Bateson in The Exorcist, 1973
|Born||August 24, 1940|
Lansdale, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Other names||Johnny Johnson|
|Years active||Through 1975|
|Employer||New York University Medical Center|
|Known for||Appearance in The Exorcist; murder of magazine journalist Addison Verrill and suspicion of contemporaneous serial killings.|
|Criminal charge||Second-degree murder|
|Criminal penalty||20 years to life|
|Criminal status||Released on parole after 24 years and three months; released from parole after five years.|
Paul Bateson (born August 24, 1940) is an American former radiographer and convicted murderer. He appeared as a radiological technologist in a scene from the 1973 horror film The Exorcist, which was inspired when the film's director, William Friedkin, watched him perform a cerebral angiography the previous year. The scene, with a considerable amount of blood onscreen, was, for many viewers, the film's most disturbing scene; medical professionals have praised it for its realism.
In 1979, Bateson was convicted of the murder of film industry journalist Addison Verrill and sentenced to a minimum of 20 years in prison; in 2003 he was released on parole, which ended after five years. Prior to Bateson's trial, police and prosecutors implicated him in a series of unsolved slayings of gay men in Manhattan, killings he had reportedly boasted about while in jail, bringing it up at his sentencing. However, no additional charges ever were brought against him. The experience inspired Friedkin to make the 1980 film Cruising which, while based on a novel written a decade earlier, incorporated in its storyline the city's leather subculture, with which Bateson had identified.
In 2012, Friedkin recalled having visited the jailed Bateson prior to his trial, and having a conversation which suggested that either Bateson had committed the additional murders or merely that he was considering confessing to them for a lighter sentence. However, there is no other record of incriminating evidence mentioned by Friedkin in that interview. Despite this, Bateson is often inaccurately described as a serial killer.
As of 2019[update], it is not known if Bateson is still alive or, if he is, where he is living. Friedkin said in a 2018 interview that he had heard Bateson was living somewhere in upstate New York. A Social Security record shows that a "Paul F. Bateson" with the same birthdate and a Social Security number issued in Pennsylvania, died on September 15, 2012.
Early life and career
Bateson was born on August 24, 1940 and grew up in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, the son of a metallurgist. He would later suggest that his appearance in The Exorcist was revenge on his father for punishing him as a child by making him stay home from Saturday matinées at the local movie theater and listen to opera on the radio instead. He served in the Army in the early 1960s, where he began drinking heavily out of boredom while stationed in Germany, beginning a lifetime struggle with alcoholism. After his discharge, he returned to Lansdale and stopped drinking.
In 1964 he moved to New York City, where he began a relationship with a man (he would later describe himself as "not exclusively gay") who he said was "involved in music". The relationship was marked by heavy drinking, either in the form of cocktails at The Pierre and frequent parties at the couple's home, as well as weekends in the Fire Island enclave of Cherry Grove, both with food cooked by Bateson. Five years later, Bateson's mother died of a stroke and his younger brother committed suicide.
Bateson trained as a neurological radiological technician and began working in that capacity. After the relationship ended in 1973, he moved to the Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park. He commuted from there to his job at New York University Medical Center (NYUMC), where he was well-liked and respected by his colleagues.
In late 1972, film director William Friedkin visited NYUMC while he was preparing to make The Exorcist, the film adaptation of William Peter Blatty's novel of that name. He wanted to view some medical procedures since he was considering showing some in the film. He was also looking for staff who might be willing to be extras in the film, since he would be shooting interiors in New York although the film itself is set in Washington, D.C. Dr. Barton Lane invited the director to watch a cerebral angiography.
At the time, such angiographies were performed by puncturing the patient's carotid artery (in the front of the neck) in order to insert a catheter through which a contrast agent was injected in order to make the patient's blood vessels more visible under X-rays. In the moments between the arterial puncture and the insertion of the catheter, blood freely issued from the tube mouth in rhythm with the patient's heartbeat. Friedkin was sufficiently impressed that he told Lane immediately afterward that not only did he want to depict the procedure in his film, he wanted Lane to be the one performing it on camera, along with the nurse and Bateson, the technician, who, recalled Lane in 2018, was the best he had ever had.
A few months later, Friedkin and his crew returned to shoot the scene, blocking off part of the hospital's radiology department for two successive weekends. It was one of the first scenes shot during principal photography, in which the character of Regan (Linda Blair) is examined medically to see if any of the strange behavior (later found to be the result of demonic possession) she has been exhibiting can be scientifically explained. Lane later recalled hearing that the crew was still trying to figure out how to make Regan's head spin for a scene later on in the film that, like the angiogram, became one of the film's best-remembered moments.
