Transcript: 198. The Ossett Exorcism Murder (The Devil Made Me Do It) | England

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Warning: this episode contains details of demonic possession and the mutilation of an animal and may not be suitable for all listeners.
It was a Sunday morning like any other in Ossett, West Yorkshire on the 6th of October 1974. People from the quiet, family-friendly neighbourhood of Havercroft were making their way to church and only a handful of shops were open.
It was unusual for police to receive a call of public disturbance on a sunny morning, and they assumed the man causing people to call in was perhaps a student from the nearby Leeds University, coming down from an acid trip perhaps.
When they arrived at the scene, they saw 31-year-old Michael Taylor slumped on a sidewalk outside a pub. He was naked, except for socks on his feet, and was curled up in the fetal position, covered in blood. It looked like he was drunk, but on closer inspection it was clear that the man was seriously disturbed.
When the ambulance took him away, he kept screaming about the Devil, shouting: “It is the blood of Satan. It is the blood of Satan. It is the blood of Satan.” But this was not true, the blood on his hands came from his beloved wife and their family dog.
Michael was known in his community as a mild-mannered and god-fearing person. What went so horribly wrong, that he killed his wife on this Sunday morning?
The early 1970s were years of political uncertainty. The Cold War was raging on and people in England were nervously aware of the Troubles in neighbouring Ireland. Unemployment was on the rise, and so was inflation. There was a general sense of hopelessness.
It has been said that this was a time of extremes in England: people clung to ideas and beliefs to foster a sense of hope. After a decade of counterculture baby boomers were more open-minded and had the need for less traditional religious practice.
Where some explored New Age Spiritualism or even the occult, others preferred charismatic Christianity. To contextualise… The release of cult-classic Wicker Man, with strong suggestions of paganism was released in 1973.
And, being a time of extremes, for every group, idea or practice, there was the polar opposite. There was also a rise of Satanic panic of the time, after the 1972 release of American evangelist Mark Warnke’s book The Satan Seller, made waves in the Christian community.
In 1974, Ossett, West Yorkshire was home to 17,000 residents. It was a quiet place with many traditional churches. But like many small towns in England in the early 70s, charismatic worship was rapidly gaining popularity.
31-year-old Michael Taylor and his 29-year-old wife Christine was perhaps a typical couple of the time. They had five sons between the ages of 6 and 12. They had a loving home, and Michael called Christine his darling wife. Everyone who knew them, envied their happy marriage. They lived in the same neighbourhood as Michael’s parents, and as Michael’s father later said about his son and daughter-in-law:
“They were still courting throughout their marriage.”
The Taylor home was busy and loud with lots of laughter and happiness. Christine doted on her dog, a poodle, and Michael always joked that she loved the dog more than she loved him. Michael was mild-mannered and Christine was sweet.
Michael was a manual labourer – some sources say he was a butcher, others that he had worked as an agricultural machine operator, either way – a back injury at the beginning of 1974 prevented him from working long, physical hours. He struggled to find another job and the Taylors, who had been living comfortably up till that point in time, began to struggle financially. Because of this, he fell into a depression.
They had not been very religious before (most of Ossett was traditionally religious and people attended church often), but with the increase in charismatic worship, they were one of many young couples who re-aligned their beliefs and decided to join the Gawber Christian Fellowship Group.
It was Barbara Wardman, a friend and neighbour of Michael and Christine’s who took it upon herself to introduce them to the progressive religious group. Barbara told her friends that this church, which was a part of St Thomas Church in Gawber, was anything but a stuck up or traditional place of worship.
It was a group of like-minded Christians and as a group it offered friendship and support.
Nothing seemed untoward, and the Taylors agreed to attend a bible study group with Barbara, to check it out. And that is all it took – the Taylors only needed one visit to be convinced that this was where they wanted to be. The group had a down-to-earth approach which gave them a sense of belonging.
