Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Diary of an Exorcism a Priest's Journal Inspired Thomas Allen to Retell the Strange Event That Took Place in a St. Louis Hospital

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Diary of an Exorcism a Priest's Journal Inspired Thomas Allen to Retell the Strange Event That Took Place in a St. Louis Hospital

Article excerpt

"Deus! Now little lines of glistening blood appeared on Robbie's legs, his thighs, stomach, back. He writhed in pain. A scratch zigzagged across his throat. Red marks rose on his face, which twisted in pain. "Something now rippled on Robbie's right leg. As Bowdern again commanded the demon to identify himself, red welts formed an image on the leg. It was, the witnesses later said, an image of the devil." from "Possessed: The True Story of an Exorcism" by Thomas B. Allen

BACK WE GO into the bowels of a weird and chilling story - of how, in 1949, an exorcism took place in St. Louis.

The actual event ended in the old psychiatric wing of Alexian Brothers Hospital, 3933 South Broadway, in a room that was sealed afterwards.

But before the building was demolished in 1978, a diary was found in the room. Now that diary has become the starting point for a new book, "Possessed: The True Story of an Exorcism" (Doubleday, $20), by Thomas Allen.

In the early 1970s, this same exorcism inspired the best-selling book and hit movie "The Exorcist."

Did the devil possess the body of the 14-year-old boy?

Did demons cause the spitting, vile language and sexual acting out?

Or was it something else: a psychiatric puzzler?

"He was, I believe, a victim of a strange, incomprehensible event, an unearthly event whose cultural and psychological roots are deeper than Christianity's," said Allen, 64, a free-lance writer from Bethesda, Md.

Allen obtained a carbon copy of the 26-page diary kept by the late Rev. Raymond J. Bishop for the exorcist, the Rev. William S. Bowdern, then pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church at St. Louis University.

Bowdern died April 25, 1983, at 85. He never officially acknowledged that he was the principal actor in the bizarre, four-month event. But he believed the case involved demonic possession, he told friends.

Others weren't so sure.

The ordeal began with unexplained noises and moving furniture in a suburban Washington, D.C., house on Jan. 15, 1949. On Feb. 26, mysterious scratches appeared on the boy's body.

The exorcism, conducted here on April 18, remained a little-known event until William Peter Blatty wrote his novel "The Exorcist" in 1971 and it became a runaway best seller. The 1973 movie was one of the most financially successful horror movies ever made.

The filming of the movie had moments when it seemed that the devil had taken over. Was it an effort to thwart the making of "The Exorcist"?

Said Allen: "So many accidents befell the set in New York that the director, William Friedkin, asked (the Rev. Thomas) Bermingham to exorcise the warehouse" where the Georgetown townhouse that was the setting of Blatty's book had been constructed.

"Bermingham told Friedkin (who is Jewish) that there was not enough evidence of satanic activity to warrant an exorcism. But Bermingham gave a solemn blessing in a ceremony that was attended by everyone then on the set, from Friedkin to Max von Sydow (who played Father Merrin, the exorcist) to teamsters and grips."

Nothing happened after that, Allen said.

Blatty was a junior at Georgetown University in 1949 when he read newspaper accounts of the St. Louis exorcism. When he began his book, he wrote to Bowdern asking for help. When Bowdern objected and refused to cooperate, Blatty changed the age and sex of the subject to appease the priest's fears that the identity of the boy would be divulged.

Now the name is out. The boy is called Robbie in Allen's book, but Leslie Gustat, research producer for "Unsolved Mysteries," tells anyone who cares that his name was Douglas Deen.

"It's something worth doing, it's quite fascinating," said Gustat, who plans to do a segment on the incident.

"Inside Edition" has already done one. That program interviewed the Rev. Walter Halloran, one of two Jesuits still living who assisted Bowdern. …

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