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The Exorcist: A True Story

Updated on April 21, 2016

The most horrifying movie ever made ‘The Exorcist (1973)’ which broke the box office records was inspired by a true story of a 13 year old boy who was believed to be possessed by a devil in 1949. His exorcism was recorded in a diary by the father who conducted his exorcism. About 26 people witnessed about the events which was said to be caused by the demonic forces.

Till today people believe that Satan walks among us but the scientists say that the explanation does not lies in the supernatural. The boy has never spoken publicly about his experience, but the family, neighbours and the church witnessed about the events.

The name used for the boy to refer him is Robbie Mannheim in several books.

It all started with fun!

The events of the story took place in the Cottage city, Maryland. The boy was very much like an ordinary boy. He was quite, not very active and a little more studious. His family was like all the other casual families. But they didn't knew that their lives were going to change in the summer of 1948, when the boy’s aunt taught him how to use an Ouiji board. At first it seemed like harmless fun but then a few weeks later the aunt died unexpectedly of some natural cause. After a short period of time the family started to hear unusual sound of scratching and knocking. They blamed mice for these events and called the pest control but nothing was found. They then thought that the dead aunt is trying to contact them. So they ignored. But the noises increased nights after nights.

Then one day the boy’s mother discovered that his bed was shaking violently. And then soon other furniture began to move of their own. It was reported that a person sitting on the chair was thrown to the floor. This was witnessed by the neighbours. Soon many marks and scratches appeared on his body and his behaviour at night was becoming worst. Seeing his condition, the family contacted a local mental hygiene clinic for help. But the psychiatrist was unable to find anything wrong with the boy.

When no options were left, the family contacted the local church. The church advised them to contact a catholic priest, father Albert Hughes. He died in 1980. Father Hughes met the boy in February 1949. Soon after meeting the boy, Father Hughes realized that it wasn't going to be easy, as he was thrown away when the boy simply looked at his chair.

Then he started conversing with the boy. Father asked him in Latin “what is your name?”. He replied “I am legions” indicating that there was more than one demon in him. All the ongoing events made father Hughes believe that the boy was possessed by not only one but many demons and the way to get rid of them was to perform an exorcism.

Almost all religion believes on the possession by the demons. But exorcism is mainly associated with the Christians (especially catholic Christians). The priest needs to conduct some specific prayers in Latin. This evokes the power of god against the demonic entities. However, it was a great challenge for father Hughes who was going to perform an exorcism for the very first time on a 13 year old boy.

The boy was admitted to a hospital in Washington D.C. The boy was shaking, screaming and spitting; so his wrist was tied. Father Hughes recited the prayers for 3 nights but there was no improvement in his condition. The boy became even more violent. One night, the boy just broke the restrainer, put his hand under the bed, took a spring and cut Father's hand right from the wrist to elbow. This forced Father Hughes to stop the exorcism, and the boy returned to his home.

This wasn't going to stop easily!

Same kind of events continued to happen- scratching sound, things moving on their own, cut marks appearing on the boy's body etc. Then one day a word ‘Louis’ appeared on his chest. Seeing it as a sign, other family members living in the same city decided to move in their house. Soon they shifted to St. Louis. There too, no mental doctor could give an explanation to the ongoing events. Hopeless, his family contacted Father William Bowdern, who died in 1983.

Father Bowdern also concluded that the boy was possessed. One exorcism had failed and now it was his responsibility to free the boy from the demons. Father Bowdern recorded the events of exorcism performed in next 6 weeks. The pages of the diary were published for the first time by the author Thomas .B. Allen in his book “possessed”.

Father Bowdern chose some other priests to help him. This time Father conducted prayers every night for 3 weeks. But the boy grew more violent. Father thought that it would not be safe for the family to live with the boy. So he shifted the boy to a hospital run by the catholic monks. The exorcism continued over there. He was struggling, screaming and one night violently broke the nose of a catholic priest, Halloran, who at the age of 26 helped Father Bowdern in Robbie’s exorcism. The exorcism was now at an impasse. Seeking a solution, Bowdern plunged into literature regarding possession. He learned of an 1870 case that took place in Wisconsin that seemed similar to Robbie’s plight and he devised a new strategy.

At night, the ritual resumed. Bowdern forced Robbie to wear a chain of religious medals and to hold a crucifix in his hands. Suddenly, Robbie became strangely contrite and he began to ask questions about the meaning of certain Latin prayers. Bowdern ignored him, and instead demanded to know the name of the demon, and when he would depart. The boy exploded in rage. Five witnesses held him down while he screamed that he was a "fallen angel".

