Debunking the Myth of
3210 Bunker Hill Road,
Rumors that the haunted boy had actually lived at 3210
Bunker Hill Road in Mount Rainier have been around since the early 80s
and have mostly been spread by neighborhood teens and newcomers to the
area, who have raised the aura surrounding this location to urban legend
I went back to the literature and determined that the first printed references
to this address appeared in The Prince Georges Sentinel
articles of February 4, 1981 and October 28, 1983. No definitive source
for that address information was given. The next article to highlight this
location, The Washington Post of May 6, 1985, quoted Father Bober
as saying that Father Hughes never told him exactly where the boy lived.
In fact, there is no printed reference to Father Hughes ever having identified
3210 Bunker Hill Road as the boys home. These articles set the rumors
in motion, but none could positively confirm that address as the boys
home. Furthermore, if the diary kept by the Jesuit priests
had mentioned 3210 Bunker Hill Road, then Thomas B. Allen certainly would
have cited that in his book. He doesnt, but instead cites The Prince
Georges Sentinel article of February 4, 1981 as his source. He goes
on to say that the diary gives another address for the family, about a
half mile away, leading him to infer that the family moved from Mount Rainier.
I realized, however, that there was no evidence demonstrating that the
family ever lived in Mount Rainier in the first place. Something was amiss.
The first stop on my mission to determine who it was that really lived
at the Mount Rainier address of 3210 Bunker Hill Road was the Hyattsville
Branch Public Library in Prince Georges County, a facility that would
become my base of operations for the duration of my search. It was there
that I found an extremely rare copy of the Prince Georges County
Metropolitan Directory of the Mt. Rainier-Hyattsville-College Park Area,
published in 1950 by C. E. Wooten. This directory listed the families and
their phone numbers according to their street addressan unusual and
highly effective method of tracking the local population. Looking at the
entries for Bunker Hill Road, Mount Rainier, I scanned down the listings
until I found 3210 and discovered the listed occupants as being
Joseph Haas and Grace Miller.
Now that I had a name to work with I next went to the Prince Georges
County Historical Society Library at the Marietta Mansion in Glenn Dale,
Maryland and checked out information pertaining to the last name of Haas.
While searching the index of a book titled Gleanings From The Records
Of The Francis Gaschs Sons Funeral Home, Prince Georges County,
Maryland 1860-1940 (published in 1996 by the Prince Georges
Genealogical Society Inc. of Bowie, Maryland) I found a highly significant
entry on page 313 regarding the Haas family. It read:
Miller, Martina Gregory3226 Bunker Hill Road, Mount Rainier, Maryland.
08 Jun 1926. (Note Evening Star 07 Jun 1926 p. 9 reports died on 06 Jun
1926 at the residence of her daughter Mrs. Joe S. Haas, 3226 Bunker Hill
Road, Mount Rainier, Maryland.) Wife of the late Lemuel E. Miller (Morristown,
This entry clearly states that Joseph Haas and his wife were in a house
on Bunker Hill Road in 1926. While at the Historical Society Library, I
next checked the Atlas Of Prince Georges County, Maryland, Volume
1, a large bound collection of maps published by the Franklin Survey
Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1940. Indeed, the map listed in
detail all of the houses and their respective address numbers in Mount
Rainier and the home at 3226 Bunker Hill Road sat right on the corner of
33rd Street. It was in the exact location of the vacant lot where 3210
was said to have stood. I was later told by Susan G. Pearl of the Maryland
National Capital Park and Planning Commissions Historic Preservation
Division that all of Mount Rainiers house numbers, along with many
street names, were changed in 1942, a move that was also enacted in many
neighboring communities including Cottage City.
There was no question that 3226 Bunker Hill Road and 3210 had been one
and the same house. My research, then, has revealed beyond any doubt that
Joseph Haas lived in the house at 3210 Bunker Hill Road from at least 1926
through at least 1950.
Common sense would then dictate that the possessed boy was a son of Mr.
