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Thursday, May 6, 2010

MIKE’S BIG BLOG O’ RAINY DAY FUN - THE EXORCIST KID!

You’re probably here because you have at least a nominal interest in the Exorcist Kid, i.e., who he is, what became of him. No, I’m not that kid, but I know who you mean – the one upon whose case William Peter Blatty’s book and William Friedkin’s 1973 film is (VERY loosely) based.

A few things you should be aware of from the start.

Opinions I express are my own. I offer them based on information I’ve learned from those whom I consider to be reliable sources. My theories may not be entirely correct, but I’m not sure anyone can prove them completely wrong, either. You will have your own ideas about the subject. This is just a place to gather and ponder information that you may not have seen or been exposed to before.

Second, it is not my intention here to serve the legend. I’m not buying into the hogwash that’s been put forth over the years, and I hope that you will come to the same conclusion. If not, that’s your choice. Free country. Or it was last time I checked.

In these writings, I will share with you where you can find some of the sites in St. Louis that are connected to the 1949 exorcism. This will help you if you decide you want to take some out-of-town guests on a local “Exorcist” tour. It’s fun and frolic for everyone, gang!

I would urge you to think carefully, though, before you attempt to drive by either Aunt Tillie’s old house at 7564 Warner in Richmond Heights and/or the former Leonard Hunkeler residence at 8435 Roanoke in the Bel-Nor Neighborhood. These streets are probably patrolled and strange cars/unfamiliar faces there will likely be met with some suspicion. Not worth getting a trespass warning or ticket.

You can, however, drive past the former site of the old Alexian Brothers Hospital on Broadway in St. Louis City. The new hospital was NOT directly built on the old site, but you can be sure when you see this newer building that you are in the general vicinity of the old one.

Not everyone who had a hand in the story will be mentioned here, just those I consider important or credible enough (not always mutually exclusive) to the story.

Lastly, you will find quite a bit of flippant commentary here. If this type of thing bothers you, now is a good time to leave. Thanks for stopping by, and allow me to show you to the door.

For everyone else, let’s get right to it.

VARIOUS & SUNDRY CAST OF CHARACTERS

Ronald E. Hunkeler (RH/Ronnie) – Exorcist Kid/Reluctant Occult Superstar.
Edwin & Odell Hunkeler – The Proud Parents.
Mathilda L. “Aunt Tillie” Hendricks – Sister to Edwin and RH’s Favorite Aunt.
Leonard & Doris Hunkeler – Edwin’s Brother & Sister-in-Law.
Janis, Donald & Neil Hunkeler – Leonard & Doris’s children, cousins to RH.
Anna Coppage – Odell’s mother, Ronnie’s Grandmother
James Coppage – Husband to Anna. Deceased about 9 years prior to events.
Father William Bowdern – The Exorcist.
Father Walter Halloran – Assistant Muscle to Father Bowdern.
Father Raymond Bishop – Author, Exorcism Diary (aka the “Case Study”).
The Daughter – Mathilda’s daughter, first cousin to Ronnie.
The Grandson – Mathilda’s grandson, nephew to the daughter.
“Suzy” – Ronnie’s post-divorce girlfriend.
Joseph & Robert Cantor – Brothers; RH’s closest known boyhood friends.
Mark Opsasnick – Investigative Reporter par excellence.
The Florida Reporter – He came face to face with RH while writing about him.
B – A former partner of mine in the St. Louis investigation.
J – Father Bowdern’s Great-Nephew and a source of interesting information.

BACKGROUND

Edwin Hunkeler married Odell Coppage on June 16th, 1926 in the city of St. Louis. He was 25, she was 23. They filed Application No. 295034 for License to Marry on June 5th, 1926. Odell was still living at home with James & Anna Coppage on Carrie Avenue at the time of her marriage. It would be nearly nine years to the day of the wedding before Ronnie, their only child, was born (on June 1, 1935). Their application to marry was signed by them both, and so it’s like having autographs of the parents of the “possessed kid”.

A 1930 St. Louis City Directory shows Edwin working as a machinist at Frank Adam Electric. The couple lived on Penrose. Further, this Directory shows James Coppage working as a machinist as well, but did not list an employment site. It could be that these men met on a job years prior and James, then perhaps concerned that Odell was going to wind up as an “old maid”, may have fixed her up with Edwin.

Eugene Hendricks, Jr. united with Mathilda L. Hunkeler on February 6th, 1918. Both of them were age 23 when they married and living in the City of St. Louis. Application No. 2172257 for License to Marry (also with “autographs”), filed on February 1st, 1918, shows that Eugene lived on 4229 N. Euclid and Mathilda stayed at 4102a Clarence Avenue just prior to their union.

The aforementioned 1930 St. Louis City Directory also shows that Eugene was working as an Electrician (it, too, was not listed as to where). The couple lived on Emma Street that year. Somewhere after 1930, Eugene and Mathilda moved to 7564 Warner in the Richmond Heights area of St. Louis County. A 1949 St. Louis County Directory shows Eugene as Chief Electrician for C.K. Williams & Company. This was the same year that Mathilda died.


REQUIRED READING

If you are unfamiliar with Mark Opasnick’s groundbreaking investigation into the real story, you really should do yourself the favor of checking out his piece called “The Haunted Boy of Cottage City”. He busts a lot of myths surrounding the events, including eradicating the story that the house itself was in Mount Rainier, DC. He found the actual house just a short distance away in Cottage City (also now known as Brentwood), Maryland. You can read the article online – and see some pictures - by going to:
www.strangemag.com\exorcistpage1.html . This article, along with four other pieces, was put into book form by Xlibris press. It is still available through www.xlibris.com/markopsasnick.html and is well worth having.

Although Mark did not reveal the family’s name in his writing, and blurred out RH’s high school photograph (you can see the full picture at:
www.paranormaltaskforce.com/images/ExorcismPics/hunkeler.jpg), it’s no big secret anymore because this kid’s name is all over the net now, including the Catholic Newsletter website, www.campionforever.org/news-1-03.html#Halloran.

I found “The Haunted Boy of Cottage City” to be endlessly fascinating and, finally, a telling of the tale which made more sense than anything I’d read before. Then, in “The Riverfront Times”, an independent St. Louis newspaper, a cover story on a house in St. Louis was published in their 2005 Halloween edition. The cover said “The Exorcist Was Here”, but the article itself was called “Hell of a House”. Written by Chad Garrison, it was about an infamous dwelling on Roanoke Street in the Bel-Nor neighborhood of St. Louis County. RH once stayed there in 1949 for a short time with family while he was getting his daily/nightly “exorcise”. To read the story, visit: www.riverfronttimes.com/2005-10-26/news/hell-of-a-house.

It is said that RH stayed in the northwest corner bedroom on the second floor during this brief time before constant disruption forced him to be moved to the Psychiatric Ward of the Alexian Brothers Hospital on Broadway in St. Louis City. I’m pretty sure that this wasn’t a fun time for Ronnie and it likely only added to his rage(s). But oh well, he wanted to come to St. Louis and he sure got his wish!

These two pieces really got me interested in the story again, but this time inspired me to do something more than just wonder about it. “Hell of a House” mentioned that the house itself appeared to be the last standing link to the story of the exorcism. “It couldn’t be,” I thought. St. Louis University was still standing, as was St. Francis Xavier church cathedral in St. Louis City (although the church’s rectory, where RH was taken, had been demolished years ago).

