Exorcism of Roland Doe

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The exorcism of Roland Doe refers to events surrounding the supposed demonic possession and exorcism of an anonymous American boy, which occurred in the late 1940s. Roland Doe (born circa 1936)[1] is the pseudonym assigned to the exorcized boy by the Catholic Church. Later the pseudonym was changed by author Thomas B. Allen to "Robbie Mannheim".[2][3] and the subsequent supernatural claims surrounding those events went on to inspire the 1971 novel The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty and the 1973 film adaptation, as well as Thomas B. Allen's 1993 historical account Possessed, a second edition of it in 1999, and the 2000 film by the same name, based on Allen's book.

Origin of claims[edit]

Most of the information regarding "Roland Doe" and the events surrounding his alleged possession and exorcism comes from a diary kept by the attending priest, Fr. Raymond Bishop. At the time of the alleged events (circa mid-1949) several newspaper articles printed anonymous reports.[4] These were later traced back to the family's former pastor, the Reverend Luther Miles Schulze.[1] The pseudonym "Roland Doe" was assigned by the Catholic Church to the boy in question. Doe has no memory of being possessed.[5]

Thomas Allen released his book Possessed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of The Exorcist. The book is based on two sources; Bishop's diary and the testimony of Fr. Walter H. Halloran. Halloran was one of the last surviving eyewitnesses of the events and participated in the exorcism.

Early life[edit]

Roland was born into a German Lutheran family. During the 1940s the family lived in Cottage City, Maryland.[1] According to Allen, Roland was an only child and depended upon adults in his household for playmates, primarily his Aunt Harriet. His aunt, who was a spiritualist, introduced Roland to the Ouija board when he expressed interest in it.[6] When Roland was thirteen his aunt died in St. Louis. Several books suggest that Roland tried to contact his deceased aunt via the Ouija board.[7]

Possession and exorcism[edit]

According to Allen's book, supernatural activity began soon after Aunt Harriet's death.[7] This includes the sound of squeaky and marching feet as well as other strange noises.[7][8] Furniture moved on its own accord,[8] and ordinary objects, including a vase, allegedly flew or levitated[9] and a picture of Jesus rattled on the wall as if it was being thumped from behind. A container of holy water placed near him smashed to the ground.[10] Nine priests and thirty-nine other witnesses signed the final ecclesiastical papers documenting Roland's experience.[11][12]

The frightened family turned to their Lutheran pastor, the Rev. Luther Miles Schulze,[1] for help. According to a report made by Reverend Schulze to The Evening Star, a Washington D.C. newspaper,[1] the boy was examined by both medical and psychiatric doctors, who could offer no explanation for these disturbing events taking place. Schulze arranged for the boy to spend the night of February 17 in his home in order to observe him.[13] The boy slept near the minister in a twin bed and the minister reported that in the dark he heard vibrating sounds from the bed and scratching sounds on the wall.[13] During the rest of the night he allegedly witnessed some strange events, a heavy armchair in which the boy sat seemingly tilted on its own and tipped over and a pallet of blankets on which the sleeping boy lay inexplicably moved around the room and slapped people in the face.[13] Schulze concluded that there was evil at work in Roland,[14] and a Lutheran rite of exorcism would be performed on Roland.[1]

According to the traditional story, the boy then underwent an exorcism under auspices of the Episcopal Church (Anglican).[1] After this, the case was referred to the Rev. Edward Hughes, a Roman Catholic priest, who, after examining the boy at St. James Church,[15] conducted an exorcism on Roland at Georgetown University Hospital, a Jesuit institution.[1]

