The True Story Behind the Film – ‘The Exorcist’


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

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

The writer, William Peter Blatty became inspired to write this book after he discovered there were diaries of the exorcism, written by the Jesuit Priests during and after Rev. William S. Bowdern’s repeated attempts to exorcise thirteen year old Roland Doe.

In 1949, William Blatty was an English major student at Georgetown University, when he began reading the newspaper articles regarding the exorcism of Roland Doe. He subsequently approached his lecturer, Rev. Thomas Bermingham informing him of the story. The Reverand then went on to conduct further investigations and discovered that the diaries of Roland Doe had in fact been chronicled by the Jesuit Priests.

It was unfortunate for Blatty, but he was unable obtain permission to read the diaries, therefore, he had to turn to lengthy newspaper investigations, which resulted in some amazing discoveries:

In January 1949, a young boy called, Roland Doe and his dysfunctional family began experiencing strange occurrence’s in their home. The location is still undecided for many reasons. One of them being:

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

Wherever the true location may be, it is known that the family’s troubles began with minor disturbances, namely scratching sounds heard in various locations of their home (usually coming from the ceiling or the walls). This led the family to suspect rodent infestation. However, after contacting a rodent extermination firm, who carried out a full investigation, it was determined that the house was free of infestation.

It was not long after this when the cause of these disruptions began taking on a more dramatic and sinister role.

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

Whilst sleeping, he began experiencing violent bed shaking episodes and sheets being dragged off his bed. These onslaughts rapidly increased in intensity and could often be heard and witnessed by the family.

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

Although Roland’s mother suspected Aunt Tillie was the cause of the haunting, the family had to act quickly as concern grew for Roland’s welfare.

As Roland had been baptized a Lutheran after birth, the family called in the help of two Lutheran ministers – one being Rev. Luther Schultze. Accompanying them was a Rabbi, who it is believed was only there because of his knowledge in this type of suspected phenomena.

Whilst the young boy was being assessed by the Rabbi, it is said that Roland suddenly began ranting in a language he had no previous knowledge of.

The two Lutheran ministers had no clue as to what Roland was saying, however, the Rabbi understood every word…Roland was speaking the rabbi’s native tongue of Hebrew – fluently!


After researching a number of conflicting articles on the exorcism of Roland Doe and studying the Jesuit priests diaries, I can now give you the facts surrounding the lead up to and the actual exorcism from the best of my knowledge.

It was first understood by myself, after reading various analogies, that Roland’s mother held a number of Ouija board séance’s in order to contact Aunt Tillie, however, I discovered this was not the case:

Roland Doe’s mother ‘suspected’ that recently departed Aunt Tillie was the cause of Roland’s regime of relentless torment. During one episode where Roland was being terrorised by this unknown force, his mother shouted out, ‘if that’s you Tillie, knock three times’.

Immediately, a cold breeze loomed down and weaved its icy breath around Roland’s mother, grandmother, and then Roland himself. Then came three distinct knocks on the floor, which all three of them heard.

Mrs Doe hesitantly asked, ‘if that really is you Tillie, knock four times’. Again, all three heard four knocks on the floor…but most disturbingly – claw like marks were later discovered on Roland’s mattress.

However, Aunt Tillie was later discarded as the cause after the paranormal activity carried over into Roland’s school. Roland was aghast as his school desk began moving around by itself in full view of the horrified teacher and school children. This later resulted in Roland’s expulsion from the school.

Understandably, the Doe family where traumatized as well as fearing for Roland’s health as the phenomena increased. Reverend Shultze was brought in to observe the attacks on Roland. Over a period of several nights, Shultze witnessed the boy seeming to be in agony as he slept – flaying his arms around and ripping his sheets. The Reverend was still however unconvinced of paranormal activity and referred Roland to the Mental Hygiene Clinic of the University of Maryland for tests. The tests came back with conclusive results…Roland was considered in no way abnormal.

Still sceptical of paranormal activity, Shultze asked Roland to stay over at his parsonage. Shultze’s main purpose was to discover if Roland’s home was being haunted, or whether it was Roland himself.

On February 17th 1949, Roland was taken to Shultze’s home where he would spend the night and be monitored by Shultze. The Reverend would not be disappointed.

During the night, the Reverend stated that distinct scratching noises were heard coming from Roland’s room. Shultze then entered the bedroom and was horrified to witness Roland being tipped out of the armchair he was sitting in and the bed at his side vibrating.