Also, there is the Catholic Retreat (called “The White House”), located at 7400 Christopher Drive in St. Louis County. Website:
www.whretreat.org. It overlooks the Missouri Bluffs and this is where RH was once brought during his “ordeal”.

It’s interesting to note that the Retreat accepts visitors and is even open about the boy’s visit there. It is talked about in some literature that was sent to me by the Retreat staff. In fact, in the brochure I was sent, I finally got to see the best and most clear picture of Father Bowdern I’d ever come across.

NOTES ON THE INVESTIGATION

More as a personal odyssey than anything else, I wanted to see what kind of arcane information I could dig up on the St. Louis end of things. Much had been said, much had been written, but I got to wondering about the boy’s family here. Who were they? What were they like? Was anyone still alive who would be willing to talk about it? Were they even old enough to remember it when it was happening? I knew I would never find answers to everything, but anything was better than nothing. Many had tried before me, so I had no illusions that whatever success I might enjoy would be quite minimal, comparatively.

I’d been advised going into this that there were warring factions still very much active with the Hunkeler case. In regards to the “possession”, we had the “oh yes he was” and the “oh no he wasn’t” camps bickering, sometimes bitterly, with each other. I was warned to try and stay out of the fight, to not get in anyone’s way. Didn’t experience any of the fussin’ and feudin’ between these two groups, though.

At first, my wife, Karen, was concerned about me getting involved in this. I think she was afraid that I’d stir something up, but we sat down one afternoon and talked and eventually her trepidation was eased. Gradually she even came around to believing about it as I did and she began to go out with me on fact-finding missions (i.e., graveyard searching and whatnot). Her assistance was invaluable to me. She had “my back” well above and beyond the call of duty.

The next thing I needed to do was to explain to my Dad what I was doing. Dad was, at one time, a minister and, not knowing the facts behind the case, had no reason to believe that there were mitigating psychological factors involved with RH rather than supernatural ones.

When the movie first came out, he instructed my Mom, prior to her going on one of her Wal-Mart trips, to get him a copy of the novel. When she returned home, I saw her give him the book. I was only mildly interested in it then because the Bantam Books paperback had an intriguing purple cover.

So Dad started reading the book (usually at night, prior to falling asleep). It upset him so badly that I don’t think he even finished it.

One winter’s day in 1974, Mom came into their bedroom to put some laundry away while Dad lay there napping. In his sleep he mumbled something to her which she later said sounded like “Burn that book.” She turned around and asked him, “What did you say?”. He said again, “Burn that book” this time in a louder voice. To hear Mom tell it, she knew immediately which book he was talking about and took “The Exorcist” from his nightstand, threw it right in the fireplace and watched as the flames consumed it. Dad, that same evening, said he didn’t remember telling her to burn the book but apparently was glad she did. After that time, I don’t recall that either the book, movie or story behind it all was ever again mentioned in the house until many years later.

Other than a field rat that had gotten in the house that same winter and was gnawing at things in the wall, we never heard scrapings or anything else that could be interpreted as sinister. Dad was afraid, I think, that by having the book in the house we could be inviting “trouble”. By the way, a big rodent trap was set, using raw bacon as bait, and the resulting blood spatter ruined Mom’s ironing board cover. Hope you’re not eating right now.

Before his death, Dad was reconciled to the fact that I had an interest in this case and, I guess, was at peace with it.

When I read the book myself, while in my early 20’s, I found it not scary but, instead, incredibly silly. I re-read the book last year just to see if, given the fact that my youth was long gone, I would still find the story ridiculous. I found that even the so-called wisdom of age had not changed my initial assessment of the book.

In 1984, Blatty released the novel “Legion”, which was a follow up to “The Exorcist”, using the character of Lt. Kinderman from the first book as the protagonist. It was made into the movie “Exorcist III” with George C. Scott, the always-scary Brad Dourif and, again, Jason Miller. Even Fabio had an “acting” cameo in the movie, which turned out to be the scariest thing of all.

Anyway, during other courses of events, I was asked by a local fellow I’d learned about (I’ll refer to him as “B”) to partner up and combine the work he had done previously with what I had recently been digging up. B had been in touch with some of the Hendricks family in the 1970s who were still living here at the time. Like I would experience later on, after a time B began to hit some brick walls. He specifically mentioned to me talking to Mathilda’s eldest son, Melvin on the phone then, trying to interview him. Melvin asked B what kind of information he had been given by any of the other family members; B told Melvin that he’d really gotten nothing. Melvin then said words to the effect, “well, that’s what you’re gonna get from me, too” and hung up.

B was particularly interested in what a former attendant at the Alexian Brothers Hospital had said he’d experienced when RH was moved there. Cleaning up vomit, which one probably has to do a lot in psych wards, was one of the things this attendant talked about (other things, he had said, were not to be discussed on orders from the Church; being a “good” Catholic, he obeyed this edict). The attendant proclaimed, “I have seen the devil!” Yeah, me too. Served with some of those SOBs in the military; they made some of the most memorable officers I’ve ever worked under. Also worked around a number of them in other career fields I’ve had.

During my work with B, I was casually surfing the net one day, running RH’s name as I occasionally did then, when to my wondering eyes there appeared a Maryland police citation with RH’s name (and current address). Apparently RH was pulled over on April 22, 2006 at Ten Oaks Road and Route 32 in Howard County for either not wearing his seatbelt or for not having someone under the age of 16 in his car wear their seatbelt (it was never clear to me which charge it actually was). I even learned what kind of car he was driving and the number (then) of his State Driver’s License.

He went to the District Court in Ellicott City on April 27th, pled guilty, paid a $25.00 fine and that was the end of it. This ticket information has since been removed from the net, so I was thankful I’d printed it before it was gone. Later on, another document I saw confirmed that the address on the ticket was indeed the correct one.

I was also given information that Edwin never really bought into the idea that anything supernatural had occurred or was occurring to his son. I shared this with B and he was less than impressed to learn this.

B, although an interesting guy, seemed to have already formed an idea in his head of what had happened and he was unreceptive to any information which appeared to contradict his notions. It soon became apparent to me that I could not approach him with anything I’d learned that was not supportive of what he thought. He exclaimed that I was “holding out” on him by not sharing a recording he thought I had of a radio interview given prior to the end of 1981 by Ronnie’s Aunt Doris. If such a recording exists, I never had it. The fact that he even had a notion like that to begin with was cause for me to start to question his acuity.

It was just getting too frustrating working with B, so I decided to break ties with him. In my farewell letter to B, I explained that I could no longer work with him on this for various reasons, not the least of which was – at first – his shifting viewpoints and then later his total disregard for information which conflicted with his position on the possession. What was funny to me about the whole thing is that B had told me early on that he didn’t even believe in the phenomena of demonic possession and yet became convinced that this must have been what actually happened.

Saying goodbye to B, I wished him well and suggested to him that perhaps he might consider looking at more recent cases where most of the people involved were still alive and may be willing to talk about it. I have not heard from B since the goodbye letter, so I don’t know if he stayed on the Hunkeler path or whether he just gave up and went on with his life.

