True story of demon girl who ate dead bird before exorcisms inspired grim film

If Anneliese Michel was still alive today, she would be on the verge of celebrating her 70th birthday.

Born in September 1952, the troubled German girl only lived for 23 years, after dying of starvation weighing just 68 pounds.

Before she took her final breath she endured 67 gruelling exorcisms over 10 hellish months.

This was because her parents and local priests (along with Anneliese herself) considered her to be possessed by the Devil.

And they believed it was demons who caused the young woman to crawl under tables to bark like a dog, eat spiders, bite the head of a dead bird and lick her own urine from the floor.

Her chilling case eventually led to a trial, inspiring the 2005 Hollywood film, The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

But here, approaching 70 years since the real-life Emily Rose was born, we take a look at the disturbing story that suggests truth really is scarier than fiction.

Early life

Unlike in the Americanised Hollywood film, Anneliese was born and grew up in a German town called Klingenberg.

Religion was the biggest influence on the young girl who was the daughter of strict Catholic parents, Joseph and Anna.

The devout youngster went to mass twice a week and she was expected to be pious at all times – despite being raised in one of Europe’s most advanced countries.

It was clear Anneliese was different from her peers who spent their free time experimenting with alcohol and sex.

She herself would go to extremes – like sleeping on a bare floor in winter – in a bizarre bid to atone for the sins of others.

Trance like state

Anneliese was 16 when she suddenly blacked out in school before wetting the bed later that night after waking in a trance.

Her parents dismissed the incident and were keen to carry on as normal.

But when a similar event happened a year later, the girl was taken to see medical professionals.

Eventually she was diagnosed with epilepsy and was put on medication to combat her seizures and hallucinations.

But Anneliese’s woes continued to plague her mind – and she claimed she could hear voices and see the face of the devil.

Certain she was possessed, she reportedly exhibited worrying behaviour, like ripping off her clothes, eating insects, licking her urine off the floor and performing 400 squats a day.

Despite her torment, including feeling depressed and suicidal, she enrolled at university to become a teacher.


An exorcism, using religious symbols to rid the body of demons, is an ancient practice that had a resurgence in the latter half of the 20th century.

And priests concluded that rather than being epileptic, Anneliese was possessed by the devil after she started to avoid crosses and holy water.

Her parents were convinced that an exorcism was the only solution – and eventually they received the blessing of the church.

Over a 10 month period, she stopped taking her epilepsy meds and was subjected to 67 exorcisms that involved her being physically restrained while priests tried to drive the evil forces away.

Six demons were said to have been found inside Anneliese – including Lucifer and Hitler.

Exhausted, Anneliese stopped eating and rapidly lost weight.

Shortly after the exorcisms, on July 1, 1976, the 23-year-old died of malnutrition and dehydration weighing just 68 pounds.

Court Case

Her zealot parents and the two priests involved in the exorcisms, Arnold Renz and Ernst Alt, were charged with negligent homicide.

During the trial medical experts explained how her strict religious upbringing combined with her epilepsy struggles resulted in Anneliese having physiological episodes, rather than being possessed.

The priests were found guilty of manslaughter while her parents were found guilty of negligent homicide.

However, the couple escaped punishment after having “suffered enough”.

Despite it being almost 50 years since her death, some consider Anneliese to be an “unofficial saint” who succeeded in atoning for other people’s sins.

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