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The Christian Fellowship Group was a charismatic church, who steered away from traditional English church philosophy. They believed in faith healing and spirituality; modern music was used in worship and sermons were very emotional. At a time when the world seemed to be in a tug-of-war between capitalism and communism, everyday people just wanted to get on with it.
Churches like the Christian Fellowship offered them a place to be heard, to feel valued and to hope for a brighter future, together. To join the church in question, one would have to be ‘born-again’ Christian. The Taylors agreed that this was necessary, so they converted and from the get-go, became active members of the congregation.
It was at church where the Taylors met a lay preacher by the name of Marie Robinson. Michael, in particular, grew very close to Marie, quite quickly. She encouraged him to become involved in the church and before long, Michael volunteered at group meetings, enthusiastically engaging in all activities. He also spoke in tongues and hosted many meetings and bible study groups at his home.
Christine grew concerned about Michael and Marie’s close relationship and expressed it to a bible study group at their home, saying that she believed their relationship had turned ‘carnal’ in nature.
She confronted her husband and the preacher in front of everybody and demanded to know if they were having an affair. They denied it and the group suggested Michael and Marie talked things out in private.
Strange, perhaps, that they didn’t suggest Michael and his WIFE talked things over, but rather him and the woman he was suspected of having an affair with… Maybe everyone could sense the tension between the two and wanted to give them a moment to end things.
Reportedly, Michael took Marie upstairs and instead of setting things straight, he opened up about his feelings for her and tried to kiss her. She was not interested and rejected his advances. Embarrassed, but quickly bouncing back, Michael declared the situation as a ‘Victory for the Lord.’
He ran downstairs and told the group that, thanks to the Lord, their lingering feelings for each other had evaporated, it was all over. He said: “A miracle has happened. We have both overcome our passions.”
Marie was relieved that he took it so well, but on the turn of a dime, Michael’s attitude changed. She would recall it to have been a ‘sinister transformation’, like something had entered his body before he then proceeded hitting her, screaming hysterically. This is Marie’s account of the incident:
“I suddenly glanced at Mike and his whole features changed. He looked almost bestial. He kept looking at me and there was a really wild look in his eyes. I started screaming at him out of fear. I started speaking in tongues. Mike also screamed at me in tongues…”
Michael later claimed that he could not remember anything regarding the attack. He only said he felt an evil force taking over, and he recalled:
“She stabbed me with her eyes. I can still see those eyes. I saw her standing naked before me, and I was naked…”
And then Marie’s account explained what happened next – she said he attacked her, screaming at her in tongues.
“(Christine) tried to pull him off me. Somehow, we were at the other side of the room – away from her – with him crouching over me, ready to kill. It was like pictures of lions ready to kill their prey. I really tasted fear in my mouth. I thought this was it. I was on the verge of death and I seemed to come to my senses.
I knew that Jesus would save me and I started saying his name over and over. When (Christine) heard me calling on the name of Jesus she started saying it too, and I believe firmly that it was only by calling on His name that I was not killed.”
The next day, Marie visited the Taylors at home, but Christine did not want to let her inside. She felt it would be better to keep Michael and the preacher apart. However, Marie insisted, and said that she had come to tell Michael all was forgiven.
Christine relented and they had a short visit, during which Marie cleared the air between her and Michael and also brought news that the church would not hold the event against him. All was forgiven and they could go on as per usual. But Christine had her doubts about it all. If only she listened to her instincts at this point… But then again, there was no way of knowing that two weeks later, she would be dead.
After the violent incident with Marie, Michael’s behaviour became increasingly erratic. He had turned his anger toward all things religious and destroyed all Bibles and religious books in his house.
The once kind, and gentle man had become easily annoyed, especially by his wife and children. He knelt in the street outside of his house, shouting. He told neighbours he had seen the devil. His mental health deteriorated and he developed a paralysing fear of the moon, something Marie tried to help him with, but failed.