I’m grateful to B for the tips he gave; I wouldn’t have been able to get as far as I did as quickly as I did had it not been for him. I never did get to see the letter from Max Von Sydow he said he had somewhere in his garage. According to B, he’d written to Mr. Von Sydow, shortly after the film came out, asking questions about some of the wild occurrences which were said to have happened during the making of “The Exorcist”. As I recall, B said that Mr. Von Sydow dispelled what turned out to be so much promotional propaganda.

At some point, I learned that a reporter in Florida at the time, had written and published an article in 1999 (after Mark Opsasnick’s article) about RH’s post-exorcism life. As part of the story, the reporter showed up at RH’s Silver Spring, Maryland house to see if RH (who was not named in the piece) would comment on the story. The reporter arrived at RH’s house only to find no one there. However, as he was waiting there, RH pulled up in his car.

According to what the reporter related in an e-mail to me, RH politely denied – when questioned – that he was Ronald Hunkeler. He eventually did cop to being the kid, but refused further comment and apparently gave the reporter the name of a spokesperson to contact. Did Ronnie have a comment to make on the possession through this spokesperson? Yes! I’ll get to that in my “Conclusions Made” section.

An interesting side note: the reporter located and interviewed RH’s by-then former girlfriend, Suzy (a pseudonym). She talked only under condition of anonymity. Suzy expressed surprise when she learned about RH’s past; he had not discussed it with her at any point. She went on to say that RH was “a brilliant man” but that he had issues. According to her, RH would constantly be spackling holes in the walls – holes that apparently only he could see. All the carpet fibers had to be going one way or, she alleged, RH would become quite upset. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, anyone?

Suzy also indicated that she was terrified of his rages and that she left him after allegedly being threatened too many times.

Meanwhile, using a genealogy website, I started getting “hits” on some census information that was 70 years and older. I also found Mathilda’s death certificate online. Then, through public records, I located marriage certificates for RH’s parents and his Uncle Gene and Aunt Tillie. There was stuff, too, on Joseph and Anna Hunkeler and James and Anna Coppage.

In 1949, Edwin’s brother, Leonard, lived in a house on Roanoke in Bel-Nor, along with his wife, Doris, and three children: daughter Janis and sons, Donald and Neil.

After her death in January of 1949, Tillie was conspicuously blamed for having introduced RH to the world of spiritism and the Ouija board, so the story goes. The legend then goes on to talk about RH’s alleged obsession with the board and his use of it to attempt to contact Tillie’s spirit on the other side. Instead, rumor tells us, he brings a demonic entity into the Cottage City house and it takes over RH’s body and soul.

THE LEGENDARY DIARY

Much has been written about a diary kept of the events during the exorcism. Some who’ve read it have speculated that there are signs the boy may have had an inappropriate relationship with his Aunt. For years, it would appear that people who didn’t buy into the possession theory thought that Lil’ Ronnie’s behavior meant that he was acting out on some sort of abuse he’d experienced. There seems to be little doubt that he went through some kind of psychological metamorphosis around the beginning of the events.

According to what I learned, sources then close to the family revealed that Ronnie had alleged he was being molested by someone in the house: his maternal grandmother, as he was supposedly telling friends. Other than these allegations, there probably isn’t any concrete proof that this was the case, but it makes sense in context because something was happening to him to cause or contribute to these rages. I don’t think it could have been Aunt Tillie because she didn’t live there; her home base was in St. Louis. Tillie probably wouldn’t have been his favorite Aunt if she was doing the things to him that caused him to be outraged.

So this potentially leaves his grandmother as villain. I wondered if Odell might have had a “physical” hand in this as well, but I was unable to confirm or rule it out. Surely, though, she must have had some idea what was happening in her own house and this, in my view, was why she and her mother appear to have concocted a story with bizarre, supernatural overtones as a “protective” device.

Anna Coppage was German by birth and barely spoke English. I have no indication that Odell was born in Germany, but she certainly knew the language and was likely the only one in the house who could fully communicate with her mother. Being from Europe, Anna brought all the Old World superstitions with her to America and this, I believe, was how she knew about “spirit rapping” (which is different from “gangsta rapping”), communicating with the dead, etc.

It would seem that she and Odell used this ghostly knowledge to divert attention away from what was allegedly happening. The fact that Mathilda died when she did gave them a convenient “hook” around which they could weave this tale. I believe Mathilda figured out on her own or was told by Ronnie what was happening and was working to try to get him out of the situation. Unfortunately she died before this could happen. Had she been successful, I’m pretty sure that this case – and the name of Ronald Hunkeler (as anything other than a NASA scientist) – would probably not be known today.

Well, what about the other things in the days of the exorcism that people said they witnessed? There are certainly credibility issues here. Today, no one except Ronnie and, to a lesser extent, Janis, Donald and Neil Hunkeler (because part of this happened in their house at 8435 Roanoke) could give eyewitness accounts. If truth be told and no one was paid to say what someone else wanted to hear, I think we’d get stories drastically different than what we’ve read or been told thus far. The substantive truth, to me, is far more interesting than the large amount of rubbish in the diary.

Sometimes in St. Louis at Halloween time, one TV reporter or another manages to gain access to the offices at St. Louis University where he or she winds up standing in front of a locked lateral cabinet and telling us that contained therein is THE diary!!! “Its contents are confidential,” the reporter drones on, “so we don’t know what’s in it.” The thing is, we DO know what’s in it. The diary can be accessed online at:
www.gabehavioral.com/CaseStudyWeb.htm. What is unique about this version of the diary is that names of some people aren’t blocked out as it is in the other versions I’ve seen. It’s an interesting read, but one to be taken with a BIG grain of salt.

Why? Ok, here’s why: Father Raymond Bishop didn’t start the diary until about halfway through the exorcism. While reconstructing back to the beginning, Father Bishop seems to have been relying solely on whatever Odell and Anna (probably through Odell) were telling him had occurred. He would then write these “recollections” down as factual. The credibility factor comes into play here. The only things I don’t find fault with in the diary are dates and locations mentioned (no one really seems to dispute those); everything else, to me, is suspect.

I read somewhere that in discussing the topic of exorcism in catholic seminaries the diary is NOT considered reliable and therefore is NOT used as a guideline, except perhaps to demonstrate how NOT to keep a journal of events.


LETTER-WRITING CAMPAIGN

So here I am with names (and sometimes addresses) of Hunkeler family members and the one surviving Hendricks daughter, wondering what kind of luck I’d have reaching them. I’d also learned names of persons who had lived in the Cottage City House after Edwin sold it in 1959, including the son of the family who bought the house directly from Edwin. I wrote to two of the former tenants with questions, but never received a reply from either of them.

It’s interesting to note, though, that only one former 3807 40th St. occupant, a lady, ever reported experiencing “uncomfortable” feelings associated with being in the house (the basement, specifically). The history of the house was not known to her during the time she lived there. I learned this information from someone who actually talked with the tenant. She rented the house for a while. The house lay vacant for long stretches of time between owners and renters.

In terms of writing letters, I was never very interested in reaching out to RH himself. I’d gotten reports that he could be rude, irritable and quite uncooperative. Besides, with what I’d learned about him already, I just plain did not like the man and didn’t feel that I could hide my contempt well enough to be able to write him an objective, professional letter. On top of that, I never wrote to anyone whose last name is “Hunkeler”.