During the exorcism, the boy slipped one of his hands out of the restraints; he then broke a bedspring from under the mattress and used it as an impromptu weapon, slashing the priest's arm from wrist to shoulder and causing a wound that required over one hundred stitches. As a result, the exorcism ritual was stopped and the boy went home to be with his family, where strange welts on the boy's body led to desperation. The family then proceeded to take the train to St. Louis.[16] While they were in the city, Roland's cousin contacted one of his professors at St. Louis University, the Rev. Raymond J. Bishop, SJ, who in turn spoke to the Rev. William S. Bowdern, an associate of College Church.[16] Together, both priests visited Roland in his relatives' home, where they noticed his aversion to anything sacred, a shaking bed, flying objects, and Roland speaking in a guttural voice.[16] Fr. Bowdern sought permission from the archbishop to have the plaguing demons cast out from the boy. Permission for Bowdern to perform the exorcism was granted by the archbishop, with the requirement that a detailed diary be kept.[16]

Before the exorcism ritual began, Fr. Walter Halloran was called to the psychiatric wing of the hospital, where he was asked to assist Fr. Bowdern.[17] The Rev. William Van Roo, a third Jesuit priest, was also there to assist.[17] Fr. Halloran stated that during this scene words such as "evil" and "hell", along with other various marks, appeared on the teenager's body.[17] Moreover, Roland broke Fr. Halloran's nose during the process.[17] 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.[16]

After the exorcism was over, the boy went on to lead a normal life.[17]

Investigations and explanations[edit]

Halloran has noted on many occasions that he, Fr. Bowdern, and Fr. Bishop all believe the case to be an actual case of possession.[18]

Author Mark Opsasnick investigated these events and spoke to people involved in the case — including several people close to Roland and his family, other priests in their parish, a source at the hospital mentioned in the claims, Thomas Allen and Father Halloran.[18] He did not, however, apparently speak to the allegedly-possessed boy (now, a man) "Roland Doe," or his immediate family members.

In his article Opsasnick describes the inconsistencies he found in the reports and other testimonies which he claims brings into question the veracity of the claims as reported in Allen's book, especially the more fantastic and supernatural claims, such as the claim that Mannheim spoke languages he couldn't know. According to Opsasnick, Father Halloran admitted that he thought Roland had merely mimicked Latin words he heard the clergymen speak.[19] Opsasnick further claims that he found no evidence that Father Hughes ever attempted to exorcise the boy, nor that he received a slash or injury at that time.[19] In addition, Father Halloran himself allegedly told Opsasnick that he did not hear the boy's voice change[19] and that he didn't check the boy's fingernails and see if he made the marks himself.[20] In addition, a friend of Roland allegedly told Opsasnick that the "supernatural" events were exaggerated and that the spitting and bed shaking could be explained logically.[21]

Opsasnick's judgment is that "[t]hose involved saw what they were trained to see".[19] It has been proposed that "Roland Doe" was simply a spoiled, disturbed bully who threw deliberate tantrums to get attention or to get out of school.[22]

Skeptic Joe Nickell wrote that "there is simply no credible evidence to suggest the boy was possessed by demons or evil spirits" and maintains that "possession can be childishly simple to fake."[23] According to Nickell:

"Nothing that was reliably reported in the case was beyond the abilities of a teenager to produce. The tantrums, “trances,” moved furniture, hurled objects, automatic writing, superficial scratches, and other phenomena were just the kinds of things someone of R’s age could accomplish, just as others have done before and since. Indeed, the elements of “poltergeist phenomena,” “spirit communication,” and “demonic possession"-taken both separately and, especially, together, as one progressed to the other-suggest nothing so much as role-playing involving trickery. So does the stereotypical storybook portrayal of “the devil” throughout."

Authors Terry D. Cooper and Cindy K. Epperson devoted a chapter of their book Evil: Satan, Sin, and Psychology to the case and dismissed proposed explanations such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, multiple personality disorder, schizophrenia, Tourette's syndrome, sexual abuse, group hysteria, and paranormal phenomena in favor of a theological perspective that the case "raises some interesting and perplexing questions" about the nature of evil.[11]

Literature and film[edit]

