The True Story Behind the Film – ‘The Exorcist’

The True Story Behind the Film – ‘The Exorcist’

Most people have read the book (1971) or seen the movie (1973) ‘The Exorcist’, where a young woman named Regan MacNeil was considered possessed by demons. However, in reality, this movie was based on the true events of the life of a boy named Roland Doe.

This story became the inspiration for probably one of the most popular horror movies of all time.

Writer William Peter Blatty was inspired to write this book after discovering that there were diaries of exorcism, written by Jesuit priests during and after repeated attempts by the Rev. William S. Bowdern to exorcise thirteen-year-old Roland Doe.

In 1949, William Blatty was an English student at Georgetown University, when he started reading newspaper articles about the Roland Doe exorcism. He subsequently approached his teacher, the Rev. Thomas Bermingham, informing him of the story. The Reverand then conducted further investigations and discovered that Roland Doe’s diaries had been counted by Jesuit priests.

It was unfortunate for Blatty, but she was unable to obtain permission to read the newspapers, therefore she had to resort to lengthy journalistic investigations, resulting in some surprising discoveries:

In January 1949, a young man named Roland Doe and his dysfunctional family began experiencing strange events in their home. The location is still undecided for many reasons. One of them is:

Years later, when Blatty asked Father Bowdern during the making of the film if he should visit the Doe family, the father insisted that the family’s location and confidentiality remained secret to protect the child. However, I can reveal that it was Maryland, USA or Mount Rainer, USA.

Wherever the true location is found, the family’s problems are known to have started with minor disturbances, meaning scratching sounds heard in various places in your home (usually coming from the ceiling or walls). This led the family to suspect a rodent infestation. However, after contacting a rodent extermination company, which carried out a full investigation, the house was determined to be free of infestations.

It wasn’t long after this when the cause of these interruptions began to take on a more dramatic and sinister role.

Roland Doe was to be the unfortunate victim of this relentless phenomenon.

While sleeping, she began to experience violent episodes of bed shaking and sheets being dragged out of her bed. These attacks rapidly increased in intensity and could often be heard and witnessed by the family.

When Roland’s family became convinced that these attacks were genuine, they also began to link Roland’s fascination with the Ouija board. Roland began to dabble in this ‘game’ thanks to his aunt Tillie, who introduced him before she died on January 26, 1949, eleven days before the start of paranormal activity.

Although Roland’s mother suspected Aunt Tillie to be the cause of the distressing, the family had to act quickly as concern for Roland’s well-being grew.

Because Roland had been baptized a Lutheran after birth, the family enlisted the help of two Lutheran ministers, one of whom was the Rev. Luther Schultze. Accompanying them was a Rabbi, who is believed to have only been there due to his knowledge of such suspicious phenomena.

While the young man was being evaluated by the rabbi, Roland is said to have suddenly started ranting in a language of which he had no prior knowledge.

The two Lutheran ministers had no idea what Roland was saying, yet the rabbi understood every word … Roland spoke the rabbi’s native Hebrew language fluently!


After researching a series of conflicting articles on the Roland Doe exorcism and studying the journals of the Jesuit priests, I can now give you the facts surrounding the previous period and the actual exorcism, to the best of my knowledge.

I myself understood for the first time, after reading various analogies, that Roland’s mother had a series of Ouija sessions to contact Aunt Tillie, however I discovered that this was not the case:

Roland Doe’s mother “suspected” that Aunt Tillie had recently left was the cause of Roland’s relentless torment regimen. During an episode in which Roland was being terrorized by this unknown force, his mother screamed, “If you’re Tillie, knock three times.”

Immediately, a cold breeze kicked up and wove his icy breath around Roland’s mother, grandmother, and then Roland himself. Then came three different knocks on the ground, which the three heard.

Mrs. Doe asked hesitantly, ‘If it’s really you Tillie, play four times.’ Once again, the three of them heard four knocks on the floor … but most disturbingly: claw marks were later discovered on Roland’s mattress.

However, Aunt Tillie was later ruled out as the cause after the paranormal activity moved to the Roland school. Roland was horrified when his school desk began to move only at the sight of the horrified teacher and the school children. This later resulted in Roland being expelled from school.

Understandably, the Doe family was traumatized and feared for Roland’s health as the phenomenon increased. The Rev. Shultze was brought in to observe the attacks on Roland. Over a period of several nights, Shultze witnessed the boy who appeared to be in agony as he slept, waving his arms and ripping the sheets. However, the Reverend was still unconvinced of paranormal activity and referred Roland to the University of Maryland Mental Hygiene Clinic for examination. The tests returned with conclusive results … Roland was considered by no means abnormal.

Still skeptical of paranormal activity, Shultze asked Roland to stay in his pastoral home. Shultze’s main goal was to find out if Roland’s house was being haunted, or if it was Roland himself.

On February 17, 1949, Roland was taken to Shultze’s house where he would spend the night and would be watched by Shultze. The reverend would not be disappointed.

During the night, the reverend stated that various scratching sounds were heard from Roland’s room. Shultze then entered the bedroom and was horrified to see Roland come out of the chair he was sitting on and the bed beside him vibrated.

