In 1973, the critically acclaimed horror film, The Exorcist was heralded as a wild and grotesque ride. But the truth is, exorcism is a form of religious ritual meant to expel demons and other evils and it is a very real, and very dangerous event. Every year, all over the world, through the guise of many religions, people are subjected to unspeakable horrors in an attempt to heal their souls. And every year, people die as a result.
The following stories are troubling, sad and downright unbelievable. Since the controversy of Annaliese Michel in 1976, to as recent as this spring, news reports have been piling up as family, friends and trusted religious figures are arrested and charged with murder. Some call it religious hysteria, others may believe the accused are simply making up excuses. Whatever your thoughts on the matter, these stories will undoubtedly shock you.
10. Norell Harris, 1 and Zyana Harris, 2 (Maryland, 2014)
28 year old Zakieya Avery was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in January 2014. The mother of four stabbed all of her children, killing two, in their Maryland home when she believed they were being possessed by evil. The Daily Mail reported Captain Marcus Jones as saying, “That’s sort of the thing she centered it around as to why she had to conduct an exorcism. She just thought that there were evil spirits within the kids”. The two youngest children, Norell and Zyana, aged 1 and 2 respectively, did not survive their injuries. The two elder siblings, aged 5 and 8 were hospitalized in stable condition. Although stabbings are not the most common element of an exorcism, Avery is believed to have been performing such a ritual during the massacre.
9. Kristy Bamu, 15 (East London, 2012)
In a slightly different form of deadly ritual, 28 year olds Magdalie Bamu and Eric Bikubi tortured and killed Magdalie’s teenage brother, whom they believed was practicing sorcery. The boy, Kristy, had been sent along with two other siblings from their Paris home to visit Magdalie in London for the holidays. By the time Kristy died by drowning on Christmas Day, he had already sustained 101 injuries. All three had been beaten and punished for days, forced to admit to sorcery, which is a common practice in the Republic of Congo where the defendants are originally from. The couple have recently received life sentences in prison.
Janet Moses, 22 (New Zealand, 2007)
Nine members of the Moses family were accused of killing 22 year old, Janet Moses during a curse-lifting ceremony. The family feared the girl was being possessed when they noticed a change in her behavior, following the death of her grandmother. As many as 30 people attended the Maori ceremony, known as a makutu. It began with prayers but soon escalated to restraints, eye gouging and eventually drowning. According to News.com, Defense lawyer, Mike Antunovic said the accused, who cannot be identified, believed Ms Moses was possessed and they were trying to help her.
Amy Burney, 5 (New York, 1997)
In the spring of 1997, Anjelica Burney and her mother, Rosa took it upon themselves to exorcise Anjelica’s five-year old daughter. They believed evil possession was the cause of the girl’s tantrums. The women reportedly fed her a deadly poison to expel the devil, which consisted of ammonia, vinegar, cayenne pepper and more. Amy’s body was kept in the house for a week before they disposed of it. The women were charged with 2nd degree murder and “depraved indifference”.
Sylvester Orieso, 5 (South London, 1997)
A 36 year old Nigerian immigrant was sent to a psychiatric ward indefinitely, after murdering her five year old son. She is reported to have strangled him in an attempt to drive out the demons she believed him to be possessed by. Like many others, she kept his body for days, thinking he would be returned to her.
Kira Canhoto, 2 (Ontario, 1995)
When two year old Kira was believed to be possessed, her family felt there was nothing to do except than to perform an exorcism on her. During the ritual, her mother, grandmother and grandfather forced the girl to drink large quantities of water, which eventually killed her.
Kyong-A Ha, 25 (California, 1995)
After medication proved ineffective in Ha’s insomnia, her family turned to minister Jean Park who concluded Ms. Ha was possessed. During the exorcism, in which Park was attended by Ha’s mother and three other women, the young woman was struck repeatedly and suffered the breaking of at least 10 ribs. After her death, the minister apparently told the women that Ha’s evil spirit had moved on and advised them to stay with the body to await her revival. Mercury News reported the women to have remained with Ha’s body for five days.
Louise Lardjourne, 19 (Northern France, 1994)
Following brain surgery in 1993, 19 year old Louise began suffering from epileptic-like seizures. Her brother, 44 year old Tahar, convinced her that she was suffering from demonic possession. Imam Mohammed Kerazi, with the help of the head of the local mosque Morad Selmane, performed a five hour exorcism. Among other tortures such as having the soles of her feet beat with a reed, the young woman was forced to drink gallons of salt water. The three men, including the brother, were later charged with murder.
Joan Vollmer, 49 (Western Victoria, 1993)
Two years after his wife, Joan, received the diagnosis of schizophrenic, Mr. Vollmer came home one day to find her barefoot in a nearby wheat field. He claimed she was doing something that looked like a war dance. Concerned, he immediately phoned his church associate, John Reichenbach (sect Lutheran). Upon seeing Joan, John decided he was witnessing demonic possession. The two men and Reichenbach’s wife proceeded to preform a lengthy exorcism ritual. The three days that followed led John to believe 8-10 demons were possessing Mrs. Vollmer, causing her to “change personalities”. Mr. Vollmer reportedly believed that at times, she was taken over by Legion, a demon with the strength of 2000 men, which made her impossible to control. An “expert” was eventually called in; 22 year old Matthew Nuske. On the fourth day of torture, Mrs. Vollmer passed away, but Matthew assured everyone God would return her shortly. He and her husband were charged with unlawful imprisonment. The Reichenbach’s were charged with manslaughter.
Anneliese Michel, 23 (West Germany 1976)
Made famous as the first documented use of exorcism since the 18th century, this story has almost become a legend. Sadly, it was this girl’s reality. In 1970, suffering from temporal lobe epilepsy and depression, Annaliese was admitted to a psychiatric ward. While being prescribed a rotation of drugs for her afflictions, she began to have hallucinations and speak of the devil’s face. In 1975, priest Ernst Alt requested the revival of the age old exorcism ritual. Once the exorcism was secretly approved, the girl’s family stopped all medical treatment and went forward with the ritual. Annaliese was thus subjected to a total of 67 exorcism sessions over ten moths, each lasting a few hours. On July 1st 1976, she died. The autopsy determined cause of death to be malnutrition and dehydration. She was also suffering from pneumonia and weighed only 68 lbs. Her parents, and the two priests who preformed the ritual were all charged with manslaughter and sentenced to six months in jail. The case remains highly controversial. The film The Exorcism of Emily Rose was loosely based on these events.