Robbie Mannheim (also known as Roland Doe; born 1 June 1935) is the pseudonym given by historian Thomas B. Allen to an anonymous individual most notably known for allegedly being possessed and later exorcised during his childhood in the late 1940s. The alleged events which were reported in the media of the time and the subsequent claims surrounding those events went on to inspire the 1971 novel The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty and the 1973 film of the same name, as well as Thomas B. Allen's own 1993 book Possessed and the following 2000 television film by the same name.
The identity of Mannheim has never been revealed, but he is reported as having no memory of being possessed. Most of the information regarding him and the events surrounding his alleged possession and exorcism comes from secondary and tertiary sources.
Around the time of the reported events there were several newspaper articles printed attributed to anonymous reports. These were later traced back to the family's former clergyman, Reverend Luther Miles Schulze.
Another article was written on the subject in the January 1975 edition of Fate magazine titled “The Truth Behind The Exorcist,”. This article claims to reveal previously unknown details from a diary kept by one of the priests involved in the exorcism.
Two other main sources were obtained roughly 50 years after the reported events by Thomas B. Allen. These form the basis for his book on the subject, Possessed. One is the testimony of Rev. Walter H. Halloran, at the time one of the last surviving eyewitnesses of the events. The other original source is a diary which was kept at the time of the events by a Rev. Raymond J. Bishop, another clergyman who became involved in the events after March 9, 1949 (several months after the reported initial 'symptoms'). The same diary used by the 1975 Fate article.
Another author, Mark Opsasnick, claims to have independently investigated these events and spoken to people involved in the case-- including several people close to Mannheim and his family, other priests in their parish, a source at the hospital mentioned in the claims, and even Allen and Halloran. The results of his investigation are published as an article in Strange Magazine called "The Haunted Boy of Cottage City: The Cold Hard Facts Behind the Story That Inspired "The Exorcist"." In the article Opsasnick describes the inconsistencies he found in the reports and other testimonies which he claims brings into question the veracity of the claims as reported in Allen's book, especially the more fantastic and supernatural claims, such as the claim that Mannheim spoke languages he couldn't know; According to Opsasnick, Halloran himself admitted he thought Mannheim had simply mimicked Latin words he heard the clergymen speak. In conclusion Opsasnick writes "Those involved saw what they were trained to see".
Some of the more generally accepted claims about Mannheim are that he was an only child born into a German Lutheran Christian family and that during the 1940s they lived in the American city of Cottage City, Maryland. Pseudonyms given to Robbie's parents in literature regarding this subject are "Mr. and Mrs. Doe" as well as "Karl and Phyllis Mannheim née Wagner."
Since Robbie was an only child, it is claimed that he depended upon adults in his household for playmates, namely his Aunt Harriet, who treated Robbie more like a special friend than a nephew. His aunt, a Spiritualist, who also professed Christianity, saw the Ouija board as a means of contacting those who had passed on the next world. Harriet responded to Robbie's interest in board games by introducing him to one - the Ouija board. As a Spiritualist, Aunt Harriet saw it as a way to make contact between this world and the next. The planchette, she explained to Robbie, would move in response to answers given by the spirits of the dead. They communicated by entering the consciousness of people at the board. The spirits, Aunt Harriet said, produced impulses that traveled through the medium to the planchette, which moved obediently to spell out words or point to "Yes" or "No." Aunt Harriet seemed to have treated Robbie more like a special friend than a nephew. She had an exotic quality, especially with her talk about Spiritualism.
Between visits, Robbie sometimes played at the Ouija board himself. For a Spiritualist like her, she felt attempts to deal with the dead were neither pagan nor dangerous. Most Spiritualists considered themselves good Christians...Spiritualists, however, did not heed the biblical admonitions against consorting with spirits. She therefore, introduced Robbie to the Ouija board when he expressed interest in it. Nonetheless, Robbie was your average boy - he played, read comic books, and listened to the radio.
On Saturday, January 15, 1949, Karl and Phyllis Mannheim went out for the evening, leaving Robbie and his Grandmother Wagner alone in the house; shortly afterwards, a dripping sound ensued and would not stop, despite the fact that every faucet was checked in the house. In an attempt to locate the origin of the sonorous dripping noise, both Mannheim and his grandmother noticed that a painting of Christ began to shake.
Later, when the parents arrived home, the dripping activity ceased, and a new noise was heard in the form of raps and scratches, which Karl Mannheim initially merrily labeled as being caused by a mouse or a rat. Nevertheless, there was some desperation during this trial as Karl Mannheim tore up floorboards and ripped down wall panels but could not locate any rodent.
On January 26, eleven days after the beginning of the scratching sounds, Robbie's aunt died in St. Louis, devastating Robbie; the boy consequently tried to contact his deceased aunt via an Ouija board, as he had been very close with her. This attempt is said to have led to his demonic possession.
