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The Exorcism of Anna Ecklund

Disclaimer: This work has been completed as an educational tool for students of history, religious and paranormal studies. The author wishes to discourage any use of this work in conjunction with paranormal field investigations of demons.

Researched and written by Kyle T. Cobb, Jr.

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A  Case History

The Exorcism of Anna Ecklund (Emma Schmidt)

Much of what is known about the possession and exorcism of Anna Ecklund comes from the work of Father Carl Vogl. In 1936, the Catholic Church approved Vogl publishing a pamphlet and instructional tract, called Satan Begone!, that chronicled the 1928 exorcism in Earling. Iowa. As part of his preparation of the pamphlet, Vogl was granted total access to everyone involved in the case. H.A. Kelley mentions in the book The Devil, Demonology, and Witchcraft that there is a second source for information.  According to Kelley, the bulk of Satan Begone! was derived from interviews with Father Joseph Steiger that assisted in the exorcism. A priest named Father F.J. Bunse wrote a second account of the possession as a pamphlet called "The Earling Possession Case, An Exposition of the Exorcism of 'Mary' a Demonic and Certain Marvelous Revelations Foretelling the Near Advent of Antichrist and the Coming Persecution of the Church in the Years 1952-1955." This 1934 publication is purported to be taken directly from the German notes of Father Theophilus Riesinger, the primary exorcists.

Unless noted otherwise, everything in this brief summary is extracted from Satan Begone! Additions and contradictions from other secondary sources have most likely occurred thanks to facts unavailable to Vogl at the time of writing.

Additionally, because Vogl used the name Anna Ecklund, I have used that throughout this document. Today, evidence suggests that this may be a pseudonym and that her real name may be been Emma Schmidt. Or the reverse may be ture. She is even Called Mary X in various other contemporary documents.

Anna Ecklund

Anna was born in 1882 in either Marathon, Wisconsin and received only an elementary education.

Her father Jacob Schmidt had a reputation of being adamantly against the church and as a womanizer. It is also alleged that Jacob was an alcoholic and may have sexually abused Anna.

No information has been uncovered about Anna’s mothers. Best estimate is that her mother must have died during the early 1890s.

It is alleged that in 1908, that Anna’s aunt Mina, (who may have also been her father’s mistress or may have never existed) began the process of cursing her by placing magical herbs in Anna’s food. There is no supporting evidence to the allegation but it was believed by Riesinger that locals believed Mina to be a witch. There is also no evidence to support allegations that Mina murdered four children as asserted during the exorcisms.

Prior to 1908, Anna is described as being a religiously devout Catholic. Suddenly in 1896, at age 14, she began experiencing severe issues with attending church and receiving communion. She began describing compulsions to smash Holy water fonts or to harm priests. She also began to suffer from signs of depression as well as unhindered sexual thoughts. She believed that she was becoming insane. This could also be attributed to issues a dissociative reaction to the death of her mother.

Over the next few years, Anna is said to have conferred with a number of doctors. While many of Anna’s complains could possibly have been symptoms of “Hallucination, a pure hysterical case, nervous spells," None of the doctors could find issues. In fact, one leading specialist at the time asserted that she didn’t have “the least sign of nervousness” and that “she was normal in the fullest sense.”

It should be noted that in 1908, medical science had only the most primitive understanding of mental illnesses. Given today’s understanding, it is possible that the Ecklund case could have had a dramatically different history.

The Exorcist

At some point, her local church became involved and Father Theophilus Riesinger, a Capuchin monk working in St Anthony, was considered an expert in exorcisms and one of the few American with experience in that area.

Born in Stelza, Bavaria, Germany on 27 February 1868, at the age of21 he entered the monastery at Altoelling.  When he failed to become a brother in the Capuchin order, he left to further attend school in Sassbach, Alsace. Graduating from school on 2 February 1892 and left for Saint Fidelis Monastery in New York City. After a few weeks, Riesinger moved to Detroit to become a novice in the order.  He was ordained on 29 June 1899 and his first assignment was back at Saint Fidelis Monastery in New York City. Fluent in Italian as well as English and German, Riesinger was reassigned to Saint Michael in Brooklyn. Around 1912, Riesinger had his first demonic encounter and it happened to involve Anna Ecklund. This started the priest down the road of his a lifelong calling battling evil.  It was also during this time that Riesinger, because of his association with Marxists, was exiled by the arch dioceses was exiled to Wisconsin. From 1912 until his death on 9 November 1941, he served in the Midwest. Preaching was his main work; exorcism was an occasional task assumed at a bishop's request.

