The Haunted Boy: The Facts Behind The

serialized from Strange Magazine Issue 20

Friends and Neighbors Speak Out — For the First Time

Cottage City, Maryland, is a small working-class community of around 1,200 residents that quietly sits one mile from Washington, D.C.’s northeast border. Nestled between the towns of Colmar Manor and Brentwood, Cottage City is located about two miles due east across Rhode Island Avenue (Route One) from Mount Rainier. Originally laid out in 1904 as a town called Highlands, the gradual construction of over three hundred one-story cottages in the subdivision provided for a unique landscape and eventually led to its current name, with incorporation in 1924. Cottage City has traditionally been known as a tight-knit family-oriented community that has been home to blue collar and government workers for decades. Today, like all of surrounding Prince George’s County, Cottage City is a community in transition. Nevertheless, I had little trouble locating a number of older residents who had spent their lives there. I was also able to interview a large number of former Cottage City residents who had moved away, but still had ties to their old home. Many of these people from both camps remembered the Doe family. I was astonished to learn that no other investigator or journalist had ever questioned any of them about the story behind The Exorcist that had taken place just up the street in the heart of their hometown.

The bulk of my investigative time spent on this case was directed at interviewing present and former Cottage City residents who had personally known Rob Doe and his family. In all, I taped interviews with 102 individuals for this investigation. Specifically, I located and interviewed members of five of of the 17 families that resided in the 3800 block of 40th Avenue in 1949. All of them knew the Doe family. Many of the people I interviewed were friends of Rob Doe and many had gone to school with him at Cottage City Elementary and Bladensburg Junior High.

For the record, Rob Doe entered the seventh grade at Bladensburg Junior High in the fall of 1947, and was removed in the middle of his eighth grade year in January 1949. He re-enrolled in the eighth grade at Bladensburg Junior High for the 1949-50 school year, then spent the next four years—from the fall of 1950 until June 1954—at Gonzaga High School in Washington, D.C.

Of the dozens of persons I talked with who knew Doe, there seemed to be an even split between those who were aware that The Exorcist was based on events that happened to him and those who were not.

One of the first individuals I spoke with was T. Weston Scott Jr., a Cottage City resident since 1919 and a lifelong member of the Cottage City-Colmar Manor Fire Department. Having served as the local fire chief for over twenty years, there was little about his community Mr. Scott didn’t know. He offered his knowledge of the situation without hesitation.

“The boy involved was [Rob Doe] and he lived at 3807 40th Avenue,” he stated. “I knew the boy but I didn’t know too much about what was going on to be frank. They kept it quiet at the time and later on there was a lot of stuff about it. The [Does] lived there since the thirties and they stayed in that house for about 20 years. I think most of the older neighbors who were around at the time knew about it. Most of them are gone now, though.”

Cottage City’s current town chairman and police commissioner, William Hall Sr., moved into his home at 3810 40th Avenue in 1968. His house faces the former Doe residence and from the day he moved in he had known of the strange story that had supposedly transpired across the street. He told me:

I just know what people tell me. Years back I heard the name and it was [Doe], but I don’t personally know him or anything like that. It happened in the house directly across the street from me at 3807 and that was back in 1949. When I moved in here, the neighbors knew. When I first moved here it was still talked about, but now people don’t say too much about it. After the movie some of the older residents called it “The Exorcist House” but today it is vacant and no one really comes around talking about it or anything like that. Most people think it happened over in Mount Rainier.

Between interviews I sifted through the large pile of The Prince George’s Post references from the late forties and early fifties that I had collected and filed on the Doe family. I noticed that time and again this family had played cards with some neighbors named Kagey, obviously one of the few families they chose to socialize with. In my travels around town I was told that a son, Alvin Kagey, was now a dentist in Southern Virginia and had even been called on to testify as a state dental expert on the famed Marv Albert trial. In an interview with me, Mr. Kagey revealed some fascinating insights into this case:

Let me preface this by saying I have not seen [Rob Doe] for probably 45 years but I would still consider him a friend so I don’t really want to betray that. [Rob] is a year younger than me and was a year behind me at Cottage City Elementary and while I know he had friends, he was in a sense a little bit of a loner. I don’t know of any other word that I might use that would be more appropriate. He was somewhat sedentary, somewhat quiet, as his parents were. I don’t think he was interested in sports. The contact that I had with him was through his parents playing cards. In those days Canasta was the hot game and my parents, along with the [Does] and the Hodges and the Clarks, played Canasta almost every Saturday night on a rotating basis. The [Does] were very active members of this group and it went on for years and back then the parents would just bring their kids with them and I got to know [Rob] that way.