But I was interested in writing to Mathilda’s daughter, whom I tracked down in California. It took me a while to get the letter written and polished up the best way I knew how. From the get-go, I knew I wanted to approach the daughter with kid gloves, maybe send her some pictures of her mother’s grave and copies of photos I’d obtained of her old home at 7564 Warner . This I was able to accomplish; along with the letter and with some other documentation, I sent her a picture of Mathilda’s grave, cleaned-up (except for what appears to be two scorch marks on the stone) and with flowers that I’d placed on it.

At this same time, I also wrote to Mathilda’s grandson (nephew to the daughter). I think I mailed the letters to both of them on the same day. I’d learned that the grandson was living locally (not far from the White House Retreat, in fact) and that he was a businessman in my hometown.

In writing to Mathilda’s daughter, I outlined what I thought happened in 1949 and how I believed her mother to be a hero. I was not prepared for any response from her at all, but when I did get one, I wasn’t prepared, either, for what I got.

She wasn’t rude in her typewritten letter to me, but I could tell that she was not pleased to have heard from me. She began by mentioning “this young man Ronald” as she put it. I got the sense that she was going to deny knowing him. However, that wasn’t the case.

The daughter is not quite a year older than RH. She was born in October of 1934. This would have made her 14 at the time of RH’s “troubles”. I figured that even at that young age she would have had a handle on what was going down.

What kind of shocked, and in some ways saddened me, was that she – in referring to her Mother – did not call her “Mom” or “Mama” or any of that. She referred to her as “Mathilda”. Right away I got the sense that there had not been the usual mother-daughter closeness in the equation. I showed this letter to other people, asked them to read it, and tell me what they thought. The general consensus was that the relationship did not appear, on the surface, to be a good one.

Perhaps this was because Mathilda was nearly forty when her daughter was born, making the child what we would now call a “change of life” baby. Maybe Mathilda’s pregnancy was accidental and caused some conflicts later on in the family dynamic.

I told Mathilda’s daughter that I had tended to her mother’s grave and placed the flowers there that she saw in the photograph. I also asked if she would have a picture of her mother she’d be willing to share with me. Her response to this was that my request was “not appropriate”. I could have argued that with her because to refer to one’s mother by cold, impersonal use of her first name instead of “Mom”, or what have you, is clearly not appropriate and that she should not have done so. However, I opted not to go that route so that I wouldn’t appear combative to her.

The daughter went on to say some other interesting things. One was that she mentioned she had spoken with her nephew – he’d called her when he got my letter. She informed me that he would not be replying to my query. Apparently they had a talk to see what to do about my contacting them. For all I know, the grandson may not have known everything that I revealed in my letter to him and was asking his Aunt about some of this stuff. He had not been born yet when this situation was originally playing out. I was working under the presumption that at least at some point his father would have told him about his relationship to RH and about what happened to Ronnie as a child.

Another point she brought up was that she was mystified how something that happened nearly 60 years ago still garnered interest and attention today. The short answer to that question, really, is once we know for sure all that happened in early 1949 (and in the months leading up to it) then perhaps interest will fade and it will all go away. Until that time, as more and more people read and discover the mysteries of this case, the fascination with it will probably not die.

She was adamant that people should not be making money from this incident. I had written her that it was not my goal or intent to be writing a book or in some other way seek monetary gain from this.

As to my assertion that RH was more than likely the victim of improper contact by someone in the house, Mathilda’s daughter indicated that families just didn’t talk discuss things like that in those days, especially with the children, and left it at that. Looks like she wound up answering the molestation question with a “non-answer”.

She concluded the letter by apologizing that she could not be of further assistance to me. She signed the letter in shaky handwriting.

I knew I had to reply to this letter, but I didn’t do so for several days. I wanted to think about how to do it.

In the interim I did some online surfing and discovered that within two weeks of her having received my letter, she went on the net to try to contact RH. She left a note for him on a public, online bulletin board (the note has since been removed).

She apparently thought that RH was still at his former address in Silver Spring as this was the contact address she had typed in. Based on seeing the police ticket information online previously, I knew that RH had moved from his Silver Springs home. He’d been at this new address for quite a while at that point, so it wasn’t hard to figure that he hadn’t been in touch for quite some time. It looks as though he didn’t think enough of her at the time to inform her of his move. Perhaps only Ronnie’s children and ex-wife knew of the move from Silver Spring.

What I found interesting about her reaching out to RH at the time she did was that it coincided with my letter to her. My guess is that she was trying to tell him that someone was looking into his childhood circumstances again. If this is the case, RH knows my name quite well.

Before her message to RH disappeared from the net, I was able to copy it. Other than listing RH’s name and address and my blocking out her name and e-mail address, here is (word for word) what it said:

“Hi there! This is your cousin, XXXXX, from St. Louis, daughter of Gene and Tillie. I’m in California now. I’ve been looking for you for ages, and I hope you will see this and respond. Janis and Neil and Don are all online, and we write notes to one another frequently. We’ve wanted to include you in our emails, but had no idea how to contact you. Please, Ronnie, just send me an email. Love, XXXXX”

To me, this was a kind of confirmation that Ronnie intended to break off all communication with family. Perhaps this was because of the spoiled-ass way he acted in those days.

When I wrote my next missive to her on October 5, 2007, I “clipboarded” her bulletin board message and pasted it to the top of the page. I also offered to give her RH’s current address and what I believed to be his phone number at the time with no strings attached. I would not make her jump through hoops or try to pry further information from her in exchange for his contact information. I offered to give it to her willingly and expressed my hope that, in successfully contacting him, all would be well and that he could once again be in touch with family members his own age. As she never contacted me again, I am unaware how successful she was in reaching RH and whether or not he was receptive to her familial overtures. I’m guessing that if she was successful in reaching him that he still wasn’t interested in re-establishing relationships.

Following another tip I received, I sat down and wrote a letter to Joseph Cantor, the older brother of RH’s closest boyhood friend, Robert Cantor.

Joseph and Robert, both now deceased, were still in the Maryland area up until their deaths, not far from their boyhood hometown.

My letter to Joseph was very simple. Taking a cue from Mark Opsasnick, I had some questions I hoped Joseph would answer. It turns out that he didn’t respond at all, so I next turned to writing to Robert. Same kind of letter, but with an exception.

In “The Haunted Boy of Cottage City”, Robert (under the initials, “RC”) had described Ronnie as “a mean bastard”. I was kind of curious to see if, in the years after the Exorcism, he thought that Ronnie was still “a mean bastard”. This question, and all others, were never answered because a short time later, the packet I’d sent to Robert was returned to me, unopened, with the word “Died” written on it.

In researching other people who might have known Ronnie as a boy, I came across the name of a family said to have visited them at their Cottage City home (after the Exorcism was long over with). This family was from St. Louis, so just for grins I ran their names and got a hit. At the time of the “hit”, both parents were still alive and the daughter lived either with or near them. I noted the daughter’s address and sat down to write to her.

She was a small child when the Cottage City visit occurred, so I was taking a wild shot in the dark with regards to her remembering any of this. I figured why not gamble a stamp and see what, if anything, she might be able to tell me.

