Episode 6: Demons in Suburbia
We humans can often take for granted that we are ultimately responsible for our actions. That the choices we make are governed by nothing but our own free will. And yet, studies have shown that the brain can enact certain decisions up to 7 seconds before we have even become aware that we are making them.
The notion of free will is explored by the philosopher John Gray in his groundbreaking book Straw Dogs; a work of startling insight, it posits amongst many other profound notions, that the fallacy of free will is merely a concept that helps us make sense of the world. That all of ‘our acts are in fact nothing but end points in long sequences of unconscious responses.’
To accept that free will is little more than an illusion is a little unnerving to say the least. For some, it could be seen as merely a fascinating quirk of life, perhaps the existence of the seven-second delay merely the consequence of a quantum process we are yet to fully understand.
But for others, a lack of free will might speak of something else entirely, something far more sinister. For after all, if we aren’t in control of our minds, then just who, or what, is?
The following story took place in England in 1974 and I must warn the listener that it will contain some horrific and graphic details. Believed by some to be the most shocking account of ‘demonic possession’ ever to have occurred in the UK, the events that took place one quiet Sunday morning in a a small Yorkshire town have never been fully accounted for. It is a chilling mystery that remains to this day unexplained.
For Britain the 1970s was a time of extraordinary uncertainty. As the government lurched form right to left, the country found itself struggling to adapt to a post-industrial age. For some, especially those in power, it seemed that nothing less than the country’s entire social fabric was at stake.
For the residents of the West Yorkshire market town of Ossett, the landscape had been shifting for some time. The town situated in ‘border country’ where the northwest of the coalfields merged with the southeast of the woollen mills, had once been a thriving pocket of industry. But like many Northern towns in the early 70s, it was facing an uncertain future. For one couple in particular that future was beginning to look increasingly bleak.
31-year-old Michael Taylor and his 29-year-old wife Christine were described by friends as a kind and loving couple and doting parents to five young boys who were well liked by the local community.
After an accident at work, Michael had been forced to leave his job due to a serious back complaint. As the country slipped into a full-blown recession, opportunities for jobs had all but dried up.
For a proud young father of the seventies his sense of inadequacy and low self-esteem was profound and with the pressure to provide for his family starting to mount, Michael began to suffer from intermittent bouts of depression.
At some point, a local friend called Barbara Wardmen called to see how the family were holding up. Concerned that the couple’s recent struggles had left them socially isolated, Barbara suggested they accompany her to an upcoming social event that she had organised.
Barbara, it turned out, had recently become involved with a local group calling themselves the Christian Fellowship of Ossett. The group were part of a growing movement known collectively as Charismatic Christianity.
For Michael and Christine, who had never shown an interest in the church or any religion for that matter, the invitation to join Barbara’s group seemed a little daunting. Nonetheless, later that week the Taylor’s attended their first Fellowship meeting and were surprised by what they found. Rather then the stuck up, prickly group of religious eccentrics that they had expected, instead they found a group of friendly, ordinary people just like themselves.
Leading the congregation was a 22-year-old lay preacher named Marie Robinson. The young Charismatic, in every sense of the word, made a deep impression on the couple. That night under Marie’s magnetic tutelage, lifted by the joyous sprit of the group, Michael and Christine converted to Christianity.
Eager to learn more about their new religion, Michael and Christine attended a service conducted by Marie in the town of Horbury. During the service Marie seemed to become suddenly distressed. Shaking wildly, she started speaking in a strange language claiming she was possessed by the Holy Spirit. Unbeknownst to the Taylor’s, speaking in tongues, also known as Glossolalia, was a prominent feature of the Charismatic movement.
Later that night, the Christian Fellowship, led by Marie Robinson, convened for a meeting at the Taylor’s house. At some point during the service, many in the congregation noticed Michael becoming strangely animated. Seeming to be in the grip of an unknown force, Michael started shaking violently before shouting a stream of strange garbled words.