In the scene, it is Bateson who speaks most of the dialogue, demonstrating the calming bedside manner, another attribute that drew praise from those he worked alongside, that he had used with many actual child patients. He can be seen in the background early, as Regan is wheeled into the room, helping put her on the table and attaching wires to her shoulders. As the film shows Regan's face in tight closeup, alternating with takes of the procedure being finished, including her blood spurting into the air and staining her surgical gown as it had in the procedure Friedkin watched, Bateson's voice is heard off-camera, instructing her, warning her that the carotid puncture will hurt and reassuring her as she winces immediately afterward.
Upon The Exorcist's release at the end of 1973, the scene became notorious as the one that audiences found most disturbing, despite its lack of any of the supernatural content that underlies the rest of the film's horror elements. Medical professionals, including Lane and the others involved in the scene, have also praised it as a realistic depiction of the procedure, of special historic interest since it is no longer performed with a carotid puncture, and one of the most realistic depictions of any medical procedure in a popular film.
Around the time The Exorcist was released, Bateson's drinking again increased, adversely affecting his social life. "Nobody likes a drunk", he later told The Village Voice. In 1975 it affected his job performance, and NYUMC let him go.
Bateson sustained himself with odd jobs, such as doing light repair work and cleaning in apartments near where he now lived in Greenwich Village, and taking tickets at a theater showing pornographic films. He also went to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and was successful for a while in staying sober. He socialized with other recovering alcoholic gay men and was hoping to start another long-term relationship.
However, by 1977 Bateson had begun drinking again, more heavily. He said later that he was drinking at least a quart (0.95 L) of vodka a day, which made him passive and curtailed his social life again. "After a few shots, I'd shave and get dressed", intending to go out. But then after the vodka, "[I] had no energy left to move".
On those nights when he was able to go out, Bateson patronized leather bars, something he had started doing back in 1970 with a group that styled themselves as bikers. "Leather impresses me", he said later, contrasting it with drag and swish. "They give gays a bad name, like any extreme group would".
Murder of Addison Verrill
On September 14, 1977, Addison Verrill, a reporter who covered the film industry for Variety, was found dead in his Horatio Street apartment. He had been beaten and stabbed; there were some signs of a struggle. However, nothing of value had been taken. Police believed that if the killer's motive had been robbery, he might have been looking for cash or jewelry since those could be taken quickly.
There was no evidence of forced entry. Verrill had likely let his killer in to the apartment; there were several empty beer cans and half-full liquor glasses at the scene. Gay activist and journalist Arthur Bell, a friend of Verrill's, wrote an article about the case in The Village Voice setting it against the larger issue of how murders of gay men, several of which occurred yearly in the Village, were rarely taken seriously by police or reported on in the media since they were seen as the results of sexual encounters gone wrong. The police, Bell wrote, had learned that Verrill had been at the Mineshaft, a popular leather bar, until 6 a.m., talking to many other patrons.
According to Bell, Verrill's friends said that while he did not seek the kink that was abundant at the Mineshaft, he nevertheless "liked the attitudes" of many of the customers. He was considered a regular, holding court at a corner table, not only at the Mineshaft but the Anvil, another popular leather bar, and other popular gay bars of the era. His presence was seen as making those bars popular.
Phone calls, confession, and arrest
Bell ended his article by giving the phone number of the New York Police Department's homicide bureau and asking anyone with information to call them. However, eight days after the killing someone called him claiming to be the killer, apparently to correct Bell's assumption that the killer was a psychopath who targeted gays. "I like your story and I like your writing", the caller told him, "but I'm not a psychopath".
In a story that ran on the Voice's front page, the caller recounted the events of the night that ended in Verrill's murder. "I'm gay and I needed money and I'm an alcoholic", he said. After three months of sobriety, he claimed, he had gone out to Badlands, a Christopher Street bar, in the early hours of September 14 where Verrill, whom he did not know, offered to buy him a beer, a proposition the caller accepted. That beer became several, with the two consuming poppers and cocaine in addition to the drinks.
At 3 a.m., they left Badlands and went to the Mineshaft, where they continued their alcohol and drug consumption. The caller told Bell he was impressed by how popular his companion was. "I didn't realize he was such a superstar, and I wanted to go home with him". After two hours, they took a taxi to Verrill's apartment, something the caller said Verrill was reluctant to do because he had to get up early and work on a story.