Joseph Haas. That is, if this were the actual site, as was almost universally
accepted. I began scouring the microfilm newspaper holdings at the Hyattsville
Branch Public Library and found that they had a complete run of The
Prince Georges Post newspaper, a weekly that was published in
Hyattsville, Maryland and dated back to 1932. I read every copy from 1932
to 1984 and discovered to my amazement that every issue had, without fail,
a large number of neighborhood reports written by local residents that
focused on the countys individual towns and included all the local
gossip and newsworthy tidbits. Columns on Mount Rainier, Brentwood, Cottage
City, and Hyattsville (along with numerous others) were in every issue
and I began intensely searching these columns for information on Joseph
Haas and the possession case in general.
In the Mount Rainier column I found numerous references to Joseph Haas,
including mention of his being hospitalized after a heart attack in the
December 28, 1950 and February 8, 1951 editions. On March 8, 1951 Mrs.
M. E. Davis writes that Mr. Joseph Haas 3210 Bunker Hill Road is
still in the hospital. They include updates on his condition in the
March 22nd, March 29th, April 12th, July 26th, and August 9th editions.
In the August 23, 1951 issue they announce that Joe Haas died on Thursday
August 16, 1951 at his home. I felt it was odd that no other family members
were mentioned, unless of course he had no survivors. Checking his obituary
in the August 20, 1951 Washington Post confirmed my suspicions. In part,
it read: Joseph Stroup Haas
.On Thursday, August 16, 1951, at
his residence 3210 Bunker Hill Road, Mt. Rainier, Md. JOSEPH STROUP HAAS,
beloved husband of the late Emily G. Haas (nee Miller)
. A special
communication was also published by the Mount Hermoa Lodge No. 179 for
the purpose of conducting the last masonic rites for our late brother and
past master, Joseph Stroup Haas at the Masonic Temple in Hyattsville.
No survivors to Joseph Haas were listed. It was clear that he never had
any children, hence the haunted boy could never have lived at 3210 Bunker
I needed corroboration and instinctively checked the 1950 directory to
see who else had lived on Bunker Hill Road at that point in time. There
were ten homes listed in the 3200 block and, given the tremendous demographic
change that had transformed Prince Georges County over the last thirty
years, I realized that the chance of locating someone who remembered the
Haas household was slim. I noted that Richard and Irene Ashton were listed
as living at 3208 Bunker Hill Road in 1950 and after a little legwork in
the community I located their daughter Peggy Lanahan.
The Ashtons, it turned out, had lived at 3208 from 1947 until 1959, with
Peggy spending most of her childhood in the home. She recalls visiting
the house next door at 3210 many times: It was an older couple and
a woman named Grace Miller who lived there. Grace Miller was an elderly
gray-haired lady and she was my piano teacher. I was going over to their
house and taking lessons from her every day during the late 40s.
I never thought it (the possession) happened there because I was in that
house almost every day and I never knew of anything like that happening
and I never saw any kids in that house. I asked my mother about that too
and she remembered a man and his wife and Grace Miller living in that house
and she didnt remember there being any children there.
As one of the few who can actually remember visiting 3210 Bunker Hill Road,
Mrs. Lanahan continued with her vivid memories:
It was a big, old, three-story house. [Note how this description drastically
differs from the one-and-one-half story home description given
by the August 10, 1949 The Evening Star, Washington, D.C. newspaper
account.] It was gray and drabdidnt have a coat of paint on
itand looked like a haunted house. There was never any talk of a
possessed boy living there. The first story I ever saw about it was the
movie itself. I went to a class reunion and my girlfriend at the time,
who used to live in Mount Rainier also, said to me,Did you see the
article in the newspaper? That exorcism took place in the house next to
you. I said, No, it couldnt have been there because how
could something like this happen next door and none of us know anything
about it? Especially since I was taking piano lessons in there every
day. None of the neighbors ever mentioned it. I told her it couldnt
have been there. She showed me the article and there was a picture of the
lot on the corner and our old house in the background and I couldnt
believe it. They are wrong!