There are instructions in the ritual that commands 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….” He recited it incessantly for hours until the boy suddenly interrupted in a loud, masculine voice, identifying himself as "St. Michael the Archangel". The voice ordered the demon to depart. The boy’s body then went into violent contortions and spasms. Then, he fell quiet. A moment later, he sat up, and spoke in a normal voice. The devil had left his body. According to Christian beliefs, St. Michael is the archangel who holds the control over Satan. It is believed that St. Michael himself forced Satan to leave the boy’s body.

Few days later, the family returned to Maryland. The boy joined a new school. His troubling behaviour never came back. After leaving school, he worked for NASA. He chose to keep his identity hidden but said that he doesn’t remember whatever happened to him.

This story was published in the newspapers. But in 1973 the whole story was again filled with life in the big screen when the movie ‘The Exorcist’ was released, when only a few knew the meaning of the term "exorcism". The movie brought the power of demonic forces in front of the modern world. The movie was an adaptation of the bestselling book of the author William Peter Blatty with the same title. The movie left people shocked.

What science says about this story?

With science now developed more than before, scientists say something else about the story of Robbie. According to science, the roots of all religious experience do not come from the god but from the most complex creation of the nature, the human brain. Our brain generates all the behaviours whether normal or mysterious.

Psychiatrists say that the primary experiences are psychological. People can hear voices, experience ritual phenomena etc. They believe this can also explain the boy’s condition. When his aunt died he was just 13 years old, the time when the human brain undergoes many serious changes and is extremely vulnerable to dramatic events. His aunt’s death might have pushed him into stress. The secretion of stress hormones could have triggered many brain seizures in his right temporal lobe, a highly creative area responsible for vision and emotions. Later on the initiation of the exorcism could have worked as an final catalyst to the highly vulnerable boy. They say, "If you harass a person with full intension with same repetitions again and again with such a vulnerable brain, you can make the brain believe that all the things going on is true hence making the condition even worse". This might have happened with the boy as his condition worsen with the onset of the exorcism. As a result his muscles might have become stronger, electric discharges would be intense, change in voice occurred etc. These intense electrical discharges would have triggered muscle spasm which can possibly give the explanation for the shaking of the bed. Later on he became normal because the brain was developing. When the structure of the brain changes, the function also changes.

The God Helmet

The Experiment

Science believes that the diary recorded the superhuman strengths. And to prove this, a device was developed named ‘The God Helmet’. The helmet passes strong electromagnetic waves straight to the right temporal lobe of the brain and aims to trigger the sensation of the supernatural entity. It worked! 80% of the people reported that they have experienced godly or spiritual presence. In fact they believed on what they saw.

Witnesses reported that many scratches appeared on his body. Scientist said, "It might have caused due to the priest trying to restrain him down to the bed. Psychiatrists says that "a mental phenomena called ‘Pareidolia’ involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant, common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon or the moon rabbit, and hearing hidden messages on records played in reverse, has also played a role. People relate everything happening in the surrounding with them. So in this case whenever something moved they thought that it is due to possession. Hence the boy saw that the things are moving which might have moved due to some other reasons.


Now the question is, was it really Pareidolia that made things move? His family too saw things moving, so were they all suffering from Pareidolia? What about the appearance of the particular word "Louis" on the chest of the boy? Was it a result of restraining? Did the boy really knew Latin to reply the father in Latin when he asked him questions? Could muscle spasm strong enough to shake a bed violently?

Maybe or maybe not. You decide.

You believe in the explanation given by science or religion about exorcism?

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    • profile image

      Steve Erdmann 

      4 years ago


      (Edited and Updated Comments on the 1949 St. Louis Possession Case)


      Steve Erdmann

      The outreach to darken and besmirch this man's character, family history, innocence - not just in his adulthood but also as a child - continued with innuendo and incantations.


      Do you believe that the boy in the book and the movie ‘The Exorcist’ was possessed? I understand his real name was mentioned on the Net and that he later worked for the space program. What do you hear?


      My history on this case goes back much earlier when I first discovered the case around 1973. The late Father Eugene Gallagher of Georgetown University sent me a copy of an original “The Exorcist Diary”. Consequently, I wrote about three articles (One article: “The Truth behind the Exorcist,” FATE Magazine, January, 1975) and one booklet (“Anatomy of a Demon Possession”: available from Luminist Publications, P.O. Box 20256, Minneapolis, MN, 55420. info @ based on my initial encounter with the environment back in the 1970s. Through the years, I attempted to be impartial as I could, though I had previous knowledge of poltergeist and other paranormal incidents which tended to sway my sympathies. Later scientific findings seemed to confirm these feelings. Two books, among a few, have stood out in the library: People of the Lie, M. Scott Peck, M.D., 1983 and Evil: Satan, Sin, and Psychology, Cooper and Epperson, 2008.


