Friday, October 03, 2008

The Devil came to St Louis by Troy Taylor


The case began not in St. Louis, but in either the small Washington, D.C. suburb of Cottage City, Maryland or Mount Rainer. There seems to be some debate about this because there have been a couple of different houses that have been identified as the home in question. As most readers already know, what has come to be known as the "St. Louis Exorcism Case" would go on to inspire William Peter Blatty's 1971 best-selling book and the movie based on it, The Exorcist. In the novel, a young girl is possessed by a demon and is subjected to an exorcism by Catholic priests. In the true story though, the subject of the alleged possession was not a girl but a boy who has been identified in various accounts as "Roland" or "Robbie Doe". Robbie (as we will call him here) was born in 1935 and grew up in this area. He was the only child of a dysfunctional family and had a troubled childhood.

In January 1949, the family of 13-year-old "Robbie Doe" began to be disturbed by scratching sounds that came from inside of the walls and ceilings of the house. Believing that the house was infested with mice, the parents called an exterminator but he could find no sign of rodents. To make matters worse, his efforts seemed to add to the problem. Noises that sounded like someone walking in the hallway could be heard and dishes and objects were often found to be moved without explanation.

And while the noises were disturbing, they weren't nearly as frightening as when Robbie began to be attacked. His bed shook so hard that he couldn't sleep at night. His blankets and sheets were torn from the bed. When he tried to hold onto them, he was reportedly pulled off the bed and onto the floor with the sheets still gripped in his hands.

Those who have come to believe the boy was genuinely possessed feel that he may have been invaded by an invisible entity after experimenting with a Ouija board. He had been taught to use the device by his "Aunt Tillie", a relative who took an active interest in Spiritualism and the occult. Tillie had passed away a short time before the events began and it has even been suggested that it was her spirit who began to plague the boy. This seems unlikely though, especially considering the timing of her death. She lived in St. Louis and had died of multiple sclerosis on January 26, 1949 - a number of days after the phenomena surrounding Robbie began. However the family did feel there was some connection, as was evidenced in the written history of the mystery.

An alleged page from the exorcist diary -- “A Case Study by Jesuit Priests”
Many of the early events in the case were chronicled by the Jesuit priests who later performed the exorcism. Apparently, a diary was kept and it was the same diary that was heard about by author William Peter Blatty when he was a student at Georgetown University in 1949. He first became interested in the story after reading about in newspaper articles and discussed it with his instructor, the Rev. Thomas Bermingham, S.J.. The "diary" of the Robbie Doe case came to light in the fall of 1949 under rather odd circumstances. Father Eugene B. Gallagher, S.J., who was on the faculty of Georgetown, was lecturing on the topic of exorcisms when one of his students, the son of a psychiatrist at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, spoke of a diary that had been kept by the Jesuits involved in the Robbie Doe exorcism. Father Gallagher asked the psychiatrist, who may have been one of the professionals involved in the early stages of the case, for a copy of the diary and eventually received a 16-page document that was titled "Case Study by Jesuit Priests". It had apparently been intended to be used a guide for future exorcisms. Blatty asked to see a copy of the diary, but his request was refused.

He later turned back to newspapers for information about the case and discovered that one of them actually listed the name of the priest involved. His name was Rev. William S. Bowdern, S.J. of St. Louis. Bowdern refused to comment on the case for the newspaper reports, as priests who perform exorcisms are said to be sworn to secrecy. Blatty tried contacting him anyway but the priest refused to cooperate. Out of respect, Blatty changed the identity of the possession victim in his book to a young girl, but the exorcist of the novel remains an apparently thinly veiled portrait of Bowdern.

Father Bowdern passed away in 1983, never publicly acknowledging the fact that he was involved in the St. Louis case. He had talked with other Jesuits though and eventually these stories reached a man named Thomas Allen, an author and contributing editor to National Geographic. He managed to find one of the participants in the case, Walter Halloran, S.J., who was then living in a small town in Minnesota. Halloran was suspicious at first but he did admit that there had been a diary. But was it the diary that fell into the hands of Father Gallagher? Maybe or maybe not...

According to legend, the diary that Halloran had access to later turned up as a 26-page document of the case that was literally snatched out of the old Alexian Brothers hospital just before it was demolished, so where did the 16-page diary come from? And what happened to it? Accounts have it that Father Gallagher later loaned his 16-page diary to Father Brian McGrath, S.J., then dean of Georgetown University, in the spring of 1950. When Gallagher later tried to retrieve the diary, he was told that seven pages of the diary had been lost. Only nine of the 16 pages remained and they were only photocopies.

And what about the later 26-page diary? Sources say that this longer document was found in the Alexian Brothers Hospital on South Broadway in St. Louis. The old psychiatric wing of the hospital was being torn down in 1978 and workmen were sent in to remove furniture from that part of the building. One of these men found the document in a desk drawer of a locked room and he gave it to his supervisors, who in turn passed it on to hospital administrators. It was eventually identified as the work of Rev. Raymond Bishop, S.J., a priest who had participated in the exorcism. The manuscript was locked away but Father Halloran had access to it. He made a copy of the diary and sent it to Allen, who published a book about it in 1993.

As it has turned out, the only details that we have about the case have come through the "diary" and from witnesses who were present at the time. The Catholic Church has never released details of the story. The diary does reveal details though, many of which have been overlooked and forgotten over the years.

