top of page

The Exorcism of Roland Doe, Halloween '21

Happy Halloween you beautiful bastards… Well… in a couple of days, but this is our Halloween episode so keep it or leave it. We've got some pretty crazy and creepy stuff going on today. Let's get into it!

Do you guys believe in demons? Possession? Are you afraid that at some point in your life a being from hell or possibly another plane of existence could enter your body and wreak havoc on your body, mind, and soul? That they could possibly even kill you or cause injury or death to someone you know? What must it be like to not be in control of your own being? Well, we're gonna discuss all of that today while talking about perhaps the most famous possession incident out there. The one that inspired what many think it's one of, if not the, scariest horror movies ever. Today we are discussing the possession and Exorcism of Roland Doe, also sometimes referred to as Robbie Manheim. While there are many versions of what happened, we will try to stay as close to what is thought to be the actual events. "Robbie Mannheim" was Allen's alias for the 13-year-old boy at the center of the exorcism story; the Catholic Church referred to him as "Roland Doe." None of the eyewitnesses publicly revealed the boy's true identity, and it was never disclosed from the unedited diary of Raymond Bishop that was used by Thomas B Allen to write the book "Possession: The True Story Of An Exorcism, which is thought to be the closest account to what actually happened.

From here on out we will be referring to the boy as Roland since that was the name given to him by the Catholic Church and we don't want to cause any confusion by switching names during the show.

In January of 1949 strange things started to happen in the house where Roland lived in maryland. Roland was born into a Lutheran family and was an only child. He spent a lot of time with his Aunt Harriet. Most accounts of the story day that when Aunt Harriet died that's when the whole ordeal began. You see it seems that Roland took an interest in the… Wait for it… Ouija board!!! Oh yeah the good old wholesome family entertainment known as the Ouija board. Well Aunt Harriet decided to help Roland learn the ways of the Ouija board when he showed interest and when she died the family thought that the things they were experiencing were caused by the deceased Aunt and things having to do with the Ouija board. So what types of things are the family experiencing you ask? Well we're not going to tell you. Goodnight everyone!!! Anyways… started with the usual small stuff. There were scratching sounds coming from the walls. They claimed to hear dripping water but couldn't locate a source of the sound. They claimed that objects around the house would levitate or move on their own when Roland was around. They claim they witnessed his mattress moving on it's own. The family was understandably concerned. They began to seek the opinions of physicians and psychiatrists who predictably couldn't really find anything wrong with the boy. They also sought advice from a minister from their local Lutheran Church. They go to Rev. Luther Miles Schulze, a Lutheran minister who happened to be greatly interested in the paranormal, as it was called at that time, and he said, 'Go to a Catholic priest; the Catholics know about this kind of thing. well thanks for nothing I guess!

Interestingly enough, later on Rev. Schulze spoke at a meeting of a Washington, D.C., branch of the Society for Parapsychology about this case. That information made its way to the press, and the published Schulze interview led to the leaking of the exorcism story by Catholic sources. Studying at Georgetown at that time, William Peter Blatty read the story in the Washington Post and years later used it as inspiration for The Exorcist.

On Schulze's advice, the family went to a local priest, Father E. Albert Hughes, who "gave them a bottle of holy water and candles and sent them on their way.

Unfortunately the holy water and candles didn't really do the trick. Things kept happening and things kept getting worse. Roland was getting more violent but it only seemed to come out at night. According to witnesses in the evening Roland would put on his pajamas and get in bed and that's when the trouble would start. He seemed to come into a trance-like state. He would claim to have no recollection of the night's events the following morning.

Come February things were getting a little more intense. Around February 26 scratches started to appear randomly on Roland's body. Several nights later words supposedly began to appear on his body either scratched or "branded" on him. At this point around Feb 28th, it seems Roland's first Exorcism took place at Georgetown hospital. Que the return of father Hughes. Hughes asked the arch­bishop of Washington, D.C., for permission to perform an exorcism on the boy. This was the first time that something major seemed to have taken place. During the Exorcism Roland supposedly broke of a piece of a bedspring from the mattress he was on and slashed the good father from his shoulder to his wrist although Later when the case was looked at a little more in depth there was no evidence that this event ever actually happened but will get to that later.