In my letter to her, I explained who the Hunkelers were and what importance Ronnie’s boyhood experiences would hold some years after they occurred. She never replied (I was used to this by now), but I like to think that she approached Ma and Pa to ask about their relationship to the Hunkelers. She probably had not known until then just what the significance was.

THE HOUSE AT 8307 40th AVENUE, PRINCE GEORGES COUNTY, MD

At the time Mark was writing his “Haunted Boy” piece, the house was empty, so he was able to get some pictures of it from different angles, most of them not making it into the article, but all of which I was privileged to see.

The house had seen better days, but newer improvements were made as the residence was once again occupied sometime after the article was published. Mark has driven by the place in recent years and told me that the current tenant was doing what looked to be some major renovations.

8307 40th Avenue still has curious seekers driving by to have a look at the place where “it” all started. RH lives close enough to be able to drive by himself if he should choose to. Perhaps he swings by if/when he visits Edwin’s grave at the Fort Lincoln Cemetery along Bladensburg Road.

As a boy, RH attended Bladensburg Elementary. He was later removed from this school when “the trouble” started and he and Odell (presumably joined by Edwin later) headed to St. Louis. Grandma Anna remained at the Cottage City house during Ronnie’s ordeal in St. Louis. I’m guessing that this was to feed Ronnie’s dog and oversee things at 8307 40th.

THE “OTHER” HOUSE , 8435 ROANOKE, ST. LOUIS COUNTY

Coincidentally, Leonard Hunkeler’s house at 8435 Roanoke, too, spent a good amount of time vacant. According to the “Hell of a House” article, at one time someone with the first name of “Elvis” lived there. Insert your own joke here.

The house’s past reputation has been an open secret for many years in the Bel-Nor Neighborhood in which it is located. One lady who previously lived in the house commented that she loved living in the house and expressed no fear of it. Past realtors may not have known about what happened there, but then again, no murder took place there or they might have been obliged to disclose it to potential buyers.

Pictures were taken of the inside of the house for the article. I contacted Chad Garrison to ask whether he had any more which weren’t published that I might be able to look at. He informed me that the photographer who went with him that night said she didn’t have any more shots. When I asked Mr. Garrison if he got “bad vibes” being in the house after dark, he said that he hadn’t. All big, empty houses can be scary at night, but he, despite “really trying”, was unable to feel anything.
Shortly after the article was published, the Roanoke house was sold. It has been suggested that the current owner of the home might have bought it because of its history and not in spite of it. Mr. Garrison did mention that he’d been informed that upon taking possession (so to speak) of the house, the new owner had a tongue-in-cheek viewing of “The Exorcist” at the housewarming party with several friends, which shows that he knew the history of the house before he closed on it. Mr. Garrison did request another look in the house for a follow-up story but his inquiry was never answered.

Then, around Halloween of 2008, a local radio station was granted entry to the house with contest “winners” to spend some alone time in the northwest bedroom, with only candlelight (and night vision lenses for the cameras) to see what would happen. I was interested to see the photographs on the station’s website, until I came upon a couple of “gimmick” pictures (which I hate). Whoever took these photographs shook the camera to make it appear, I suppose, that “ghost lights” were coming from the candles. It’s the same kind of thing as someone flinging a Frisbee for a distance, taking a picture of it and claiming it’s a U.F.O. But, I suppose, the radio station needed to get its money’s worth from their time in the house.

The pictures also showed some renovation and I was told that even “the” bedroom was being fixed up to be used (apparently the current owner had not been using it for little more than maybe as a storage place).

The fact that nothing really supernatural took place there in 1949 doesn’t seem to diminish the mystery and allure of this landmark house. Even if I were to gain entrance to the residence and specifically to the room in question, I can’t say that I wouldn’t feel weak-kneed or apprehensive upon walking in. Such is the power of suggestion.

I gotta wonder, though, do kids avoid that house while Trick or Treating?

Also pondering whether or not the novelty of the “Exorcism” house has worn off on the new owner and if he regrets having bought it. Must be a drag to have to chase Goth chicks or drunken college students off your lawn at night.

IN THE GRIP OF EVIL

In 1997, Henninger Media Development released a program called “In The Grip of Evil”. This presentation is referred to in “The Haunted Boy of Cottage City”. I don’t know if the DVD is still available to order, but I found my copy in a “remainders” bin several years back for four bucks.

The most interesting thing about the DVD is not the program itself (which I found laughable), but the extras that are included. Among them are newspaper articles about the case and letters written back and forth regarding behaviors and phenomenon which was allegedly occurring. Except for these things, buying it would be a waste of your time and money.

POSSESSED (BOOK AND MOVIE)

Thomas Allen’s book, “Possessed”, which chronicled the events surrounding the family and the exorcism itself, relied heavily on the “accuracy” of the diary and guidance from Father Walter Halloran. From the very first page it is very clear that Mr. Allen didn’t even have the right location of the actual house. He’d listed it as 3210 Bunker Hill Road in DC, which was local myth for the longest time.

Despite all the scary phenomena being presented as gospel, Mr. Allen, in the conclusion of the book, said that he didn’t feel the possession was genuine. Chalk up one in the “he got that right” column.

I’d also been advised by a source that Halloran would allegedly tell any story that one wanted to hear about the exorcism over a drink or two. Add that to the fact that I’d received information elsewhere that Father Walt took direction well in documentaries and could be persuaded to say on camera what the production staff or director wanted him to say. On being questioned later as to why he allowed this sort of thing, Father Walt admitted that he needed his “head examined” for doing so.

I saw the Showtime movie, “Possessed”, based on Mr. Allen’s book, before I became interested in looking into things myself, but even so, I knew something was wrong. Timothy Dalton, as much as I like him (he brought a much-needed and welcomed serious, hard-edge quality back to the character of James Bond in two 007 films), looked lost here. They had him nipping from a whiskey flask and flashing back to the war, while wrestling with his own inner demons.

I admire Christopher Plummer as well – he chews up the scenery in every film I’ve seen him in – but even he couldn’t save this stinkbomb. It’s not worth your time to sit through; it’s not even (God help us) as entertainingly bad as, say, “They Saved Hitler’s Brain”, “The Terror of Tiny Town” or “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians”. ‘Nuff said on that level.

THE DEPARTED (DEARLY AND OTHERWISE)

Mathilda L. Hendricks died on January 26th, 1949 at the age of 54. Cause of death: multiple sclerosis, with a side order of hypertension thrown in. Her funeral was handled by Math. Hermann & Son, Inc. of 2161 E. Fair Avenue (they’re still in business) in the City of St. Louis. I wrote to them once to see if they might still have information on her funeral, but, alas, they said too much time had passed and there was no longer anything on file.

Of all the family members who have passed on, Mathilda is the one I feel sorry for the most. The assertions Odell and Anna made that Mathilda was responsible for Ronnie’s behaviors do not ring true to me anymore. At first, I was content to believe the events surrounding the Exorcism were true, but as I kept learning more and more about the situation, Odell and Anna’s credibility became more suspect as did Raymond Bishop’s “handling” of the diary’s authorship. It did not, and does not, really hold up under scrutiny.