      (An aside: words in ‘quotations’ may be for journalistic ‘emphasis,’ and may not be a direct quote; in another case, we are talking about a paraphrase of the critic’s quote, i.e., about the relatives’ ‘chatting’ on an Internet blog. This would have been an “unofficial” remark from my [poor] memory. [The direct quote will be forthcoming].)

      I had personal experience with a male nurse from Alexian Brother’s Hospital psychiatric ward who worked around the ‘boy’ in 1949; I will go into that briefly.

      The remainder of my comments would center around the media, in general, but also concern a few selected media “hounds” that had ulterior and hidden agendas in tracing down and, more or less, ‘intruding and almost badgering’ the ‘victim’ in the possession case. There are some investigators that fell into a “Good, The Bad and the Ugly” ranking, in as much as some media comments have been fair and sober and even scientific. Others were suspect because of certain inherent treatments and fallacious attitudes that actually meant (despite their outward structure) the 1949 “victim” psychological and emotional harm.


      My experiences in this case were similar to what you had heard in the media. The case had been fairly well covered; and “some” of the press had torn into this man’s private life like alley-dogs fighting over trashed meat. Do ‘I’ believe in demon-possession? It depends on several factors. I have known the ‘boy's’ name for some time. In the earlier years, many writers refrained from openly mentioning the “victim’s” name out of some respect or humility concerning his privacy. What bothers me are the wide-eyed 'investigators' that just want to hound him to death and try to get bits and pieces of dirty little secrets about his past and present life. They appeared to view him as a criminal or a dirty little lab specimen (I noted one writer’s attitude and comments meandered from outright accusatory hostility towards the ‘victim,’ on the one hand, and seeming placation and conciliation, on the other). The lyrics of Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry” can be good background music. (The fact that our “victim” has not [as far as I know, to date] come out with a tell-all book to gain some monetary goal, might be considered interesting.)

      While many people exhilarated beneath the on-going discovery of sensational and personal facts in the life of “the boy” and his family, the public should be equally aware, or, at least contemplate, some of the hardships this mongering may have created for the family.

      (I will be alternating between speaking of some skeptics collectively and specifically of one particular skeptic as a special example.)


      I actually started out with one of these ‘hounds’ on an investigation of ‘the boy’ because I thought the investigator was sincerely objective. I thought he wanted to conduct a 'scientific' investigation - only to find out he was a classical debunker who wanted to make a name for himself and replicate another debunker who made a name for himself - which will probably lead to another (on and on)...he sort of tricked me somewhat. He later vacillated between remarks that he might get the man to “confess” and somehow acknowledge that the “victim” was influenced by his relatives (to fabricate), or that he was a teenage hoaxer (or some confused combination of the above). Nice.

      I did not gather the “full” status of this critic’s cynical approach and background until, up unto, and more recent when I examined the various stages of his career and his inquiry into this and other matters.

      I did not “refuse” to work with him, rather, I let my somewhat sympathetic views on demons, and my realization as to what Christ said on that matter, be known to him (which he resented somewhat, as it was not part of his ‘mission’), and that led to a gulf in cooperation. I did suggest a committee or panel of “experts” or “professionals” get together and plan a trek to Maryland and various connected sites to investigate.

      However, I also suggested that this investigation be done in a rather objective and impartial way (having read and being concerned about the mentality of die-hard debunkers); that idea did not go over so well, to say the least, as that did not fit into his pattern of inquiry.

      (It was no wonder this critic had a hard time working with me, in as much as I was not a dedicated cynic and debunker in matters parapsychological, paranormal or religious [it worried me some times that he referred to me as a ‘partner’ in his research, in as much as I could not endorse his entire approach]. I had no radio show promoting ridicule of various religious ideas. More recently, this critic had visited almost every name connected with the case, often, I suspect, in hopes of gleaning pieces and comments of information that he could use to bolster his cynical premise [probably unbeknownst to his interviewees].)


      His latest pieces on the topic were a long list (a composite of other ‘hounds’ who searched out the victim and contributed gossip and pulp) of 'dirty laundry' about the man (once the 'boy'), prying into the man’s girlfriend’s life, relatives' lives, parents' secrets and besmirching him and his family; Innocent until proven guilty? These skeptics shrouded themselves beneath descriptions of being “scientific” investigators, “skeptical” rectifiers, or some other type of lone wolf private eyes. In addition, there were a few other media tormentors in which I had to question their intentions (the heralding of the Constitution, as some did, as to its allowing, those to rampage about in the private lives of individuals, did not seem correct; and what if their privacy became obtusely invaded?). Were these “'investigators’'' backgrounds were so pristine, holy and perfect that they could set themselves up as Papal authorities to judge this man and his family? Sounded like evil intentions also.