At this point Roland's mother thought that maybe a change of scenery would be good. She began thinking about moving back to where she used to live...St. Louis. Now low and behold weird had it that after they discussed the move, the word Louis magically appeared scratched onto Roland. Mama took this as a sign and they packed up and headed to St Louis sometime around March 4 or 5th. The boy ended up staying in a house with a relative who had attended Saint Louis University. One of her professors was Father Bishop, who became one of sev­eral Jesuits to participate in the exorcism and kept the day-by-day account on which Allen's book is based. Bishop talked to his friend William Bowdern, S.J. After both men consulted with Paul Reinert, S.J., then president of Saint Louis University, and St. Louis Archbishop Joseph Ritter, all agreed that an exorcism would be performed according to the Roman Ritual. It was something that Bowdern, who was chosen to be the lead exorcist, knew little about.

"Father Halloran said the first thing Bowdern did was hit the books," Allen, who wrote the book about the incident, said. "He would have learned something about it while becoming a Jesuit, but there isn't much call for exorcism to the modern-day priest. But Bowdern was a veteran of World War II, he'd been in combat -- so he was a combination of a religious man who was very tough."

The process ended up taking more than a month, during which Bowdern fasted. Several priests, Alexian Brothers and family members participated in or witnessed the rite, which always began in the evening.

"The pattern was that the boy would act normally during the day, and then he would put on his pajamas and go to bed, and go into a trance and start screaming and yelling and acting wild," Allen said. In the morning, the boy apparently never remem­bered what transpired the night before.

Many things were related to have happened during these weeks of Exorcism including the mattress moving as it did before, objects levitating and moving on their own during the rites, Roland speaking in latin and other random languages, more scratches appearing on the boys body and road beginning more angry and violent during the rites.

Halloran stated that during this scene words such as "evil" and "hell", along with other various marks, appeared on the teenager's body. Allegedly, during the Litany of the Saints portion of the exorcism ritual, the boy's mattress began to shake.

A Jesuit priest named John Walsh, a friend of Bowdern's, talked about the Roman numeral X that appeared on the boy's chest. It was believed that 10 demons were involved, Walsh said.

A voice coming from the boy supposedly told an attending Jesuit, who was assisting Bowdern, that he would die in 10 years and would burn in hell. The Jesuit had a fondness for strong drink, and the voice so unnerved him that he stopped drinking, for a time.

Another incident supposedly written about in the diary was when One night, sitting on the bed beside the boy, Bowdern watched a tiny, nearly invisible pitchfork, or lines, move from under the boy's upper thigh all the way to the ankle. Droplets of blood occurred. Bowdern was only a foot away, and there were the usual four or five witnesses.

Often, according to the priests, he had to be forcibly restrained. In one of these incidents, he broke the nose of Walter Halloran. He said of the incident

''I got in on the business with the prayers of exorcism, and the little boy would go into a seizure and get quite violent. So Father Bowdern asked me to hold him.'' (Halloran is a former high school football player.) ''Yes, he did break my nose.''

Halloran said he observed the streaks and arrows and words like ''hell'' that would rise on the child's skin. ''That happened a number of times. And it wasn't a case of taking a pin and scratching himself. It just appeared, and with quite a bit of pain.

''On Holy Thursday that year, this phenomenon started occurring as I was reading the prayers. 'Don't talk about it anymore, this hurts too much, ' the kid said. The markings were most visible, and there were many obscenities. He was a nice little kid.''

Throughout the ordeal, Bowdern fasted on bread and water. ''He looked terrible, '' said his brother, Dr. Edward H. Bowdern of St. Louis. He looked thin and wasted, and developed styes and boils, Dr. Bowdern said.

Other accounts attributed a frightening degree of strength to young Roland, and claimed that he spoke in perfect Latin, though the boy was unschooled in the language. Some sources state that at least one of these exorcisms was observed by no less than 48 people, nine of them Jesuits.

