A condensed version of a research paper I wrote on Robert E. Hunkeler. It is a long one. Enjoy, in the spirit of Spooktober.
On January 15, 1949, Robert E. Hunkeler and his grandmother heard strange noises around the house, a picture of Christ shook against the wall, then soon after a series of strange events would leave Robert in a state of possession. Robert E Hunkeler’s experience would go on to frame one of the most popular horror novels and films, The Exorcist.
Priest, Father Raymond J. Bishop, documented the true events surround Robert E. Hunkeler; he kept a journal of the records calling it “case study” (Allen 1993). The case study of Robert would be kept secret until a student, William Peter Blatty, would read it during his undergraduate years at the Jesuit University at Georgetown.
Willaim Peter Blatty went on to publish The Exorcist in 1971, a horror novel based upon Robert E. Hunkeler possession. The novel shook the nation and was the New York Times Bestsellers list for 57 weeks straight. Two years later the film The Exorcist was released and had similar success. Blatty’s adaption of the events sparked a national fear and awareness of possession that still haunts the unconscious of society today.
The case study of Robert E. Hunkeler
Robert lived with his parents and grandmother in Cottage City, Maryland. Robert had a close relationship with his Aunt; she would often visit and play various board games with Robert such as the Ouija. She was a practicing spiritualist and taught Robert and his mother how to communicate with the spirits.
The first week of January in 1949, Robert’s favorite aunt passed away; he became withdrawn and used the Ouija alone in hopes of reaching his aunt. This is believed to be what sparked the series of strange events that unfolded from January 15, 1949-April 19 1949
January 15, 1949, Robert was at home with his grandmother. They began to hear dip dip dip from his grandmother’s bedroom. As it faded away, a picture of Christ hanging on the wall began to shake and a scratching sound, like animal claws, could be heard from under the floorboards. The sounds continued every night from seven to midnight.
The family had various officials come and look into the strange sounds, but nothing was found. By the end of the month, only Robert reported hearing the sounds and only in his bedroom. Strange things started to happen to Robert. His bed would shake, and his coverlet would rise above his bed then collapse. The family was unnerved by the events and disturbed because Robert was the focus.
Two Lutheran ministers were called in to investigate the events surrounding Robert. One of the ministers spent the night with Robert and was disturbed to find in the middle of the night the bed began to shake (Allen 1993). The minister was concerned and suggested Robert should seek medical help.
A Psychiatrist, a physician, and a spiritualist were consulted and determined nothing was mentally or physically wrong with Robert. Robert did appear to become irritated when questioned, but other than that he appeared to a little high-strung, but healthy.
Frustrated, the family reached out to a minister. He didn’t find anything to be wrong with Robert but found the situation was strange (Allen 1993). He suggested the family contact a Catholic priest. It is unclear when the family contacted the priest and what exactly was said, but he did bless the house and Robert.
February 26, 1949 scratches appeared on Roberts’s body. Robert’s mother and father made plans to get away from the house. Before telling Robert, scratches appeared on his body reviling details of the travel plans to St. Louis. Meanwhile, the Catholic priest was gaining permission to perform an exorcism; unfortunately, this was unable to take place.
Once in St. Louis, Robert’s cousin who attended the Jesuit University in Georgetown contacted her professors, Father Bishop, in hopes he would be able to help Robert. Father Bishop consulted with various other faculties and decided no harm would come from praying and a home visit.
Father Bishop prayed over each room, Robert, and left a holy relic pinned to Robert’s pillow. The unseen force seemed to have followed the family to St. Louis. That night the events started again, the scratches appeared painfully on Robert’s body.
March 7 through March 15, 1949, Robert had many violent outbursts throughout the night. Bloody scratches appeared and disappeared on his body while his hands were in plain sight. He had violent reactions to holy water and holy relics brought by Father Bishop. Robert seemed to knock over bookcases and other large objects in his room. It is unknown how he was able to do this. These behaviors were in addition to the, now regular, bed shaking and noises that came from Robert’s bedroom. Robert would wake restless and unaware of the horrors of the night.
Archbishop Ritter permitted an exorcism on March 16, 1949. Ritter and the priest found Robert to be an enigma; he was a typical boy. it seemed Robert was simultaneously aware yet oblivious to what he was experiencing (Faherty 1984).
Archbishop Ritter was unsure if Robert was possessed, but didn’t want to run the risk that Robert was indeed possessed and he be left untreated (Allen 1993). Ritter thought Robert might have a mental illness. A pressing concern was maybe Robert had a severe illness and was on the verge of a breakdown caused by stress and lack of sleep, but Ritter nor anyone else was positive (Faherty 1984).
Robert was admitted to the Alexian Brothers hospital under strict secrecy ordered by Archbishop Ritter (Faherty 1984). For over a month, the rite of exorcism would be performed. Robert would go into fits of convulsions, wet or excrement on the bed, and words would appear on his body, deep scratches, and often faces of the devil would appear on his leg.
At times he would claim to be possessed by a demon, Satan, then the devil. Robert reacted strongly to Latin, replying in pig Latin. He became violent and spoke fowl to the priest.
Robert had a breakdown in the bathroom. Not long after, Robert had a similar episode in which he became aware he was possessed and claimed if this didn’t end he would go insane.
The exorcism would go on until April 19th.
After the events, Robert claimed to remember nothing. He and his family became practicing Catholics. Robert made a full recovery and switched to a Catholic high school.
Robert’s condition was perplexing, disturbing, but not necessarily diabolical; there were not enough signs of actual possession, but there was also no medical explanation (Allen 1993). After the case had closed Archbishop Ritter, with the help of a doctor, later reinvestigated the Robert E. Hunkeler; they concluded Robert was not possessed but experiencing a state of psychosis (Ruth 1974).
I had no idea about Robert’s experiences, I learned so much researching his story. I believe that Robert went into a state of shock and struggled to cope with the death of his aunt. Our minds are powerful and can make bizarre things happen, I believe Robert’s case is one of them. That is my two cents, what are your thoughts on Robert’s case?
Hopefully, you go on to read The Exorcist~
Allen, Thomsas B. (1993) Possessed: The true story of an exorcism. New York: Doubleday
Blatty, William Peter. (2011)The Exorcist. New York: Harper.
Dillinger, Vic (8 November, 2015) The Exorcist: Legacy of Ronald Edwin Hunkeler. Retrieved from http://www.infobarrel.com/The_Exorcist_Legacy_of_Ronald_Edwin_Hunkeler
Fahery, William Barnaby. (1984). To Rest In Charity: A history of the Alexian Brothers in Saint Louis (1869-1984). River City Publishers.
McCormick, Ruth. (1974) “’The Devil Made Me Do It!’ A critique of The Exorcist”. Cineaste 6(3)18-22.
Nickell, Joe. (2004)The Mystery Chronicles: More real-life x-files. University Press of Kentucky