Read the St. Louis diary that inspired ‘The Exorcist’

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Max von Sydow as Father Merrin prepares to enter house in scene from movie “The Exorcist”, photo

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (WDAF)— Before “The Exorcist” broke box office records in 1973, a Jesuit priest performed an exorcism on a little boy at Saint Louis University.

The 1949 exorcism at SLU on a teenage boy known only as “Robbie Manheim” inspired the famous book and movie.

The 29-page diary of the event was recorded by Father Raymond Bishop. The words are not for the faint of heart.

The episode started at the boy’s home in Maryland when the family thought they heard a rat scratching on the walls.

Diary excerpt:

“This scratching continued for ten days and then stopped. The family finally believed that the rodent had died. The boy, R, seemed to think he still heard the noise but the family did not hear anything for a period of three days. When the sound became audible again, it was no longer in the upstairs bedroom but had moved downstairs in the boy’s bedroom.”

The situation got worse when the family moved in with relatives in north St. Louis County.

Diary excerpt:

“On one evening the word “Louis” was written on the boy’s ribs in deep red. 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 boy should stay in St. Louis, another message was printed on the boy’s chest, “3 1/2 weeks.” The printing always appeared without any motion on the part of the boy’s hands. The mother was keeping him under close supervision. There seemed to be a sharp
pain when the marks occurred so that the boy doubled up and uttered a rather terrifying sound.”

The exorcism continued at SLU and ended at Alexian Brothers Hospital in South St. Louis. When the exorcism was over, the diary was placed inside of a desk at the hospital.

Diary excerpt:

“At midnight, the Fathers planned to give “R” (the boy) Holy Communion, but Satan would have no part of it. Even while the institution of the Blessed Sacrament was explained to “R” his body was badly scratched and branded. The word “HELL” was printed on his chest and thigh.”

The diary later notes that the boy did eventually come around and the exorcism appeared to be successful.

Diary excerpt:

“August 19, 1951. R and his father and mother visited the Brothers. R, now 16 is a fine young man. His father and mother also became Catholic, having received their first Holy Communion on Christmas Day, 1950.”

According to the book “Possessed” by author Thomas B. Allen, the diary was probably never meant to see the light of day.

Allen writes:

“In St. Louis, Bishop’s diary remained a secret in the security room on the fifth floor of the Alexian Brothers Hospital—a room that, for some reason, contained a copy of the diary—remained locked. Everyone who worked in the hospital, from the thirty or more Brothers on the hall to the laymen in maintenance shops, knew why the room was locked.

“As the years went by, tales about the locked room were passed on to the new Brothers who came to the hospital. They knew that the room was in the wing for extremely ill mental patients. Brother Bruno and the others who had worked in this wing were certainly used to dealing with madness there. So why the locked room? In a wing of madmen, what kind of madness could keep that one room locked”?

That portion of the hospital was demolished in the 1970’s.

Allen writes:

“The (demolition) worker handed the (diary) papers to his boss, who passed it on to the administrator of the hospital, a layman. The administrator read the letter, which was signed by Father Raymond J. Bishop, a Jesuit from Saint Louis University. Then the administrator turned the pages of the diary. Words on the pages—Satan…diabolical…a huge red devil…exorcism…stunned him. Horrified, he realized that the report revealed the secret of the locked room.”

You can read the diary here.

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