The case began not in St. Louis, but in either the small Washington, D.C. suburb of Cottage City, Maryland or Mount Rainer. There seems to be some debate about this because there have been a couple of different houses that have been identified as the home in question. As most readers already know, what has come to be known as the “St. Louis Exorcism Case” would go on to inspire William Peter Blatty’s 1971 best-selling book and the movie based on it, The Exorcist. In the novel, a young girl is possessed by a demon and is subjected to an exorcism by Catholic priests. In the true story though, the subject of the alleged possession was not a girl but a boy who has been identified in various accounts as “Roland” or “Robbie Doe”. Robbie (as we will call him here) was born in 1935 and grew up in this area. He was the only child of a dysfunctional family and had a troubled childhood.
In January 1949, the family of 13-year-old “Robbie Doe” began to be disturbed by scratching sounds that came from inside of the walls and ceilings of the house. Believing that the house was infested with mice, the parents called an exterminator but he could find no sign of rodents. To make matters worse, his efforts seemed to add to the problem. Noises that sounded like someone walking in the hallway could be heard and dishes and objects were often found to be moved without explanation.
And while the noises were disturbing, they weren’t nearly as frightening as when Robbie began to be attacked. His bed shook so hard that he couldn’t sleep at night. His blankets and sheets were torn from the bed. When he tried to hold onto them, he was reportedly pulled off the bed and onto the floor with the sheets still gripped in his hands.
Those who have come to believe the boy was genuinely possessed feel that he may have been invaded by an invisible entity after experimenting with a Ouija board. He had been taught to use the device by his “Aunt Tillie”, a relative who took an active interest in Spiritualism and the occult. Tillie had passed away a short time before the events began and it has even been suggested that it was her spirit who began to plague the boy. This seems unlikely though, especially considering the timing of her death. She lived in St. Louis and had died of multiple sclerosis on January 26, 1949 – a number of days after the phenomena surrounding Robbie began.