Ordinarily such an outburst might cause celebration amongst the group, but this was something different. The group were greatly disturbed. One member, Mavis Smith, sank into an instant depression and started to cry uncontrollably. Instinctively, Marie knelt in front of Mavis, calmly placed her hands on her head and proceeded to perform what Christine and Michael later discovered was an exorcism. As Marie’s voice grew louder, Mavis began to writhe uncontrollably, becoming more and more animated and swearing at Marie, telling her she hated her and to leave her alone.
When it was final over the sacred and confused members slowly left and agreed to reconvene later in the week.
The following day, a concerned Marie returned to the Taylor’s home to check on Michael’s welfare. Christine who had sensed that Michael was developing an attraction to Marie suggested the pair be left alone to discuss their feelings. When Christine exited the room, Michael kissed Marie who immediately pushed him away.
Marie pleaded with Michael to think of his love for Christine. When Christine re-entered, Michael declared that ‘they had won a great victory for the Lord, a miracle has happened’, he said, ‘we have both overcome our passions.’
But then something strange occurred.
Michael found himself standing naked as if in a dream, in a place that was not of this world. In front of him, with her face turned away, was Marie who was also naked. As she slowly turned her head to face him, Michael was horrified to see that her eyes had been replaced by two snake like slits. At once he felt a tremendous evil rise up inside of him.
For Marie looking on at Michael in the room, she recounted seeing a strange look come over him. A look that she would later claim was nothing less than the face of the devil.
Suddenly, Michael began shouting in tongues and slapped at Marie’s head. Christine tried her best to get between but was pushed out the way by her husband. Michael grabbed Marie by the hair and threw her across the room knocking her out cold.
When she came to moments later, the usually timid and gentle Michael was crouched over her ‘with a look of murder in his eyes.’ Seconds later having completely snapped out of whatever had come over him, Michael collapsed exhausted.
Afterwards, Christine ordered Marie to stay away from their home and in the days that followed, noticed Michael’s behaviour becoming increasingly erratic. He muttered strange things to himself and became angered by religious iconography.
A neighbour spotted Michael wondering the local streets in a bizarre state. He spat on the ground and told her to look on it as milk, telling her to drink it for it was the milk of human kindness.
As Christine became increasingly concerned for Michael, they turned again to the Fellowship for guidance.
On the evening of October 3rd, they attended a meeting led by the Reverend Peter Vincent of the church of St Thomas, at Gawber in Barnsley. Vincent was a well-respected figure in the local Charismatic movement having introduced it to his own congregation earlier in the year.
Within minutes of meeting Michael, it was clear to Reverend Vincent that something was profoundly wrong. After inviting Michael to make confession he performed a minor exorcism before sending the emotionally drained Taylors back home.
Once they had returned, Michael, fearful of what exactly was happening to him, was too afraid to sleep, pleading with his wife not to leave his side. That night they made the sign of the cross repeatedly over each other in an attempt to ward off the evil spirits.
Two days later on October 5th, Michael returned for another Fellowship meeting. Alarmed by his behaviour, the group suggested he be taken immediately to see the Reverend Vincent. After being driven to the vicar’s house, the vicar’s wife Sally, welcomed them into her home and settled them down in the kitchen.
A local Methodist Minister from Barnsley called Raymond Smith was called to provide a second opinion. A short time later, Smith duly arrived at the Vicarage with his wife Margaret.
As they sat down to eat dinner Michael immediately smashed his plate to the floor when the Vicar’s cat entered the room. He screamed at it, pulling fur from its back and throwing it out of the house before he could be restrained. Reverend Vincent was utterly shocked. To him it was clear: Michael was possessed by something deeply evil. There was no other option but to perform a complete exorcism.
As the others looked around nervously, Reverend Smith was the first to speak up. Unconvinced by Vincent’s diagnosis, Smith thought it best that they consult a doctor first. However, Christine was worried that calling the medical services might cause even more distress to Michael. Sally agreed. It was clear to her that not only was Michael possessed but that Marie Robinson was the culprit, having pledged Michael’s soul to Satan during one of her unorthodox rituals.
