In 1973, The Exorcist opened in cinemas. The highest-grossing film of its time, the horror movie was believed to be cursed and had problems from the beginning, including a serial killer on their payroll.
The Exorcist Premiere at Leicester Square, London via StartsWednesday
The set built to film the house scenes burned down when a bird flew into a fuse box, causing production issues and setting filming back significantly. Vasiliki Maliaros, who starred as Father Karra’s mother and Jack MacGowran, who played Burke Dennings, both died as filming wrapped up and never saw the finished movie. Jason Miller (Father Karras)’s son was almost killed when a motorcycle hit him, and Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn received severe injuries during filming.
When asked about the movie, televangelist Billy Graham said, “There is a power of evil in the film, in the fabric of the film itself.”
Many people vomited in their seats at the film’s theatrical release from what they saw on the screen. One woman broke her jaw when she passed out in fright, and another woman even claimed she miscarried her baby while watching the film.
The Exorcist has always been shrouded in strange stories, many of which have only helped its notoriety, but one of the film’s lesser-known misgivings was to do with one particular extra.
In 1972, Director William Friedkin visited NYUMC, now Tisch Hospital, wanting to view medical procedures he could include in The Exorcist. This was where he met Paul Bateson.
Working as a radiology technician, Bateson had a calming bedside manner and knew how to assist in angiographies — the procedure eventually included in the final film. His bit-part in The Exorcist would be his first and last foray into acting, but it would not be his last time in the limelight.
Born on the 24th of August 1940, Paul Bateson grew up in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. He joined the Army and was stationed in Germany in the early ’60s. He became an alcoholic out of boredom, but he became sober again when he was discharged and returned to Pennsylvania.
In 1964, he moved to New York, where he started a relationship with a man. The pair hosted parties at their home and spent weekends at Fire Island, off of Long Island. Unfortunately, the relationship was tarnished with constant and heavy drinking and eventually ended in 1973.
Paul Bateson in The Exorcist via Daily Mirror
Bateson had already starred in The Exorcist by this point and worked at NYUMC for a while. Then, he moved out of the home he shared with his boyfriend to Borough Park in Brooklyn.
In 1975, Bateson was let go from his job at the hospital due to his excessive drinking.
Instead, he took on menial jobs such as cleaning and working as a cashier at a porn movie theatre. He also began to attend AA meetings and moved to Greenwich Village, hoping to find a new love interest.
Over the next few years, Bateson came off the wagon and spent his days drinking heavily. At night, he visited leather bars, looking for affection.
The Bag Murders
During this time, Greenwich Village’s murder rate rose when six bodies were discovered in the Hudson River. The victims had been dismembered, and the parts put into bags and disposed of in the water. Parts of the bodies had begun to wash up on the shore, and despite being a straightforward story, the crimes were seldom reported in the press. Instead, when they were mentioned, they were referred to as the “Fag in a Bag Murders” and the “CUPPI Murders”.
None of the bodies were identified, nor were their causes of death. However, their clothing was traced back to Greenwich Village, and their tattoos were identified as being involved in the gay community.
On the 14th of September 1977, Variety film reporter Addison Verrill was found dead in his apartment. He had been beaten and stabbed, but there was no sign of forced entry. Police also noted that there were beer cans and used glasses in the living room.
A regular at Greenwich Village gay clubs, Verrill was seen by witnesses in Mineshaft, a leather bar at 6 am, talking to other patrons.
Eight days after Verrill’s murder, his friend and fellow reporter Arthur Bell received a phone call at his home. A gay rights activist, Bell had recently written an article about the six murders for The Village Voice and was aware that his friend could be another victim.
The caller claimed to be Verrill’s killer and told Bell that he was calling to correct his article, “I like your story and I like your writing, but I’m not a psychopath”. He then began to tell Bell about the night Verrill died.
He said the pair met at Badlands, another bar in the Village, where Verrill bought the caller a beer. They took drugs and continued to drink until 3 am when they moved onto Mineshaft. The caller said they eventually went back to Verrill’s apartment, where they drank and had sex.
Mineshaft Club via Back2Stonewall
The man on the phone recalled the moment he realised that Verrill only wanted sex and not a relationship.
“I decided to do something I’d never done before. I needed money and I hated the rejection”.
In the moment of realisation, he hit Verrill on the head with a heavy pan and stabbed him with a kitchen knife. He then took Verrill’s passport, $57 in cash, credit cards and clothing, and left the apartment. He then spent the day drinking heavily, with alcohol he bought with the stolen money.
Bell called the police after this strange phone call. He retold the story to investigators, which included details that the police hadn’t released to the public. Nevertheless, they believed the mystery caller was indeed the killer.
At 11 pm the same night, Bell’s telephone rang again. This time the caller said his name was Mitch. However, the voice was different from the first, and it told Bell that the killer’s name was Paul Bateson. Mitch had met Bateson at St. Vincent’s Hospital months prior, where the two were both in detox for alcoholism. Bateson had also called Mitch earlier to confess to killing Verrill.
When police arrived at Bateson’s apartment, he was incredibly drunk. Nevertheless, he was arrested and charged with second-degree murder of Addison Verrill.
While awaiting trial at Rikers Island, Arthur Bell interviewed Bateson for The Village Voice. Bateson said that he had never been arrested before and that prison had helped him get sober and get into shape.
He also spoke of his part in The Exorcist.
“It was sort of belated revenge on my father since he would punish me by not allowing me to go to Saturday matinees when I was young. He made me stay at home and listen to opera on the radio.”
William Friedkin also visited Bateson at Rikers when he heard of the arrest.
In an interview with Mubi, Friedkin stated that he had a long conversation with Bateson and spoke of Bateson’s potential involvement in the Bag Murders.
“Though Bateson worked with a brain surgeon, he himself was not a brain surgeon because the body bags all had little indications that they were from the NYU Medical Center and that’s how the police tracked him.”
After his visit, Friedkin decided to take the director’s role for the film adaptation of Gerald Walker’s novel, Cruising, whose story was based on the Bag Murders. The plot followed an NYPD officer who went undercover in the gay community to catch a serial killer. The production was met with many protests from residents of Greenwich Village while filming took place in bars, including Mineshaft.
Cruising poster via IMDB
Filming eventually completed, and the movie was released in 1980 starring Al Pacino. The movie sits at 50% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Before his trial began, Bateson and his lawyer argued that his confession was taken when he was drunk and that he wasn’t read his rights at the time of his arrest. The argument was dismissed, and Bateson went to trial in 1979.
During the trial, Arthur Bell’s article in The Village Voice was entered into evidence. A friend of Bateson’s, Richard Ryan, had also told police that Bateson had confessed to the six Bag Murders, too. However, it’s unclear whether he testified in court.
Paul Bateson via Criminal Minds Wiki
Paul Bateson was convicted on the 5th of March 1979 for the murder of Addison Verrill. A month later, at his sentencing, prosecutor Hoyt called Bateson a psychopath and told the court that he believed that Bateson was responsible for the six bodies found in the Hudson despite a lack of proof.
Paul Bateson was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison and was transferred to Staten Island to serve out his sentence. The murders of the six men in the bags are still classified as unsolved, and their bodies have never been identified.
Bateson’s story was brought to the small screen in season 2 of Mindhunter, where his depiction is interviewed by FBI agents.
Paul Bateson was released from Arthur Kill Correctional Facility in Staten Island in August 2003. He was 63 years old. He served his parole and disappeared, with many believing he’s now dead.