As mentioned already, the strange noises and scratching in the house progressed into actual witnessed attacks on Robbie himself. Worried that the incidents might have something to do with Aunt Tillie, Robbie's mother attempted to make contact with her spirit. According to the priest's diary, she asked questions aloud and implored Tillie's spirit, if it was really her, to knock three times and make herself known. Allegedly, Robbie, his mother and his grandmother all felt a wave of air pass over them and then heard three knocks on the floor. Robbie's mother asked again, this time for four knocks and they again came in reply. They were followed by scratching sounds on the bed mattress, which then began to shake and vibrate onto the floor. And while these events must have certainly been chilling, it still seems unlikely that they could have been involved with Aunt Tillie, or her ghost.

There are other explanations for what was going on. Many believe that Robbie may have been the victim of "poltergeist-like phenomena", where unknowing people actually manifest a form of psychokinesis that causes objects to move about in their presence. It often centers around troubled young people and has been documented many times over the years. Other principals in the case would further explore this explanation.

Another explanation, and one offered by more people that you might imagine, was that the boy truly was possessed and that the invisible presence wreaking havoc in the house was not connected to Aunt Tillie at all.

By this time, the family was becoming desperate. They began seeking help for Robbie and according to one account from 1975, called in two Lutheran ministers and a rabbi. Robbie had been baptized a Lutheran at birth, so one has to wonder why a rabbi was called to the house, although some have suggested that perhaps one of the ministers had asked him along. The account goes on to say that while the rabbi was examining the boy, Robbie suddenly began to shout in an unknown tongue. After listening for a few moments, the rabbi announced that he was speaking in Hebrew! Not only that, but the reports add that a professor from Washington University would later hear the boy's speech and he insisted that Robbie was speaking Aramaic, an ancient language of Palestine. If this account is accurate, we have to ask how a 13-year boy from Maryland would have learned to speak Aramaic?

Rev. Luther Schulze, one of the Lutheran ministers and the pastor from the family's own church, tried praying with Robbie and his parents in their home and then with Robbie alone. He took the boy to the church to pray with him and he begged whatever was bothering him to leave. It didn't help however and the strange afflictions continued. The weird noises continued to be heard in the house and Robbie's bed went on shaking and rocking so that he was unable to get any sleep at night. Finally, in February, Schulze decided to question whether the house was haunted, or the boy was. He offered to let Robbie spend the night in his home and his parents quickly agreed. They were anxious to try anything that might help by this time.

That night, Mrs. Schulze went to the guest room and Robbie and the minister retired to the twin beds located in the master bedroom. About ten minutes later, Schulze reported that he heard the sound of Robbie's bed creaking and shaking. He also heard strange scratching noises inside of the walls, just like the ones that had been heard at Robbie's own house. Schulze quickly switched on the lights and clearly saw the vibrating bed. When he prayed for it to stop, the vibration grew even more violent. He stated that Robbie was wide awake but he was completely still and was not moving in a way that would cause the bed to shake.

Schulze then suggested that Robbie try and sleep in a heavy armchair that was located across the room. While Schulze watched him closely, the chair began to move. First, it scooted backward several inches and its legs jolted forward and back. The minister told Robbie to raise his legs and to add his full weight to the chair but that wasn't enough to stop the chair from moving. Moments later, it literally slammed against the wall and then it tipped over and deposited the boy unhurt onto the floor.

Trying not to be frightened or discouraged, Rev. Schulze made a pallet of blankets on the floor for Robbie to sleep on. As soon as the boy fell asleep though, the pallet began to slide across the floor and under one of the beds. When Robbie was startled awake by the movement, he raised up and struck his head on one of the bedposts. Again, the minister made up the pallet, only to this time have it whip across the floor and slide under the other bed. Robbie's hands were visible the entire time and his body was taut with tension. The blankets reportedly did not wrinkle at all as they moved across the floor, as they should have if someone was pushing them.

After this active night, Schulze was now both puzzled and a little afraid. He suggested that Robbie's parents take the boy to see a doctor and a psychologist to rule out any kind of physical or mental problems that might be causing the phenomena to take place. The minister also contacted J.B. Rhine, the famed founder of the parapsychology laboratory at Duke University. He explained what was going on and Rhine and his partner and wife, Louisa Rhine, drove up from North Carolina to see the boy. Unfortunately, no activity took place while the investigator was present, but Rhine did deduce that it sounded like a classic poltergeist case in which the boy's unconscious abilities were influencing the objects around him. The details fit well with other experimental results that Rhine had been obtaining.

And while the explanation suggested by Rhine must have appealed to the minister (as he had contacted the investigator in the first place), he did an abrupt about-face a short time later when the phenomena took another turn. A week or so after the incident at Schulze's home, bloody scratches began to appear on the boy's body. Perhaps startled by this new turn of events, Schulze suggested that the family contact a Catholic priest.

And here's where things get (if possible) even more confusing.

Read the book for more detail


Joseph Fromm said...

More here

dr pepper said...

those control freaks in the church have alot to answer for

Anonymous said...

years ago they used the "god is always watching you" trick to keep us all in line but now technology has become everyones new god theyre using the cctv and the internet instead

Elizabet said...

Hi Guys

interesting comments about the church and our new GOD!

dr pepper said...

Do you believe the spirits that you get in contact with can read your thoughts?

Elizabet said...

Dr Pepper
I do believe some actually can
My belief is that it depends on how evolved they are before becoming a spirit. I hae my own controls to stop this happening as I don't like anyone reading my thoughts, living or otherwise!

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