This exorcism case inspired the 1971 novel The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, which in turn was adapted into the classic 1973 film of the same name.[24] The case also inspired the 2000 movie Possessed, which is said to be closer to the "real" story since it is based on Allen's book.[24] A documentary was also made of the case, titled In the Grip of Evil.[25]Another documentary movie was made in 2010 named "The Haunted Boy: The Secret Diary of the Exorcist" where a group of investigators travels to the location in question and uncovers the diary that is said to be kept by Father Bowdren.[26]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "The Cold Hard Facts Behind the Story that Inspired "The Exorcist"". Strange Magazine. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  2. ^ Evil: Satan, Sin, and Psychology. Paulist Press. 2008-09-02. ISBN 9780809145362. Retrieved 2010-04-02. 
  3. ^ "The Cold Hard Facts Behind the Story that Inspired "The Exorcist"". Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  4. ^ See for example: Brinkley, William (20 August 1949). "Priest Frees Mt. Rainier Boy Reported Held in Devil's Grip". Washington Post. Retrieved 8 April 2014. 
  5. ^ A Faraway Ancient Country. Lulu. 2007-09-30. ISBN 9780615158013. Retrieved 2010-04-03. 
  6. ^ Possessed: the true story of an exorcism. Doubleday. 1993-06-01. ISBN 9780385420341. Retrieved 2010-04-02. 
  7. ^ a b c Good Spirits, Bad Spirits: How to Distinguish Between Them. Writers Club Press. 2002-06-01. ISBN 9780595227716. Retrieved 2010-04-02. 
  8. ^ a b Paranormal Experiences. Unicorn Books. 2009-06-08. ISBN 9788178061665. Retrieved 2010-04-02. 
  9. ^ [http://books.google.com/books? id=7AEvAAAAYAAJ&q=A+vase+was+slowly+rising+from+the+table.+Allen&dq=A+vase+was+slowly+rising+from+the+table.+Allen&cd=1 Possessed: the true story of an exorcism]. Doubleday. 1993-06-01. ISBN 9780385420341. Retrieved 2010-03-27. 
  10. ^ Mehra Shrikhande, Dr (2009-06-08). Paranormal Experiences publisher = Unicorn Books. ISBN 9788178061665. Retrieved 2010-03-27. 
  11. ^ The dark side of God: a quest for the lost heart of Christianity. Element. June 1999. ISBN 9781862044586. Retrieved 2010-04-03. 
  12. ^ a b c "The Cold Hard Facts Behind the Story that Inspired "The Exorcist"". Strange Magazine. Retrieved 2007-08-01. 
  13. ^ A Faraway Ancient Country. Lulu. 2007-09-30. pp. 73–4. ISBN 9780615158013. Retrieved 2010-03-27. 
  14. ^ Evil: Satan, Sin, and Psychology. Paulist Press. 2008-09-02. ISBN 9780809145362. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  15. ^ a b c d e Evil: Satan, Sin, and Psychology. Paulist Press. 2008-09-02. ISBN 9780809145362. Retrieved 2010-04-02. 
  16. ^ a b c d e "Jesuit Priest Walter Halloran". The Washington Post. 2005-03-09. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  17. ^ a b "The Cold Hard Facts Behind the Story that Inspired "The Exorcist"". Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  18. ^ a b c d "The Cold Hard Facts Behind the Story that Inspired "The Exorcist"". Strange Magazine. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  19. ^ Mark Opsasnick The Cold Hard Facts Behind the Story that Inspired "The Exorcist" Strange Magazine. Accessdate: 2007-12-31.
  20. ^ Mark Opsasnick The Cold Hard Facts Behind the Story that Inspired "The Exorcist" Strange Magazine. Accessdate: 2007-12-31.
  21. ^ "The Cold Hard Facts Behind the Story that Inspired "The Exorcist"". 
  22. ^ Joe Nickell Exorcism! Driving Out the Nonsense Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Accessdate: 2010/5/20.
  23. ^ a b Cinema of the occult: new age, satanism, Wicca, and spiritualism in film. Rosemont Publishing & Printing Corp. 2008-12-31. ISBN 9780934223959. Retrieved 2010-04-04. 
  24. ^ In the Grip of Evil. Retrieved 2010-04-04. 
  25. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1730149/


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