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The Exorcism of Ronald Hunkeler

Disclaimer: This work has been completed as an educational tool for students of history, religious and paranormal studies. The author wishes to discourage any use of this work in conjunction with paranormal field investigations of demons.

Researched and written by Kyle T. Cobb, Jr.

Nos tibi credere.

A  Case History

The Exorcism of Ronald Edwin Hunkeler

In 1973, the world of horror changed forever when arguably the scariest movie of all time, The Exorcist hit theaters. Based on the 1971 William Peter Blatty book of the same name, The Exorcist brought the world of demons to the forefront of popular culture and imaginations. In part, at least some of the initial success of the Blatty book can be attributed to the success of another book dealing with demonic issues,  Ira Levin’s novel Rosemary’s Baby, which was released in 1967. The 1968 Roman Polanski film version of the Rosemary’s Baby became a box office sensation and left the pop culture crowd ready to look deeper in to matter of the devil in the modern world.

During his promotional tours for the movie and in his book, William Peter Blatty On The Exorcist From Novel to Film, Blatty credited a 20 August 1949 article by Bill Brinkley in the Washington Post for the inspiration behind the story.

In the decades since the movie, the truth behind the article has become convoluted to say the best. Even though as many as 26 people claimed to witness events surrounding the case, much of the real story behind the case has been obscured by exaggerated media reports and a general unwillingness of actual witnesses to discuss the case. In fact, it has only been in the last few years that the identity of the boy has actually been discovered. Based on evidence collected by intrepid investigators like Mark Opsasnick, evidence suggest the real name of the boy was Ronald Edwin Hunkeler but even that is uncertain.

Media Coverage

The Brinkley article, entitled “Priest Frees Mt. Rainier Boy Reported Held In Devil’s Grip,” told the story of a 14-year-old boy living in Mount Rainer, Maryland that had been freed by demonic possession through the Catholic Exorcism ritual.  But it was not the first newspaper account to deal with the alleged possession.

The first version of the story seems to have appeared on 10 August 1949 in The Washington Post in an article called “Pastor Tells Eerie Tale of ‘Haunted’ Boy.” In the article, an unnamed priest held a talk before a meeting of the Society of Parapsychology at the Mount Pleasant Library in Washington, D.C. The priest claimed that the family had experienced a variety of unexplained events in their home since 18 January 1949.  Some of the events included scratching noises from the house’s walls which could be attributed to rodents), the 13-year-old’s bed shaking violently, and objects moving in the boy’s presence. Being a skeptic, the priest had the boy spend the night in his home on 17 February 1949. While the boy allegedly slept, the priest her vibrating noises from the boy’s bed and scratching coming from the walls. The priest also claimed to have witnessed a chair that the boy was sitting in tilt and flip over. Finally, the priest reported that a stack of blankets the boy was resting on moved around the room.

In the 10 August 1949 version of the story that appeared in the Washington, DC Evening Star, the family is referred to as “Mr. and Mrs. John Doe” and the 13-year-old son is named as “Roland.” This article cites a priest giving a speech to the Society of Parapsychology as the source. The article also claims three different exorcism rituals were used: Episcopal, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic.

The next version of the story appeared on 11 August 1949 in the Washington DC Times-Herald in an article by William Flythe, Jr. called “‘Haunted’ Boy’s Parents Tell Of Ghost Messages.” This article held many of the same elements of the preceding articles but claimed the possession case was in the “Brentwood section northeast.” The story also claims demonic symbols were formed as a rash on the boy but the priest did not confirm this “fact.” The family sent the boy to St. Louis where he experienced a vision of St. Michael and was cured.

“A Catholic priest has successfully freed a 14-year-old Mount Rainier, Md., boy of reported possession by the devil here early this year, it was disclosed today,” is the opening of the Washington DC Evening Star on 19 August 1949. The article entitled “Priest Freed Boy of Possession By Devil, Church Sources Say” is the first to discuss the actual exorcism. The names of the victim are not disclosed however it does state that the boy’s affliction was studied at the Georgetown University Hospital as well as St. Louis University. A follow-up article on the 20 August 1949 also states the boy would shout blasphemous curses, intermingled with Latin phrases.

Also on 20 August 1949, came the article that would eventually inspire the William Peter Blatty novel. The Washington Post printed a Bill Brinkley article entitled “Priest Frees Mt. Rainier Boy Reported Held in Devil’s Grip.” This article went into much greater detail than previous articles and claimed the boy had undergone almost 30 exorcisms. During the Rite, it was reported, the boy would have bouts of cursing and screaming, at times, in Latin. The article disclosed the exorcism was done by a St. Louis Catholic priest in St. Louis and had moved to DC for a time before returning to St. Louis to be completed. Before the exorcisms began, the boy was required to join the Catholic Church and once they concluded the boy claimed to see a vision of St. Michael casting out the devil.

The only other contemporary discoverable media attention is found in the periodical from a New York-based Parapsychology Foundation, called the Parapsychology Bulletin. The sole revelation of this article was the inclusion of the name of the family priest at St. Stephen’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Reverend Luther Miles Schulze.

In the shadow of the 1971 Blatty book being released several articles appeared rehashing previous reports. The only one to suggest new information was an article by Gwen Dobson which contained an interview with John J. Nicola, the assistant director of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in D.C. and a leading authority on exorcism. According to the article, “The first priest who worked with him suffered a slashed arm when the boy wrenched a bed spring coil loose and cut the priest.”

In January 1975, Fate Magazine published a Steve Erdmann article titled “The Truth Behind The Exorcist,” which is one of the first independent sources to confirm the existence of a diary maintained by the priests involved in the exorcism. Not only did this confirm Blatty’s statements about using the diary as source material but the article also reprinted alleged sections of the document. The article also named the victim of the case, Roland Doe as he was called in the diary. Ermann also explains that his access to this version of diary came from Father Eugene B. Gallagher, a Georgetown faculty member that obtained the diary from the psychiatrist at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C.

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Ronald Hunkeler 2

The Exorcist movie poster

Priest Frees Mt. Rainier Boy Reported Held in Devil’s Grip… Original article that inspired Blatty