Many Mount Rainier residents spoke warmly of Herbert and Mary Landolt and
their family, who had moved in at 4002 33rd Street in 1945 and remained
until they passed away in the 80s. They had a large, well-known,
and highly respected Catholic family of nine children and it was recommended
that I talk with them about 3210 Bunker Hill Road, a house that their backyard
happened to border. Having already spoken with Herberts brother Dean
Landolt, who was instrumental in my pursuing this case, I called Robert
Landolt (a son of Herbert and today a very successful Howard County attorney)
to see if he remembered anything about the story. The people in the
neighborhoodthey never said anything about that house, Mr.
Landolt affirmed. You know, that was just a strange house and we
called it the haunted house because in the 50s it would
be empty for long periods of time and it was the only house in the neighborhood
that was like that. My brothers and I all served The Washington Star
and The Washington Post and I probably served that house for a
while. I dont remember there being kids in that house until later
on in the 50s, well after that case was said to have taken place.
Mr. Landolt went on to state that he had heard about the case shortly after
the rite of exorcism was completed, despite the fact it simply was not
talked about in Mount Rainier. My dad and Uncle Dean were very good
friends with Father Hughes and I gained my knowledge of the incident through
them, he told me. Honestly, I had always heard he (the haunted
boy) was from Cottage City and he was a Lutheran who later converted to
Catholicism. Thats what I was told and thats what I believed.
Other longtime Mount Rainier residents told similar tales about 3210 Bunker
Hill Road. Joan Flanagan, who grew up in the town and worked in City Hall
for several years said, My mother knew everyone in this town and
she said someone named Haas lived in that house and that they didnt
have children. All of the other old-timers said the same thing. It couldnt
have been that house.
Mrs. Flanagan directed me to Mary Prosperi, who had also grown up in the
area. These two women had attended eighth grade at St. James School together
during the 1948-49 school year (the same year the haunted boy was in the
eighth gradethough he didnt attend St. James) and had maintained
a friendship ever since. Mrs. Prosperi frankly related to me, My
husband John said that he served newspapers to that house at 3210 throughout
that whole timethe late 40s and into the 50sand
no children ever lived in that house. It wasnt until after the movie
came out that people started saying that house was the location but to
us it was always the big joke. There were never any kids in that house.
From published information in The Prince Georges
Post and documents on file at the University of Maryland Fire and
Rescue Institute I was able to determine that the house at 3210 Bunker
Hill Road was burned down in March 1962 (which differs from the date of
April 1964 given by Thomas Allen in his book Possessed) as the final training
class exercise of the Section II Advanced Training Course in Firemanship,
a program for firefighters offered through what was then called the Fire
Extension Service of the University of Maryland. The burning of the house
was completed under the supervision of University of Maryland senior instructors
Matthew Dillon and Robert Smith, with the cooperation of the Mount Rainier
Fire Department. Representing Mount Rainier were Chief Francis Xander,
Deputy Chief John Fisher, and Captain Karl Young. Firefighters from neighboring
departments such as Brentwood, Cottage City-Colmar Manor, and Hyattsville
were also invited to participate, with about four-dozen men eventually
taking part in the festivities (including the 18 training class students).
While the top three 1962 fire officials from Mount Rainier have all passed
away and no one on Mount Rainiers current force was an active member,
I had little difficulty locating firemen who did participate in the burning
of that house. All of them echoed the same sentimentsthere was never
any talk among any of the firefighters that 3210 Bunker Hill Road had ever
been the site of any type of demonic possession.
Dave Manning, age 71, served on the Mount Rainier Fire Department for twenty-five
years (1950-1975) and vividly recalls the corner house going down: We
burned it down in 1962 and it was just a big old house that they wanted
to get rid of. I never heard anything like that from any fireman or anyone
else in Mount Rainier. It was just a way of getting practice. Wed
light a room and put it out and do that over and over and finally the whole
thing went down. I know that the whole time I was a fireman nobody ever
talked about that house as being a part of The Exorcist or there
ever being an exorcism down there or anything at all like that.