      The other problem or area was the question: what ‘is’ EVIL? These debunkers said the kid was just a mean, snotty, bully of a kid who hoaxed it: but by their very descriptions of him, they described someone that was mentally ill, sadistic, cruel and---evil. It seemed like the pot calling the kettle 'black'.

      I suggested to this 'researcher' that an independent, open, scientific, objective and impartial panel - not a monger-headlines-group - be set up to check out the facts. He said he did not want to set around with a bunch of psychic mumbo-jumbo. That kind of talk sounded more dark than light to me; I had in the past (p

    • Sneha Sunny profile imageAUTHOR

      Sneha Sunny 

      4 years ago from India

      @KenWu I'm glad you found this hub interesting! Thanks for stopping by. :)

    • KenWu profile image


      4 years ago from Malaysia

      Very interesting, never knew that The Exorcists was inspired by a real incident!

    • Sneha Sunny profile imageAUTHOR

      Sneha Sunny 

      6 years ago from India

      Thelma Alberts.... Yes it was a scary movie. Creepy! Thanks for stopping by and commenting! :)

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 

      6 years ago from Germany and Philippines

      Wow! I could not forget how scary the film was. Thanks for this very interesting read. Good story.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      give pictures of it.

    • profile image

      hannah gray 

      6 years ago


    • profile image


      7 years ago

      i've always thought there was a scientific explantheation behind the true story. i've never read about it until this article which was entertaining and insightful. i'm just left with a question of how the boy would've know so many names relating to the Bible. to even use the name "legion"

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I do believe in this things is not like I encounter it but I do have an openmind .i have to say to those people that have trouble in excepting this type of cases that they should think about this things do exist and no matter what conclusions they end up with they should beware cuz who knows they could experience it as well.well I believe now these days we should be more of believers in our crist and hope this things won't occur to us .

    • profile image

      Not an expert 

      7 years ago

      I thought I was reading some expert's idea on exorcism. Upon reading and finding no evidence of it having been proofread by someone, I realized it is someone's retelling of a story.

      Interesting. I do believe in Jesus and He says we will have spiritual warfare.

    • DabbleYou profile image


      7 years ago

      Nice story. Really enjoyed it. My opinion, science isn't perfect, you can't believe everything that scientists explain. Of course, there are many things in Religion that are unbelievable also. :)

    • Sneha Sunny profile imageAUTHOR

      Sneha Sunny 

      7 years ago from India

      @serena... thanks a lot. I too don't believe what explanation the scientists gave. In fact they couldn't give the explanations of some of the events...

    • profile image

      Serena Gabriel 

      7 years ago

      Very interesting! I was not familiar with this original story. I love the movie, The Exorcist! Unfortunately, I think it has had a negative effect on a lot of people in the U.S. I see a big difference between the U.K. and the U.S. with regard to their fears about Ouija boards and such. The Brits are much more open and commonsensical about it. I believe it is because they were considerably less influenced by the The Exorcist movie and subsequent fallout in the popular culture.

      I think the orthodox scientists are not completely capable of understanding what is going on. The explanation is scientific, but the orthodox scientists are not capable of fully understanding it because the don't recognize anything outside of their own dogma. (Modern science is more like a relgion, itself.)

      I like the Catholic approach to things. The Golden Dawn, also, has very powerful methods for controlling spirits. Early western occultists (and many modern ones) are exorcists and a few purposely interface with these beings. These people are definitely not Christians - more like Luciferians, Gnostics and magicians.

      This is a truly fascinating and well-done hub!

      Voted up and accolades!

    • Sneha Sunny profile imageAUTHOR

      Sneha Sunny 

      8 years ago from India

      @MT.... how sweet of you. Thanks for the vote up. And yes I too got scared when I watched this movie for the first time. Even today I don't dare to see that girl's face!! In fact her face is the major factor that made the movie even more scary.

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 

      8 years ago from Minnesota

      Wow, what an intriguing read. I will Never forget watching the Exorcist as a kid and it freaked me out for weeks and weeks. I would get scared if I was getting cold, thinking I was getting possessed. Great hub. Voted up and hit all buttons except funny.

    • downpourofwords profile image


      8 years ago from Dallas, Texas, USA

      My favorite movie too. Even I am a big follower of horror flicks. I have a collection of around 100 horror movies. Good hub. Voted up

    • Sneha Sunny profile imageAUTHOR

      Sneha Sunny 

      8 years ago from India

      thanks polly...... the movie was really scary and it was based on true story so i decided to write the story..... i do believe on them(demons and ghosts)....

      thanks for your comment....

    • Pollyannalana profile image


      8 years ago from US

      Science would have to have another explanation since demons, thus God cannot be. Good story, I enjoyed that.



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