After all of this craziness took place...a miracle of sorts happened. At 11:00pm on 18 April 1949, while wearing saint medals and holding a crucifix, Roland screamed, “Satan! Satan! I am St. Michael! I command you, Satan, and the other evil spirits to leave this body, in the name of Dominus, immediately! Now! Now! Now!” After a final spasm, Roland fell quiet and proclaimed that “He is gone.” and with that the Exorcism was finished and Road seemed to well again. Following the final exorcism, Roland claimed to experience a vision of St. Michael slaying a dragon. Believing it was a sign that his ordeal was over, the family returned home from Missouri 12 days later. The strange behavior ceased and Hunkeler returned to school. After this not many people know what happened to Roland but a few people did keep tabs on him and the results are that the boy went on to live a normal life and eventually married and had a son he named Michael after St. Michael.

The following is a timeline of events that took place according to the diary that was kept. There are a few extras details about dinner if the effects as well and it's a pretty good summary.

15 January 1949

A dripping noise was heard in his grandmother’s bedroom by the boy and his grandmother.

A picture of Christ on the wall shook and scratching noises were heard under the floorboards.

Scratching was heard every night from 7 p.m. until midnight for 10 days. This was attributed to a rodent at the time

26 January 1949

Aunt “Tillie”/Harriet dies of multiple sclerosis in St. Louis.

Waves of air reportedly strike the grandmother

3 knocks are heard on the floor. Roland's mom asks, “If you are Harriet, tell me positively by knocking four times.” Four knocks were heard.

Scratchings on Hunkeler’s mattress.

28 January 1949

After 3 days of silence, nighttime “squeaking shoes" on rolands bed heard for 6 nights

17 February 1949

Roland spends the night with Lutheran minister Schulze.

Reportedly Schulze heard scratching noises, and witnessed:

bed vibrations;

a chair in which Roland sat tipping over;

and, the movements of a pallet of blankets.

Schulze's family take Roland to the Mental Hygiene Clinic of the University of Maryland for testing.

After two rounds of testing, nothing abnormal was discovered.

Schulze also contacted J.B. Rhine, the founder of the parapsychology laboratory at Duke University. Rhine and wife, Louisa Rhine, drove up from North Carolina to evaluate the boy but saw no activity.

26 February 1949

Scratches or markings appeared on the boy’s body for 4 consecutive nights.


27 February 1949

Words began to appear on the boy’s body and seemed to be scratched by claws.

Father Edward Albert Hughes of St. James Catholic Church in Mount Rainier is called upon to review the case. Hughes suggested the family use blessed candles, holy water, and special prayers.

Hughes reportedly witnessed:

Unassisted movements of a telephone and other objects in his office.

Roland make obscene and blasphemous remarks at him in a strange, diabolical voice.

And the room became unexplainably cold.

Father Hughes was convinced that Roland was possessed and requested Cardinal Patrick A O’Boyle at authorize exorcism.

28 February 1949


3 March 1949

Roland is a patient at Georgetown University Hospital.

This is the point that the alleged first exorcism took place.

Mother sees the bloody word “Louis” scratched on Roland. When the boy is asked if word “Louis” means “St. Louis.” The word “Yes” is said to appear.

Family departs for Normandy, Missouri, near St. Louis to stay at the home of an aunt.

8 March 1949

The shaking of the mattress and scratching resumed at aunt’s home in Normandy.

9 March 1949

Father Raymond J. Bishop of St. Louis University sees Roland for the first time.

Bishop witnesses the scratching of the boy’s body as well as the motion of the mattress.

11 March 1949

Father William S. Bowdern of St. Francis Xavier Church asked to meet Roland.

Father Bowdern read the Novena prayer of St. Francis Xavier, blessed the boy with a relic and placed a crucifix under the boy’s pillow.

After everyone has left the room, a loud noise was heard and, reportedly, a large book case had moved about. A bench was turned over and the crucifix had been moved to the edge of the bed.

The mattress was also reported to shake.

16 March 1949

Archbishop Joseph E. Ritter gave Father Bowdern permission to begin the formal rite of exorcism.

