The True Story Of Roland Doe That Inspired ‘The Exorcist’

Discover the tale of Roland Doe, the boy whose ordeal represents the true story behind "The Exorcist."

Roland Doe Exorcism House

Discovery via Getty ImagesThe St. Louis house once home to “Roland Doe” as seen in 2015.

In the picturesque Bel-Nor neighborhood of St. Louis sits a beautiful, Colonial-style house on Roanoke Drive. It looks normal on the outside with an all-brick exterior and white shutters framing the windows while huge trees and neatly manicured bushes dot the yard.

Yet one of the most extraordinary horror stories turned urban legends in American history transformed this house into a landmark for the macabre.

A Troubled Boy

This story, the true story behindĀ The Exorcist, begins in the late 1940s in suburban Washington, D.C. with a family named Hunkeler. Their 13-year-old boy, believed to be named Ronald (and later referred to pseudonymously in the literature as “Roland Doe” among other names), was despondent over the loss of his beloved Aunt Harriet, a spiritualist who’d taught him many things including how to use a Ouija board.

In early January 1949, shortly after Harriet’s death, Ronald began to experience strange things. He heard scratching sounds coming from the floors and walls of his room. Water dripped inexplicably from pipes and walls. The most troubling thing was that his mattress would suddenly move.

Disturbed, Ronald’s family sought the help of every expert they knew. The Hunkelers consulted doctors, psychiatrists, and their local Lutheran minister, but they were no help. The minister suggested that the family seek the assistance of the Jesuits.

Father E. Albert Hughes, the local Catholic priest, asked his superiors’ permission to perform an exorcism on the boy in late February of 1949. However, Hughes stopped the rite when Ronald broke off a piece of spring from the mattress that he’d been strapped down to and lashed the priest across his shoulders.

A few days later, red scratches appeared on the boy. One of the scratches formed the word ‘LOUIS’, which indicated to Ronald’s mother that the family needed to go to St. Louis, where the Hunkelers had relatives, in order to find a way to save their son.

William DeLong
William DeLong is a freelance wordsmith. He thanks you for reading his content.
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