There the two had more alcohol and cocaine, followed by sex at 7:30 a.m. The caller said that afterwards he realized that was as far as Verrill had wanted the relationship to go. "I needed money and I hated the rejection", so, still intoxicated, "I decided to do something I'd never done before". After incapacitating Verrill with a frying pan from his kitchen, the caller recounted, he stabbed the journalist with a knife, although he said he chose the wrong part of his chest.
After the killing, the caller said, he took cash, totaling $57 ($236 in modern dollars) and Verrill's Master Charge card, passport, and some clothes. He used the money to buy liquor and was consequently drunk for the entire next day. Bell confirmed with another source that the man had been seen at a popular bathhouse that night.
The caller offered some information about himself besides that relevant to understanding the crime. He claimed to be the son of an orchestra leader, to have a wife in Berlin who did not understand his homosexuality, and a teenage son. He had an interest in the arts, and had wanted to be a dancer when he was younger.
Bell noted that he talked about wanting to "atone" for the crime several times, which he connected to the conversation taking place on Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. "[B]ut I don't want to give myself up. I wouldn't be able to practice again. I'd lose my license". He declined to tell Bell what sort of practice the license was for, suggesting that would help identify him.
When Bell contacted police about the call, they told him that it seemed like the first solid lead in the case. The caller had known about the stolen credit card, a detail police had not made public, and described a white substance found on the floor of Verrill's apartment as Crisco, a shortening frequently used at the time by gay men as a sexual lubricant. Police had not thus far been able to identify it and had also not made the information public.
Detectives suspected the caller would call Bell again, and went to his apartment to wait with him. At 11 p.m. his phone rang; it was not the original caller but a man who identified himself as "Mitch". He told Bell the killer was Paul Bateson, whom he had gotten to know while the two were drying out at St. Vincent's Hospital a few months earlier. While he believed Bateson was not the man's real name, since he knew the man to have used the pseudonym "Johnny Johnson" at one point, he said Bateson was an unemployed X-ray technician and that he had called him earlier and confessed to the crime.
Mitch asked to meet Bell in person, but the police told Bell not to do so. Instead, they just arrested Bateson at his East 12th Street apartment, where he was lying around drunk; when he was asked if he knew why he was being arrested, he pointed to an open copy of the Voice with Bell's article and indicated that that was probably why. A detective went to the bar and brought Mitch in for questioning as well; he was released after a few hours. Bateson eventually gave police a handwritten confession that was consistent with what he had told Bell.
Arrest and jailhouse conversations
Bateson was charged with second-degree murder and detained while awaiting trial. Bell interviewed Bateson in person a month later, visiting him at Rikers Island. Bateson talked generally about his life, something he said he did often (as did other acquaintances of Bateson whom Bell spoke with). Jail, he said, was helping him to again get sober; his biggest regret about being in custody was missing the new season of the Joffrey Ballet, at the time based in New York. Bell admitted that he, too, might have taken Bateson up on an offer to go to his apartment if he had met him in a bar rather than a jail.
While Bateson avoided talking about the crime he was charged with (on what Bell supposed to be advice from his attorney) he did talk about the trial. He had pleaded not guilty and expected that to be the verdict after a long trial. "A lot of people will be hurt—parents, friends ... Then, I'll tear up my roots and settle somewhere else".
Suspicion in serial killings
At the time of Bateson's arrest, police had also been investigating a series of murders of gay men over the previous two years which they believed were committed by the same person due to similarities in the killings' modus operandi. Six corpses of men had been found, dismembered, in bags floating in the Hudson River. None of them have ever been identified, but police traced the clothes on them to shops in Greenwich Village that catered to the gay community. Since the bags reportedly had wording on them connecting them to NYUMC's neuropsychiatric unit, and the dismemberment of the bodies appeared to have been done by someone skilled in using a knife, investigators began to suggest publicly that Bateson might be a suspect in, as they were referred to officially, the "CUPPI" killings, for "Circumstances Unknown Pending Police Investigation", as well.
Those killings were the subject of another interview Bateson gave, although it would not be made public until 2012. Friedkin, who recalled him from both his initial visit to NYUMC and the filming of the angiography for The Exorcist as a "nice young man" who stood out due to the earring and studded bracelet he wore, neither of which were common accessories for men at the time, read a long story about the case in the Daily News. Surprised that the gentle Bateson he recalled could have even been accused of a murder, Friedkin came to Rikers to talk with him after getting permission from Bateson's lawyer.
