Written by Amanda Moloney
Many people today still hold that long buried belief about demons and ghosts, poltergeists and possessions, but when we hear the word exorcism we tend to think of Hollywood and the countless movies they have made on the subject. Spirit possessions are found in a wide range of religions spanning hundreds of years. Exorcisms are very real and whether you believe in them or not they have been performed for a very long time but they don’t always go to plan.
One of the most famous cases of exorcism was on Anneliese Michel a young Bavarian girl born 21st September 1952. She was born into a very devout Catholic family and due to the scandal of having an illegitimate sister she spent a lot of time withdrawn in quite prayer trying to repent for her mother’s sins. Anneliese turned 16 in 1968 and she started to experience seizures and was diagnosed with having Epilepsy. She was promptly put on medication which didn’t really help so the medication was simply increased. She started to become more withdrawn and depressed and when her thoughts turned to suicide she was diagnosed as having severe depression and placed in a psychiatric hospital for treatments.
As the time passed and she continued to have the seizures, Anneliese also began to complain about having visions. They usually came whilst she was praying and caused her much mental anguish and grief. She also complained of hearing disembodied voices around this time. They started off sounding like they were far away but eventually sounded like someone was standing right beside her. She said sometimes these evil voices told her to do things and other times they just threatened her and told her she was to be damned. The visions become stronger and Anneliese started to see what she described as devil faces, she was still receiving psychiatric treatment but as this seemed to be doing nothing the family naturally started to turn away from normal medical help.
Strangely at this time Anneliese also began to have an aversion to religious objects and places. She could not walk past a crucifix and on a family pilgrimage she refused to drink the holy water with the rest of the family. A friend who was with them noticed a very unpleasant smell coming from Anneliese and it didn’t take much to convince her very devout Catholic family that their beloved daughter was being possessed by a demon or the devil, especially since medical help was doing nothing. They visited priest after priest about Anneliese but were constantly turned away and told that strict guidelines must be met for it to be considered possession. They were even told to take her back to the psychiatric hospital for treatments even though it had previously done nothing. Finally a priest by the name of Ernst Alt heard of her case and became interested. He met with Anneliese and her family many times and became convinced that it was not epilepsy or any other medical problem and that she was definitely suffering a possession. He wrote many letters to the bishop on their behalf begging for an exorcism which was finally agreed to but utter secrecy had to be ensured. Another priest by the name of Arnold Renz was sent in to assist Ernst with this task and he too agreed that she was indeed possessed.
The exorcisms seemed to make the situation worse. She began to urinate and defecate on the floor, reportedly licking up her own urine after. She ate coal and spiders and bit the head off a bird. Profanities and insults streamed from her mouth along with animalistic growling and screams. Anneliese began to speak in ancient languages that she couldn’t know and talk of subjects she knew nothing of. The exorcisms were that long and brutal that she often ended up chained to her bed or chair. If any religious objects were held near her she would fly into a furious rage and her family eventually became too scared to even be near her. At one point she even sat under the kitchen table for 2 days and barked like a dog. Eventually the only people to see her were the two priests constantly performing the exorcisms. They performed them once or twice a week for up to 4 hours at a time.
In total the priests performed 67 exorcisms over a 10 month period. Anneliese refused to eat and became emancipated and exhausted, by the end she had given up. On July 1st 1976 Anneliese finally succumbed to the strain on her body and passed away weighing a mere 68 pounds or 30 kilos. An autopsy determined she had died of malnutrition, dehydration and pneumonia. The two priests were brought to trial for not preventing her death when they could have. They were defended by the church who claimed that exorcisms were allowed to be performed and these priests had been granted permission by the family. 47 of the exorcisms were recorded and the court had to listen to an aggressive and screaming Anneliese hurling abuse and speaking in tongues. At one point they also heard two demons talking to each other even though both voices were coming from Anneliese herself. They had photos of her that showed her thin and drawn, her body covered in bruises and seeping sores. Her knees had ruptured due to the constant genuflections she performed. The prosecution brought in their own doctors who claimed that all the symptoms she displayed could have been put down to mental illness, epilepsy and a fanatical belief in her religion. The priests and her parents were charged with manslaughter due to negligence and sentenced to 6 months gaol each.
Even after her death and trial she could not rest. Her parents insisted her body be exhumed so that they could bury her properly and many claimed that Anneliese body had not decomposed the way it should have for the time it had been buried. Many claimed this was another sign that she had truly been possessed but doctors claimed she had decomposed fine.
This is certainly an interesting case to be sure. Mental illness is such a varied thing that no two people would present exactly the same way. It can be affected by their psychological makeup, their environment, treatments and even their belief systems. So was she possessed by the devil or was she mentally ill. I guess we will never know. On one hand we have two men who were so strong in their belief that they performed 67 exorcisms on this girl to release her from her hell and on the other hand we have the parties that think she should have been put back in to a hospital and treated for mental illness and that the stress on her body could have been causing some of these problems themselves. Some even wonder if she was influenced by the movie The Exorcist which came out in 1973 but that doesn’t account for the things that happened before or whether she even saw the movie. But from what we know in this dark world that fascinates us is that sometimes people that had gifts or saw visions were considered to have mental problems when they didn’t and were therefore drugged up and turned into zombies. We don’t truly know or understand everything that exists in this world so can we honestly say with certainty that she was one or the other. In 1984 the church were asked to review the rite of exorcism based on this case, eventually in 1999 they revised it and also made a mandate that all priests performing exorcisms must have medical training also.
If this story fascinates you there are many articles to read about it but there has also been a movie made that is based on this sad story.