Shultze would then observe scratches appearing on Roland’s body before his eyes. The reverend realized that time was of the essence now and recommended that the Doe family contact Catholics.

Roland’s parents were already so desperate; They decided to take Roland to see Father Albert Hughes at St. James Catholic Church in Mount Rainier.

Meanwhile, a very concerned cousin of Roland, who was a student of Father Raymond J. Bishop at the University of St. Louis, confided to him about the paranormal activity taking place in the Doe home. After concluding that he had no doubt that she was telling the truth, he decided to discuss this matter with his old friend, the Rev. William S. Bowdern.

Father Bowden would become the primary instigator of the Roland Doe exorcism.


Roland Doe’s family already knew that evil had possessed their 13-year-old son after he had conducted numerous Ouija board sessions. Her only option was to visit Father Albert Hughes at St. James Catholic Church in Mount Rainier for evaluation.

Father Hughes was initially incredulous and hesitant about the case. However, he agreed to conduct the interview … finding probably one of the world’s most inconceivable and supernatural possession cases known to date.


It was reported; When Father Hughes began interviewing Roland, the icy breath the Doe family felt during their “supposed” contact with Aunt Tillie had once again returned to their hostile return.

Still skeptical, Father Hughes continued the interview, which was soon followed by Roland, who launched a tirade of ungodly language directed at the Father. Hughes was obviously stunned but still not convinced. However, this quickly dissipated when Roland suddenly began to speak Latin fluently. A language they had never taught him.

At the end of the interview, there was apparently no doubt in Father Hughes’ mind that Roland Doe was possessed when he immediately contacted his archbishop, Cardinal O’Boyle, and asked for permission to perform an exorcism. This was approved after the Cardinal studied the case and the medical evidence.


Roland Doe’s first exorcism took place at Georgetown Hospital. Before the ritual, Roland was firmly tied to the bed, which was normal practice.

When the exorcism began, Roland released a spit frenzy directed at Father Hughes. The effusion was reported to have been sent with such force and an incredible target, described as “beyond natural.”

The exorcism reached its horrible end when the young man began to shout obscenities at the Father and was released from his restraint. Roland later manifested a power far beyond his years and condition: he ripped a metal spring from the bed and cut the Father’s left arm, causing Hughes to need more than 100 stitches.

Roland quickly became peaceful after Father Hughes left the room, not referring to exorcism at all; It was as if all the memories had been emptied into a void of darkness.

Roland was not considered to need hospitalization after the exorcism and was sent home. Meanwhile, Father Hughes was unable to understand the reality of what he had just witnessed and suffered a mental breakdown.

However, the case was still far from closed; something had to be done to help Roland. After his cousin spoke to his teacher, Father Bishop at St Lois University (mentioned at the end of the second part), it was decided that he and his good friend, Father Bowdern, would visit Roland.

On March 9, 1949, Father Bishop and Father Bowdern, along with a young Jesuit priest, Father. Walter Halloran went to Roland’s house. During the visit, they were horrified to discover that Roland’s body had been disfigured with bleeding scratches on his chest. Another phenomenon was also witnessed, which resulted in priests requesting Cardinal Ritter to carry out another exorcism.

Exorcism was granted by Cardinal Ritter on March 16, 1949 … soon after the priests began exorcism rites.

Exorcism took on a sinister air from the start, with violent bed movements, extreme hostile language, and extensive spitting from Roland. When apparently more bloody scratch marks spelled the words ‘hell’ and ‘demon’, it was decided for everyone’s safety, the exorcism should be carried out in the psychiatric ward of Alexian Brothers Hospital.

At the hospital, Father Bowdern began the exorcism by reciting “Roman Ritual” prayers. While Father Bishop wrote a diary of events.

Roland then screamed in apparent pain as the prayers continued. At one point Bowdern was clearly shocked when the boy spat out the words, “I’m in hell, I see you, you’re in hell, it’s 1957.”

Roland began to spit at the priests again. The p. Halloran was reported to have said Roland was an absolute shooter when he spat, stating that even with his eyes closed, Roland would spit in your face.

The exorcism continued at night with each episode becoming more fearsome than the last. On one occasion, Roland exploded with such anger that he struck Halloran with a force that broke his nose.

Bowdern began to recite the Roman Ritual of Christian Exorcism over and over:

‘I drive you out, you filthy spirit, along with the least invasion of the evil enemy and every ghostly and devilish legion. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, depart and disappear from this creature of God.

After hours of reciting, Bowdern and the others were alarmed when Roland stood up and announced in a resonant voice that he was the ‘Arc Angel Michael’ and demanded that the demon leave Roland.

Roland squirmed, twisting his body in dark positions until he finally went still. Then he sat down and spoke in his normal voice declaring all the witnesses relieved, he had just seen a vision of Saint Michael with a burning sword. Exorcism was a success!

Twelve days after the exorcism, Roland’s family moved from St Louis to Maryland. Roland then wrote to Father Bowdern saying that he was established and that he had very vague memories of what had happened to him.

Roland Doe’s latest report is of a man happily married with three children and still living in Maryland.

The Catholic Church has an archived dossier stating that the possession of Roland Doe was ‘genuine’ with forty-one signatures of witnesses to the events.

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