The church leaders saw Michael’s behaviour as a red flag – they believed that he had become possessed by the devil. The only way forward was to perform an exorcism. A meeting was arranged with a local Anglican priest-in-charge, 52-year-old father Peter Vincent from St Thomas, Gawber – the same church that hosted the Christian Fellowship Group. Father Vincent had experience in exorcism and agreed to meet with Michael.
When he asked Michael why he had attacked Marie Robinson, a bruised and embarrassed Michael claimed that she had tried to seduce him in front of his wife. He also believed that she had bewitched him somehow, caused him to become possessed.
Both Peter and his wife, Sally, sympathised with Michael. In fact, Sally especially agreed that Marie was most likely the cause of the possession. She had become suspicious of the beautiful young blonde preacher and was concerned about her effect on the men in the congregation.
Father Vincent agreed with concerned group leaders that Michael was indeed the victim of demonic possession. And his was a very serious case. It is believed that the clergyman’s wife Sally was obsessed with demonic possession, and it was her who pushed for an exorcism. She stoked the fires regarding Marie Robinson and felt that she was connected with a Satanic cult and had come to their congregation as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
However, Christine Taylor was not so sure about the exorcism. She felt that all that Michael need was a break from the church and religion. She was confident that by spending time with her and their children, he would calm down again.
She visited her neighbour Barbara – the one who had introduced them to the Fellowship – on the 4th of October. Barbara claimed that Christine looked drained – the situation had taken its toll on her.
She told Barbara that they no longer wished to be a part of the Fellowship and gave her a heads-up that they wouldn’t be attending meetings any longer. Barbara recalled Christine’s answer when she asked if she was okay:
“Chrissie told me they had been up all night. As soon as it began to get dark and the moon was up, Michael started to go on about the moon. They sat downstairs in the sitting room all night making the sign of the cross over each other to keep each other safe.”
Let’s consider the effect of the full moon on people for a minute… Now, many call this speculation, or mumbo jumbo… But. Studies have been conducted, showing an increase in crime rates on full moon nights.
Although it’s not quite clear why, it is so common, that some police stations and hospitals schedule extra officers for full moon nights. Even William Shakespeare mentioned the effect of the moon in Othello:
“It is the very error of the moon.
She comes more near the earth
than she was wont. And makes
men mad.”
The very word ‘lunacy’ is derived from the Latin word for moon. So, is it possible that there is something to it? Could the full moon drive one to insanity? Many people believe it is all a myth and that bizarre episodes occur only because people expect things to go awry when the moon is full.
Despite what one believes, the fact remains that Michael Taylor was heavily affected by the moon, whether by his own perception or otherwise. In astrology, the month of October is known for its Harvest Moon, or Hunter’s Moon.
In 1974, October kicked off with a full moon – and if Michael Taylor was as sensitive to the moon as testimonies say, it would have been a rough week with little sleep.
A study conducted in 2014 at the University of Bonn, Germany, observed the effects of sleep deprivation in healthy patients between the ages of 18 and 40. After only 24 hours of no sleep, the subjects displayed concerning signs. The conclusion of the study, as stated on is:
“Twenty-four hours of sleep deprivation can lead to conditions in healthy persons similar to the symptoms of schizophrenia.”
A neighbour reported that Michael Taylor was out in the street again. This time he was shouting at her to ‘drink the milk of human kindness’. Then he spat on her and told her it was milk. Taken aback at his behaviour the woman was keen to get away and he shouted after her, pointing with his finger: “The wrath of God is upon you.”
He was clearly already unhinged on that day, which was Thursday the 3rd of October. Michael did not sleep that night, as Christine told her neighbour Barbara the next day. We are not sure if he caught any shuteye on the Friday night, but he certainly did not sleep at all the night that followed.
Michael and Christine were summoned to the vicarage at St Thomas Church on Saturday night October 5th. They were reluctant at first, but after many sleepless nights, their defences were low and they agreed.
