Clarissa Johal: Frightening Friday-The "Real-Life" Case Behind The Exorcist: Fact vs. Fiction

Friday, October 19, 2018

Frightening Friday-The "Real-Life" Case Behind The Exorcist: Fact vs. Fiction

Photo courtesy of Michal via Flickr
There was a lot of conflicting information concerning the "real life" case and inspiration behind The Exorcist. The general (compiled) story goes something like this:

Roland Doe (a pseudonym) was born 1935 into a German Lutheran family. An only child, Roland depended upon adults in his household as playmates. It was his Aunt Harriet who introduced him to an Ouija board and it seems they used it on numerous occasions. When Roland was thirteen, she died of multiple sclerosis. Several reports suggest that Roland tried to contact her spirit with the Ouija board. Eleven days after her death, supernatural events began to occur--marching feet, strange noises, and household objects allegedly flew or levitated. After being placed near the boy, a container of holy water smashed to the ground and a picture of Jesus rattled on the wall, as if being hit from behind. When hearing of the numerous Ouija board sessions, the family became convinced that evil had possessed their 13-year-old son and consulted with Father Albert Hughes of St. James Catholic church for further assessment.

Roland was observed overnight and it was reported that in addition to scratching sounds on the wall, a pallet of blankets moved across the room and a heavy armchair tilted and tipped over on its own. The boy went home the next morning only to have the activity worsen. Scratches and sometimes words began to appear on his body, a kitchen table turned over, and objects flew around the room. At school, Roland's desk vibrated across the floor and he was sent home. Father Edward Albert Hughes decided to perform an exorcism. During the exorcism, it was alleged that the boy escaped from the restraints and broke off a bed spring from under the mattress, using it to slash the priest's arm from wrist to shoulder. As a result, the exorcism ritual was stopped. The incident reportedly had a traumatic effect on the priest and Father Hughes went into a long seclusion.

The family sought further help from Rev. Raymond J. Bishop and Rev. William S. Bowdern. The priests claim the boy had an aversion to anything sacred. Strange welts would appear on his body and he would speak in a guttural voice. They also claimed that objects flew around the room and the boy's bed would shake. Bowdern sought permission from the archbishop to perform an exorcism. His request was granted with the requirement that a detailed diary be kept. The exorcism was performed at the psychiatric ward of the Georgetown University Hospital. The priests stated that during the exorcism, words such as "evil" and "hell," along with other various marks, appeared on the boy's body. Outbursts, including cursing, spitting, urinating, vomiting and the use of Latin phrases, were also reported. The exorcism ritual was performed thirty times over several weeks. When the final exorcism was complete, witnesses reported loud noise going off throughout the hospital. Afterwards, the boy went on to lead a normal life.

That's the story you'll read on various sites concerning this case.

Author Mark Opsasnick tells a different story. In his meticulously researched article for Strange Magazine, Opsasnick states that "Roland Doe" was actually Rob Doe; a troubled teen growing up in an overly strict and religious household. Rob and his best friend would continually try and "outdo" each other when it came to pranks and other shenanigans. The best friend states that, "(Rob was) smothered by his obsessively religious mother and grandmother who held deep interests in spiritualism and Ouija Boards, shunned by his classmates at school, prone to tantrums and even violent outbursts towards his family and his few friends, and exhibiting cruel and at times even sadistic behavior towards other children and even animals." Mark Opsasnick's research uncovers that there was indeed an exorcism, though most of the activity reported in the "real life" case behind The Exorcist wasn't confirmed by any of the priests involved. Father Hughes was never attacked with a bed spring, nor did he experience a breakdown due to an attack. Father Halloran states the boy mimicked their Latin rather than spoke it fluently, and with no guttural changes in his voice. There was no vomiting or urinating, and the scratches were questionable. The list goes on.

If you're interested, I encourage you to check out Opsasnick's article. It's quite fascinating. What do you think? Was Rob Doe's behavior a result of demonic possession, or merely a troubled teen acting out? 

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