I asked Mr. Kagey if he was aware of Rob Doe’s alleged possession. It sure must have put a damper on the card games. He responded:

It was never really discussed. I know that [Rob] somehow, I’m going to use the term became “sick” and if I remember the facts he and his mother went out to St. Louis for “treatment.” They were Lutheran and at some point there was a conversion to Catholicism. I remember during that time his father telling my father something about how [Rob] was acting funny or strange or something and there were some other things they talked about as well. “Possession” was not used at all. I heard about that when it was going on and the next time I heard about it was probably 1974 when the movie came out and I was down here in Virginia and this friend of mine, I told him where I was from and he said “Oh have you seen the movie Exorcist?,” and he said that it happened in The Mount Rainier and started telling me about the movie and I thought “Uh-oh, I know where that happened—and it was not Mount Rainier!” I knew it had really happened in Cottage City and not Mount Rainier so I went to my father who had neither seen the movie nor read the book and I talked to him and went through the whole thing about the movie and he said, “That’s [Rob Doe].” My father absolutely had no knowledge of the movie or the book or anything. It was just what he knew from the [Doe] family. The [Doe] family had lived in Cottage City for as long as I can remember—they never lived in Mount Rainier, but I don’t think people really knew anything about what had happened. We lived differently then. It was as though it never happened in Cottage City and I don’t think it was covered up. I just don’t think it was general knowledge. I never heard it discussed in town. My parents were the only source and that came right from [Mr. Doe].

As I tapped into a growing pool of valuable Cottage City sources, the name of one family in particular surfaced repeatedly. Three brothers from this household had grown up in the town and were well-known for their community involvement. One of the brothers in particular was said to have been Rob Doe’s best friend and constant companion for a number of years. The two boys were born just days apart and developed a unique relationship at a very early age that lasted throughout their teens. Two of the brothers from this family agreed to speak to me, but only on the condition that they be granted anonymity. Their testimony puts them right at the heart of the Rob Doe saga. The older brother, “J. C.,” was born in 1926. He recounted his memories of what happened just up the street from his home in 1949:

I’m aware of the story and I know a lot of people who followed the story and, well, yes I knew him. There were very few people that knew about it at the time. We have kept very quiet about it over the years deliberately because it didn’t happen in Mount Rainier. He and my younger brother were very close friends and they were very precocious, if you know what I’m saying. In every neighborhood kids pair up and this is the kind of thing that happened, these two paired up and were virtually inseparable. They were loners who found each other and they caused a lot of mischief. There was a close relationship there, a very close relationship.

I asked J. C. if he knew any specifics about the possession that was allegedly taking place to their friend up the street. He responded:

I knew something was going on before the first article ever came out. It was developing over a period of time and you could see this condition building up. You could say I was in the house and witnessed these things. I attended the local premier of that video [In the Grip Of Evil] and they exaggerated so many things that happened. One of the things that they tried to emphasize in that show was the thing about the boy spitting. Well, with this pair, I noticed that one of the common bonds between them, they found this very clever way of doing it, they could spit with great accuracy up to ten feet. It was a common thing. They’d keep their mouths closed and raise their lips and spit through their teeth and they somehow developed a way to do that. I saw them do that all the time. Another thing was with the bed moving about. In those days the beds had wire springs and were on wheels and it was not too hard at all to make the bed bounce and move about—it was harder to keep it in one place and his bed was like that. A lot of these things can be exaggerated to make a story and that is exactly what happened.

Since J. C. was one of the very few who actually knew that Rob was going through this phase at the time and was able to observe the situation firsthand, I asked him if he thought the boy was actually possessed by the devil, and he responded:

No, I don’t think he was ever possessed. I think it was psychological. As far as any real possession or anything like that, I don’t think so. There are some interesting psychological aspects to it. They were German Lutherans and he was an only child and I think the grandmother is actually the central figure. She played a very influential role in all of this. You had this old world religion superstition and the mother got caught up in it and the father just kind of stayed in the background—I think he could see what was going on which is why he is never mentioned. The true story is much more intriguing from a psychological point of view. The basis of the real thing could be a damn good story, no doubt about it in my mind. The rest of it I can run a parallel. You had these two mischief makers that had a strong tendency to take advantage of people who were weaker than themselves. They were a pair of connivers and they had their act down. In pairs like that they compete with each other and they don’t get along well and they have to keep doing something to retain their relationship and all the time this is mischief in one form or another. They were trying to outdo each other.