I was disappointed to see that Mathilda’s daughter did not acknowledge that I felt her mother was more hero than anything else. As I stated before, the daughter was unmoved and impersonal when mentioning her mother. It’s apparent to me that the daughter still has some unresolved “Mama” issues. I wish her well, though, and hope that she can resolve things in her own mind. 60+ years is a long time to harbor bad feelings.

Mathilda is buried in Section D, Lot 177B of Frieden’s Cemetery in St. Louis. Her marker shows only her name, year of birth and death, and the word “Mother”. Not “Wife and Mother”, which I found interesting. Her son, Melvin, who left us in 1990, is buried at the foot of Mathilda’s grave. Melvin’s wife, Ruth, has her name and date of birth on the stone but no date of death. Perhaps she is still with us. Eugene Hendricks is listed as owner of this family plot, but is not buried there himself or anywhere else at all in Frieden’s.

Odell Hunkeler died in 1956 at the age of 53 in Cottage City. After her Mass was said in Maryland, she was brought to St. Louis for internment in the Hunkeler family plot at Frieden’s. She now rests at the feet of Joseph & Anna Hunkeler. Her stone reads “Wife and Mother” and also has Edwin’s name (and year of birth) carved on it. She is also in Section D of the cemetery, Lot #102A.

An aged, twisted tree stretches over the Hunkeler plot. When I first found the graves, there was snow on the ground and enough ice cycles hanging from the branches to make the branches bend over. It looked almost like a tortured spirit; somehow that seemed fitting.

I never cleaned off or placed flowers on Odell’s grave – in my opinion, she didn’t deserve flowers. Then or now.

It was hard to read Joseph & Anna Hunkeler’s headstone. When I first saw it, it was almost completely obscured by moss. I learned that it is the family’s responsibility to clean, repair or service headstones; obviously, no family member had taken care of the site for years. On advice from cemetery staff, I bought a cleansing solution called “Mean Green” and a scrub brush. I came back to the cemetery in warmer weather and scrubbed the stone as best I could. It wasn’t perfect, but one could see who was buried there much more clearly. Mathilda’s grandson apparently couldn’t be bothered to pay homage or respect or clean the stone. Mathilda’s daughter did not comment on this fact when I wrote her about it.

Edwin Hunkeler died in 1976, twenty years after Odell. As he stayed in Maryland, he now rests in the Fort Lincoln Cemetery which is located at 3401 Bladensburg Road in Brentwood, just .60 miles (or a two minute drive) from 3807 40th Avenue. Confirmation was received by someone on the Fort Lincoln staff that Edwin is buried alone and rests now in block 23, lawncrypt 2566. Fort Lincoln Cemetery borders the line between Maryland and the District of Columbia. I am unsure of cause of death or whether he remarried.

As time passed, Edwin and Odell’s marriage, from all accounts, appears to have become pretty loveless. Perhaps this is the reason Edwin is buried where he is and Odell is buried where she is. In this case, “Till Death Do Us Part” meant being eternally apart - by several states.

Anna Coppage outlived Odell by about 6 years. She was buried alongside James, who died in 1940 at around age 82. Anna’s year of birth was 1882; she passed on in 1962. There is the symbol of the (The Daughters of the) Eastern Star between Anna’s birth and death year on the stone. Looks like she kept up the Masonic Lodge dues until her death. Anna and James rest in Section J, Lot 49 which is to the rear of Frieden’s, to the west of Section D. Their stone is about 70 feet or so from a fence to someone’s back yard.

I didn’t put flowers on Anna’s side of the grave, either. As with Odell, I didn’t feel that she deserved them. I’m willing to bet that neither Edwin nor Ronnie came back to Missouri for her funeral. In fact, I can envision Edwin showing Anna the door after Odell’s mass and never having her back to the house again. Anna probably came back to Missouri with Odell’s body.

Father William Bowdern departed in 1983. Just down the road a short distance from Frieden’s is Calvary Cemetery, a really huge, deluxe place. The good father is buried in the Jesuit area there, Section 33, Lot 0022.

The first time visiting Calvary, we (my better half and I) got there very late in the day and couldn’t search out Bowdern’s grave – they were within 30 minutes of locking the gates. The second pilgrimage there was much better and we were able to be leisurely about it. The first stop there was to pay our respects to the mother of a good friend of ours.

It took us awhile to find the Jesuit section, as Calvary is a big and beautiful place. When we got to the Jesuit site of the cemetery, I was surprised to find that all the priests buried there only had very simple flat markers in lieu of headstones. It disturbed me to see that Bowdern wasn’t alone in his own grave. There was another priest there with him.

Looking around, I saw that all the priests buried there were apparently under the “buddy” system as well. Perhaps Father William Bowdern wouldn’t have minded. I didn’t know him, so I couldn’t say for sure, but it seems to me he deserved more dignity than what it appears he received.

Father Raymond J. Bishop died on February 19th, 1978. He was buried in the Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Omaha, Nebraska. He is in what is called the “Priest’s Circle” in Block 3, Row 3A, Grave 9. I asked the gentleman I spoke on the phone with about it if Father Bishop was buried alone. He indicated that Bishop did not share a grave with another Jesuit as there were single plots still available in 1978. I am unsure when the good father left St. Louis for Omaha.

Father Walter J. Halloran died on March 1st, 2005 while at the St. Camillus Jesuit Community in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. He’d been diagnosed with cancer in 2003 and finally succumbed to it two years later. Hope he got his own grave as well. At this time, I have no information on where he is buried.


ABSOLUTELY MIND-BLOWING, FREAKIN’ STUPIDITY

Let’s talk about the most absurd entry in the diary for a moment. It indicates that a bible turned to confetti after being in contact with the possessed boy. Give me a break! If I’d been in the house myself and a Bible had turned to confetti right in front of me, I’d haul my ass outta there – even if it took me two trips – and would get well away from there before I stopped, about two states over, to change my underwear.

Another thing the diary mentions – and I had to laugh about this one as well – was that, according to Father Bishop’s writings, the boy was passing foul-smelling gas. Oh really? Whatta surprise there. The good Father was expecting roses? C’mon, the kid’s mother was German and there was probably a lot of sauerkraut, bratwurst and other spicy, Teutonic dishes on the table for dinner. Eat enough of that stuff and anyone could be considered unpleasant company for a period of time.

So Ronnie demonstrated his windbreaking virtuosity at points during the proceedings, did he? Hey, show me a teenage boy who doesn’t do that – and one who doesn’t think it’s funny. What better way to show your contempt of someone or something than to lay/stand/sit there and continually pop ‘em off in the direction of your target?

I think most of us can agree that some of the most ridiculous things ever uttered have often been preceded by the words “Well, I heard…”. The case of “The Exorcist”, and any other ghostly tales you might have been told, are prime examples.

As a teen, when I wasn’t listening to radio stations that drove my parents nuts, I would periodically tune into the night-time talk format that was so prevalent in the St. Louis market at that time. One of these programs (I don’t remember which one) featured call-ins about the Exorcist case. As I recall, the original Alexian Brothers Hospital had recently been demolished at the time of the broadcast. The book and movie were still fresh on people’s minds at the time, so the history of the hospital (i.e. the kid’s stay there) was a hot topic that night.

Some of the most outrageous stories surrounding the years following the climactic exorcism in the Psych Ward of the Alexian Brothers Hospital came to light for me that night.

