The legend that has become “true”: the story of the murder behind the scenes of the movie “Exorcist”

For years, a talented physician who played in a “cursed” horror film was associated with a series of brutal attacks on gays. As it turned out, in vain.

Shot from the movie “The Exorcist”

The story of the creation of the cult horror film “The Exorcist” has long acquired a no less dismal reputation than the picture itself. During the filming and soon after, nine members of the working group died, including the grandfather of the leading actress Linda Blair, as well as a security guard and a special effects specialist.

The mainstream actress Ellen Burstin received a serious back injury during the filming of one of the scenes, and the house where the main part of the film was shot burned under mysterious circumstances. Of all the rooms , the one where the girl, possessed by the devil, slept, remained more or less intact . Ironically, it happened shortly after the Christian priest Thomas King consecrated the set .

All these stories are well known and have long become an important part of the fan cult around the “Exorcist Devil.” However, there is one of these numerous legends, the important details of which were largely ignored for a considerable part of the time. It is about radiology specialist Paul Bateson, who played a cameo role in the film. Many fans of the film, conspiracy therapists and even the film director William Friedkin suspected or suspect the medic in a series of murders.

The Esquire journalist spent several months studying archive documents, court reports, and talking to the police to learn the truth about Bateson. As it turned out, there was still a reason to suspect him, but far from what the media and the Internet presented him.

Episodic role in the “worst” scene

In 1973, Friedkin and the film crew for two weeks recorded an episode in the radiology department of a medical school in New York. According to the plot, a 12-year-old Reagan, possessed by the devil, is carried out with angiography , a visualization method that examines blood vessels and arteries. Three real doctors played in the scene: Dr. Lane, nurse Nancy and Paul Bateson, a young and promising radiology specialist.

At the beginning of the episode, the doctors shift Reagan to the operating table, and Bateson is preparing an x-ray. At the same time, he turns to the girl and asks her to stand up or lie down, cheering him with jokes – he behaved exactly the same way with his real patients. Then Dr. Lane cuts the skin of the girl in the carotid artery, which causes blood from the neck to beat. He inserts a catheter (medical tube) into the opening and delivers a contrast agent. It seems to highlight the blood vessels, making them clearly visible on the x-ray.

Scene of operation Reagan. Bateson can be seen at 30 seconds

Before the general use of computers for angiography, there were still a few years, so in general it was a common procedure. However, it is precisely the scene with Operation Reagan that is considered one of the most frightening and unpleasant in “Exorcist”. As Fridkin said , in the cinemas on this episode, the audience became ill: in Chicago at the first show, one woman threw up, and then she lost consciousness. Doctors agree – even now this scene most accurately and truly demonstrates the operation.

The scene was rolled without cuts, and Bateson and his colleagues continued their medical careers. That all changed in September 1977, less than four years after the Exorcist, when the body of journalist Eddison Barrill was found in his own apartment in the New York quarter of Greenwich Village . Initially, the police suspected the murder for the purpose of robbery, but since all the valuable things in the apartment were in place, it became obvious that Verrila was killed by someone whom he voluntarily let out.

Dawn of mysterious attacks

For Greenwich Village, the 1970s are marked by a series of brutal murders of homosexual men. Separated limbs of six were found in plastic bags at the bottom of the Hudson River, where the criminal threw them. Despite the peculiarity of the case, the newspapers almost did not write about him, since at that time attacks on gays in the area were not something resonant.

Nine days after Verrill’s murder, the reporter Arthur Bell, who was covering his case, was called by an unknown person and confessed to killing a man. He said that he had met him at a local gay bar, after which the couple had used various drugs and went to Verryl’s apartment, where they had sex. In the morning, the men quarreled, and during the altercation, the unknown killed a partner.

The journalist was unable to find out the name of the interlocutor, but he provoked him to tell a few details about himself and drop the phrase: “I will lose my license if I confess.” The reporter retold the dialogue to the police, and they confirmed that the unknown did not lie and knew the details of the murder, which they deliberately concealed from the public. They asked Bell to wait for the second call and soon someone again contacted the journalist: this time the interlocutor called the name of the killer – Paul Bateson.