The first of the second series of exorcisms is performed at the Normandy, Missouri home.

A number of priest were in attendance including:

Bowdern as chief exorcist,

Rev. Walter Halloran as the assistant exorcist (but he was removed before the final exorcism)

Father Lawrence Kenny

And Father Charles O'Hara of Marquette University.

During the exorcism:

Roland becomes violent, spits at the priests, with howls and growls.

The bed shakes.

Allegedly, word such as “Satan” and “devil” appear on chest as scratches.

Proving too violent for the exorcisms to be performed in home, the exorcisms were moved to the rectory at St. Francis Xavier Church.

When this proves to be too dangerous, Roland is transferred to the Alexian Brothers Hospital and placed in the psychiatric ward.

Exorcisms continue at the hospital.

1 April 1949

Roland is baptized Catholic.

4 April 1949

In brief trip back to Maryland by train, Roland becomes violent and attacks Father Bowdern, kicking him in the testicles.

9 April 1949

Roland is returned to St. Louis and briefly stays at “White House,” a Jesuit retreat along the Mississippi near St. Louis. Roland attempts to commit suicide by throwing himself over the bluff into the river but is prevented from doing so by Halloran.

Roland is then returned to the Alexian Brothers Hospital and placed in the psychiatric ward where he is restrained.

Communion was refused.


18 April 1949

Final exorcism

So who was Roland? Well most people seem to think it's a man named Ronald Edwin Hunkeler. And there are many that believe he was never actually possessed. According to one report Hunkeler was nothing more than a bully and a brat looking for attention.

The identity of Ronald Edwin Hunkeler was confirmed by T. Weston Scott Jr., a Cottage City resident since 1919 and a lifelong member of the Cottage City-Colmar Manor Fire Department. Having served as the local fire chief for over twenty years, Scott stated:

The boy involved was [Ronald Edwin Hunkeler] and he lived at 3807 40th Avenue… I knew the boy but I didn’t know too much about what was going on to be frank. They kept it quiet at the time and later on there was a lot of stuff about it. The Hunkelers lived there since the thirties and they stayed in that house for about 20 years. I think most of the older neighbors who were around at the time knew about it. Most of them are gone now, though.

One of Ronald Edwin Hunkeler’s contemporaries and neighborhood friends submitted himself to an interview with Opsasnick to discuss the case under the grant of animity. JC, as he is referred to by Opsasnick, stated:

No, I don’t think he was ever possessed. I think it was psychological. As far as any real possession or anything like that, I don’t think so. There are some interesting psychological aspects to it. They were German Lutherans and he was an only child and I think the grandmother is actually the central figure. She played a very influential role in all of this. You had this old world religion superstition and the mother got caught up in it and the father just kind of stayed in the background—I think he could see what was going on which is why he is never mentioned. The true story is much more intriguing from a psychological point of view. The basis of the real thing could be a damn good story, no doubt about it in my mind. The rest of it I can run a parallel. You had these two mischief makers that had a strong tendency to take advantage of people who were weaker than themselves. They were a pair of connivers and they had their act down. In pairs like that they compete with each other and they don’t get along well and they have to keep doing something to retain their relationship and all the time this is mischief in one form or another. They were trying to outdo each other.

JC’s brother, called BC in the interview, was for many years the best friend of Ronald Edwin Hunkeler. In discussions with BC, Ronald Edwin Hunkeler was described as being submerged in a household with a fanatically religious mother and grandmother that embraced spiritualism. Hunkeler was hated by his classmates and prone to tantrums. He frequently showed violent tendencies and exhibited sadistic behavior to animals and people around him. In short, may of the traits used to describe the possessed boy had been a fundamental part of his character. JC summed up Hunkeler’s personality with “People ask what he was like back then and I can tell you that he was never what you would call a normal child. He was an only child and kind of spoiled and he was a mean bastard. We were together all the time and we used to fight all the time.”