From what I recall, no one who was directly involved with the matter, either from the St. Louis side of things nor the Maryland end, called in to tell their story. Instead – here it comes – the callers invariably started out with “Well I heard…” and then followed it with these kinds of comments:

· …that when the hospital was demolished, the room that the kid was in floated in the air for a few more seconds before it came crashing down (was this lady caller flippin’ serious?).

· …that there were problems with the empty room being cold (not unusual when you stop to think that the heat was turned off to the unused wings).

· …that big rats were in the area of the room (Hmm, imagine that, rats in an unoccupied, run-down wing; boy, isn’t THAT proof of demonic possession!).

· …that the diary was supposedly found in a drawer in the room. (Do you really think they would have left the diary unattended where just anyone could have gotten it?)

I guess I got my real first inkling then that the more outlandish the story, the more people will believe it.


IRONIES

Every time an investigation into this story is made, there seems to be reports of odd happenings or strange twists. In that aspect, my experience was really no different. There weren’t any ‘supernatural’ occurrences, but a few coinkydinks did make me pause and go “Hmmmmm.”

When searching out family graves for the initial time, the first stone I really noticed at Frieden’s had the word “Warning” on it. It was a warning? A warning about what?

It was a huge marble marker and, of course, was a family name and all, but it did stop me in my tracks for a few seconds. From that spot all I needed to do was walk a few steps past the “Warning” headstone and I would have been right at the Hunkeler family plot.

At the time, though, I didn’t know that any of the Hunkelers were buried there. I would discover this some months later. God really does have a sense of humor.

I learned that Mathilda’s grandson not only lived relatively close to me, but is also a businessman in my hometown. Up to that point, I hadn’t known where he was working, but then his house was profiled in a local news magazine. There were pictures of him doing some outdoor grilling and entertaining guests. The article went on to reveal his position and place of business. By the time I saw this article he had already received my initial letter. Still and all, it was interesting how that bit of information just seemed to fall in my lap at exactly that time.

Further, someone I’ve casually known for a long time turned out to be one of this man’s employees. I hadn’t previously known that. In speaking with her and learning where she worked, I mentioned that she probably knew “so and so”. She said that she did and asked if I knew him. I said no, but that I knew of him and had seen the magazine piece on his house. I never did reveal to her what his connection was to RH.

As I was learning more about Leonard Hunkeler, I found that in 1930 he worked as a printer for C.S. Severn. I’m not sure if that’s the name of a company or the name of a person. At that time, he, Doris and Janis (Donald and Neil hadn’t come along yet) were living in a house on Emma. Eugene and Mathilda lived in that same house at the same time, so it must’ve been one big, happy family, eh?

By the time of the Exorcism, Leonard & Crew were living at 8435 Roanoke and he had his own printing business. According to a 1949 phone book, the shop was located at 216 South 7th Street in St. Louis City. For a time in the late 1980’s I worked in a building that was catacorner to that basic location. Had I known about it then, I could have looked out one of the building windows and probably would have seen where the shop once was.

Mathilda’s daughter, although she didn’t send me a picture of her mother, got herself an account on Facebook. Discovered her just by running her name on the Facebook search engine. Pleasant enough picture of her there and I realized then that this is probably what her mother looked like. In an odd sort of way, I guess I got my wish to see Mathilda.

I did not request to be her Facebook friend. I just was not interested in doing so.

AFTERMATH

Ronald Hunkeler went on to get a degree in Chemical Engineering and a second one in – are you ready for this? - Psychology.

He married, had three children (1 son, 2 daughters) and has as many grandchildren now. He and his wife divorced in 1986. He worked for NASA in Greenbelt, Maryland until his retirement in the summer of 2000. He resides in Howard County, Maryland and more than likely lives a quiet existence with those around him not knowing who he is or, specifically, about his past (unless they have his name – and internet access).

Pretty sure he didn’t tell his kids about his boyhood experiences as they were growing up and maybe not even his spouse. When they did find out, I wonder if this began to answer some questions they might previously have been afraid to ask.

It sure would be interesting to talk to RH’s children these days. Curious to know if he was able to control his impulses/rages as an adult with his own family and whether or not there is of lack of closeness between father and children.

Along with 3 other NASA employees, RH wrote a technical paper called “Material Total Mass Loss in Vaccuum Obtained From Various Outgassing Systems (NASA/TM-2000-20989T).” I accessed it, but it really didn’t hold my interest, so I gave up on it long before I could finish. If you want to see it, go to:
www.ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa.casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20010038656_2001057078.pdf.

Along with a gentleman named Alfred G. Eubanks, RH co-holds Patent #3762935, which is for “Foamed-in-Place Ceramic Refractory Insulating Material”. The date of the Patent is May 7, 1968. Wonder if he receives royalties?

Leonard Hunkeler sold the Roanoke house in 1951 and retired to St. Petersburg in Pinellas County, Florida. He passed on in 1969, which means he never got to read Blatty’s book or see the movie. One wonders what he would’ve thought.

Doris Hunkeler lived considerably longer. She shuffled off this mortal coil in 1983.

CONCLUSIONS MADE

No possession. No credible eyewitnesses of the Exorcism and the time just prior. This means that no credible reporting was done. If you have no credible reporting, one can’t hope to prove possession.

The one thing Father Walt was consistent about in this whole thing was that he never said for sure it was a possession. Didn’t feel he was qualified to judge. Even with as many years of Jesuit experience as he had under his belt, he said that he really couldn’t say. Wow, you just gotta love a firm stance like that, huh?

In an interview where producers weren’t hounding or guiding him to say this or that, Father Walt did confirm the following with regards to his attendance of the Exorcism:

· There was no vomiting.
· There was no frequent urination.
· There was no levitation.
· There was no Latin (or any other foreign language) spoken by the boy.

Lots of cussing and bad behavior, but hey, I did that too when I was Ronnie’s age. So did most other kids I know. We called it “growing up”.

For years, Halloran had been saying that the possessed boy’s name was “Douglas Deen” and that “Douglas” turned out great and was now a priest. We know that not to be true, and Halloran shouldn’t have been playing games like that.

Think about this, too: Edwin and Ronald (until he moved out and was eventually married) continued to live at 8307 40th Avenue after Odell’s death until the house was sold in 1959. Do you really think either of them would have continued to stay there if it had been haunted, i.e., chairs throwing occupants on the floor, mysterious scratching in the walls and floorboards? As mentioned before, Edwin never believed in the supernatural aspect of it. He even managed to stay there for a time after Odell was dead, despite the fact that he had probably been henpecked and that the house likely held little or no happy memories for him. The quiet atmosphere then and there must have been heavenly by contrast. Naw, not possessed.

8435 Roanoke. Leonard, Doris & crew stayed there for two years past the time Ronnie was subjected to the Rites in that house. Despite, Doris said, things being thrown by unseen hands and other outrageous things, they stayed. As it is, there is just a preponderance of dumb-ass, how-the-hell-can-people-swallow-these types of rumors which still run amok today. Naw, not possessed.

7564 Warner. Aunt Tillie’s House. Only marginally interesting because she lived there up until the last days of her life and probably had had Edwin, Odell and Ronnie staying with her there in visits past. No known weird phenomena reported in that house in any record I’ve seen, so naw, not possessed.

