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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 excellent analysis by Mark Opsasnick provides a summary of the diary, as follows:

Titled “Case Study by Jesuit Priests,” the diary begins by supplying background information on “Roland Doe” (born 6-1-35), son of “Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Doe”. It states that the family lives in a middle-class Washington suburban development.

January 15, 1949—A dripping noise was heard in his grandmother’s bedroom by the boy and his grandmother. A picture of Christ on the wall shook and scratching noises were heard under the floor boards. From that night on scratching was heard every night from 7 p.m. until midnight. This continued for ten consecutive days. After three days of silence, the boy heard nighttime “squeaking shoes” on his bed that continued for six consecutive nights

January 26, 1949—“Aunt Tillie,” who had a deep interest in spiritualism and had introduced Roland to the Ouija Board, died of multiple sclerosis at the age of 54. Mrs. Doe suspected there may have been some connection between her death and the seemingly strange events that continued to take place. At one point during the manifestations Mrs. Doe asked, “If you are Tillie, knock three times.” Waves of air began striking the grandmother, Mrs. Doe, and Roland and three knocks were heard on the floor. Mrs. Doe again queried, “If you are Tillie, tell me positively by knocking four times.” Four knocks were heard, followed by claw scratchings on Roland’s mattress.

February 17, 1949—On this night a local Lutheran minister named Reverend Shultz [sic] arranged to have the boy spend the night at his parsonage. Roland arrived at 9:20 p.m. and stayed until 9:20 a.m. the next morning. The Reverend reportedly heard scratching noises, and witnessed the following: bed vibrations; a chair in which Roland sat tipping over; and the movement of a pallet of blankets upon which Roland sat.

February 26, 1949—Beginning on this night scratches or markings appeared on the boy’s body for four consecutive nights. After the fourth night words began to appear and seemed to be scratched on by claws. Erdmann mentions that Father Albert Hughes of St. James Catholic Church in Mount Rainier was consulted. Hughes suggested the family use blessed candles, holy water, and special prayers.

March 9, 1949—Father Raymond J. Bishop, S.J., of St. Louis University was called in and witnessed the scratching of the boy’s body and the motion of the mattress.

March 11, 1949—Father Bowdern (described as being pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church) arrived on the scene. After Roland retired at 11 p.m., Father Bowdern read the Novena prayer of St. Francis Xavier, blessed the boy with a relic (a piece of bone from the forearm of St. Francis Xavier), and fixed a relic-encrusted crucifix under the boy’s pillow. The relatives left and Father Bowdern and Father Bishop departed. Soon afterward, a loud noise was heard in Roland’s room and five relatives rushed to the scene. They reportedly found that a large book case had moved about, a bench had been turned over, and the crucifix had been moved to the edge of the bed. The shaking of Roland’s mattress came to a halt only after the relatives yelled, “Aunt Tillie, stop!”

March 16, 1949—Archbishop Joseph E. Ritter gave Father Bowdern permission to begin the formal rite of exorcism. That night, accompanied by Father Bishop and a Jesuit scholastic (later revealed to be Walter Halloran), Father Bowdern began reciting the ritual prayers of exorcism.

Throughout March and into April, Roland was confusingly moved back and forth between the home of his aunt in Normandy, Missouri, a nearby rectory, and Alexian Brothers Hospital in South St. Louis. The rite was an ongoing process. Instructions in the ritual command the exorcist to “pronounce the exorcism in a commanding and authoritative voice.” The Roman Ritual of Christian Exorcism reads: “I cast thee out, thou unclean spirit, along with the least encroachment of the wicked enemy and every phantom and diabolical legion. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, depart and vanish from this creature of God….”

Erdmann tells of markings appearing on Roland’s body as these proceedings continued and of the boy’s usual bad habits: outbursts featuring excessive cursing, vomiting, urinating and the use of Latin phrases. Erdmann also mentions that on one occasion Roland got his hand on a bedspring, broke it, and jabbed it into a priest’s arm. Another time during a round of prayers after Roland had been instructed into the Catholic faith and had received his first holy communion, a six-inch portrait of the devil with its hands held above its head, webs stretching from its hands, and horns protruding from its head appeared in deep red on the boy’s calf. Later, Roland was transported back to Maryland for a short-lived visit and on one of the train rides he became maniacal, striking Father Bowdern in the testicles and yelling, “That’s a nutcracker for you, isn’t it?”

