So far we’ve learned how to spot witches, become pirates and defeat (some) ghosts, and here at #DickHeadquarters we think it’s high time we start tackling some demons. We’re going to be covering a creepy and sad story of a sick young woman who was exorcized over and over again, instead of being given medical attention.
If you’ve ever seen the Exorcism of Emily Rose, you know a tad bit of this story. We’re getting down and dirty with the tragic death of Anneliese Michel and the subsequent trial where her parents, along with two priests were charged with her death. Was Anneliese possessed or was she sick? We’ll let you decide.
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Anneliese Michel, sometimes referred to as Anna Elizabeth Michel, was born September 21, 1952 in Leiblfing which is in Bavaria, Germany.
She was raised in a strict, traditional Catholic family—her father was a trainee priest (though this seems weird considering the fact that Catholic priests are supposed to be unmarried) and three of her aunts were nuns. She was described as being “bright and likable.”
Anneliese’s trouble started in September of 1968 when she was 16 years old. It was at this time that she experienced her first episode of lost consciousness.
After which she experienced the feeling of something pressing down on her and pinning her to the bed. It wasn’t until 11 months later that she experienced another episode.
It was at that time that shee was taken to the family doctor, Dr. Vogt, then subsequently neurologist Dr. Luthy. Dr. Luthy ran an EEG (brain scan) but nothing was found however, he thought it could be some form of seizure.
Anneliese experienced another episode in 1970 after which she was prescribed an anticonvulsant medication. Then again in 1972, where she was prescribed Dilantin.
According to Drugs.com dilantin is “is an anti-epileptic drug, also called an anticonvulsant. It works by slowing down impulses in the brain that cause seizures.”
After both incidents an EEG was performed, in 1970 the scan was clean and in 1972 there were “mild irregular patterns” but they wouldn’t have explained her behaviour.
Timeline of Anneliese Michel’s Death
It was during the spring of 1973 that Anneliese began to hear knocking sounds in her bedroom, though it is important to note that her sisters also heard them. She also told people that she heard a voice that was damning her to hell.
According to Buzzfeed Unsolved, her mother was frightened when she “caught her furiously staring at a statue of the Virgin Mary” with “eyes turned black, jet black.” To make matters worse, her mother further said that her hands seemed to turn into “thick paws with claws.”
In September of 1973, Anneliese had a neurology appointment with a Dr. Luthy. She described visions of demon faces that were tormenting her and told the doctor “she felt the devil was inside her.” It was also reported that she smelled “burning feces” though, others around her also reported smelling it.
Mrs. Michel said that Dr. Luthy recommended that they see a Jesuit (AKA a religious official), a fact that Dr. Luthy later denies. Nonetheless, according to Anneliese’s mother, the family went to speak with Father Ernst Alt.
Two months later, in November of 1973, Anneliese went to see a “Freudian psychiatrist” who diagnosed her as neurotic, and also said that she was possibly epileptic. A second neurologist agreed, saying that she had epileptic patterns. It was at this time that she was taken off dilantin and put on tegretol, which is a stronger drug for epilepsy.
Next, we jump ahead to July of 1975, when Anneliese’s behaviour got worse. It was said that she prayed all night, ate spiders and flies and even “licked her own urine” from the floor. She also destroyed crucifixes and “holy pictures” from the wall.
Witnesses said that she was exhibiting “close to superhuman” strength and one time threw her sister “as if she were a rag doll” before apparently squeezing an apple in her hand until “fragments exploded through the room.”
A priest named Father Rodewick was convinced that she was possessed. After deliberating with Bishop Josef Stangl, the exorcism of Anneliese was formally approved with Father Wilhelm Renz was appointed the exorcist.
Anneliese’s first “exorcism rite” was performed by Father Renz on September 24, 1975. Renz allowed some of her exorcism sessions to be recorded, and, in all, 42 audio recordings were made. The clips are absolutely terrifying. Listen to them here.
In these clips, she names a number of “demons” including: Judas, Nero, Cain, Hitler and Valentin Fleishchman who was a priest that was excommunicated from the church in the 1500s for “bad behaviour.” Father Alt was particularly shocked because Anneliese would have “no way of knowing Fleishman).
Along with the “knowledge of hidden things”—when the demon starts to tell you things the person they’re possessing has no way of knowing, like the information about Valentin Fleishchman, Father Gary Thomas who was interviewed in Buzzfeed’s video said that signs of possession include:
- Aversion to the sacred, i.e. they can’t look at a crucifix when they’re in a church—though to be completely honest, I have questions if they’re able to walk into the church then can’t look at a cross.
- Inordinate physical strength
- Epileptic-like seizures
He also says that you can often “only see the whites of their eyes.”
Anneliese became worse in May. She was biting herself and others, and was frequently prone to fits of banging her head on the wall—which resulted in her family having to tie her up to further prevent her from hurting herself or others.
Anneliese also refused to eat anything. She said that she was “not permitted to eat”—we assume by the devil. And, despite weighing 80 lbs, witnesses reported that the small woman “exhibited great strength.”
By June of 1976, Anneliese had a sunken face and was experiencing high fevers. But, despite her discomfort, she refused visits to the doctor. On the 30th, she had another exorcism. It was said that she only said one thing during it, “please, absolution.”