The team moved quickly, calling in Methodist Lay preacher Donald James to assist with the exorcism. At once Michael was taken to St Thomas’s Church and ordered to lie down in the vestry on a pile of hassocks that had been laid out on the floor.
Candles were lit all around and the three clergymen, watched on by their wives, gathered ominously around Michael. A bright moon hung in the sky, and as the chill of the night descended, the preachers began casting the demons from Michael’s soul.
For over six hours the priests worked, casting out demon upon demon as Michael writhed and screamed into the night, at one point shouting out the demon name of incest in a strange guttural voice. A cross belonging to Michael was later burned in a cleansing ritual. The following morning, as the sun’s first rays filtered through the windows of the church, the preachers collapsed exhausted to the ground.
By Reverend Vincent’s count it had been an unqualified success, having cast out no less than 50 demons from Michael’s troubled soul. However, there remained three demons that they had not successfully exorcised: the demon of insanity, violence and most worryingly of all, murder. Too exhausted to continue, it was agreed that Michael be sent home to rest before returning at a later date.
With the Taylor’s children spending the night at their grandparents’, Christine and Michael returned to an empty home shortly after 9am on the morning of Sunday October 6th.
A neighbour of the Taylor’s later recounted seeing Christine shortly after they arrived back. Christine had seemed distressed, telling her neighbour that she was worried that something might have gotten into her. She had planned rest with Michael a short while before calling for a doctor. Soon after, Christine went back inside the house. It was the last time she would ever be seen alive again…
Shortly after 10am a strange call was received Ossett police station. PC Ian Walker, who had just clocked in for work, assumed it was some kind of practical joke. The caller claimed to have seen a naked man walking naked through the streets covered head to foot in paint. Walker and his partner promptly got into their regulation patrol vehicle and headed out in search of the mysterious man.
Being as it was a quiet Sunday morning in a small market town, it wasn’t long before they found him.
The two officers pulled over in the car and carefully approached. As Walker drew near, his confusion turned to horror. It wasn’t paint that covered the man from head to toe; it was blood. Walker radioed back to base and was informed that the man he had before him was Michael Taylor.
PC Walker’s first reaction was to search Michael’s body for any sign of a wound but was horrified to discover that whoever’s blood this was, it wasn’t Michael’s. Staring out to an unimaginable distance, Michael spoke in a quiet detached manner, ‘It is the blood of Satan,’ he said, ‘I have killed my wife. I know I have.’
With Michael safely picked up dispatched to the hospital, Walker made his way to the Taylor’s house. When he arrived at the property, a superior officer had already inspected the scene. From the look on his face alone, Walker should have known better than to enter but despite efforts to prevent him, PC Walker’s curiosity got the better of him. What he saw would form the basis for every nightmare he has suffered ever since.
Tracing back from the door, a clear trail of blood could be seen leading out from the living room. Through the doorframe he could just make out Christine Taylor’s lifeless body strewn across the floor. All around, the room was splattered in blood, her blood. It seemed to cover every inch of her face as if she had been smeared in it but as he drew near, the full horror was revealed to him. There was no face.
Where there should have been eyes, instead there were two seemingly endless cavities. Her eyeballs had been ripped from the sockets and thrown across the room; the flesh of her face torn from her skull in a brutal fit of mania. And perhaps strangest of all, her tongue had been pulled clean from her mouth.
As the police searched desperately for a sign of the murder weapon something dawned on them with a profound sense of shock. There was no weapon. Michael Taylor had done it all with his bare hands.
On March 25th, at Leeds Crown Court Michael Taylor was found not guilty of the murder of his wife due to what was deemed a momentary bout of insanity. Coroner Phillip Gill believed that Michael had ‘no criminal or evil intent, and that he was merely trying to relieve her of the evil he saw in her.’
