It’s 1973, and one of The Exorcist’s most terrifying scenes is being filmed in New York. For extra effect, the director has employed a team of medical professionals to replicate a gruesome real-life procedure. But in Paul Bateson, he has found more than a cast member. In fact, the radiographer will go on to become a legend in his own right.
Born in the Pennsylvania town of Lansdale on August 24, 1940, Bateson wasn’t a likely choice of movie star. In fact, he claims that his metallurgist father often refused to let Bateson visit the cinema in his youth. “He would punish me by not allowing me to go to Saturday matinees when I was young,” Bateson explained in a 1977 interview with The Village Voice. “He made me stay home and listen to opera on the radio.”
In the 1960s, Bateson joined the United States Army. But during a stint in Germany he grew tired of military life and started drinking in order to occupy his time. Apparently, it was the beginning of a long battle with alcoholism that would continue to haunt him throughout his life.
Eventually, Bateson was discharged from the Army, initially returning to Lansdale and managing to curb his alcohol intake. However, in 1964 he relocated to the bright lights of New York City. And there, he soon became romantically involved with a man from the music industry – sparking another decline into alcoholism.
With his new partner, Bateson lived a decadent lifestyle, regularly hosting parties and drinking at The Pierre, a high-end Manhattan hotel. Furthermore, the couple would also enjoy boozy weekends at Cherry Grove, a popular LGBT-friendly resort off the coast of Long Island. And during these get-togethers, Bateson would often cook for his partner and guests.
Then, however, in 1969 Bateson was hit by a double loss. That year, his mother suffered a stroke and passed away, a tragedy soon followed by the suicide of his younger brother. Nevertheless, the young man was able to focus on his career, finding employment as a neurological radiological technician.
By 1972 Bateson was working at the New York University Medical Center, where he had a good reputation and was known as a popular member of staff. “He was the chief neuro-radiology technologist,” his coworker Dr. Barton Lane told Esquire in 2018. “He was the most experienced, and he was the best.”
“He taught me an awful lot, and I considered him a good friend,” Lane continued. “When you do radiology, even though there’s the radiologist who’s kind of the doctor, you also have a very important support team. And I couldn’t have done it without Paul. He was really excellent.”
As part of his work with Lane, Bateson would sometimes assist in a procedure known as a cerebral angiography. No longer performed today, this invasive test was once used to view blood vessels under an X-ray. And somewhat gruesomely, it involved piercing the subject’s artery with a needle, creating a macabre shower of blood.
It was this procedure that Bateson and Lane were performing one day towards the end of 1972, when a man arrived in their laboratory. Apparently, such visitors were common back in those days, before the Health Insurance Portability And Accountability Act in 1996 put far more stringent regulations in place.
On this occasion, however, it was William Friedkin, a Hollywood director, who wandered into Bateson and Lane’s laboratory. At the time, he was working on adapting William Peter Blatty’s notorious horror novel The Exorcist for the big screen. And as part of the process, he was searching for some medical processes to depict.
After witnessing Bateson and Lane perform an angiography, Friedkin knew that he wanted the bloody procedure to feature in his upcoming movie. Moreover, he also decided that the same professionals should conduct it on screen, inviting the technician and his co-workers to appear as extras.
Months later, in 1973, Friedkin arrived at NYU to begin filming. And for successive weekends, the production sealed off part of the radiology area to capture the necessary footage. With the cameras rolling, Bateson was tasked with recreating the process that he’d performed many times in the past.
This time, however, the patient was Linda Blair, the 12-year-old actress playing the lead role of Regan MacNeil. In the movie, Blair’s character becomes possessed by demons, terrifying her family before eventually succumbing to an exorcism. But early on in the story, the character’s mother seeks a scientific explanation – hence the need for a series of medical tests.
On screen, Bateson did an excellent job in the role of technician, talking Regan through the procedure in the same way that he had done with many of his real-life subjects. Apparently, it was one of the first scenes shot for the movie, captured while the crew were still working on the logistics of other, more complicated sequences.
But while some moments from The Exorcist are arguably more infamous – such as the part where Regan’s head spins a full 360 degrees – many viewers have stated that the angiography scene is one of the most affecting in the entire movie. In fact, it’s still regarded as being among the most realistic medical procedures ever captured on celluloid, almost half a century after the film’s release.
Today, the impact of Bateson’s role – and The Exorcist as a whole – is legendary. According to reports, the audience reaction in theaters was like nothing ever seen before, with people allegedly fainting and vomiting throughout the movie. Apparently, some venues even had ambulances on standby during showings.
Close to 50 years after the release of The Exorcist, the industry has changed, and Friedkin’s masterpiece would be considered relatively tame by modern standards. However, it’s still remembered as one of the most iconic horror movies ever made. And over time, many myths and legends have sprung up surrounding its production.
For example, there are some who believe that the production of The Exorcist was cursed, with misfortune befalling many of those associated with the movie. In fact, some sources attribute as many as nine deaths to this mysterious legend, such as those of actors Vasiliki Maliaros and Jack MacGowran.
However, there’s another element to the legend of The Exorcist that’s perhaps even more sinister than the alleged curse. And this is the story of Bateman, or to be more precise what happened to him after the cameras stopped rolling. Soon, in fact, Bateman would find himself embroiled in a horror of his own making.
Sometime in 1973, Bateson and his partner broke up. Newly single, he relocated to Borough Park in Brooklyn, some 10 miles from his laboratory at NYU. And there, he began to drink even more heavily – a habit that soon had a negative effect on his social life. Eventually, in 1975, he was fired from his job.
