After the Movie
Media interest peaked after the movies release and subsequent
success. The most fascinating and in-depth article ever to appear on the
subject appeared in the January 1975 edition of Fate magazine.
In a feature titled The Truth Behind The Exorcist, author Steve
Erdmann reveals never-before-known information regarding the facts behind
Erdmann begins his account by providing the readers with basic background
information. The 14-year-old Mount Rainier boy, referred to in the aforementioned
diary as Roland Doe, became possessed by an invisible
entity after he and his Aunt Tillie began experimenting
with an Ouija Board in January 1949. He was treated at D.C.s Georgetown
University Hospital before having the demon successfully exorcised by Jesuit
priests at St. Louis University. Erdmanns article is highly significant
because in it he tells of a diary kept by one of the priests
involved in the exorcism (which first came to light in the book William
Peter Blatty On The Exorcist From Novel To Film). The article includes
extensive quotes from that document to illustrate Erdmanns story.
Erdmann also explains that during the fall of 1949 an unnamed Georgetown
University student, whose father was a psychiatrist at St. Elizabeths
Hospital in Washington, D.C. and may have been involved in the case, told
Georgetown faculty member Father Eugene B. Gallagher, S.J., of the existence
of the mysterious diary. Father Gallagher obtained from the psychiatrist
a 16-page diary-like document written as a guide for future exorcisms.
William Peter Blatty, according to Erdmann, was a student of Gallaghers
at the time and repeatedly asked his teacher for a copy of the diary. In
the spring of 1950 Father Gallagher loaned the diary to then-Georgetown
University dean Father Brian McGrath, S.J. When Father Gallagher attempted
to retrieve the diary, he was told by Father McGraths secretary that
only nine carbon pages remained. Erdmann wonders whether or not the diary
had somehow found its way into Blattys hands.
The bulk of the article consists of reprints from the diary and details
given by Father Gallagher, who was relating information supplied to him
by Father OHara of Marquette Universityan actual eyewitness
and participant in the exorcism rite administered on Roland Doe. The following
information is paraphrased from these sources.
Titled Case Study by Jesuit Priests, the diary begins by supplying
background information on Roland Doe (born 6-1-35), son of
Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Doe (obvious pseudonyms). It states that
the family lives in a middle-class Washington suburban development.
January 15, 1949A dripping noise was heard in his grandmothers
bedroom by the boy and his grandmother. A picture of Christ on the wall
shook and scratching noises were heard under the floor boards. From that
night on scratching was heard every night from 7 p.m. until midnight. This
continued for ten consecutive days. After three days of silence, the boy
heard nighttime squeaking shoes on his bed that continued for
six consecutive nights. (Note that the article and presumably the diary
makes no mention as to which family members actually witnessed or were
present when these events transpired.)
January 26, 1949Aunt Tillie, who had a deep interest
in spiritualism and had introduced Roland to the Ouija Board, died of multiple
sclerosis at the age of 54. Mrs. Doe suspected there may have been some
connection between her death and the seemingly strange events that continued
to take place. At one point during the manifestations Mrs. Doe asked, If
you are Tillie, knock three times. Waves of air began striking the
grandmother, Mrs. Doe, and Roland and three knocks were heard on the floor.
Mrs. Doe again queried, If you are Tillie, tell me positively by
knocking four times. Four knocks were heard, followed by claw scratchings
on Rolands mattress. (At various points throughout this ordeal Mrs.
Doe would attempt to verbally communicate with Aunt Tillie, apparently
alternating her beliefs that the problems with her son were either the
work of the devil or their departed relative.)
February 17, 1949On this night a local Lutheran minister named Reverend
Shultz [sic] arranged to have the boy spend the night at his parsonage.
Roland arrived at 9:20 p.m. and stayed until 9:20 a.m. the next morning.
The Reverend reportedly heard scratching noises, and witnessed the following:
bed vibrations; a chair in which Roland sat tipping over; and the movement
of a pallet of blankets upon which Roland sat.