JC did recall Hunkeler’s last day in class during the 1948-1949 school year:

We were in a class together at Bladensburg Junior High. He was sitting in a chair and it was one of those deals with one arm attached and it looked like he was shaking the desk—the desk was shaking and vibrating extremely fast and I remember the teacher yelling at him to stop it and I remember he kind of yelled “I’m not doing it” and they took him out of class and that was the last I ever saw of him in school. The desk certainly did not move around the room like that book [Possessed] said, it was just shaking. I don’t know if he was doing it or what was doing it because I just can’t clear it in my mind.

JC summarized Hunkeler’s character with his own story about life with Hunkeler:

There was this dog that ran around the neighborhood at that time…. It was half-red cocker spaniel and it looked like it was half-chow. This dog was mean and nobody ever knew who owned it. It just came out of nowhere. Well, [Ron] basically adopted that dog. That dog was really his best friend, not me. That dog hated everyone and everything and would bite anyone in sight but he loved [Ron]. [Ron] would feed it and bring it in the house with him. One time he called me up and told me to come over and I never really trusted him because he was sneaky and a real mean little bastard. I was going over there and he was looking out from the basement window and when I got to his house I heard the back porch door slam and I knew right away what he’d done. He’d done this sort of thing many times before to different kids. I started running like hell because he’d sicked that dog on me. When I got home he called me up and was laughing like hell. That’s what kind of person he was. He did that all the time.

So it seemed like little Roland may not have been the good kid everyone claimed him to be. But did that mean he was crazy enough to fake a possession?

There have been several investigations into the exorcisms. So what did they find? Well one came up with dinner interesting stuff. According to various reports, Father Edward Albert Hughes (?-1980), was the first priest to attempt an exorcism on Ronald Edwin Hunkeler. The claim is that after an initial session with the boy, Hughes had the boy sent to the Georgetown University Hospital where three days of exorcisms were performed and that Hughes was injured in the process. However, Opsasnick suggests there is no evidence to suggest Hughes ever visited Hunkeler in his Cottage City home or at Georgetown University Hospital. Instead, there seems evidence to suggest Mrs. Hunkeler took her son to a single consultation in February 1949 with Hughes at St. James Church in Mount Rainier, Maryland where he was assigned as assistant pastor. There is also no evidence to suggest that Hughes was ever attacked. On the other hand, Father William Sauders, writing for the Catholic Herald in 1998, asserts firmly that Hughes did conduct the exorcism at the Georgetown University Hospital.

Hughes’s assistant pastor, Frank Bober confirmed that most likely it was Mrs. Hunkeler that initiated the interested of the clergy. According to Bober, “Father Hughes never went to the boy’s home… Basically it was the mother that brought the kid to the rectory and the thing is she’s the one who gave Father Hughes all the information. Everything that I know of that he shared with me took place in the rectory, not at the house.” Bober also stated that Father Hughes had described the Hunkeler boy as having a “dark stare, almost as if there were nothing behind the eyes”. Bober further claims that Hughes experienced an unseen force pressing him against the wall.

In an effort to clarify the events surrounding the exorcisms back in 1949, one of the few witnesses willing to go on record was Father Walter Halloran, who was called by Father William Bowdern to assist in the exorcism. When asked if Hunkeler was possessed, Halloran said “I can’t go on record… I never made an absolute statement about the things because I didn’t feel I was qualified. I hadn’t studied the phenomena and that sort of thing. All I did was report the things that I saw and whether I would make a statement one way or another wouldn’t make any difference…” When questioned about reports of the boy speaking other languages, Halloran stated, “Just Latin… I think he mimicked us.” Halloran said there were no demonic changes in the boy’s voice and that when the boy struck him it wasn’t with extraordinary strength.

In his 1993 book Possessed: The True Story of an Exorcism, author Thomas B. Allen offered "the consensus of today's experts" that "Robbie was just a deeply disturbed boy, nothing supernatural about him".

Author Mark Opsasnick[1] questioned many of the supernatural claims associated with the story, proposing that "Roland Doe" was simply a spoiled, disturbed bully who threw deliberate tantrums to get attention or to get out of school. Opsasnick reports that Halloran, who was present at the exorcism, never heard the boy's voice change, and he thought the boy merely mimicked Latin words he heard clergymen say, rather than gaining a sudden ability to speak Latin. Opsasnick reported that when marks were found on the boy's body, Halloran failed to check the boy's fingernails to see if he had made the marks himself. Opsasnick also questioned the story of Hughes' attempts to exorcise the boy and his subsequent injury, saying he could find no evidence that such an episode had actually occurred.

