Hell of a House

For sale: three-bedroom Colonial in charming neighborhood. Hardwood floors. Lots of personality. And, oh yeah: Satan slept here.

In his article Opsasnick writes that Maryland land records show the family lived at the same Cottage City address from the years 1939 to 1958, meaning the 1954 address should have the same name for the family living at the address in 1949. That name: Hunkeler. Mr. Edwin E. Hunkeler and his wife, Odell.

The same last name is listed for the home on Roanoke Drive, according to the St. Louis County municipal directory for 1949. Leonard C. Hunkeler -- the paternal uncle of the possessed boy -- and his wife, Doris, occupied the home from 1942 (the year the house was built) until sometime in the early 1950s.

As to the identity of the possessed boy: His last name was most certainly that of his father, Hunkeler. No verifiable media report has ever given his full name (or, for that matter, the last name of Hunkeler), but at least two Web sites, one claiming to have obtained the unedited exorcism diary and another that ostensibly retraced the clues given in Opsasnick's article, give the name as Ronald Hunkeler.

The inviting parlor makes every visitor feel at home.
Jennifer Silverberg
The inviting parlor makes every visitor feel at home.


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But just what occurred in the Hunkeler residence in the early morning hours of 1949? For that we turn to the diary of the exorcism, a copy of which Thomas Allen furnished the Riverfront Times.

Written in stark and stilted prose, the 26-page document begins at the home in Cottage City. It is there that the family reported hearing strange noises in the walls and beneath the floorboards. The scratching sounds continued for several days before becoming silent to everyone but the thirteen-year-old boy, who also complained of hearing "squeaking shoes" circling his bed at night.

In his book Possessed, Allen writes that the boy's favorite aunt, a spiritualist from St. Louis, introduced the child to the Ouija board during one of her earlier visits and suggests the boy may have channeled the possession through the board game. The diary, however, makes no mention of the Ouija board but does refer to the aunt. It was her ghost that the family first believed to be behind the noises.

But soon the spirit transformed from poltergeist to sinister specter. The boy's bed shook wildly throughout the night. Bibles and holy relics flew through the air. Claw-like scratches raked the child as he slept. When the word "Louis" rose up on his ribs, the family decided a trip to visit relatives in St. Louis might rid them of the haunting.

On Wednesday, March 9, 1949, Father Bishop visited the family at their relative's home on Roanoke Drive. Bishop, a professor at Saint Louis University and the author of the exorcism diary, blessed the entire dwelling before entering the bedroom, where he found the boy lying perfectly still on a bed that was rattling violently.

Writing in third-person and referring to the possessed boy by his first initial of R, the author reports: "Bishop sprinkled St. Ignatius Holy Water on the bed in the form of a cross. The movement ceased quite abruptly. During the course of fifteen minutes of activity a sharp pain seemed to have struck R on his stomach and he cried out. The mother quickly pulled back the bed covers and lifted the boy's pajama top enough to show zig-zag scratches in bold red lines."

Friday, March 11: Bishop returned with Father Bowdern, the pastor of St. Francis Xavier College Church. "The boy was dozing when the bottle of St. Ignatius Holy Water was thrown from a table two feet from R's bed into a nearby corner, a distance of approximately six feet." Five minutes later: "A bookcase was moved from alongside the bed and turned completely around facing the entrance of the room."

Wednesday, March 16: The priests obtained approval from St. Louis archbishop Joseph E. Ritter to administer the rites of exorcism as spelled out in the centuries-old Catholic prayer book, the Roman Ritual.

That night, the diary reports, "Father Bowdern in surplice and stole began the prayers of exorcism. On the first 'Praecipio' there was immediate action. Three large parallel bars were scratched on the boy's stomach. From then on at the names of Our Lord and His Blessed Mother and St. Michael scratches appeared on the boy's legs, thighs, stomach, back, chest, face and throat. The most distinct marking on the body were the pictures of the Devil on R's right leg and the word 'HELL' imprinted on R's chest."

The nightly interventions at 8435 Roanoke Drive would continue for the next week, the child's reaction to the exorcism growing more extreme by the day.

From the Friday, March 18, entry: "The prayers of the exorcism were continued and R was seized violently so that he began to struggle with his pillow and the bed clothing. The arms, legs, and head of R had to be held by three men. The contortions revealed physical strength beyond the natural power. R spit at the faces of those who held him and at those who prayed over him. He spit at the relics and at the priests' hands. He writhed under the sprinkling of Holy Water. He fought and screamed in a diabolical, high-pitched voice."

The night of Sunday, March 20, Bishop reports, the boy reacted with more violence than on any previous occasion: "The high point of the evening were urinations which really burned R, breaking wind through rectum three different times, and cursing the exorcists. Some of the vulgarity follows: 'Go to hell, you dirty sons of bitches. You dirty assholes.'"

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