Another longtime Mount Rainier resident who remembers the burning of the
old house is 82-year-old Ralph Collins, who was an active member of the
Brentwood Fire Department from 1935 to 1976 (including a stint as chief
from 1944 to 1949) and served as president of the Firemans Association
for all of 1950 and 1951. Collins frequently hung around and rode with
his friends on the Mount Rainier force. He told me, As I remember
that house was all boarded up and in bad shape and looked kind of spooky
and the city of Mount Rainier was disgusted with it. It was set up through
the University of Maryland Fire School. No one ever said anything about
it being the house where The Exorcist happened. That was never
talked about. It was just an old house that had to go.
At this point I realized that my work on 3210 Bunker Hill Road was over.
I had conclusively proven not only that the people who had lived in the
house never had any children, but that there were absolutely no stories
(not even any rumors) circulating among Mount Rainier residents prior to
the release of those Prince Georges Sentinel articles in
the early 80s that anything like a case of demonic possession had
ever affected anyone living at 3210 Bunker Hill Road. The belief that the
haunted boy had lived in that house was nothing more than an urban myth,
classically spurred on by some irresponsible journalists. I was the first
investigator to debunk this mystery. (The house still has a history, as
at least two people, Martina Miller and Joseph Haas, had died there, possibly
spurring on tales among the local youth of the house being haunted.) Still
the nagging question remained: who was the boy and where did he really
Identifying the Haunted Boy
The haunted boy never lived in Mount Rainier, then,
which meant I had to start from scratch and go back and study the notes
and taped interviews I had accumulated. The information given to me by
Dean Landolt continued to stick in my mind. He had related to me that Father
Hughes told him that the boy had gone on to graduate from Gonzaga High
School, a private Catholic school located in Washington, D.C.
I rechecked Steve Erdmanns Fate article from January 1975 and noted
that the boy was born on June 1, 1935. I figured that if the boy missed
the 1948-49 school year, he probably graduated in 1954.
Obtaining a 1954 Gonzaga High School yearbook proved to be no easy feat,
but I located a copy nonetheless. I was surprised to discover that when
a student graduated from Gonzaga, they would enter under his senior picture
his full name, current home address, and the name of the parish in which
he was a member. For the 1954 school year, there were five graduates who
were members of St. James Church in Mount Rainier, Maryland: two from Mount
Rainier, one from D.C. and two from Cottage City. I took those five names
and checked their birth dates through Marylands various systems of
vital recordsall public information. I knew that the individual who
came up with a birth date of June 1, 1935 would prove to be the mysterious
haunted boy. The first name I randomly selected matched up with that date
of birth. For reasons that will later become obvious I will from now on
refer to this individual as Rob Doe (a combination of previously
used pseudonyms). Robs home address was listed in the yearbook as
being 3807 40th Avenue, Cottage City, Maryland.
There was now no doubt that I had successfully identified the boy in question,
something no other investigator had ever accomplished.
Everything quickly fell into place as I searched for corroborating evidence.
The first thing I did was check the family name and 40th Avenue address
in the 1950 Prince Georges County Metropolitan Directory of the
Mt. Rainier-Hyattsville-College Park Area at the Hyattsville Library.
Indeed, the family was listed at that address. The investigation immediately
picked up tremendous momentum as soon as I focused my efforts on the town
of Cottage City, Maryland, the real home of the haunted boy.
Entering a new phase of the investigation, I sought
to determine how long the Doe family had lived at 3807 40th Avenue, Cottage
City. I trekked down to the Martin Luther King Memorial Library in Washington,
D.C., whose third-floor Washingtoniana Division contains a complete collection
of Washington, D. C. and Suburban Maryland phone directories dating back
to the 19th century. I conducted a thorough search of these directories
(which are stored on microfilm) and discovered that the very first publication
of the family name in question appeared in the Boyds District
of Columbia Directory-1935 (D. C.: R. L. Polk & Company) under
a Brentwood listing. The family was listed at that location through 1939.