They left their children with Michael’s parents and a friend drove them to the vicarage. Once they arrived, they were introduced to a team of religious leaders that had come to assist in the exorcism.
Father Peter Vincent explained that he would take the lead, and would be supported by his wife Sally, as well as Methodist minister, Reverend Raymond Smith and his wife Peggy. A lay preacher, Donald James was also present. During the pre-exorcism meeting, Michael became agitated, throwing his tea in Father Vincent’s face, and even kicking the clergyman’s cat.
St Thomas was built in 1848, in the Gothic Revivalist Style of the time. The stone building has stained glass windows with pointed arches. On a chilly autumn night, it must have been an eerie, scary place to visit.
Christine was kept under guard in the vicarage, where some church members remained with her, praying and laying hands on her – a sort of exorcism-by-proxy if you will. Father Vincent and the deliverance squad moved Michael to the vestry just before midnight, waiting for the witching hour to commence the exorcism.
Traditionally, an exorcism is a time-trusted ritual, performed by a priest, wearing his surplice and purple stole. He would recite prayers, commencing with the ‘imploring formula’ – during which he appeals to God to free the possessed person from the devil.
Then, with the ‘imperative formula’ the priest commands the devil to depart from the host’s body. The prayer is as follows: "God, whose nature is ever merciful and forgiving, accept our prayer that this servant of yours, bound by the fetters of sin, may be pardoned by your loving kindness. Depart, then, impious one, depart, accursed one, depart with all your deceits, for God has willed that man should be His temple.”
Typically a priest would sprinkle holy water or make the sign of the cross on himself as well as on the possessed. The process is a battle of good versus evil, forcing the devil out in the name of God.
However, in the case of Michael Taylor, he was tied up before proceedings kicked off. According to everyone present, Michael displayed signs of possession: he convulsed, spat, foamed at the mouth, growled and scratched like an animal… That is why he had to be restrained.
Michael wore a wooden crucifix around his neck, which was set on fire by the team of self-appointed exorcists. They screamed at him – or as they would claim – at the demons inside of him.
The group doused him in holy water and wooden crosses were shoved into his mouth. They forced him to confess to his sins and accused him of sins he had not committed, and as was later stated by defence attorney Harry Ognall QC: “[Michael] was subjected to indignities that defy comprehension.”
At one point, he managed to get out of his restraints and tried to escape, but the group caught him and restrained him again. In the end, they took turns exorcising one demon after the next, listing them as they progressed: bestiality, incest, blasphemy and lewdness, masochism…
This continued throughout the night and, believing they had cast out over forty demons in total, they were too exhausted to continue. It had been an emotionally charged night and they decided it was time to take a break, and Michael was untied and allowed to go home.
They did however believe that three demons were still residing within Michael but agreed that they would fight that battle at a later stage. Which would prove to be a grave mistake… The demons who lingered were associated with ‘murder, violence and insanity’.
According to reports, Peggy Smith insisted they continued, because God had communicated to her that those demons would cause him to kill his wife. But everyone was spent, too tired to continue and decided to call it a day.
However, Michael was in a bad way and Peter Vincent took the drastic step of calling the police. The officer advised him to take Michael to the hospital, or at the very least a doctor. Christine did not want to see a doctor – she just wanted to go home with her husband, away from the Fellowship and all the role players who were involved in the exorcism.
They handed Michael over into Christine’s care and sent the couple home. Christine, who had also been up all night, with women from the Fellowship praying with her, for her and for Michael all night long, called a family friend to drive her and Michael home.
Father Vincent later claimed that he was concerned about Christine’s safety and felt that someone should have gone home with the Taylors to protect her, but in the chaos of the moment, he didn’t follow through on the advice.
It was 10am on the morning of October 6 1974, when a concerned resident informed police that a naked man, covered in red paint was wandering the streets. Patrol officers located said man – it was Michael Taylor. And he was not covered in paint – it was blood.
