Boy Whose Case Inspired ‘The Exorcist’ Is Identified Over 70 Years Later

Getty Images

The person who underwent a series of exorcisms when he was 14 has been identified.

The boy whose 1949 case of being possessed by a demon was the inspiration for the classic horror film “The Exorcist” has been made public for the first time in 72 years, Yahoo! reported.

The boy, previously known as Roland Doe, underwent exorcisms in Cottage City, Maryland, and St Louis, Missouri, in 1949, has officially been identified by the Skeptical Inquirer.

Ronald Doe has been identified as Ronald Edwin Hunkeler who died last year, a month before his 86th birthday, after suffering a stroke at home in Marriottsville, Maryland, Yahoo! reported.

The news was brought to surface by investigator and podcast host JD Sword, who wrote in the magazine that he confirmed Hunkeler’s identity last month when he started researching a story on “The Exorcist” for his podcast, “The Devil in the Details.”

Hunkeler grew up and became a NASA engineer who patented a special technology to make space shuttle panels resistant to extreme heat, helping the Apollo missions of the 1960s which would lead to astronauts being able to walk on the moon in 1969, the New York Post reported.

William Peter Blatty, who wrote the 1971 novel and then the film “The Exorcist,” first heard about then-Ronald Doe’s apparent demonic possession when he was a senior at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., The Guardian reported. Georgetown is where the story of the film and book takes place.

A poster for "The Exorcist" movie. - Getty Images

Blatty learned of Doe’s demonic possession through his professor Father Eugene Gallager, while he attended the country’s oldest Catholic university, The Guardian reported.

Despite the book and film becoming classics, Doe’s identity had remained secret for decades. However, The New York Post reported that Doe’s identity was something of an open secret among the community of Jesuits who were close to the priests who participated in his exorcisms.

Doe’s true identity was also known by a handful of academics and reporters who studied the phenomenon beginning in the mid-1970s, The Post reported.

Hunkeler apparently lived in fear of more people finding out that he was Doe and received the exorcisms in his youth.

A colleague of Hunkeler’s at NASA, who worked with him for 29 years, said he was friends with him and knew of his secret, and that Kunkeler was afraid of his other colleagues at the Goddard Space Flight Center finding out that he was the inspiration for “The Exorcist,” the friend told the New York Post.

“On Halloween, we always left the house because he figured someone would come to his residence and know where he lived and never let him have peace,” the woman, who asked not to be named, told The Post. “He had a terrible life from worry, worry, worry.”

Hunkeler retired from NASA in 2001 after nearly 40 years with the agency, the Post reported.

Hunkeler was born in 1935 and raised in Cottage City. When he was 14 he reportedly started experiencing paranormal activities, like hearing knocking and scratching sounds from behind his bedroom walls, The Guardian reported.

Rev. Luther Schulze, wrote to the Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke University, in North Carolina, in March 1949, and explained how “chairs moved with [Hunkeler] and one threw him out [of it.] His bed shook whenever he was in it,” adding, the home’s floors were “scarred from the sliding of heavy furniture” and how “a picture of Christ on the wall shook” whenever Hunkeler was nearby,” The Guardian reported.

A Jesuit named William Bowdern in the area did what he could to help the 14-year-old and performed more than 20 exorcisms on Hunkeler in three months, The Guardian reported.

Hunkeler then relocated to St Louis to be treated for demonic possession.

Bowdern kept a diary of his interactions with the boy and it involved everything from Hunkeler going into a trance-like state to the word “Louis” being written in scratches on the victim’s ribs and the word “Saturday” scratched into his hip, along with the phrase “3 ½ weeks” to indicate how long they should stay in St. Louis, The Guardian reported.

“It seems that whatever force was writing the words was in favor of making the trip to St Louis,” Bowdern wrote.

Hunkeler spent a month inside a St. Louis hospital before being released and free of the reported demon, The Guardian wrote.

A Washington Post article from August 1949 says the boy “has been freed by a Catholic priest of possession by the devil, Catholic sources reported yesterday.”

Just before his death, a Catholic priest showed up at Hunkeler’s home unexpectedly to perform last rites, his companion told the New York Post.

“I have no idea how the Father knew to come but he got Ron to heaven. Ron’s in heaven and he’s with God now,” she told the New York Post.

Related Stories