During his investigation Opsasnick discovered:

The exorcism did not take place at 3210 Bunker Hill Road in Mount Rainier, Maryland

The boy never lived in Mount Rainier

The boy's home was in Cottage City, Maryland

Much of the commonly accepted information about this story is based on hearsay, is not documented, and was never fact-checked

There is no evidence Father E. Albert Hughes visited the boy's home, had him admitted to Georgetown Hospital, requested that the boy be restrained at the hospital, attempted an exorcism of the boy at Georgetown Hospital, or was injured by the boy during an exorcism (or at any other time)

There is ample evidence refuting claims that Father Hughes suffered an emotional breakdown and disappeared from the Cottage City community

According to Opsasnick, individuals connected to the incident were influenced by their own specializations:

To psychiatrists, Rob Doe suffered from mental illness. To priests this was a case of demonic possession. To writers and film/video producers this was a great story to exploit for profit. Those involved saw what they were trained to see. Each purported to look at the facts but just the opposite was true — in actuality they manipulated the facts and emphasized information that fit their own agendas

Opsasnik wrote that after he located and spoke with neighbors and childhood friends of the boy (most of whom he only referenced by initials) he concluded that "the boy had been a very clever trickster, who had pulled pranks to frighten his mother and to fool children in the neighborhood".

Skeptic Joe Nickell[8] wrote that there was "simply no credible evidence to suggest the boy was possessed by demons or evil spirits" and maintains that the symptoms of possession can be "childishly simple" to fake. Nickell dismissed suggestions that supernatural forces made scratches or markings or caused words to appear on the teenager's body in unreachable places, saying, "A determined youth, probably even without a wall mirror, could easily have managed such a feat - if it actually occurred. Although the scratched messages proliferated, they never again appeared on a difficult-to-reach portion of the boy's anatomy." On one occasion the boy was reportedly seen scratching the words "hell" and "christ" on his chest by using his own fingernails.[8] According to Nickell:

Nothing that was reliably reported in the case was beyond the abilities of a teenager to produce. The tantrums, "trances", moved furniture, hurled objects, automatic writing, superficial scratches, and other phenomena were just the kinds of things someone of R's age could accomplish, just as others have done before and since. Indeed, the elements of "poltergeist phenomena", "spirit communication", and "demonic possession"—taken both separately and, especially, together, as one progressed to the other—suggest nothing so much as role-playing involving trickery.

Nickell also dismissed stories of the boy's prodigious strength, saying he showed "nothing more than what could be summoned by an agitated teenager" and criticized popular accounts of the exorcism for what he termed a "stereotypical storybook portrayal" of the Devilm

Two Christian academics, Terry D. Cooper, a professor of psychology, and Cindy K. Epperson, a professor of sociology, wrote that advocates of possession believe that "although they are not frequent, exorcisms are necessary for casting out the demonic" and "cases of genuine possession cannot be explained by psychiatry". Cooper and Epperson devoted a chapter of their book Evil: Satan, Sin, and Psychology to the case and dismissed natural explanations in favor of a supernatural perspective regarding the nature of evil.

Ok so after all that what are we thinking out there? Possession? Jerk kid? Is the exorcist that scary of a movie? This case spawned a ton of movies and stories and tv shows and documentaries and everything else. Honestly it's crazy because not a huge amount is known about what exactly took place. Only a few people truly knew what went down and they are all gone now. No one is sure if Hunkeler is still alive… He'd be in his 90s today if he was still alive. With all of the media that was produced around this case it will most likely never go away but we may never actually know what happened.

To possession movies

86 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

The Lake Michigan Triangle

We're going back to the creepy, mysterious, and strange this week. We're heading up to Lake Michigan, where tons of ships and planes have gone missing, and other odd things have occurred in what is kn


bottom of page