Weird History: Killed By An Autopsy

A portrait of Washington Irving Bishop, (

A portrait of Washington Irving Bishop, (

Weird History: The Man Killed By An Autopsy

The curious case of Washington Irving Bishop begins with magic and ends with tragedy when he is found dead… after an autopsy was performed on his body.

An American stage mentalist, Bishop started his career as an assistant under the muscle reader J. Randall Brown, but was most well known for his performance of the blindfold drive, an act involving driving while blindfolded (go figure). In the early 1870’s Bishop was the manager of Anna Eva Fay’s spiritualist acts, but in 1876 he exposed her trick methods to the media, after which he became an anti-spiritualist performer and wrote a book exposing the trick methods used by psychics.

Bishop performed “thought reading” demonstrations claiming no supernatural powers and ascribed his abilities to “reading muscular sensitivity”, or the theory that thoughts can be gathered from unconscious bodily cues.

During a performance at the Lambs Club on May 12 1889, Bishop was said to have fallen into unconsciousness early in the act, but then recovered to continue. The audience was stunned when a bit later he was stricken yet again by an attack of unconsciousness, but this time he did not recover. According to reports, an autopsy took place at 3:45 pm, just a few hours after Bishop’s supposed death. This included the removal of Bishop’s brain and a chest examination.

The grave of Washington Irving Bishop, (Atlas Obscura)

The grave of Washington Irving Bishop, (Atlas Obscura)

Everything seemed in order but the story doesn’t end there.

When Bishop’s mother Eleanor Fletcher Bishop got word of her son’s death she rushed to the autopsy scene where she supposedly declared, “What have you done? You’ve killed my son!” leaving the medical examiners baffled.

It turned out, according to Bishop’s mother, that the magician suffered most of his life with bouts of unconsciousness. Some lasted a few hours and others a few weeks. Bishop’s official death certificate claimed hysterocatalepsy as the cause but his mother insisted it was murder at the hands of the lead medical examiner who knew of Bishop’s condition and who was allegedly “obsessed with Bishop’s cognitive abilities and desperately wanted to examine his brain.”

Bishop’s mother spent 3 decades fighting to prove her son’s murder and eventually wrote a book about her experiences; a book that has to have one of the longest titles in publishing history:

A Mother’s Life Dedicated and an Appeal for Justice to All Brother Masons and the Generous Public — A Synopsis of the Butchery of the Late Sir Washington Irving Bishop (Kamilimilianalani) A Most Worthy Mason of the Thirty-Second Degree, the Mind Reader, and Philanthropist By Eleanor Fletcher Bishop, His Broken-Hearted Mother.

According to reports, Bishop carried a small letter that explained his condition and not to perform an autopsy on his body, one of his greatest fears. The letter was never found on Bishop’s body and his mother claims the lead medical examiner removed it from his body before cutting him open. The official newspaper reporting on his autopsy stated:

In the chest cavity he [Deputy Coroner Jenkins] found several vital organs including the brain…all seemed healthy, and in appearance presented no cause for death… portions of the brain and other organs were missing.”

What are your thoughts? Was Bishop murdered by a mad scientist? Was it a case of unlucky circumstances that lead to his supposedly accidental death? Let us know: comment below, share on Facebook, and find us on Twitter using the hashtag #DMTalk.

W D King


Walter king is a sushi enthusiast. A cat lover. A star gazer. An ex-skateboarder, with the destroyed knees to prove it. A local boy raised in Hawaii. He spent much of his youth listening to art bell, infecting his brain with all matter of gray area thought provoking ideas like time travel, collective consciousness, and who can forget: Bigfoot. He's a loving husband and first time father. A movie junkie. A cliff diving, mud slinging, midday dreamer. He also kind of dabbles in indie film production, music production, and photography. He is survived by his unflinching whit and dry sense of humor.

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