Bateson in “The Exorcist”

Without losing time, the detectives descended into the radiologist’s apartment and found him drunk. “I know why you came,” said the man and waved toward the newspaper lying on the table. It was opened on the page with the article on the murder of Verryl. At the police station, the suspect confessed to the crime and described the details of the incident. However, he later refused his testimony, explaining that he gave them drunk and under pressure. Bateson stated that it was not he who called Bella, but he learned the details of the murder from the newspaper.

The court found the evidence and evidence reasonable and allowed to use it in the process. The radiology specialist did not fully believe that he was found guilty, but Bateson’s friend also appeared at the hearing – he said that he was boasting about the murders of men. In addition to this, the testimony of experts said that the bodies of all the dead were butchered very precisely, and either a butcher or a person with medical experience is capable of that.

The judge questioned the involvement of Bateson in a series of attacks on gays, but found him guilty of the murder of Virill and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. Medic Lane’s colleague, like his other friends, took the news with astonishment. They described Bateson as a talented and intelligent man with good manners.

He was a leading radiologist. The most experienced and best of its kind. He taught me a bunch of different things and I consider him a good friend. When you do radiology, and you have a specialist in this area, you also have very important team support, and none of this would have happened without Paul. He was really good. Only after many years, I realized that he had killed a man. It seemed to me something anomalous, I could not even imagine such a thing.

doctor and last good friend paul bateson

Chapter three

“People were shocked,” recalls Dr. Ajax George, who also starred in an episodic scene in Exorcist and directs the radiology department at a New York hospital. The news about Bateson really excited everyone who knew him or worked with him, including the director of the Exorcist.

Fridkin almost did not discuss the verdict of the medic in public, not counting the 2012 interview . In it, he said that after the arrest of Bateson he met with him in the SIZO and asked about involvement in the killings. The radiology specialist replied that he remembers how Barryl killed and dismembered after a joint night, and he folded the remains into a bag and threw it into the river. Friedkin argued that Bateson was found on a tag on a medical package that contained the victims’ separated limbs. The small print on the package showed that this package belongs to the medical institution where Bateson worked. So he was found, said the director.

Many fans of the “Exorcist” and the stories about serial killers took Friedkin by word. As a result, articles appeared on the Internet where Bateson was called a maniac guilty of the death of six people. For example, on the website Murderpedia , which is positioned as a resource with the richest archive of information about famous killers. Bateson’s ImDB page says that he pleaded guilty to a series of murders, when in fact he confessed to only one, but later refused to testify.

William Friedkin with actresses Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair, who played 12-year-old Reagan. Getty Photos

On the Wikipedia analogue about serial murders, it is said that the physician was only suspected of attacking gays, but this was never proven. Nevertheless, there is also unverified information, allegedly in prison, the man boasted to his cellmates in the murder of several people. Similar articles can be found on thematic resourcesdevoted to horror films and pop culture.

However, what really does not have to doubt, so it is in Fridkin’s personal impressions of a conversation with a possible serial killer. The dialogue inspired him to create the next movie “Wanted” with Al Pacino in the lead role, which was released in 1980 – a year after Bateson’s verdict. The picture, based on the book of the same name, tells of a series of brutal attacks on gays in the mid-1970s in New York.

The gay community greeted the picture with protests, accusing the author of being biased and biased towards gay men.

Esquire journalist did not find in the police archives any information about the package mentioned by Friedkin with the signature of the medical institution where Bateson, about whom Friedkin spoke, worked. Perhaps the director confused something: the radiologist was sentenced to prison for killing his partner, but no one dismembered his body and dumped it into the river, where they found the remains of homosexuals. Moreover, there is no written evidence that the accused made a deal with the police and pleaded guilty to a series of attacks. The court rejected his involvement in these killings.

Fridkin refused to interview the journalist, so the reporter tried to find Bateson, who was released from prison in August 2003. There is no information about his death, and the last known address is a house in a village in the state of New York. The number associated with the address is not serviced, and no one answered the letter to the medic’s intended email. One thing is clear – for many years, people familiar with Bateson, as well as fans of the “Exorcist Devil”, suspected or believed him guilty of serial murders. The real story turned out to be different.

On a simple Google search, you can find sites linking Bateson with a series of murders in the 1970s. It is not true. But the highlight of the information found is that legends quickly turn into facts – we come up with details or theories to fill in the gaps. Gaps in the facts, some of which can no longer be restored.

Matt Miller
Esquire journalist
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