April 18, 1949—As the nighttime ritual continued, Father Bowdern forced Roland to wear a chain of medals and hold a crucifix in his hands. Roland’s demeanor changed and he calmly asked questions about the meanings of certain Latin prayers. Bowdern continued the ritual, demanding to know who the demon was and when he would depart. Roland responded with a tantrum and screamed that he was one of the fallen angels. Bowdern kept reciting until 11:00 p.m. when Roland interrupted. In a new masculine voice Roland said, “Satan! Satan! I am St. Michael! I command you, Satan, and the other evil spirits to leave this body, in the name of Dominus, immediately! Now! Now! Now!” Roland had one last spasm before falling quiet. “He is gone,” Roland pronounced, later telling Bowdern he had had a vision of St. Michael holding a flaming sword. Twelve days later he left Missouri and returned to Maryland.

In February 1981, an article by Spencer Gordon appeared in the Prince George’s Sentinel, a weekly newspaper published in Hyattsville, Maryland. The article asserted that local priest Father E. Albert Hughes of St. James Church in Mount Rainier had performed the first exorcism attempt on the boy at Georgetown University Hospital after psychiatrists there failed to help the boy. This article also reaffirms the slashing of a priest’s arm using a bedspring that was mentioned in the Dobson article. After the failed exorcism, Hughes went into seclusion. This article is also important because it shows a photo labeled “Vacant lot on Bunker Hill Road in Mt. Rainier, exorcism site.”

A second Prince George’s Sentinel article, written by Brenda Caggiano, for the October 28, 1983 Halloween edition, names the address as 3210 Bunker Hill Road in Mount Rainier.

In 1993, Thomas B. Allen released the first book dedicated to the Ronald Edwin Hunkeler case called, Possessed: The True Story Of An Exorcism. The book is built upon two primary sources, the diary as well as an interview with Father Walter H. Halloran, a Jesuit priest that assisted in the St. Louis exorcism and one of the few eyewitnesses willing to discuss his experiences. The book places emphasis on the final exorcism conducted in St. Louis. According to Allen, Father William S. Bowdern, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church in St. Louis conducted the final rite and was assisted by Father Raymond Bishop, director of the St. Louis University Department of Education.

Not a house in Mount Rainer

As mention above, one of the persistent myths concerning the case began in the Prince George’s Sentinel when it named the address as 3210 Bunker Hill Road in Mount Rainer, Maryland. This appears to have been incorrect. According to research conducted by Opsasnick in the 1950 Prince George’s County Metropolitan Directory of the Mt. Rainier-Hyattsville-College Park Area, the occupants of that location from 1926 through 1950 were Joseph Haas and Grace Miller. Opsasnick’s research also proved that Haas was childless when he died in August 1951.

Long time neighbors also denied ever hearing of anything extraordinary happening in the residence.  Peggy Lanahan had grown up living in the house next to 3210 Bunker Hill Road and visited it many times. According to Lanahan:

It was an older couple and a woman named Grace Miller who lived there. Grace Miller was an elderly gray-haired lady and she was my piano teacher. I was going over to their house and taking lessons from her every day during the late ’40s. I never thought it (the possession) happened there because I was in that house almost every day and I never knew of anything like that happening and I never saw any kids in that house. I asked my mother about that too and she remembered a man and his wife and Grace Miller living in that house and she didn’t remember there being any children there.  

It was a big, old, three-story house. [Note how this description drastically differs from the “one-and-one-half story home” description given by the August 10, 1949 The Evening Star, Washington, D.C. newspaper account.] It was gray and drab—didn’t have a coat of paint on it—and looked like a haunted house. There was never any talk of a possessed boy living there. The first story I ever saw about it was the movie itself. I went to a class reunion and my girlfriend at the time, who used to live in Mount Rainier also, said to me, “Did you see the article in the newspaper? That exorcism took place in the house next to you.

The house located at 3210 Bunker Hill Road was used as the final training class exercise of the Section II Advanced Training Course in Firemanship, a program for firefighters offered through what was then called the Fire Extension Service of the University of Maryland and was burned down as part of the training exercise in March 1962.

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