.” “But”, Larry protested, “how could he? His hands were cuffed behind his back the whole time. And besides that, we would have heard him moving around back there.” I tried to reason this out ...only three people knew that my sandwich and coke were in the cooler, myself, Larry, and the prisoner. I knew neither Larry or myself had consumed them, so by deduction that left the drunk prisoner.
Over the years I have tried to figure out how a man whose hands were handcuffed to his back could open the cooler, eat the sandwich, drink the coke, leave the empty containers inside the cooler, all in fifteen minutes, and without making any discernible noise. It just can’t be done, but it did happen. One answer may be that he worked one hand out of the handcuffs, did his deed, then slipped it back in when reaching the jail.
At any rate I discovered that Shelby County has a modern-day Houdini in residence. If I ever learn his name I will try to learn his escape trick. In the meantime I just keep wondering.
“THE SHELBY COUNTY HOUDINI”
BY: NEAL MURPHY
PO BOX 511
107 HEMLOCK STREET
SAN AUGUSTINE, TX 75972