ST. LOUIS — The 1973 film The Exorcist was based in part on a family with close ties to St. Louis. The child that inspired the movie, Ronald Hunkler, grew up to work at NASA, the government agency confirms. 

He joined NASA in February 1962 to work in the spacecraft technology division. It is located at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. 

“His work with the high-temperature resistant ceramic compound was detailed in a Goddard News article,” said Sean Potter, Public Affairs Specialist. He said that a photo of him was published along with the article in the 1964 edition. 

“He is also mentioned in a February 1965 NASA Tech Brief on the above topic,” said Potter.

Hunkeler worked with NASA for 40 years. Furthermore, he helped with the Apollo missions of the 1960s that put US astronauts on the moon in 1969. 

The boy and the book

Hunkeler was the boy who inspired the book The Exorcist in 1971, and then the movie of the same name. 

The Skeptical Inquirer stated Hunkeler as the 14-year-old boy in the St. Louis exorcism case. They announced this after Hunkeler’s death on May 10, 2020. He was previously known as Roland or Robbie Doe in the many news articles about the exorcisms.

Saint Louis University says that the actual events that inspired the novel happened in 1949. Hunkeler’s family lived in the Washington, DC area. His aunt from St. Louis introduced him to Spiritualism, the occult. After she died, he tried to contact her with a Ouija board. That is when strange things started to happen in his family’s home.

The boy’s family grew concerned and contacted doctors and mental health experts. They were unable to find anything wrong with the teen. A minister suggested they turn to the Catholic Church for help.

Hunkeler’s family came to St. Louis to investigate the connection to his deceased aunt from St. Louis. They stayed with relatives in Bel Nor and the unusual activity followed them to Missouri.

Several priests met with Hunkeler at the home. They witnessed the shaking bed, unusual scratches, and objects flying across the room. The strange incidents escalated as the exorcism was performed.

The exorcism continued at several other locations in the St. Louis area. The episode ended dramatically at the Alexian Brothers Hospital. Pastor William Bowdern demanded that Satan leave his body. Hunkeler woke up and told the priest that, “He’s gone.”

Several newspapers wrote stories about the series of exorcisms. An article in the Washington Post became the basis for William Peter Blatty‘s best-selling novel. That novel was adopted into a movie of the same name.

The Exorcist

Blatty adapted the true story into a novel about a girl, a demon and a pair of Catholic priests. He had a feeling that the battle between good and evil would be a success.

The movie shows a little girl who is going through a hard time, and the priests are there to help. The way they think they can help is by performing an exorcism.  The movie details the feats that the priests and Hunkeler had to go through to defeat this illness. 

Since the book and the movie are based on true events, Hunkeler was unnamed. Hunkeler survives the exorcism, goes back to school, and eventually made a name for himself at NASA. 

Hunkeler died before his 86th birthday, according to The Guardian. He died after suffering a stroke at his home in Maryland. 

Allegedly, none of his co-workers knew of his spooky past. New York Post, spoke to Hunkeler’s friend. They said that Hunkeler would not talk to his co-workers about the exorcism.