The Exorcist: The true story behind the movie…

In what is perhaps one of the most remarkable experiences of its kind in recent religious history, a 14-year-old Mount Rainier boy has been freed by a Catholic priest of possession by the devil, Catholic sources reported yesterday.
Only after between 20 and 30 performances of the ancient ritual of exorcism, here and in St. Louis, was the devil finally cast out of the boy, it was said.

In all except the last of these, the boy broke into a violent tantrum of screaming, cursing and voicing of Latin phrases-a language he had never studied-whenever the priest reached the climactic point of the ritual, “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, I cast thee (the devil) out.”

In complete devotion to his task, the priest stayed with the boy over a period of two months, during which he said he personally witnessed such manifestations as the bed in which the boy was sleeping suddenly moving across the room.

A Washington Protestant minister had previously reported personally witnessing similar manifestations, including one in which the pallet on which the sleeping boy lay slid slowly across the floor until the boy’s head bumped against a bed, awakening him.

In another instance, reported by the Protestant minister, a heavy armchair in which the boy was sitting with his knees drawn under his chin tilted slowly to one side and fell over, throwing the boy on the floor.

The final rite of exorcism in which the devil was cast from the boy took place in May, it was reported …

A priest here voiced the belief that it was probably the first casting out of the devil through the ritual in at least a century of Catholic activities here and perhaps in the entire history of the church in this area. …[1]

The preceding is an excerpt from a 1949 article published in the Washington Post.  It is said that  William Peter Blatty, who was attending Georgetown University learned of this event and of course we know that years later Blatty wrote the novel that was adapted to be one of the most famous horror films of all time, one that remains today a cult classic.

“The Exorcist” — both the movie and the 1971 novel it’s based on — was written by William Peter Blatty, who first heard about the demonic possession of a 14-year-old boy around 1949, while he was a senior at Georgetown University. Eugene Gallagher, one of his professors and a priest at the Jesuit college, told Blatty, a New York native, about the extraordinary story of the boy who was believed to be in the throes of demonic possession, but had been saved through a series of exorcisms.[2]

Over the years the true identity of the boy has been a highly guarded secret, designed to protect his privacy.  Countless news articles and historical treatises have been written using the pseudonym  Roland or in some cases Robbie Doe.

Photo of someone using Ouija

Hunkeler’s mother thought the strange occurrences were related to the death of an aunt who taught the boy how to use a Ouija board to communicate with spirits. USA Today Network/Sipa USA

It seems that “Robbie” survived the exorcism and grew up to become an engineer and worked at NASA for forty years.  While at NASA he patented a special technology to make space shuttle panels resistant to extreme heat, helping the Apollo missions of the 1960s that put US astronauts on the moon in 1969. [2]

Researchers and would be sleuths managed to track down those with some degree of knowledge about the case and deduced “Robbie’s” true identity.

While exploring the story  for his podcast, The Devil in the Details–JD Sword explains in an article published in the Skeptical Enquirer [3] — found that folks such as investigative journalist Mark Opsasnick, blogger Mike Madonna, and Dr. Sergio A. Rueda had already thoroughly researched the case and cast doubt on many of its claims, as well as having deduced the real identity of Roland Doe.

Sword tell us that Opsasnick spoke to Mt. Rainier resident Dean Landolt, who stated he was “very good friends with Father Hughes, the priest involved in the case. … Father Hughes told me two things: one was that the boy lived in Cottage City, and the other is that he went on to graduate from Gonzaga High and turned out fine.