February 26, 1949Beginning on this night scratches or markings appeared
on the boys body for four consecutive nights. After the fourth night
words began to appear and seemed to be scratched on by claws. (The diary
indicates that at this point only Mrs. Doe was present when the markings
occurred.) Erdmann mentions that Father Albert Hughes of St. James Catholic
Church in Mount Rainier was consulted. Hughes suggested the family use
blessed candles, holy water, and special prayers. (Erdmanns source
for this information is not given.)
The chronology now becomes confusing. Between the diary writer (with information
supplied by Mrs. Doe) and Erdmanns unnamed sources a number of details
are alleged. Mrs. Doe claims that she was using the blessed candles when
a comb flew across the room and extinguished them. At different times fruit
flew across the room, a kitchen table turned over, milk and food moved
off a table, a coat and its hanger flew across the room, a Bible landed
at Rolands feet, and a rocker in which Roland sat spun around. Roland
was removed from school because his desk moved around on the schoolroom
The diary is quoted as saying that at one point Mrs. Doe took a bottle
of holy water and sprinkled it throughout the house. When she placed the
bottle on a shelf it flew across the room on its own but did not break.
One night she held a lighted candle alongside Roland and the whole bed,
Mrs. Doe, and Roland all began moving back and forth in unison. Attempts
were made to baptize Roland Doeit is said he responded with rageand
a three-and-a-half day stay at Georgetown University Hospital is mentioned.
The events continued when the boy was taken to Normandy, Missouri, during
the first week of March 1949. Various relatives in Missouri were said to
have witnessed the skin brandings.
March 9, 1949Father Raymond J. Bishop, S.J., of St. Louis University
was called in (for the first time) and witnessed the scratching of the
boys body and the motion of the mattress.
March 11, 1949Father Bowdern (described as being pastor of St. Francis
Xavier Church) arrived on the scene. After Roland retired at 11 p.m., Father
Bowdern read the Novena prayer of St. Francis Xavier, blessed the boy with
a relic (a piece of bone from the forearm of St. Francis Xavier), and fixed
a relic-encrusted crucifix under the boys pillow. The relatives left
and Father Bowdern and Father Bishop departed. Soon afterward, a loud noise
was heard in Rolands room and five relatives rushed to the scene.
They reportedly found that a large book case had moved about, a bench had
been turned over, and the crucifix had been moved to the edge of the bed.
The shaking of Rolands mattress came to a halt only after the relatives
yelled, Aunt Tillie, stop!
March 16, 1949Archbishop Joseph E. Ritter gave Father Bowdern
permission to begin the formal rite of exorcism. That night, accompanied
by Father Bishop and a Jesuit scholastic (later revealed to be Walter Halloran),
Father Bowdern began reciting the ritual prayers of exorcism.
Throughout March and into April, Roland was confusingly moved back and
forth between the home of his aunt in Normandy, Missouri, a nearby rectory,
and Alexian Brothers Hospital in South St. Louis. The rite was an ongoing
process. Instructions in the ritual command the exorcist to pronounce
the exorcism in a commanding and authoritative voice. The Roman Ritual
of Christian Exorcism reads: I cast thee out, thou unclean spirit,
along with the least encroachment of the wicked enemy and every phantom
and diabolical legion. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, depart and
vanish from this creature of God
Erdmann tells of markings appearing on Rolands body as these proceedings
continued and of the boys usual bad habits: outbursts featuring excessive
cursing, vomiting, urinating and the use of Latin phrases. Erdmann also
mentions that on one occasion Roland got his hand on a bedspring, broke
it, and jabbed it into a priests arm. (He mentions he is not sure
if this event took place in his Maryland home or during the exorcism ritual.)
Another time during a round of prayers after Roland had been instructed
into the Catholic faith and had received his first holy communion, a six-inch
portrait of the devil with its hands held above its head, webs stretching
from its hands, and horns protruding from its head appeared in deep red
on the boys calf. (It is not stated who actually witnessed this.)
