The Internet is abuzz over the tragic news that William Peter Blatty, author of the terrifying book and feature film, “The Excorcist,” died on Thursday at the age of 89. Blatty, who suffered from multiple myeloma, is widely known for creating the hair-raising supernatural story that has both entertained and horrified audiences for more than four decades.
But one of the details that isn’t always given a great deal of attention is the fact that “The Exorcist” was actually based on a supposed real-life story that Blatty first read about during his college years, The Associated Press reported on Friday. In the film, a young girl named Regan is inhabited by a demonic spirit, but the real-life story reportedly surrounds a 13-year-old boy referred to by aliases “Robbie Mannheim” and “Roland Doe” — an individual whose identity still remains concealed decades after his own apparent demonic possession unfolded.
It’s quite an odd story that apparently began in a Washington, D.C., suburb in 1948 when Robbie started noticing marks on his body and other bizarre happenings inside his home. It’s unclear why or how it all started – pending the supernatural claims are true — but the Daily Mail reported that the boy’s aunt, named Harriet, was a spiritualist who had shown the teen the Ouija board sometime before the strange events, including scratching sounds on the walls and floor and moving objects, started to unfold.
Robbie’s parents soon took him to St. Louis, Missouri, in an effort to try and change the scenery and put some of the bizarre happenings behind them, but they were apparently in for a rude awakening when they arrived there, as the problems continued. That’s when one of Robbie’s cousins — a student at Saint Louis University — apparently told a priest at the college what was happening.
A group of priests soon intervened, and reported seeing some bizarre behaviors with the young boy; they said Robbie was spitting at them and at family members, fiendishly laughing, using dirty language and engaging in other odd acts, as TheBlaze reported (Father Raymond Bishop, one of the priests involved, kept a journal of all the happenings). For anyone wondering just how terrifying the purported events were, just take a gander at some of the journal entries that were recorded (as per the Daily Mail):
– “Next the Fathers began the Litany of the Saints, as indicated in the exorcism ritual. In the course of the Litany, the mattress began to shake. (Roland) was awake. The shaking ceased when Father Bowdern blessed the bed with Holy Water. The prayers of the exorcism were continued and (Roland) was seized violently so that he began to struggle with his pillow and the bed clothing. The arms, legs, and head of (Roland) had to be held by three men.’
– “At midnight, the Fathers planned to give (Roland) Holy Communion, but Satan would have no part of it. Even while the institution of the Blessed Sacrament was explained to (Roland) his body was badly scratched and branded. The word ‘HELLO’ was printed on his chest and thigh. Upon the explanation of the Apostles becoming Priests and receiving Our Lord at the Last Supper, scratches appeared from (Roland) hips to his ankles in heavy lines, seemingly as a protest to Holy Communion.”
What’s perhaps most intriguing is that Saint Louis University does anything but avoid its association with the apparent exorcism, with documents and articles on its website addressing the now-famous case. In fact, an extensive Q&A attempts to answer some of the most common curiosities about what happened, noting that the Robbie situation “has become part of Saint Louis University legend.” As it turns out, Thomas B. Allen, author of the book “Possessed: The True Story of an Exorcism,” has what some say are the best documented details on the case.
As the story goes, Robbie’s exorcism apparently unfolded on numerous locations.
“The rite was started at the boy’s relatives’ house in a northwest St. Louis suburb, which many say was Bel-Nor. After several nights of disruption to the family, the team moved to Alexian Brothers Hospital in south St. Louis city,” reads a description of what reportedly unfolded. “After a short time at the rectory of the St. Francis Xavier College Church on SLU’s campus — where the boy converted to Catholicism (from Evangelical Lutheranism) — the group moved back to Alexian Brothers, where the final days of the exorcism were carried out.”
According to witnesses and to Allen, the exorcism — which unfolded in 1949 — reportedly worked. As of 2012, Robbie was still believed to be alive, though details were not readily given surrounding his exact whereabouts or identity. Saint Louis University archivist John Waide told KSDK-TV at the time that he believed Robbie was 77 years old, and that he had kids of his own after marrying in 1970, explaining that the boy was baptized into Catholicism during the ordeal.
Allen said he tried to reach out to Robbie when he was writing “Possessed,” but to no avail. He explained, “I never heard back from him, and I have to respect his privacy. But if he were not alive, I’d know it.”
As for Blatty, his entry into “Exorcist” fame reportedly started when he saw a story on the cover of the Washington Post about the boy’s exorcism and was later inspired to write the novel — a book that went on to become a bestseller and one of the most revered horror movies of all time, though it seems scaring people was never Blatty’s goal.
“I am going to tell you something now that may stun you and you may think I’m making this up — but I’m not,” Blatty told the Los Angeles Times back in 2013. “When I was writing the novel, I thought I was writing a supernatural detective story that was filled with suspense with theological overtones. To this day, I have zero recollection of even a moment when I was writing that I was trying to frighten anyone.”
It’s been nearly 70 years since Robbie’s purported possession, and many critics have come to question the legitimacy of the story, with some pointing, instead, to mental illness as the cause for the boy’s strange behaviors. But Father William Bowdern, one of the other priests involved, had no doubts about what he saw and experienced, according to Saint Louis University.
“The case in which I was involved was the real thing. I had no doubt about it then, and I have no doubt about it now,” Bowdern said before his death in 1983.
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