According to those involved in the case and also reported by the media, around the time of Aunt Harriet's death, the scratching noise in Grandmother Wagner's room ceased; yet, new kinds of poltergeist activity commenced. These strange happenings included the sound of squeaky shoes and marching feet, amongst other strange noises, furniture moved on its own accord, and ordinary objects, including a vase flew or levitated. Moreover, according to Rev. Walter H. Halloran, streaks and arrows and words such as "hell" appeared on the boy's skin. and blessed objects, such as a container of holy water, which were placed near him, smashed to the ground on their own. This said supernatural phenomena was not confined to the Mannheim's home but seemed to carry with him where he went; for example, while at school, Robbie's desk allegedly lurched into the aisle and began skittering about, banging the desks of other classmates. Some sources claim that forty-eight witnesses came forward to substantiate some of these incidents.
According to a report made by Reverend Luther Miles Schulze to the The Evening Star, a Washington D.C. newspaper, in light of the situation, the boy was examined by both medical and psychiatric doctors, who could offer no explanation for these disturbing events taking place.
The frightened family turned to their Lutheran clergyman, Rev. Luther Miles Schulze, for help who arranged for the boy to spend the night of February 17 in his home in order to observe him. The boy slept nearby to the minister in a twin bed and the minister reported that in the dark he heard vibrating sounds from the bed and scratching sounds on the wall. During the rest of the night he allegedly witnessed some strange events—a heavy armchair in which the boy sat seemingly tilted on its own and tipped over and a pallet of blankets on which the sleeping boy lay inexplicably moved around the room. In light of his observations, Rev. Luther Miles Schulze concluded that there was evil at work in Robbie, and therefore, he performed a Lutheran rite exorcism on Robbie Mannheim.
According to the traditional story, the boy then underwent an exorcism under auspices of the Anglican (Episcopal) Church. After this, the case was referred to Rev. Edward Hughes, a Roman Catholic priest, who, after examining the boy at St. James Church, conducted an exorcism on the fourteen year old boy at Georgetown University Hospital, a Jesuit institution. During the exorcism, the boy inflicted a wound upon the pastor, costing him stitches; as a result, the exorcism ritual was stopped and the boy went home to be with his family. While Robbie Mannheim was in his house, he screamed as he and his family saw the words "St. Louis" written upon his chest in blood; this city was the place where his Aunt Harriet had died. The family then proceeded to take the train to St. Louis. While they were in the city, Robbie's cousin contacted one of his professors at St. Louis University, Rev. Raymond J. Bishop, SJ, who in turn, spoke to Rev. William S. Bowdern, an associate of College Church. Together, both vicars visited Robbie in his relatives home, where they noticed his aversion to anything sacred, a shaking bed, flying objects, and Robbie speaking in a demoniacal voice. In light of these observations, Rev. Bowdern sought permission from the archbishop to have the plaguing demons cast out from the boy. The archbishop approved the exorcism with three stipulations:
Rev. William S. Bowdern, would be in charge of performing the exorcism upon Robbie Mannheim.
Rev. Bowdern was to keep a detailed diary of the deliverance.
Rev. Bowdern was not to disclose his position and the location of the ritual, the fifth floor of Alexian Brothers Hospital.
Before the exorcism ritual began, Rev. Walter Halloran was called to the psychiatric wing of the hospital, where he was asked to assist Rev. Bowdern in the deliverance. Rev. William Van Roo, third Jesuit priest, was also there to assist Rev. Bowdern in casting out the unclean spirits from Mannheim. During the exorcism, Robbie spat in the eyes of the pastors, despite the fact that his eyes were closed. Rev. Halloran stated that during this scene of spiritual warfare, Robbie's hospital bed shook disturbingly, a vessel of holy water went soaring through the air, and words such as "evil" and "hell", along with other various marks, appeared on the teenager's body. Moreover, Robbie broke Rev. Halloran's nose during the process. Robbie Mannheim, while being exorcised, also often shouted in an abnormal tone of voice, which was unlike his normal tone of voice. In total, the exorcism ritual to cast out demons from the boy's body were performed thirty times over a period of two months. The clerics, asked the demons when they would flee, who responded to Rev. Bowdern and Rev. Halloran that they would depart when the Robbie uttered the proper words. Eventually, Robbie Mannheim said "Christus, Domini" or "Christ, Lord." When these words were spoken, there were reports of a loud noise, noted as a "thunderclap" or "shotgun" throughout the floors of the hospital. After this pandemonium, Robbie Mannheim declared "It's over. It's over." The room in which the deliverance was performed was then sealed off in order that none would be able to reenter that area.
Certain aspects of this story have come under dispute. Mark Opsasnick claims that he found no evidence that Father Hughes ever attempted to exorcise the boy at Georgetown University Hospital nor that he recevied a slash or injury at that time. In addition, Father Halloran himself allegedly told Opsasnick that he did not hear the boy's voice change and that he didn't check the boys fingernails and see if he made the marks himself. In addition one of the boys friends allegedly told Opsasnick that the "supernatural" events were exaggerated and that the spitting and bed shaking could be explained. Joe Nickell claims that the events reliably reported were not beyond what a teenager can do.
After the exorcism was over, the Mannheim family was no longer troubled, and moved back to their home. Robbie Mannheim went on to become a successful, happily married man and father. Nevertheless, Robbie Mannheim, after over fifty years, has no memories of his possession.