Later, Roland was transported back to Maryland for a short-lived visit
and on one of the train rides he became maniacal, striking Father Bowdern
in the testicles and yelling, Thats a nutcracker for you, isnt
April 18, 1949As the nighttime ritual continued, Father Bowdern forced
Roland to wear a chain of medals and hold a crucifix in his hands. Rolands
demeanor changed and he calmly asked questions about the meanings of certain
Latin prayers. Bowdern continued the ritual, demanding to know who the
demon was and when he would depart. Roland responded with a tantrum and
screamed that he was one of the fallen angels. Bowdern kept reciting until
11:00 p.m. when Roland interrupted. In a new masculine voice Roland said,
Satan! Satan! I am St. Michael! I command you, Satan, and the other
evil spirits to leave this body, in the name of Dominus, immediately! Now!
Now! Now! Roland had one last spasm before falling quiet. He
is gone, Roland pronounced, later telling Bowdern he had had a vision
of St. Michael holding a flaming sword. Twelve days later he left Missouri
and returned to Maryland.
Two of the more influential articles to appear on this subject (at least
as far as local lore goes) can be found within the pages of The Prince
Georges Sentinel, a weekly published in Hyattsville, Maryland.
Both articles were hastily written by novice writers who apparently werent
too concerned with factual content and wrote down anything that was told
to them. Both pieces should be approached with caution as some valuable
information is present, though obscured at times by nagging inaccuracies.
The first, The Exorcist: The real incident involved a Mt. Rainier
priest in 1949, was written by Spencer Gordon, and appeared in the
February 4, 1981 edition. The article reveals for the first time that Father
E. Albert Hughes of St. James Church in Mount Rainier was the priest who
conducted the mysterious, much-rumored first exorcism attempt on the boy
at Georgetown University Hospital. This great revelation was made when
Hughes engaged in a two-hour talk over dinner on the night of Wednesday,
October 8, 1980, with his then-assistant pastor, Father Frank Bober. It
marked the first and only time Hughes ever spoke with Bober (who would
go on to become a key figure in this case for his high-profile media presence)
about the incident. The article states, He mentioned few details
but as they rose from the table, they planned to resume their discussion
the next week. However, as Gordon points out, the second discussion
never took place as Hughes died of a heart attack on October 12, 1980.
The article tells that after psychiatrists failed to help the boy at Georgetown
University Hospital, Father Hughes was called in to perform the exorcism.
At one point the boy ripped out a bedspring and slashed the priests
arm (this incident was first referred to by Rev. John J. Nicola in The
Evening Star and the Washington Daily News article by Gwen
Dobson of November 3, 1972). Gordon states that the incident allegedly
had a traumatic effect on Father Hughes and that the event had been shrouded
in mystery. He also states that Father Hughes went into a long seclusion
after the aborted rite of exorcism. In this article the alleged site of
the familys home is revealed for the first time. Displayed is a photo
of an empty field on a street corner, highlighted with the caption, Vacant
lot on Bunker Hill Road in Mt. Rainier, exorcism site. Gordon concludes
his work by writing, The only physical remains of the exorcism in
Mt. Rainier are the steps and wall surrounding the house where the boy
lived. The house burned down years ago and the lot is vacant. Gordon
does not reveal the full address of the site and does not reveal who told
him that that particular vacant lot was the site. (It is noteworthy that
Father Bober is not credited in this article as the source of that information.)
Understandably, the article kicked off a local furor as the teen population
made this location the areas number one twilight attraction.
The second Sentinel article, Exorcism: Demonic possession still haunts
Mt. Rainier residents, was authored by Brenda Caggiano and appeared
in the October 28, 1983 edition, just in time for the Halloween season.
This rambling article includes rough interviews conducted with local residents
and tavern occupants, none of whom knew the possessed boys name.
