Weird History

The Story Of Roland Doe Inspired The Exorcist – But It's Way More Terrifying Than The Movie 

Rachel Souerbry
Updated April 4, 2018 74.7k views 12 items

Many people have seen or read The Exorcist, and quite a few have been scared out of their minds by the story. While the fictional tale is notoriously well-remembered, how much do people know about the true story that inspired The Exorcist?

The 1949 exorcism of 13-year-old Ronald Hunkeler wasn't front page news in the small town of Cottage City, Maryland. A few articles were written about the "incident," but most residents refused to speak about what happened. The possessed was given the pseudonym "Roland Doe" to protect his identity, and went on to live a totally normal life.

The real-life exorcism of Roland Doe was enough to inspire one of the most terrifying movies of all time. So what actually happened back in 1949?

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Objects Levitated And Flew Across The Room
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The Doe family claimed that all sorts of terrifying events occurred in their home, most notably the movement of inanimate objects. Family members witnessed furniture move on its own, objects levitate and fly across the room, and bed frames shake violently. Roland was even removed from school because his desk would shake during class.

Some of the moving objects were of a religious nature. Spiritual pictures on the walls would rattle, and bottles of holy water would routinely fall to the ground and break. 

Roland Spoke Latin, But ... is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Story Of Roland Doe Inspired The Exorcist – But It's Way More Terrifying Than The Movie
Photo:  Warner Bros.
Roland Spoke Latin, But Was It Really A Demon Speaking Through Him?

After his family could endure no more, they called in a priest for help. Roland supposedly screamed "O sacerdos Christi tu scis me esse diabolum" at him, which translates to "O priest of Christ, you know that I am the Devil."

Most people believed that this was truly the Devil speaking through Roland, since he had never been taught Latin. However, it's also possible that he picked up some basic Latin from attending church for so many years and was faking it.

He Supposedly Stabbed A ... is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Story Of Roland Doe Inspired The Exorcist – But It's Way More Terrifying Than The Movie
Photo:  Warner Bros.
He Supposedly Stabbed A Priest With A Mattress Spring

There were two attempts, over a period of months, to exorcise the demon inside Roland Doe. For the first attempt, Roland was brought to a pastor's house, where he was tied to a bed. During the rite, he reached under the mattress, tore a spring from it, and slashed the priest's arm. 

The cut was so bad it needed stitches. The exorcism was put on hold, and Roland was temporarily was sent home to his family.

While many people believe that this episode truly happened, some researchers suggest that there is no actual evidence of the event's occurrence. 

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Photo: martieda/Pixabay/Public Domain
Lots Of Scratches Appeared On Roland's Body, Some Forming Creepy Words

Throughout his possession, Roland repeatedly noticed mysterious scratches on his body. According to one source, words appeared across his chest that read "Saint Louis."

Believing it to be a sign, his family packed up and boarded a train for St. Louis, Missouri. Once there, a reverend named William S. Bowdern performed the rite of exorcism on Roland between 20 and 30 times over a two-month period. 

During an exorcism, more scratches appeared on Roland's body, this time resembling the words "Hell" and "evil." Things then turned violent, with Roland fiercely resisting, talking in a strange voice, and even breaking the nose of one of Rev. Bowdern's assistants. Despite this struggle, the exorcism was successful, and the demon was eventually vanquished.