No injuries were found on Michael’s body that could explain all the blood. He told the police officer:
“They primed me for it last night… They tried to bring me peace of mind, but instead they filled me with the Devil. It was within her. Oh God, it used her, it used my love. I destroyed the evil within her. It had to be done. Oh Hell, I loved that woman. No, no. Please God, no. Please God.”
When asked if he had hurt someone, and if the blood on him was that person’s blood, Michael responded by saying: ‘It’s the blood of Satan. It’s the blood of Satan.’ He repeated this over and over as the ambulance took him away, not offering any further explanation.
Officers went to Michael’s house and found another police vehicle parked out the front and connected the dots. They scene at the Taylor house would haunt investigators for many years to come. An act of unimaginable violence had taken place inside the usually harmonious family home.
Some officers came out, heaving and vomiting… Police Constable Ian Walker, who was one of the first officers at the scene, recalled his superior coming out of the house, retching, saying: “You don’t want to see this one son. I’ve seen nothing like it before and I’ve seen a few. It’s the wife. She’s got no…He’s ripped at her son. It’s a right mess in there. There’s not much of her left. You don’t want to see it, eh?”
Flesh and blood covered the walls, the floor, the furniture – it seemed like the entire house was covered in blood. Christine’s body was found in the living room, next to the mutilated body of their family dog.
Christine’s face had been torn off and her eyes gouged out. Her tongue had been ripped out of her mouth and discarded. Christine’s poodle also had his face ripped off, his eyes gauged out, legs pulled out of their sockets, hair, teeth and eyes all removed from the skull.
PC Walker also recalled: "Of all the incidents in which I was involved in 30 years of police work nothing affected me like this one. The stupidity and futility of it all, the complete and utter waste of life, destruction of a family not to mention the death, and other traumas are far beyond anything else I have ever come across. Before this event I was agnostic… and now I was an atheist.”
Fortunately all of the Taylor children had spent the night at their grandparents’ house, so they did not witness the heinous killing of their mother and dog. Police were unable to find a murder weapon, and soon understood why they couldn’t find it… There was no weapon, the killer had used his bare hands.
An autopsy concluded that Christine had died due to asphyxiation, inhaling in her own blood. Brutal and painful as it must have been, her death is believed to have been quick.
Michael Taylor was arrested at the hospital and taken in for questioning. He told his interrogating officers a chilling story of an exorcism performed on him before the murders.
“It was a long night. They danced around me and burned my cross because that was tainted with the evil. They had me in the church all night. Look at my hands. I was banging on the floor. The power was in me. I couldn't get rid of it and neither could they. They were too late. I was compelled by a force within me to destroy everything living within the house”.
Investigators asked how he felt after succeeding in the destruction of all living things inside his house. To which Michael answered: “Released. I am released. It is done. The evil in her has been destroyed.”
While on remand, Michael spent most of his time sleeping – it was like he did not want to be awake to face the truth.
Because of the gruesome nature of the case, it was not reported on in the media until it came before the courts. The story of a man seeking help from church, then ending up ripping his wife’s face off because of the priest’s intervention… It would have caused massive unease within the community.
Michael Taylor’s trial took place at the Leeds Crown Court in March 1975. His defence stated that after the long and exhausting exorcism, he arrived home with his wife and somehow became convinced that she was possessed by Satan.
A clinical psychologist testified for the defence, stating that Taylor’s actions that morning were a direct result of the trauma he had suffered during the night before. And with pre-existing mental health-issues, it was the exorcism that had flipped the switch.
His lawyer, Harry Ognall QC stated that ‘misguided churchmen’ needed to be held responsible for their actions. His take on the situation was that it was…“Neurotics, feeding neurosis, to a neurotic.”
Anglican Bishop, Right Reverend Eric Treacy distanced himself from the event, stating that: “No clergyman in the diocese of Wakefield has my specific authority to practice exorcism. But I am aware that some clergymen will feel that it is a normal part of their pastoral ministry when occasion demands.”