On July 1, 1976, Anneliese’s family went into her room and found her dead. At the age of 23, after receiving 67 exorcisms, she died of starvation. Anneliese Michel weighed 68 lbs at the time.
The Trial for the Exorcism of Anneliese Michel
What makes the exorcisms of Anneliese Michel so interesting is the fact that it actually went to trial. Anneliese’s parents Josef and Anna, along with both Father Wilhelm Renz and Father Ernst Alt were charged with negligent homicide in her death. The official charge came on July 17, 1977, just one year after her death.
It’s interesting to note that a handful of other people including Bishop Josef Stangl, Father Adolf Rodewyk and two other members of the church were investigated but never charged. It was Bishop Stangl that approved Anneliese’s exorcism on the recommendation of 82-year-old Father Rodewyk who was said to be an expert on the exorcism rights. Bishop Stangl also appointed both Fathers Alt and Renz to perform her exorcism.
However, Prosecutor Karl Stenger said that while they might have been involved in the planning of the exorcism, neither Bishop Stangl nor Father Rodewyk had any contact with Anneliese or her partners. Nor were they aware that she was not receiving medical treatment at the time.
The Prosecution’s Case
At the time of their indictment, Bavarian Prosecutor Karl Stenger argued that Anneliese’s death could have been prevented, had her parents and the two priests gotten her proper medical help. Despite the fact that she was an adult at the time and could arguably make her own decisions, they must have recognized that she was dying.
The state argued that Anneliese had a combination of epilepsy and psychosis, which explains her erratic behaviour. Because of her diminished mental state, her parents were liable for providing a lifesaving act, the failure of which resulted in her death.
Stenger quickly tore down notions of possession, questioning the credibility of Father Alt by having two experts testify that Anneleise “exhibited signs of schizophrenia.” The experts further contended that while the medication she was taking did successfully suppress epilepsy-type seizures that Anneliese had, the suppression actually morphed into “delusional psychosis associated with epilepsy.” Essentially that while her psychosis predated the drugs, it was brought on in full force by the drugs suppression of her epilepsy.
The court further argued that with her psychosis coming in full force with the suppression of symptoms of epilepsy, the exorcism further played into Anneliese’s psychosis-induced fantasies. In fact, the prosecution noted that in between exorcisms, Anneliese often went into phases where she behaved normally.
At the end of the day, it was the fact that instead of seeking medical attention for Anneliese, the four accused decided that an exorcism was a better course of treatment which ultimately resulted in her death.
Argument of the Defense
The Defense for Anneliese’s parents, along with Father Renz and Father Alt were fighting an uphill battle. While this case was a strange one, there was no denying that the four of them truly did take part in Anneliese’s death. The real question was how much did they contribute to her death and how much of it was her responsibility as an adult.
The Defense presented eyewitness testimony along with submitting the recordings of evidence of Anneliese’s possession. They argued that, as an adult, Anneliese was permitted to deny medical treatment, which could have included unpleasant things such as tranquilizing, force feeding or electroshock therapy. They brought in witness and family friend Thea Hein to corroborate this story. Thea testified that in 1976, she witnessed Anneliese “begging on her knees for her (Hein) to not suggest medical attention to anyone.”
The Defense further submitted that Father Alt actually did seek out medical attention towards the end of Anneliese’s life. On May 30th of 1976, a friend of his, Dr. Richard Roth had visited her. Though, Dr. Roth visited as “scientific curiosity and not as a physician.” However, he did testify that she had no physical injuries at the time of his visit. But that was disputed by co-defendant Father Renz who testified to her having several bruises along with a swollen cheek and black eyes.
What was interesting was that the autopsy for Anneliese revealed that she, in fact, had a healthy brain with no damage caused by any epileptic seizures, not even on a “microscopic level.” Nor did she have dilated pupils or ulcers on her body, both of which are frequently found on victims of starvation.
Despite the Defense’s argument, the Court ruled in favour of the prosecution saying that, at the time, Anneleise was unable to make decisions for herself and should have been forced to submit to medical care.
All four accused were given sentences of six months in prison, BUT both Father Alt and Father Renz were given a 3-year suspended sentence—essentially so long as they were on their best behaviour for the next three years, they wouldn’t spend any time in jail. The parties also had to pay for the court costs.
The Lady Dicks did not just magically come up with the information for The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel themselves, they, in fact, did research beyond Wikipedia (thanks jerky iTunes reviewer for your one-star comment), and here are those sources:
- The Chilling Exorcism Of Anneliese Michel, Buzzfeed Unsolved.
- 2 Priests Charged In Exorcism Death Of German Woman, The New York Times.
- Anneliese Michel And The Shocking Images From The Exorcism Of The Real Emily Rose, All That’s Interesting.
- Who was Priest Valentin Fleischmann? Did he really possess Anneliese Michel?, Veknow.com.
The Lady Dicks Podcast was created by Tae Haahr. The Lady Dicks are Andrea Campion, Nikki Kipping and Tae Haahr. “The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel” was research, written, edited and produced by Tae Haahr. The Lady Dicks theme music, A Pink Panther, is licenced through AudioJungle.
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