J. C.’s brother “B. C.” was said to be Rob Doe’s best friend throughout childhood. I was warned by several that talking with him would be difficult due to his close relationship with the subject of this article. I obtained his address and—without forewarning—I knocked on his front door at 1:00 p.m. on the afternoon of January 20, 1998. Warily he invited me in and proceeded with an intense and detailed description of his childhood relationship with Rob Doe in Cottage City. Because of the sensitive nature of the subject, I cannot reveal much of what was discussed that day. I can say that B. C. provided a detailed profile of an only child who went through anything but a normal childhood: smothered by his obsessively religious mother and grandmother who held deep interests in spiritualism and Ouija Boards; shunned by his classmates at school; prone to tantrums and even violent outbursts towards his family and his few friends; exhibiting cruel and at times even sadistic behavior towards other children and even animals. It was evident that elements of the alleged possession had always been there, going back years and years. “Dysfunctional” would be the word modern-era psychiatrists would use to describe the boy’s home life and upbringing.

B. C. was frank with me right from the beginning:

Since the movie came out I’ve never said his name in front of anyone, not even my wife. We were playmates and classmates. We were playing together from the time we first moved in here when I was three years old and we went all the way through school together—Cottage City Elementary throughout the ’40s into Bladensburg Junior High. They always lived at 3807 40th Avenue so I don’t know where that Mount Rainier crap came from. People ask what he was like back then and I can tell you that he was never what you would call a normal child. He was an only child and kind of spoiled and he was a mean bastard. We were together all the time and we used to fight all the time.

Overcoming an initial reluctance to directly discuss the details of the case, B. C. eventually opened up and offered some interesting accounts:

One thing happened regarding all of this and I have a hard time clearing it in my mind. We were in eighth grade, it was the ’48-’49 school year and we were in a class together at Bladensburg Junior High. He was sitting in a chair and it was one of those deals with one arm attached and it looked like he was shaking the desk—the desk was shaking and vibrating extremely fast and I remember the teacher yelling at him to stop it and I remember he kind of yelled “I’m not doing it” and they took him out of class and that was the last I ever saw of him in school. The desk certainly did not move around the room like that book [Possessed] said, it was just shaking. I don’t know if he was doing it or what was doing it because I just can’t clear it in my mind. I put everything together. It was very closed-mouth in the neighborhood at first—no one knew anything. I hadn’t seen him for some time and I was wondering what happened to him. I would still see his father around and I remember going to his house and his German grandmother came out and she could barely speak English and she told me he was in St. Louis visiting relatives and he would be there for a while. He hadn’t been in school and from what I saw I knew something strange was going on but I didn’t know what. When that Washington Post article came out later that summer I knew from the details that was him. No one else around Cottage City knew that it was him, then, a year or so later his mother told one of the ladies at a local ladies club meeting and that was like broadcasting it over a loudspeaker. The story went out in Cottage City but then it died out shortly after that.

B. C. had some odd theories on what may have happened regarding the “possession”:

The reason behind it, you’re going to laugh but I don’t care. There was this dog that ran around the neighborhood at that time…. It was half-red cocker spaniel and it looked like it was half-chow. This dog was mean and nobody ever knew who owned it. It just came out of nowhere. Well, [Rob] basically adopted that dog. That dog was really his best friend, not me. That dog hated everyone and everything and would bite anyone in sight but he loved [Rob]. [Rob] would feed it and bring it in the house with him. One time he called me up and told me to come over and I never really trusted him because he was sneaky and a real mean little bastard. I was going over there and he was looking out from the basement window and when I got to his house I heard the back porch door slam and I knew right away what he’d done. He’d done this sort of thing many times before to different kids. I started running like hell because he’d sicked that dog on me. When I got home he called me up and was laughing like hell. That’s what kind of person he was. He did that all the time. He’d always sic that dog on anyone who came around…. I could tell you many, many other stories like that.

B. C. has been thankful all of these years that the true story had never been revealed by anyone. Prior to the release of the video In The Grip Of Evil he had always been protective of Rob Doe’s real identity. With a sarcastic laugh he continued:

A friend of mine drives me by the spot where the house stood on Bunker Hill Road in Mount Rainier and tells me ‘That’s where The Exorcist story happened’ and I just play dumb and look at him and act surprised and say ‘Oh is it really? How interesting.’ And to myself I’m saying, “Thank God nobody knows the real story.” They’re all looking in the wrong place. They’re all looking at Mount Rainier and St. James and Father Hughes and it’s not there. It’s always been in Cottage City and you are right on the money and everyone else is wrong.

I left B. C.’s home at 4:45 p.m., my head reeling from the character reference given by the best childhood friend the haunted boy ever had.

THE CONCLUSION — Truth and Consequences

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