First, let me clear up what has become a widely spread fallacy. The “Houdini Mansion” was not owned by the famous master illusionist, nor did he actually live in it. The home in question was actually owned by Ralf Marc Walker, who also variously spelled his name as Ralph M. Walker and R.M. Walker. He was a department store magnate, with his most well known stores being located in the San Diego area. Later I will outline the basic history of Mr. Walker. The Walker mansion did have a guest house which was across the road from the main residence and this is most likely where Harry Houdini and his wife Bess stayed during a nine month period while Houdini was filming in Hollywood. However, upon his death Harry’s widow did take up residence in the guest house.
In more recent times there has been a rumor that it isn’t the ghost of Houdini which haunts the old place, but the murdered lover of Mr. Walker’s gay son. It has been claimed that while Mr. & Mrs. Walker were throwing a lavish party their son met his lover on the property, had a quarrel and pushed him into the canyon, which was then covered up by the police and the family. How or why this rumor was started made me curious to know more. After all, shouldn’t people check out the facts as much as possible before continuing to perpetrate what could be a harmful, offensive and totally false claim, especially for any living relatives of those involved in the tales? Here are the facts as I have uncovered them through diligent research. To be honest, it took me no longer than about 30 minutes to discover this information.
Ralf/Ralph Michael Walker was born circa 1875 in Eaton County, Michigan, a son of Michael Whipple Walker and Harriet Winn. In 1908 he married Eliza Fitzgerald in Bellvue, Michigan. Ralf was already a resident of Los Angeles, CA at this time.
According to the 1910 Census for Los Angeles Ralf and Eliza resided at 1326 Mohawk Street. They had no children. Ralf’s occupation is listed as Department Store manager.
In the 1920 Census Eliza is listed but Ralf is not. Their address is on Laurel Canyon. Ralf does not appear in any State for this census, so he most likely was away on a business trip. There is a lodger listed as living in the household, a Mr. Howard Conrad from Indiana, who is listed as a Buyer for a department store. It could be that Ralf had recruited him as an employee. However, no children are listed in the household, indicating that there were no children born of the marriage between Ralf and Eliza.
In the 1930 Census Ralf and Eliza are listed at their home on Laurel Canyon. His occupation now states that he is the President of a department store and his home is worth $50,000. It is obvious by those listed as neighbors that Laurel Canyon was becoming an enclave for for producers, actors and business men. Ralf and Eliza still have no children of their own. However, there is now a George A. Scott listed as a lodger and foster son of the family. George was born in Scotland in 1907, immigrated to Canada for a short period of time, and then moved to the United States where he became a legal citizen in 1931. So, could this be the so-called gay son who killed his lover?
Lets explore the information found about George Alexander Scott.
George Alexander Scott was born in Scotland but his parentage has not yet been determined, nor has his arrival dates in Canada or the USA.
According to the San Diego Reader (Sept. 30, 1999) George was quoted as saying “he had been “adopted” at the age of 16 by R.M. Walker, a kindly department-store mogul from Los Angeles, who took him on extravagant tours of Europe.” The article further states “In 1935, the legend goes, just before he was to open a branch of his mentor’s chain on San Diego’s Broadway, the old man died, leaving Scott to fend for himself in the little Navy town. Scott became the city’s mercantile king, building its first shopping mall.”
In 1952 George married Evelyn Hjelm, by whom he had two children, both still living as far as can be determined. George died in 1993, after building a decent sized department store empire throughout California.
When loosely interpreting what is known, such as the fact that the Walkers had no children, and then learning that while Eliza stayed at home Ralf & George went gallivanting all over Europe , it could be construed that maybe Ralf was secretly gay and was grooming George, his “foster son” and “protégé” as a lover. It could also be assumed that Ralf’s wife Eliza was fully aware of this arrangement. However, I have found nothing so far to indicate that either Ralf or George was a homosexual, nor any hint of scandal attached to either of them regarding sexual proclivities.
In my opinion, based on the available information, I would say that some other explanation needs to be found regarding the ghost who haunts the old Walker property. Harry Houdini is still a strong contender, considering that Hollywood was his favorite place and his beloved Bess lived in the guest house of the Walker’s after his death.
To read more about the R.M. Walker Mansion: http://www.wildabouthoudini.com/2012/03/inside-houdini-estate.html