A NASA engineer who worked for nearly 40 years with the space agency has been revealed as the real-life inspiration for the demon-possessed child in "The Exorcist."
Ronald Edwin Hunkeler's identity was exposed by investigator and podcast host JD Sword, who wrote about his findings in the bimonthly journal, "The Skeptical Inquirer: The Magazine for Science and Reason." A 29-year companion of Hunkeler confirmed the news with the New York Post, explaining that the space engineer was afraid of his colleagues finding out the truth.
Hunkeler died last year after suffering a stroke.
"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," the woman, who asked not to be named, said. "He had a terrible life from worry, worry, worry."
According to the Post, "The Exorcist" movie and novel was written by William Peter Blatty, who was attending Georgetown University when he first heard stories about the demon possession of a 14-year-old boy around 1949.
Hunkeler, who was born in 1935 and grew up in Cottage City, Maryland, was 14 years old when he reportedly began to experience unexplained scratching and knocking noises coming from his bedroom walls and objects reportedly flying across the room. These are "classic poltergeist phenomena," noted Sword.
The family's minister, Rev. Luther Schulze, in 1949 wrote to Duke University’s Parapsychology Lab for assistance. Schulze was one of many spiritual leaders to be consulted. When a series of medical and psychological tests failed to find anything abnormal with Hunkeler, his family turned to a Protestant pastor for help.
More than 20 exorcisms on the teen were performed over three months. One of the Jesuits who helped, William Bowdern, described in his diary how Hunkeler lay on his mattress as it shook. He noted how the boy appeared in a trance and there was "scratching which beat out a rhythm as of marching soldiers," according to the Post.
It was decided that Hunkeler woulkd be taken to St. Louis to be treated for demonic possession, and on March 21, 1949, he entered the Alexian Brothers Hospital. It was here that his violent convulsions broke a priest's nose, according to the Post, which reported that by mid-April, Hunkeler claimed to be free of the devil.
"In what is perhaps one of the most remarkable experiences of its kind in recent religious history, a 14-year-old Mount Rainier boy has been freed by a Catholic priest of possession by the devil, Catholic sources reported yesterday," wrote Bill Brinkle for The Washington Post in August 1949.
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