Shultze would later observe scratches appearing on Roland’s body in front of his eyes. The Reverend realised that time was now of the essence and recommended the Doe family contact the Catholics.

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

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

Father Bowden would go on to be the main instigator in the exorcism of Roland Doe.


Roland Doe’s family were by now clear in mind that evil had possessed their 13-year-old son after he had conducted numerous Ouija board sessions. Their only choice left was to visit Father Albert Hughes at St. James Catholic Church in Mount Rainier for assessment.

Father Hughes was initially disbelieving and hesitant about the case. However, he agreed to conduct the interview…encountering probably one of the worlds most inconceivable, unearthly cases of possession known to date.


It was reported; as Father Hughes began interviewing Roland, the icy breath felt by the Doe family during their ‘supposed’ contact with Aunt Tillie had once more made its hostile return.

Still sceptical, Father Hughes carried on with the interview, which was soon followed by Roland spilling out a tirade of ungodly language directed at the Father. Hughes was evidently stunned but still remained unconvinced. However, this was swiftly dispelled when Roland suddenly began speaking fluently in Latin. A language he had never been taught.

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


The first exorcism of Roland Doe took place at the Georgetown hospital. Before the ritual Roland was tied securely to the bed, which was a normal practise.

As the exorcism commenced, Roland launched a spitting frenzy directed at Father Hughes. It was reported the outpouring was sent with such force and incredible aim, it was described as ‘beyond natural.’

The exorcism then came to its grisly end as the young boy began screaming obscenities at the Father and broke free from his restraint. Roland then manifested a power far beyond his years and condition – ripping a metal spring from the bed and slashing the Father’s left arm – resulting in Hughes needing over 100 stitches.

Roland promptly became peaceful after Father Hughes left the room – not referring to the exorcism at all; it was as though all memories had drained into a void of obscurity.

Roland was not considered to be in need of hospitalisation after the exorcism and was sent home. In the meantime, Father Hughes was unable to comprehend the reality of what he had just witnessed and suffered a mental breakdown.

The case however remained far from closed; something needed to be done to help Roland. After his cousin had spoken with her professor, Father Bishop at St Lois University (mentioned at the end of part two), it was decided that he and his good friend Father Bowdern would visit Roland.

On March 9th 1949 Father Bishop and Father Bowdern, together with a young Jesuit priest, Fr. Walter Halloran went to Roland’s home. During the visit, they were horrified to discover Roland’s body had been disfigured with bleeding scratches to his chest. Other phenomenon was also witnessed, which resulted in Cardinal Ritter being petitioned by the priests in order to carry out another exorcism.

The exorcism was granted by Cardinal Ritter on March 16th 1949…soon afterwards the priests began the exorcism rites.

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

At the hospital, Father Bowdern began the exorcism by reciting prayers from ‘The Roman Ritual’. Whilst Father Bishop wrote a diary of the events.

Roland then screamed in apparent pain as the prayers went on. At one point Bowdern was clearly shaken as the boy spat out the words, ‘I’m in hell – I see you – you’re in hell – it’s 1957.’

Roland then began spitting at the priests again. Fr. Halloran was reported to have said that Roland was an absolute marksman when he spat, he stated that even with his eyes closed Roland would spit right in your face.

The exorcism went on for nights with each episode becoming more fearsome than the last. On one occasion Roland exploded with such rage, he hit Halloran with a force which broke his nose.

Bowdern began reciting the Roman Ritual of Christian Exorcism over and over again:

‘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.’

After hours of reciting, Bowdern and the others were alarmed when Roland sat bolt upright and announced in a booming voice he was the ‘Arc Angel Michael’ and demanded the demon to leave Roland.

Roland writhed around, contorting his body in obscure positions until eventually he lay still. Then he sat up and spoke in his normal voice declaring to all the relieved witnesses, he had just seen a vision of St Michael holding a flaming sword. The exorcism was a success!

Twelve days after the exorcism Roland’s family moved from St Louis to Maryland. Roland later wrote to Father Bowdern telling him he was settled and had very vague recollections of what had happened to him.

The last report of Roland Doe is of a happily married man with three children and still living in Maryland.

The Catholic church has a filed dossier which states that the possession of Roland Doe was ‘genuine’ with forty one signatures of witnesses to the events.

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