The article did, however, name the address of 3210 Bunker Hill Roadthe
vacant lot where the familys alleged house once stood. This article
also shows a picture of the lot (with the caption Where it happened?)
and includes a reference to Father Bober, who acknowledged that a
boy with demonic possession lived in the vicinity of the vacant lot at
33rd Street and Bunker Hill Road
The last of the significant newspaper articles that treated this event
was also the most widely read, appearing in The Washington Post
of May 6, 1985. In an article titled Youths Bizarre Symptoms
Led to 1949 Exorcism, author Arthur S. Brisbane provided a quick
overview of the whole story, with a special emphasis on Father Hughess
role in the local exorcism attempt. The article identifies the location
of the boys home as 3210 Bunker Hill Road in Mount Rainier, citing
The Prince Georges Sentinel article of February 4, 1981
as its source. The real significance of this article lies in the quotes
attributed to Father Frank Bober. Discussing where the boy lived, Bober
tells the reporter, Father Hughes never told me the exact spot (of
the residence) but people who were familiar with the case who are still
living in Mt. Rainier identified it. Curiously, Bober does not identify
the people who identified that location. I would discover the reason later
in my investigation: no such individuals existed.
The 90s Resurgence
The recent release of two Exorcist-related projects and the 25th
anniversary of the film this year have rejuvenated public interest in this
case. The first to appear was the book Possessed: The True Story Of
An Exorcism which was authored by Thomas B. Allen. Two editions appeared,
a hardback published by Doubleday in July 1993 and a more accessible paperback
version issued by Bantam in April 1994. The second item is a video titled
In The Grip Of Evil, which was produced in 1997 by Henninger Media
Development Inc. of Arlington, Virginia, in conjunction with the Discovery
Channel. Thomas B. Allen also served as story consultant and writer
for this video.
Possessed is the only book to focus entirely on the exorcism of
the possessed boy (who Allen refers to as Robbie) and is essentially
based on two sources: the 26-page diary (Steve Erdmann claims the diary
was 16 pages long in his January 1975 Fate article) that Allen
reveals was kept by Father Raymond Bishop; and interviews with Father Walter
H. Halloran, a then-Jesuit scholastic who assisted in the St. Louis exorcism
and is one of the few eyewitnesses still alive who is willing to discuss
his experiences. The author puts great stock in the belief that the family
always resided at 3210 Bunker Hill Road in Mount Rainier and includes sketchy
information about Father Hughes and the first exorcism performed on the
boy at Georgetown University Hospital. Heavy emphasis is placed on the
St. Louis exorcism, where we learn that 52-year-old Father William S. Bowdern,
pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church in St. Louis conducted the final rite,
assisted by 43-year-old Father Raymond Bishop, director of the St. Louis
University Department of Education. Much of the material mirrors what Steve
Erdmann printed in his January 1975 Fate article.
However, the book suffers many shortcomings: the possessed boys identity
is not revealed; the schools he attended are not mentioned; no interviews
are conducted with any of the boys childhood friends or classmates;
no interviews are conducted with any friends or neighbors of the boys
family (once again raising suspicion as to the dubious Mount Rainier location);
and the possessed boy himself is not interviewed.
The 50-minute video In The Grip Of Evil simply reflects the material
Thomas Allen presented in his book Possessed. It combines theatrical
reenactments with Unsolved Mysteries-styled cameo commentaries
by a host of characters including Allen himself, Father Walter Halloran
and Father Frank Bober. Curiously, Allen opens the video explaining that
the family was from Mount Rainier (which I felt from the beginning was
a critical error), though clips shown in two different parts of the video
depicting the boys home reveal a still-intact house that is clearly
not at the famed corner of 33rd Street and Bunker Hill Road in Mount Rainier.
Where is this house? Locating that house and determining the name of the
family that once lived there would be my next investigative objective.
Debunking the Myth of 3210 Bunker Hill Rd., Mount Rainier
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