Royden Joseph Gilbert Raison de la Genesta, who performed simply as Genesta, was attempting Houdini's "Milk Can Escape," an act that he'd successfully completed many times before. The escape artist used a trick setup to free himself after his assistants had elaborately locked him up. A mechanical malfunction thwarted his escape at a 1930 performance [source: Kalush].
The outside of his milk can had six locks and a large, metal cover, but a secret hatch automatically opened the whole apparatus when you pushed on it from the inside. Unbeknownst to anyone, the hatch had been dented earlier that day when the milk can was being unloaded, preventing the apparatus from working properly.
Genesta didn't notice the dent before his performance, so he climbed into the can, and his assistants filled it up with water, as usual. They locked him in and gave the six keys to six different audience members. Distributing the keys this way unfortunately meant that when his assistants realized that something was actually wrong, chaos broke out in the audience. Genesta was banging frantically on the side of the can, and everyone was scrambling to help – including Genesta's wife, who was in the audience. This just caused more confusion and wasted time [source: Kalush].
A doctor on hand was able to resuscitate Genesta when his assistants finally freed him more than two minutes later. They rushed him to the hospital, but he never fully recovered from his near drowning [source: Kalush]. He died in the hospital that same evening.