The details of the real-life case that inspired the story for one of the best horror movies of all time – The Exorcist – has been revealed. In 2021, the US magazine, the Skeptical Inquirer, put a name to the 14-year-old boy (previously known as Roland Doe) who underwent multiple exorcisms in Missouri in 1949.
Ronal Edwin Hunkeler was a NASA engineer who helped the Apollo missions in the 1960s, and putting a man on the moon in 1969. However, he was also the main subject in the mysterious real-life case that inspired William Peter Blatty’s famous demonic possession story. Born in 1935 and raised in Cottage City, Hunkeler began to experience strange phenomena in his teens. The Rev Luther Schulze, Hunkeler’s family minister, wrote to the Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke University in 1949, explaining how “chairs moved with [Hunkeler], and one threw him out [of it.] His bed shook whenever he was in it.”
Schulze also said that “a picture of Christ on the wall shook” whenever Hunkeler was nearby. These events led to Hunkeler’s family employing William Bowdern, a Jesuit who conducted more than 20 exorcism rituals on the young lad in the space of three months.
Blatty wrote both the script for The Exorcist movie and the 1971 novel on which it is based, after hearing about Hunkeler’s case of apparent demonic possession at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. Blatty’s professor, Eugene Gallager (who was also a priest), reported Hunkeler’s ‘paranormal’ activity and subsequent exorcisms to his student.
For decades Hunkeler was known only by pseudonyms in regards to the account of his childhood ordeal. He was adamant that his connection with the award-winning movie The Exorcist remain a secret. In conversation with the New York Post, one of Hunkeler’s companions (who requested her identity not to be revealed) explained how he was on constant edge that his NASA colleagues would discover his connection to the popular horror movie.
“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,” she said. “He had a terrible life from worry, worry, worry.”
Ronald Edwin Hunkeler passed away in 2020 at the age of 85 in his home in Marriottsville, Maryland. Although his identity as the boy whose case inspired The Exorcist has been revealed, his engineering accomplishments in space travel should also be remembered and honoured.
Universal’s upcoming reboot of The Exorcist, helmed by Halloween (2018) director David Gordon Green is scheduled to hit theatres on October 13, 2023.