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Did a Real Life Serial Killer Appear in ‘The Exorcist’?

Paul Bateson was a confessed killer, but was he a bona fide serial killer?

The Exorcist Serial Killer
The Exorcist Serial Killer

The Exorcist” has long been regarded by many as a cursed film, from mysterious injuries during production to deaths that occurred after filming had wrapped. But a lesser known piece of “cursed trivia” is in the backstory of an extra that appeared in the film, and the series of events that followed him afterwards earned him the reputation as the “real life serial killer” of “The Exorcist.”

In 1972, when director William Friedkin visited NYUMC (now Tisch Hospital) to view medical procedures he could include in “The Exorcist,” he met Paul Bateson. Bateson was working as a radiology technician at the time and got scouted by the director and ended up in what many say is one of the most disturbing moments of the movie.

The scene was known as a highly realistic depiction of a carotid angiogram procedure on screen that reportedly made people faint and vomit and leave the theater, and it is his character who calmly explains to Regan what will happen to her during the procedure. Bateson’s voice is heard off-camera, instructing her, warning her that the carotid puncture will hurt, and reassuring her.

This might be where Bateman’s story towards infamy starts out, but in order to understand how Paul Bateson turned from a simple extra to an infamous headline for articles, we need to go through a few time jumps.

If we backpedal to the early days of Bateson’s life, he had a history of alcohol abuse that started during his time serving for the army in the 60s and returned later when he moved to New York. There, he started a relationship with a man that was marked heavily by drinking and hosting parties involving the strong use of alcohol.

During this time, Bateson trained as a neurological radiological technician and worked at NYUMC where he was scouted to be in Friedkin’s film, but shortly after the film’s release, Bateson’s relationship with his boyfriend ended and his drinking increased. So much so that it began to affect both his social and professional life, and he ultimately was let go from his job at the hospital in 1975 because of his alcoholism.

For the next few years, Bateson would take on odd jobs to sustain himself. He would also attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and socialize with other recovering alcoholic gay men in hopes of starting another long-term relationship. Bateson was able to stay sober for a short period of time but would relapse by 1977. At night, he would frequent leather bars, with his drinking habits getting worse.

Around this time, murder rates were growing in Greenwich Village where the dismembered bodies of six men were found floating in bags in the Hudson River. The bodies were never identified and neither was the cause of their death, but their tattoos were identified as being involved in the gay community. Although these events all seem unconnected, what happened one early morning would connect it all together.

On September 14, 1977, Addison Verrill, a reporter who covered the film industry for Variety, was found dead in his apartment, beaten and stabbed. There were some signs of a struggle, but no evidence of a forced entry and nothing of value had been taken. There were several empty beer cans and half-full liquor glasses at the scene, and it was concluded that Verrill had likely let his killer into the apartment.

Journalist and a friend of Verrill’s, Arthur Bell wrote an article about the case. Bell ended his article by urging anyone with information to call the New York Police Department and exactly eight days after Verill’s murder, Bell got a phone call from an unidentified person claiming to have killed Verrill.

The caller told Bell that he and Verill met at a gay bar and after partying together, the two ended up back at Verrill’s flat where they drank, did drugs, and had sex until the early morning. The caller soon realized that was as far as Verrill had wanted the relationship to go. “I needed money and I hated the rejection,” so, still intoxicated, “I decided to do something I’d never done before.” After incapacitating Verrill with a frying pan, the caller recounted that he stabbed the writer with a knife.

The caller revealed some key details to Bell that only the murderer would know, including the stealing of some cash, a credit card, Verrill’s passport, and some clothes. But the biggest lead of the murderer’s identity came from a man who identified himself as “Mitch.” He told Bell that he knew the killer was Paul Bateson and the police eventually found and arrested Bateson at his apartment where he was lying around drunk.

After detectives questioned Mitch, and Bateson turned in a handwritten confession to the police, he was charged with second-degree murder and sentenced to a minimum of 20 years in jail for the murder of Addison Verill.

The prosecution also attempted to connect Bateson to the unsolved murders of six men in Greenwich Village, but the judge decided that the six other murders were “too ephemeral to have any connection to this case.”

So despite the shocking nickname that many know him by, whether Bateson was really a serial killer that appeared in the film is still unresolved. Nonetheless, there is no denying that Paul Bateson, regardless of whether he committed the string of murders or not, is yet another dark and unfortunate story that adds to the string of creepy tales from the supposedly cursed film.

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