Crown Prosecutor Geoffrey Baker stated that Christine’s murder was the tragic end “… to a story of a sensible family man who was suddenly exposed to intense spiritual influences and became either bewitched or demented.”
They could never establish a motive for the murder, because by all accounts Michael loved his wife and had he been in full possession of his faculties, there is no way he would have harmed her, let alone committing such a cruel, bestial murder – killing her with his bare hands.
In the end, Michael Taylor was found not guilty, by reason of insanity, and sent to Broadmoor’s mental hospital, where he spent two years before being moved to a secure unit at the Bradford Royal Infirmary. There he spent another two years before being released.
After the trial, Henry Ognall called for the ones who had conducted the exorcism to be held accountable, saying: “I am aware that it is generally regarded as improper for an advocate to express any personal feeling or opinion about the case in which he is engaged. I am afraid I find it quite impossible to observe such constraints in this case. Let those who truly are responsible for this killing stand up.
We submit that Taylor is a mere cipher. The real guilt lies elsewhere. Religion is the key. Those who have been referred to in evidence, and those clerics in particular, should be with him in spirit now in this building and each day he is incarcerated in Broadmoor, and not least on the day he must endure the bitter reunion with his five motherless children.”
During his trial, evidence about an affair with Marie Robinson was presented. She denied that they ever had a romantic relationship, but the trial cast a shadow of doubt. Furthermore, an inquest was ordered, to investigate the events that took place during the exorcism in St Thomas Church the night before the murder. The Anglican Church thus launched the inquest into – what they called – The Satan Killing.
Peter Vincent has never shown any remorse for his role in Christine Taylor’s murder, insisting that Michael Taylor had truly been possessed, and that they had only tried to help him. Vincent’s career continued to thrive, and only a year after the exorcism of Michael Taylor, he became a vicar at the Gawber Fellowship.
The media was not kind to the man who had taken a mother and a father away from five children and, when asked how he felt about it all, Reverend Vincent simply answered: “God will bring good out of this in His own way.”
According to Rev Raymond Smith, he was at Rev Vincent’s house on the day the Taylors visited him the first time. He was very concerned about Michael and had taken Christine aside, discreetly suggesting they sought medical or psychological advice. But Christine refused, believing that it would only cause more stress and make things worse.
Rev Smith was perhaps more remorseful than Rev Vincent, and stated after the trial: “If people come to me in trouble of any kind, I will try to help. I would give such comfort as I could, but I am only an ordinary human being with human failings.”
The church concluded that nothing was done wrong in commission of the exorcism. The only failure was NOT driving all the demons out. The trial sparked controversy, making people ask why the ancient ritual of exorcism was still practiced at all.
None of the church members present at the exorcism were ever charged with any wrongdoing on their part. And Michael Taylor never spent a day in prison for the brutal murder of his wife.
After his release from Bradford Royal Infirmary Michael moves back to Ossett. There is little information about his life after his release and we do not know if he reconciled with his children. In the years after Christine’s death, however, Michael was reported to have attempted suicide on four separate occasions: slitting his wrists and jumping off a bridge on another occasion, seriously injuring his legs and back.
In 2005, Michael Taylor made the headlines again, this time for indecently touching a teenage girl. He was found guilty and once in prison, began to display the same strange behaviour as he did back in 1974. The court ruled that he needed to receive psychiatric treatment, and again, he left prison for the psych ward.
Michael’s case is often mentioned alongside the 1981 case of an American man, Arne Johnson who killed his landlord, claiming that he had been possessed by the devil. Both murders have been labelled as ‘The Devil Made Me Do It’ cases.
The 2021 horror film The Conjuring 3 – The Devil Made Me Do It was inspired by events surrounding both Michael Taylor, as well as Arne Johnson.
The question is: did Michael and Arne really believe it was the devil who made them do it? The judicial system is wary of such an explanation, because if they believed it, every criminal could simply turn around and blame the devil.
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