After sentencing, Dr Hugo Milne, consultant psychiatrist to the Bradford group of hospitals entered Michael Taylor’s cell in Leeds prison. He found the defendant to be ‘completely detached from reality, unaware of his surroundings, and unfit to remain in prison custody.’
He was immediately transferred to Broadmoor Psychiatric Hospital where Dr. Milne made an initial diagnosis of an acute schizophrenic attack but subsequently reversed his decision. It was his belief that one way or another the Fellowship Group had created Michael’s insanity and that Michael’s fascination with Marie Robinson had in some way played a part in it.
Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, Donald Coggan, strongly the condemned the reckless approach of the Fellowship.
The Reverend Peter Vincent for his part exhibited no remorse, believing unequivocally that Michael had been possessed by an evil spirit.
The Church of England continues the practice of Exorcism to this day.
Aside from the senseless and avoidable loss of life, what strikes me most about this tragic story is the fact that regardless of what you believe there is no doubt that whatever Michael Taylor experienced or witnessed, it all appeared horrifyingly real to him.
Although we will never know exactly what happened to Michael, conventional wisdom suggests some form of schizophrenia. As such, I found myself drawn to a fascinating paper titled Quantum Logic of the Unconscious and Schizophrenia. In it, theoretical physicist Paola Zizzi and Massimo Pregnolato explore the mechanics of schizophrenia through the framework of what is known as the Quantum Mind.
In a very trivial sense, the notion of the Quantum Mind derives from the theory that since all of everything we know can be reduced to the quantum level, it follows that consciousness itself must in some way be linked to quantum mechanical phenomena. It is a thought that has led some to consider the brain as a form of quantum computer.
Drawing on earlier work by psychiatrist and creator of the term schizophrenia Eugen Bleuler, and the work of Sigmund Freud, Zizzi and Pregnolato’s paper posits the idea that, in a computational sense, the logic of the unconscious may well be the same as the logic of schizophrenia.
While a healthy mind will adopt the logic of consciousness as its primary process of thinking, the schizophrenic mind instead adopts the unconscious mind as it’s primary mode.
By extension, might it then be that not only do we all possess the capacity to experience schizophrenic episodes but that such occurrences may be the result of quantum processes in the brain, processes that in theory could at any time be switched from one state to another.
Is it possible that the extraordinary nature of Michael’s experiences, exacerbated by the intense delirium of his exorcism, created a fundamental change in Michael’s mind, a change that converted his darkest unconscious nightmares into a physical conscious reality?
It is certainly compelling to wonder at what could possibly cause such a gentle and loving husband as Michael Taylor to so brutally and manically murder his wife in a sudden moment of insanity.
That the mind might be so fragile and susceptible in such a way is a truly terrifying thought. Might we too be little more than a quantum leap from madness, if we are not indeed already there?
It certainly puts a new spin on that most familiar biblical adage:
Please forgive us, for we know not what we do.
© Richard MacLean Smith
1. Gray, J. (2003), Straw Dogs, UK: Granta Books
2. Swancer, B. (2015), Demons and Death: The Strange Case of Michael Taylor, Mysterious Univers, http://mysteriousuniverse.org/2015/12/demons-and-death-the-strange-case-of-michael-taylor/
3. Exorcism man 'feared full moon'. Times [London, England] 22 Apr. 1975: The Times Digital Archive.
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11. Heal, M. (2014) A Love That Could Hurt No One, Unbound, https://unbound.co.uk/books/the-sussex-devils/updates/a-love-that-could-hurt-no-one-last-part
12. Zizzi, P. & Pregnolato, M. (2012), Quantum Logic of the Unconscious and Schizophrenia, NeuroQuantology, http://www.quantumbiolab.org/admin/files/Zizzi%20and%20Pregnolato%20-%20NeuroQuantology%202012%20%2810.3%29%20566-579.pdf
13. Quantum Mind, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_mind