Opsasnick was able to obtain a list of names of male students that graduated on that year from Gonzaga then he narrowed the list down to only one student who lived in Cottage City and had been born on June 1, 1935: Ronald E. Hunkeler

In his 1999 Strange magazine article, Opsasnick chose not to reveal Ronald’s identity, “for a number of legal reasons” as he explained to me. However, knowing the address made it possible to deduce Ronald’s identity. As author Kyle T. Cobb explained to me, “TW Scott confirmed the address without naming the boy. The address confirmed the last name and parents. The school annuals and interviews with classmates verified the timeline and identity.” In addition, since the publication of the article in Strange, more than just the full twenty-nine-page diary of Father Bishop had become public knowledge. In his book Diabolical Possession and the Case behind the Exorcist, Sergio Rueda interviewed Rev. Schulze on July 25, 1990, and asked him, “Was the name of the family, the Hunkeler family?” to which Schulze replied, “Yes” (Rueda 2018).[3]

Finally we read in the NY Post:

Hunkeler’s female companion confirmed to The Post that he died last year, a month shy of his 86th birthday, after suffering a stroke at his home in Marriottsville, Md., a suburb northwest of Baltimore. He was cremated, she said.

Blatty’s book “The Exorcist” sold more than 13 million copies in the US alone, and the film earned him an Academy Award and a Golden Globe in 1974. It was the first horror movie to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.

Universal Studios recently announced that it is planning a rebooted trilogy of the film, with Ellen Burstyn reprising her original role as the mother of the possessed teen, beginning in 2023.[2]

As in many of these cases, those who were not eye witnesses to paranormal events and who want to believe that possession and the Devil himself are naught but figments of our imagination, go out of their way to dismiss and discredit the stories told by those who personally were present and observed phenomena that they could not offer a rational explanation for.  Even I have seen things that I try to find a rational explanation that fit for that which I have experienced.  We would all–even those of us in the ministry–love to say that the devil is just a myth, but that would put us in the position of being culpable, aiding and abetting  in Satan’s grand deception.

May the Peace of the Lord be with Mr. Hunkeler.

 

[1]Priest Frees Mt. Rainier Boy Reported Held in Devil’s Grip By Bill Brinkley Post Reporter Friday, Aug. 20, 1949, Washington Post Archives;https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/features/dcmovies/exorcism1949.htm

[2] https://nypost.com/2021/12/20/is-the-exorcist-a-true-story-what-happened-to-ronald-hunkeler/

[3]Demoniac: Who Is Roland Doe, the Boy Who Inspired The Exorcist?
by JD Sword From: Volume 45, No. 6 November/December 2021 https://skepticalinquirer.org/2021/10/demoniac-who-is-roland-doe-the-boy-who-inspired-the-exorcist/

2 thoughts on “The Exorcist: The true story behind the movie…

  1. Before scanning the article I was HOPING I would find MUCH MORE information about the case AND from the Church’s OWN sources than quotes from outside “secular” reports!! One has to go to NON-Catholic sources to find redacted and variant versions of the presiding priest’s account instead of an authorative version being published HERE in the Church’s “journal of exorcism”!! And even the website http://www.biblecatholic.com only presented a NEEDLESS transcript of the priest’s letter to the Alexian Brothers’ rector along with a photograph of it and a photo of the first page of the “report”. The rest “transcripted” from it was merely the word “text” INANELY repeated in place of it!! WHY is the Catholic Church STILL HIDING from this issue when the subject of it is dead?? It does NOT make the study of such worthwhile unless it is presented on the Church’s own website about it instead of merely quotes from newspapers and pious simplicities which NEITHER convince skeptics NOR support the faith of believers WITHOUT authorative documentation and intelligent analysis!! VERY DISappointing and POORLY done.

    • Greetings in the name of the Lord

      Richard: While I am sorry your found the article on Saint Michael’s Journal to be “VERY DISappointing and POORLY done” I will have to admit that like you, I feel the Roman Catholic Church should be more transparent on the subject of Exorcism.

      First off, I am not a Roman Catholic Bishop and I have no “connections” to the Roman church, therefore I am innocent of their lack of transparency on this subject. Their veil of secrecy was so great just a few years ago, their Priests were even contacting me to see if I could tell them how to obtain more information. Everyone knew about the Exorcism school but it would seem that only a few American Bishops, at that time, knew how to make arrangements to attend.

      The only sources I have for stories regarding Exorcism, are secular media, I have no contacts with the Vatican or any of the Roman Catholic Bishops in the US.

      Thank you for taking the time to air your frustrations, the Roman Catholic Church does indeed need to answer to the public regarding this subject.

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