No longer employed by NYU, Bateson turned to a series of unskilled jobs in order to make ends meet. As well as cleaning and maintaining apartments, he also worked at a pornographic movie theater. But despite this drastic change in his circumstances, he began attending Alcoholics Anonymous and managed to stay sober for a period of time.
Sadly, though, Bateson’s sobriety didn’t last, and by 1977 he had relapsed badly. Apparently, he was consuming around a liter of vodka daily – a habit that made it even harder for him to socialize. “After a few shots, I’d shave and get dressed, then by the time I was ready to step into the world, I’d have consumed a quart and I had no energy left to move,” he told The Village Voice.
Nonetheless, Bateson wasn’t a total shut-in, and when he was able to venture out he often frequented the city’s leather bars. Apparently, he was first introduced to the subculture back in the 1970s, when he took a liking to the biker-inspired scene. “Leather impresses me,” the former radiographer explained. “I never identify with swishes or drag queens. They give gays a bad name, like any type of extreme group.”
During this period, New York’s gay scene was thriving – but dangers lurked beneath the surface. In fact, The Village Voice journalist who interviewed Bateson, Arthur Bell, reported that a number of homosexual men were murdered every year in Greenwich Village, a Manhattan neighborhood known for its LGBT community. However, he claimed that the crimes were often overlooked by the media.
Then, on September 14, 1977, the Greenwich Village crime spree claimed another victim. That day, the body of Variety journalist Addison Verrill was discovered at his home. The cause of death was stabbing. And at first, police believed that a botched burglary had been the reason for the killing.
However, Bell didn’t agree. “The TV, tape recorder, typewriter – stuff that a small-time crook could easily dispose of – had not been taken… Several empty beer cans and half-finished glasses of liquor were also discovered. It was not a break-in crime. Verrill had brought his assailant home or allowed him into the apartment,” Bell wrote in another 1977 article for The Village Voice.
“We’re all aware that there are psychopaths roaming the New York Streets,” Bell continued. Then, on September 22, he received a phone call from someone purporting to be Verrill’s assailant. “I like your story, and I like your writing,” the man is reported to have said. “But I’m not a psychopath.”
Apparently, the caller told Bell that he was a homosexual who’d been desperate for money when he met Verrill at Badlands, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. There, the pair allegedly took cocaine and poppers as well as drinking alcohol. And sometime around 3:00 a.m., they moved on to Mineshaft, a well-known nightspot on the leather scene.
According to Bell, Verrill was a regular at Mineshaft, and the caller claimed to have been dazzled by his new friend’s social status. “I didn’t realize he was such a superstar, and I wanted to go home with him,” he told Bell. And apparently, the pair eventually caught a cab back to the journalist’s apartment.
At Verrill’s apartment, he and the mystery caller continued to party, allegedly having sexual intercourse in the early hours of the morning. However, the caller claimed that while he was keen to see Verrill again, the journalist hadn’t been interested in a lasting affair. Desperate for cash and stung by the pain of being brushed off, he then lashed out.
“Something flared up in my head,” the caller told Bell. “I decided to do something I’d never done before. I took a heavy frying pan from the kitchen and knocked Addison out. Then I went into a drawer in the right-hand side of the kitchen, removed a knife and stuck it into Addison’s chest. I plunged it too high. I should have stuck it a bit more toward the center, left.”
Although he didn’t identify himself, the caller revealed some personal information – including his concern that he would lose his “license” if caught. And afterwards, the police confirmed that only Verrill’s killer could have known certain facts about the scene of the crime. Finally, then, there was a lead to follow.
Moreover, later that evening, Bell again received a call, this time from a man who named Bateson as the killer. And when police arrived at the former radiographer’s apartment, they saw that he had consumed a considerable amount of alcohol. Eventually, they brought him into the station, where he gave a statement confessing to Verrill’s murder.
However, there were a few more twists to come in this gruesome tale. According to the case made by the prosecution during his trial, Bateson wasn’t just a murderer – he was a serial killer. Apparently, a string of unsolved killings involving gay men had taken place in Greenwich Village from 1975 to 1977 – and now the police had a suspect.
In the course of the 1979 trial, a witness reportedly came forward claiming that Bateson had confessed to murdering a number of men and disposing of their remains in garbage bags – an M.O. that apparently matched six bodies recovered from the Hudson River. Moreover, prosecutors believed that the killer had perhaps been someone with medical expertise.
Despite these claims, however, Bateson was never convicted of the unsolved murders. Instead, he was sentenced to at least 20 years behind bars for killing Verrill, although he protested that he was innocent during the trial. And as the news of the violent crime broke, many who had worked with the well-liked technician were shocked. Among them was Friedkin, who arranged to visit Bateson at New York’s notorious Rikers Island jail.
Many years later, Friedkin would claim that Bateson had admitted to murdering Verrill during their conversation at the prison. Moreover, he added that the radiographer was only caught because he disposed of the remains in NYU-branded bags. However, Verrill’s corpse was discovered intact at his home, rather than cut into pieces and dumped in the river, so it’s likely that Friedkin was guilty of fabrication.
Additionally, Friedkin would also claim that this alleged exchange inspired him to make Cruising, his controversial movie about a serial killer stalking New York’s gay scene. Set partially in the city’s leather bars, the project recycled elements of Bateson’s story – such as dismembered bodies washing up in the Hudson River.
According to records, Bateson was set free in 2003, although reporters have had no luck in tracing his current whereabouts. Meanwhile, he has gone down in history as the serial murderer from The Exorcist, despite the lack of evidence to support this claim. In fact, the truth seems to matter little in the legend of Friedkin’s masterpiece, which continues to be regarded as one of the creepiest movies ever made.