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Real-Life Child Who Inspired The Exorcist Unmasked After His Death

Linda Blair is possessed in The Exorcist

The boy whose case inspired Linda Blair’s petrifying portrayal of a possessed child in the landmark horror film The Exorcist has been identified — and it turns out he lived quite the life afterward!

As fans know, the horror classic was based on a novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty. It shocked audiences at the time not just due to its revolting, head-spinning imagery, but because it was “based on a true story.”

So the story goes, Blatty saw an August 1949 article in The Washington Post titled “Priest Frees Mt. Rainier Boy Reported Held in Devil’s Grip” when he was a student at Georgetown University. The report was about an exorcism performed on a 14-year-old boy from Maryland who was then referred to only by the fake names Roland Doe or Robbie Mannheim.

Now, a year after his death, Roland Doe has been identified as Ronald Edwin Hunkeler, who went on to work as a NASA engineer years after his alleged dance with a demon as a young teen.

Related: 14-Year-Old Murder Suspect Aiden Fucci Acts Possessed In Court Hearing

Raised by a middle-class family, Hunkeler began experiencing paranormal activities at 14 when he told his parents that he heard knocking and scratching sounds from behind his bedroom walls.

Reverend Luther Schulze, Hunkeler’s family minister, eventually alerted the Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke University, in North Carolina, in March 1949, explaining in a letter that “chairs moved with [Hunkeler] and one threw him out [of it.] His bed shook whenever he was in it.” The minister also claimed the family’s floors were “scarred from the sliding of heavy furniture” and how “a picture of Christ on the wall shook” whenever the teen was nearby.

Eventually, the family tracked down William Bowdern, a Jesuit priest who went on to perform more than 20 exorcism rituals on Hunkeler over a three month period. According to an entry in his diary written on March 10, 1949, Bowdern detailed how Hunkeler entered a trance-like state as 14 witnesses watched during one of his exorcisms.

He wrote:

“[There was a] scratching which beat out a rhythm of marching soldiers. Second class relic of St Margaret Mary was thrown on the floor. The safety pin was opened but no human hand had touched the relic. R started up in fright when the relic was thrown down.”


Hunkler was eventually brought to St. Louis to be treated for demonic possession, and it seemed that “whatever force was writing the words was in favor of making the trip to St Louis,” according to Bowdern. He continued:

“On one evening the word ‘Louis’ was written on the boy’s ribs in deep red [scratches.] Next, when there was some question of the time of departure, the word ‘Saturday’ was written plainly on the boy’s hip. As to the length of time the mother and the boy should stay in St Louis, another message was printed on the boy’s chest, ‘3 ½ weeks’. The printing always appeared without any motion on the part of the boy’s hands.”

Whoa! It sounds like Ronald could have been trying to communicate through his own possessed body — something Regan also did in The Exorcist:

On March 21, Hunkeler was brought to the Alexian Brothers Hospital in St. Louis. Almost a month later, Hunkeler “broke into a violent tantrum of screaming, cursing, and voicing of Latin phrases” as Jesuit priests allegedly cast the demon out of his body. The Post reported on 20 August 1949 that the teen “has been freed by a Catholic priest of possession by the devil, Catholic sources reported yesterday.” Phew!

Turns out, Ronald lived quite the accomplished life after his traumatic experience. As an adult, he was a NASA engineer whose work contributed to the Apollo space missions of the 1960s. He also patented a technology that helped space shuttle panels withstand extreme heat. Wow!

But naturally, his past was always on his mind. One of his companions — a 29-year-old woman who asked not to be named — told the New York Post that Hunkeler was always worried about his colleagues discovering he was the inspo for The Exorcist. She said:

“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. He had a terrible life from worry, worry, worry.”

After working at the space agency for almost 40 years, he retired from NASA in 2001. He died a month before his 86th birthday last year, after suffering a stroke at home in Marriottsville, Maryland.

His companion told The Post that a Catholic priest showed up at Hunkeler’s home unexpectedly to perform last rites shortly before his death, sharing:

“I have no idea how the Father knew to come but he got Ron to heaven. Ron’s in heaven and he’s with God now.”


RIP, Ronald.

[Image via Warner Bros/YouTube.]

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Dec 21, 2021 12:28pm PDT