According to the Boyds District of Columbia Directory: Vol. 1940,
the family was listed as residing at 41 Central Ave., Cottage City, Maryland.
Running back to the Prince Georges Historical Society, a check with
the Franklin Survey Companys 1940 Atlas Of Prince Georges
County, Maryland, Volume 1, revealed that at that point in time, what
would soon become 40th Avenue in Cottage City was still called Central
Avenue. This verifies that the Doe family had been in the house at 3807
40th Avenue since at least 1940 (I later verified that they moved into
this house in 1939). Subsequent checks revealed that the street name did
indeed change to 40th Avenue in 1942 and the family was at that address
until 1958. Immediately I realized that the priests involved had most likely
identified the town of Mount Rainier as the boys home to act as a
smokescreen so that he could not be readily identified.
So much additional evidence of the familys involvement in Cottage
City community life surfaced that I felt certain that residents in that
tiny community would still remember the family. It was obvious that no
other investigator had ever thought to look there for evidence. I went
back to The Prince Georges Post and searched the neighborhood
columns on Cottage City, which appeared in every issue. There were many
references to the Doe family contained within. The first that illustrates
that the family never moved from Cottage City to Mount Rainier during the
time in question appears in the June 24, 1948 edition. In the column Cottage
City, Mrs. Cletis E. Luther writes: Mrs. (Doe) of 3807 40th
has not been well for some time. She is in hopes of avoiding
an operation. (I have been told that one local author stubbornly
believes that the Doe family moved from their Cottage City home and rented
the house at 3210 Bunker Hill Road, for a short while, then moved back
to Cottage City. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever for this pointless
move. There is no connection between Joseph Haas and the Doe family and
when I later interviewed dozens of Cottage City residents, they all confirmed
that the family in question had always lived in Cottage City in the 40th
Avenue houseand never moved until Mr. Doe sold it in 1958).
Other references to the Doe family are made in the Cottage City columns
of May 30, 1950 (which details a bridge game that involved Mr. and Mrs.
[Doe], Mr. and Mrs. Alvin Kagey, and Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Hodges of Berwyn
Heights); June 8, 1950 (Mr. Doe was operated on at Sibley Hospital); June
29, 1950 (Relatives from St. Louisfurther corroborationvisited
the family and took Rob on a two-week trip to St. Petersburg, Florida),
September 14, 1950 (visiting the Does and Anna Coppage were Mr. and Mrs.
John Schwab and Mr. and Mrs. Jess Zengel and daughter Janis Ann of St.
Louis), and numerous other similar announcements throughout the early 50s.
In 1955 Mrs. Doe fell ill and The Prince Georges Post frequently
published notices on her condition. In the June 14, 1956 edition they reported,
Sympathy is also extended to the family of Mrs. [Doe], who passed
away on June 7th. Mrs. [Doe], who lived at 3807 40th Avenue, is survived
by her husband, [Mr. Doe]; a son [Rob Doe]; her mother and sister of St.
Louis, Missouri. Funeral services were held from Nalleys Funeral
Home with Requiem Mass at St. James Catholic Church on June 9. Interment
was in St. Louis, Missouri.
Continuing on this Cottage City theme, the 1997 video release In the
Grip of Evil shows a house in two separate sequences that they purport
to be the home of the haunted boy. They dont identify its address,
though representatives from Henninger Media Development, the producers
of the video, revealed to me that it was the only address given for the
family in the diary of the exorcism kept by Father Raymond Bishop (which
was supplied to them by Thomas Allen). When I began my investigative work
in Cottage City and visited 3807 40th Avenue, I immediately recognized
it as the house in the video.
Friends and Neighbors Speak Out
For the First Time
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