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The Bullet Catch

The World's Most Dangerous Magic Trick

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No, it isn't the Water Torture Cell or the Buried Alive illusion, or even the Straitjacket Escape. The effect known as the Bullet Catch has claimed the lives of at least 15 magicians who were killed in connection with this potentially lethal trick.

In the effect, a bullet is fired directly at the performer, and he (or she) catches the bullet in the teeth, hopefully without any ill effects. There are a number of ways to perform this trick, and those that perform it are definitely inviting disaster. Sometimes things go wrong- equipment fails or worse.

The most famous bullet-catching death was that of Chung Ling Soo (William Robinson), shot on stage in 1918. Rumors persisted that his death was not an accident caused by equipment malfunction, but was a murder motivated by jealousy.

So shocking was the death of Chung Ling Soo that magician Harry Kellar famously pleaded with Harry Houdini not to perform the Bullet Catch. In a letter to Houdini, Kellar wrote: Don't try the bullet-catching trick. There is always the biggest kind of risk that some dog will *job* you. And we can't afford to lose Houdini. Harry, listen to your friend Kellar, who loves you as his own son, and don't do it! Houdini listened to his friend, and never attempted to perform the trick.

No doubt a show-stopping trick, the Bullet Catch has been performed by a number of brave magicians, and can still be seen on the programs of current magical artists like Penn and Teller. Magicians successfully performing the trick have included Philip Astley (also credited with creating the first circus as we know it today), John Henry Anderson, Robert-Houdin, Alexander Herrmann, Adelaide Herrmann, Ted Annemann, Rooklyn, Jean Hugard, Milbourne Christopher, Paul Fogel, Dorothy Dietrich and Paul Daniels.

Other magicians have not been so lucky. Below is a list of the unfortunate magicians and their assistants who met an untimely end performing this most dangerous and deadly trick.

Want to read more? Ben Robinson wrote a book on the subject- Twelve Have Died, published in 1986 by Ray Goulet's Magic Art Book Co. (available through out-of-print book dealers).

Herrmann Bullet Catch    Kar-Mi Bullet Catch

  • Coulen (1500s)
    Beaten to death with his trick pistol

  • Kia Khan Khruse (1818)
    Indian magician- report of his death onstage may have been false

  • Madame deLinsky (1820
    Magician's assistant who was killed by her husband when a real bullet was loaded into the pistol's chamber by mistake

  • Giovanni deGrisy
    Son of Torrini, supposedly Robert-Houdin's mentor; could be a fictitious story; reportedly Torrini fired the gun that killed his son

  • Arnold Buck (1840)
    Died when a volunteer secretly added nails to the gun barrel before firing at him

  • Adam Epstein (1869)
    Died after his wand, used to ram home the balls in the rifle barrel, broke inside the gun; he was killed by wand shards

  • Raoul Curran (1880)
    Killed by a member of the audience who jumped up out of his seat and shot him without warning

  • deLine Jr (1890)
    Died when his magician father shot him onstage

  • Michael Hatal (1899)
    Died after he failed to switch blank cartridges for the real bullets that killed him

  • Otto Blumenfeld (1906)
    Died after he also failed to switch bullets

  • Chung Ling Soo (1918)
    Killed by a faulty trick pistol

  • H. T. Sartell
    Died after he also failed to switch bullets

  • "The Black Wizard of the West" (1922)
    Died when his wife purposely fired live bullets at him

  • Ralf Bialla (1972)
    Fell off a cliff because of constant dizziness caused by injuries from bullet catching act

  • Doc Conrad (1977)
    Killed during practice of the Russian Roulette trick, a version of the Bullet Catch

  • Fernando Tejada (1988)
    Killed onstage during a performance in Colombia, South America