In an interview with Mubi's The Notebook that coincided with the release of his film Killer Joe, Friedkin said Bateson admitted killing Verrill, although the director then incorrectly stated that Bateson had dismembered the body and thrown the bagged body parts in the river. Bateson said that the prosecutors were offering him a deal whereby if he confessed to the bag murders and some other unsolved killings he would receive a shortened sentence. He told Friedkin he was not sure if he would accept it. In a 2018 episode of The Hollywood Reporter's "It Happened in Hollywood" podcast, Friedkin attributed to Bateson a confession to the unsolved murders.
As a result of his conversation with Bateson, Friedkin decided it was time to make the film adaptation of New York Times reporter Gerald Walker's 1970 novel Cruising about an police officer going undercover in the gay community to catch a serial killer. Life had already imitated art, with an NYPD officer, Randy Jurgenson, going undercover in gay bars since he was similar in appearance to the victims of the bag killer. Intrigued by the leather subculture Bateson had told him about, Friedkin knew Matthew Ianniello, the mafioso who owned the Mineshaft and other Manhattan gay bars of the era, and was able to visit the bar himself. He later added scenes set there to his film, released in 1980 to mixed reviews after heavy protests by the city's gay community during production.
In pretrial motions, Bateson, through his attorney, attempted to have his confession suppressed. He argued that he had been drunk at the time, and the police had not yet read him his rights. Bateson also denied having made the phone call to Bell, claiming his purported confession was just based on what he had read about the case in the Voice.
Bateson went on trial in early 1979. The state entered both his confession and Bell's Voice article into evidence against him. Contrary to his prediction of a long trial in the wake of his arrest, Bateson was convicted after four days, on March 5, 1979.
At Bateson's sentencing a month later, prosecutor William Hoyt called him a "psychopath" and reiterated his belief that he was responsible for the six unsolved murders. While Hoyt admitted there was "no direct proof" of this, he said that Bateson had confessed to those crimes in a conversation with Richard Ryan, a friend who had testified for the state at the trial that Bateson had confessed the Verrill murder to him. Speaking for himself, Bateson denied any role in the other murders.
Justice Morris Goldman sentenced Bateson to 20 years to life in prison, five years less than the minimum Hoyt had asked for. He ultimately found the connection to the other murders "too ephemeral" to merit any consideration in sentencing Bateson. In a 2018 Esquire article about Bateson, writer Matt Miller was unable to find what that evidence might have been as the New York County court clerk's office could not find a copy of the trial transcript. But nothing Miller had been able to review mentioned either the bags purportedly being traced to NYUMC or any mention of a deal offered to Bateson if he confessed to the other murders.
Prison term and release
Bateson ultimately served 24 years and 3 months of his sentence, becoming eligible for parole in 1997. On the day after his 63rd birthday, in August 2003, he was released from Arthur Kill Correctional Facility on Staten Island. According to online records kept by the state's Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, his parole was successfully completed in November 2008.
That is the last public record of Bateson available as of 2019[update]; where he is living, or even if he is alive, is not known. Miller attempted to contact Bateson for his Esquire article in 2018 at his last known address, in the Long Island village of Freeport, but was unsuccessful as the phone had been disconnected; emails to different addresses either bounced or were not answered. In his podcast interview around the same time, Friedkin said he had heard Bateson was living somewhere in upstate New York.
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The manager of the cinema where I saw the film said they had two or three ambulances a day to cart off the faint-hearted, and usherettes had to prise the odd reluctant viewer away from the woodwork. He said that what disturbed them most seemed to be the blood and needles.
- Jason Solomons, William Friedkin (December 10, 2008). The Exorcist director William Friedkin talks to Jason Solomons (Internet video). Guardian Media Group. Event occurs at 5:05–5:30. Retrieved February 23, 2019.
Most people say that the scariest scene in The Exorcist is the angiogram scene because it's the most realistic ... It's the one people most identify with, being in a hospital - a captive audience - while this weird equipment is circulating around you to determine what's inside of you. It's very science fiction, but true.
- Peary, Danny (1986). Guide for the Film Fanatic. Simon & Schuster. p. 143. ISBN 9780671610814. Retrieved February 23, 2019.
The most needless scene — the one that really made viewers sick — has Regan undergoing a bloody arteriography
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