Written By Amanda Moloney
In the late 1960’s to early 1970’s, in the San Francisco area, people became terrorised when a man, who became nicknamed the zodiac killer began his killing spree. To this day the identity of the Zodiac Killer still remains a mystery although many suspects have been put forward. A total of 5 known people were murdered by this man and he sent taunting letters to newspapers about what he had done. In some of these letters he actually claims responsibility for 37 killings although the police have no evidence to back those claims up so to this day he is only attributed to 7 victims including 2 survivors.
The next day 5th July 1969 a man called the Vallejo police department and claimed responsibility for the attack on Darlene and Michael, he also claimed that he was responsible for David and Betty Lou 6 months earlier.
A month passed, August 1st 1969, the killer sent 3 letters to 3 separate newspapers, The Vallejo Times Herald, The San Francisco Chronicle and The San Francisco Examiner. The letters claimed again that he was responsible for both of the killings at Lake Herman and at Blue Rock Springs and that if the letters weren’t published on the front page he would spend the whole weekend killing. He also included a coded cipher in all three letters which he claimed revealed his identity. When the Chronicle published their letter the Vallejo police chief also wrote claiming that they didn’t believe these were from the killer and wanted him to offer more proof.
August 7th 1969, another letter arrived at the San Francisco Examiner; this was the first letter in which he called himself the Zodiac. In this letter, in response to the police chief, the killer gave details of both murder scenes that hadn’t yet been made public. The coded cipher was cracked the next day, but did not reveal any identity, it only explained how he enjoyed killing people and they would be his slaves in his afterlife.
On September 27th 1969 two college students Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shephard were picnicking at Lake Berryessa. They were approached by a man wearing a black hood and sunglasses. He also wore a bib over his shirt that had a white circle with a cross through it and he carried a gun. They were tied up and stabbed repeatedly. Back at their car he drew the circle with cross symbol on their door and carved Vallejo and the dates of the previous murders on there with his knife. At 7.40pm he rang the Napa County Sherriff’s Office and reported his latest crime, the police missed him at the public phone booth by minutes! The victims were discovered by a fisherman and his son when they heard screaming. Cecelia was still conscious and was able to describe the attack before lapsing into a coma and dying two days later. Bryan managed to survive.
November 8th 1969 another coded card turned up, this one contained 340 characters and at this point in time has still not been deciphered and on November 9th 1969 he sent another letter taunting that just after he had shot Paul Stine, two police officers had actually stopped and spoken to him, this was published in the Chronicle with the police officer explaining what had happened.
Exactly one year to the day of David and Betty Lou’s murder December 20th 1969 the killer again sent a letter with a sample of Paul Stine’s shirt in it, he claimed he wanted the lawyer Melvin Belli to help him.
March 20th 1970 Kathleen Johns was driving with her 10 month old daughter on Highway 132 near Modesto. She was also 7 months pregnant. They were held captive in a car for 90 mins by a man who had offered help until her and her daughter eventually jumped out of the car and hid. He searched and when he could not find them he drove away. Kathleen made her way to the Patterson Police station where she recognised the composite sketch of Paul Stine’s killer and stated that was the man who had them in his car.
Over 1970 many letters now began to arrive.
April 20th, April 28th, June 26th, July 24th, October 7th. In all his letters he either claimed responsibility for something or claimed he was going to do something, he also sent maps and ciphers saying it was locations of bombs. He had started to sign his letters with what became known as his symbol. A circle with a cross through it, he also put the number of his apparent victims here. In the signature he also put SFPD meaning San Francisco Police Dept and a 0 representing their capture rate. As the letters progressed the number he wrote for his apparent victims increased. He also claimed that he killed Sgt Richard Radetich on June 19th 1970 by shooting him in the head, but the police maintain that murder does not belong to him.
Paul Avery worked at the chronicle and covered the zodiac case in depth. On October 27th 1970 he received a letter stating that he was doomed, it was taken seriously so it was shown on the front page of the newspaper. After this Paul received an anon. letter stating there were similarities between the zodiac killings and an earlier case from 1966.
Could the below cases also belong to the zodiac killer:
October 30th 1966 Cheri Jo Bates an 18 year old student stayed late at the campus library, she was found dead the next morning brutally beaten and stabbed, a short distance from the library. On November 29th 1966 two letters were sent the Riverside Press and the Riverside Police department claiming responsibility for her death. On April 30th 1967 the paper, the police and Cheri Jo’s father all received another letter stating that she had to die and there would be more. Could this have been his first murder and it was completely missed?
On March 13th 1971 zodiac sent a letter to the Los Angeles times crediting the police for making his connection to Cheri Bates but stated they were only finding the easy ones and there were lots more out there. On March 22nd 1971 another zodiac letter was received by Paul Avery at the Chronicle. In this letter he claimed he was responsible for the disappearance of Donna Lass on September 6th 1970. She has never been found.
On November 13th 1972 the Vallejo Times Herald ran a story where the Santa Barbara Sherriff Counties Office postulated that the murder of high school students Robert Domingos and Linda Edwards on June 4th 1963, who were both shot in the back and chest may actually belong to the zodiac killer as well.
January 29th 1974 was the final letter received that can properly be attributed to the zodiac killer. He signed this letter me-37 SFPD-0
Many letters came through after this time but none could actually be proved as authentic zodiac letters by experts in the field. Most were put down to copy cats who wanted the publicity that the zodiac was getting. Arthur Allen Leigh became a prime suspect as well as his good friend Don Cheney however DNA evidence later proved that they both may be innocent. Several other names have been thrown around as suspects including Jack Tarrance, Richard Gaikowski, George Hill Hodel Jr, James Phillips, George Tucker, Earl Van Best and Louie Myer. At this point the case remains open and unsolved, Louie Myer confessed on his death bed that he was the killer and while a lot of evidence actually lines up there is still not enough for a conviction. The story of the Zodiac Killer has spawned many books, TV productions and movies.