However, the most startling piece of information I learned from the Florida reporter was that Ronnie’s spokesperson stated that RH was “bitter” about the Exorcism and that he felt that it had nothing to do with him. This suggests that Ronnie was, in actuality, denying that there was a possession at all. To me, this is one of the strongest pieces of evidence regarding the whole matter. Ronnie’s confession about the possession is good enough for me.

JACKASSES, JACKASSES, JACKASSES!

You’ve probably already guessed who I’m going to name as the jackasses in this particular story.

We start with Ronnie. Not so much as a child – although indications are that he was a spoiled, insufferable little brat even before Aunt Tillie died – but mostly because he doesn’t seem to be willing to aid in clearing his Aunt’s name. Also there’s the fact that I believe he could be of some help to others who might be experiencing what he did as a boy. As he apparently doesn’t feel he has to do that, which I guess is his right, I consider him to be a selfish, cowardly jackass (which is my right).

Odell – A smothering, domineering figure who took a little boy and turned him into a trainwreck. I have to wonder if she didn’t cause him to hate women. Ronnie’s former wife and ex-girlfriend Suzy probably know the answer to this question better than others would.

Edwin – Who, through his emotional distance, allowed Odell to exert a beyond-the-pale type of control over Ronnie. The word “wussy” comes to mind when I think of ol’ Ed. Hope his testicles were either able to properly re-grow or at least drop back into place after Odell went to whatever reward she was due in 1956.

Anna – Grandma and jackass extraordinaire. If what Ronnie alleged was true, this whackjob probably had as much, if not more, to do with traumatizing the kid than Odell did.


OTHER PROJECTS

I received word sometime ago that there were about 22 documentary film/book projects in the works on this case, all at the same time and most of them stemming from Mark’s “Haunted Boy of Cottage City” writings. I would imagine, given the passage of time since I learned of these projects, that many of them have fallen through the cracks. Deservedly so, I would say, because it was my understanding that they all were approaching the diary and possession as genuine, despite clear evidence to the contrary. The truth, though, probably wouldn’t help the surviving projects’ producers line their own pockets with filthy lucre so they may continue to chase that dollar exploiting the myth and to the exclusion of fact.

OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS

Learn about Anneliese Michel. She was the inspiration for the film “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”. Go to
www.godscare.net/Skeptic/exorcisms/Emily.htm to read about it. There are some chilling photos of her as a slide show set to sounds of her actual Exorcism on YouTube. Let me tell you, this 2 minute sound recording is especially blood curdling. Do not access the site before you intend to go to sleep. This is something that is much better documented than the 1949 case, so look into that as being closer to genuine.

Someone put up an Anneliese Michel “fan” page on “Facebook”, as I recently discovered. A possession picture of her was used for the “profile” photo and she certainly has gathered some followers there. I declined to become a “fan” myself.

To read about the so-called “Watseka Wonder” and the Roff House, go to
www.roffhome.com/. It is stated to be the first recorded case of spirit possession and occurred in the early 1900’s in Watseka, Illinois. You could spend hours reading everything about it. It appears that some elements of this story were incorporated into Blatty’s novel.

Linked from the Roff Home website is a DVD called “The Possessed”. I saw this documentary last year on the “SyFy” channel. It not only talks about the Watseka Wonder and the Roff House, but also shows clips from modern exorcisms and, in some cases, interviews the “victims” in their post-possessed lives. Very interesting stuff.

Filmed by documentarians, the Booth Brothers, it also features interviews with local paranormal investigator Troy Taylor. Mr. Taylor has also written the book, “The Devil Came to St. Louis”, which was his look into the 1949 case. There is an interesting photo in the book of the 8435 Roanoke house, from the back yard, as it looked at the time the book was being written. Mr. Taylor indicated to me in an e-mail that the realtor would not let him in the house then (it was still for sale at that point in time), but I learned later that he was granted access as part of the aforementioned radio station “tour” nearly two years ago. This was with the full cooperation of the house’s current owner.

HEY, KIDDIES, IT’S “FUN FACTS” TIME!

The incorrect Mount Rainier address, 3210 Bunker Hill Road, was a vacant lot for a long time but now I understand that a dance studio has been built on the spot. If this is correct, then it appears that Bunker Hill Road is zoned for both residential and commercial properties.

The 3200 block of Bunker Hill Road is only about three blocks away from the “real” address. A quick check on Mapquest, starting from 8307 40th Avenue, confirmed this.

“Driveway to Driveway” directions reveal that at no time (at least in checking the past three Maryland addresses I was able to find for RH) has he ever lived more than an hour from his boyhood home at 8307 40th Ave.

From the 8307 40th Avenue residence to the first location, 9911 Fragrant Lillies Way, Laurel, MD, it’s a 35 minute drive, encompassing 22.96 miles.

From 8307 40th Avenue to the second location, 3144 Gershwin Lane, Silver Spring, MD, it’s only 16.47 miles and will take you approximately 29 minutes to reach one location from the other.

From 8307 40th Avenue to his current location in Fulton, MD would take slightly longer, but it’s still under an hour’s drive.

WRAP-UP

Hope you have been sufficiently intrigued and entertained while you were here. Mine, of course, is far from being the only blog about this subject out there, but I do believe this one has information that you probably haven’t found elsewhere (or at least as of yet).

Am I done with this investigation? My head tells me yes, but my heart says “not so fast there, boy”. My intention is that it is over, but if/as things keep falling into my lap, I may have to continue on when an interesting (to me, anyway) tidbit comes my way. I didn’t expect to find half the things I did and just when I thought I’d reached a plateau, something else would happen or I’d get another bit of information that I felt I had to follow through on.

As I said to “B” in one of my communications during the time we were working together, “I’m not interested in ghost-busting”. He had indicated several times that he thought I had the aptitude for it, but sitting in the dark with green lights on hoping to see ectoplasm or “spirit orbs” was not something that appealed to me. That’s fine for other people who choose to do so. Me, I don’t want to bring my work home at the end of the day.

Should I acquire more information as a result of this blog, or if it generates interesting contacts, I will come back to it and regularly update it.


THANK YOU’s

Mark Opsasnick, for writing “The Haunted Boy of Cottage City” in the first place and then for his kindness in later allowing me to see his research notes, photographs and bits of information that did not make the final edit of his piece. If it hadn’t been for Mark, I wouldn’t have been stoked to go off on my quest. He also gave kind words and encouragement when I felt I was getting nowhere. Thanks, Mark. You are in inspiration!

Chad Garrison of the St. Louis Riverfront Times for his story, “Hell of a House” and for answering questions he was getting from what he probably thought was just a weird reader. If I’d been the one to buy the house on 8435 Roanoke, he’d have been the first local news media person I’d have invited in for a follow-up story!

To my sweet wife, Karen, who was supportive all the way though not always understanding of my interest in it when what started out as a hobby became, for a while there anyway, an obsession.

To Father Luis Rodriquez, SJ, for his assistance in locating Father Bishop’s final resting place.

To Warren Murphy for allowing me to use a variation of one of his book titles as my blog heading.

To “J” for sharing information on his Great-Uncle William Bowdern, with me and for the copy of the 1969 letter written from Bowdern to William Peter Blatty.

CONTACT:
mikemadonna@rocketmail.com