“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.”
That’s a quote from retired Police Constable Ian Walker taken from The Sussex Devils, describing the tragic story of Michael Taylor. It’s a tale of woe, murder most foul, and Charismatic Christianity.
It was September 1974, and what would be a decades-long fear of ritual Satanic worship had begun to wash over Western culture. A lot of this came courtesy of “occult experts” like Mike Warnke, whose 1972 book The Satan Seller made waves in the Christian community with sordid recollections of the author’s time as a demonic priest — stories that would later be discredited. In the moment, however, charismatic preaching was experiencing a bump in popularity.
In the town of Ossett in West Yorkshire, England, 31 year old Michael Taylor and his wife Christine began attending the Gawber Christian Fellowship Group, where Michael became close with Marie Robinson, a lay preacher in her early 20s. The Taylors hadn’t been religiously inclined up until that point, but went at the urging of a friend, and were so impressed by the group’s everyman approach to religion that they reportedly converted after a single meeting.
The Ossett exorcism
Over the next few weeks, Michael became an enthusiastic member of the church, speaking in tongues and volunteering the family home for group meetings. Christine Taylor started to grow concerned about the amount of time that Michael and Marie were spending together, and said as much when the congregants gathered at their house one day. According to The Sussex Devils, Michael took Marie upstairs to confront her about his feelings, was rejected, and rejoined the group, proclaiming a “victory for the Lord.”
What happened next is difficult to gauge. Maybe Michael had simply been through too much, having been publicly embarrassed in front of his new social circle and privately shut down by a woman he felt an attraction towards. Whatever the cause, he experienced what was described as a “sinister transformation,” striking Marie and screaming.
Michael’s breakdown, and his erratic behavior in the days that followed, led the church group to believe that an exorcism was in order. On October 5th, they summoned the Taylors to the church, restrained Michael, and subjected him to a battery of attempts to cast the demons out from him, burning the “tainted” wooden cross that he wore and screaming at him until around 7:00 the next morning. During the court case that followed, one of the preachers involved would state that they’d managed to exorcise over forty demons from Michael, leaving behind only three, associated with “murder, violence, and insanity.”
A murder in Yorkshire
A few hours later, police were at the Taylors’ home investigating a murder.
Michael had been discovered roaming the streets naked, covered in blood and screaming about the Devil. Inside the family home, Christine’s body lay mutilated. Her face was torn away from her skull, her eyes were gouged out, her tongue was ripped from her mouth. Chunks of flesh and splatters of blood covered the walls. The family dog, strangled to death, had had its limbs ripped from its body.
Michael’s trial found him not guilty by reason of insanity, and a clinical psychologist testified that his actions were a direct result of the intense psychological torment that he’d experienced the previous night. Michael would spend four years in custody, two in the high security Broadmoor Hospital and two more at the Bratford Royal Infirmary, before being released. None of the members of the church faced any charges in the death of Christine Taylor. Per The Sussex Devils, the man in charge of the exorcism, Reverend Peter Vincent, got a promotion the next year.
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