One of the key component in determining the existence of a demonic entity and a possession is the ability of the possessed to understand languages that they should not know. In Satan Begone!, Vogl speaking on behalf of Riesinger states that the exorcist concluded that Ecklund, with only a basic elementary education understood languages, such as Latin, which she could neither read nor speak Latin or German. While she would react negatively to Prayers and rites in Latin when conversational Latin was used, there would be no reaction. In contrast to the Satan Begone! description of Ecklund’s language skills, Bunse’s version of the story says, “Besides her German and English, which she had acquired in early childhood, she understood Latin and Hebrew, the Italian, Polish, and other Slavic languages.” So while both sources agree that Ecklund knew German, the question is whether a devoted Catholic that experienced Latin Mass each Sunday through age 14 would recognize and understand Latin rituals. It is also important, to understand that Anna had grown up in Marathon, Wisconsin which is a town heavily settled by Germans, so it is not impossible for Anna to have naturally learned the language.

Ecklund also demonstrated a sensitivity to consecrated items. If she was given articles sprinkled with holy water or presented her with things secretly blessed, she would react violently. It a similar object was presented unconsecrated, she would remain indifferent

The cause of the possession could not be ascertained. The woman herself could not give any information about this matter. Only later during the process of solemn exorcism was the cause made known.

It is also noted in the case records that on 18 June 1912, Riesinger performed an exorcism on 30-year-old Ecklund and freed her of possession.


At some point prior to August 1928, Anna Ecklund again experienced symptoms of possession. She claimed to constantly have sexual thoughts and believed she was also tormented by the spirits of her father and her Aunt Mina.  Emma’s neuroses or symptoms left her unable to act normally.

Ecklund again asked Riesinger, now stationed in Marathon, Wisconsin, to help her. After failing to be able to help Ecklund through normal means, Riesinger examined her for signs of possession and again concluded that she had be repossessed.  Since the 1908 exorcism, Riesinger was now the the most experienced exorcist in North America. It is believed by 1928 he had already performed 19 exorcisms including the previous one on Ecklund.

In late summer 1928, Father Theophilus Riesinger, while on a missionary trip to visit his old friend the Rev. Joseph Steiger at St. Joseph’s Parish , asked Steiger for permission to have a girl brought to his parish in Earling, Iowa to have an exorcism performed.

Riesinger had selected Earling, Iowa for a number of reasons. Earling, Iowa, is located 110-miles to the west of Des Moines, Iowa and is approximately 40 miles east of the Nebraska-Iowa border.  In the 1920s (as today), only a few hundred people lived in the region and the area had both a convent as well as a Catholic Church. Even though the roads to Earling were dubious, it had the advantage of a rail line to support the trip. While the 1885 St. Joseph's Catholic Church sits on a four-square block, at a high point, in the center of town, the Convent of the Franciscan Sisters was less obtrusive and more private at its Second Street location (the convent was torn down in the mid 1990s).

 Riesinger believed that the seclusion of the Convent would allow the exorcism to be done in secrecy and would allow Anna’s anonymity to be preserved. It was also hoped that moving Anna away from home, would disorient whatever demons possessed her.

While there, she would be housed at a nearby the Convent of the Franciscan Sisters where the exorcism would also be held. Steiger conferred with his Bishop Thomas Drumm of Des Moines, Iowa. Bishop Dunn reviewed the petition and determined it was indeed a case of possession and authorized the use of the full exorcism rite.

On 18 August 1928, Ecklund arrived in Earling, Iowa by train.

The entire process was to done in extreme secrecy with only Riesinger, Steiger, Steiger’s sister/housekeeper and nuns made aware of the situation. Because the travel by train introduced additional risk, it was decided some personnel on board the train should be given limited information in the event that Ecklund became violent.

Father Riesinger to arrived by a second train. Steiger took his personal auto to meet Riesinger at the depot and though the car had no mechanical issues, it “lacked the usual speed on this trip.” While only a few miles from the priest’s house to the depot, it took almost two hours for the journey.

Riesinger replied calmly: "My dear friend, I was not wrought up about it at all. I would have been much more surprised if everything had gone smoothly. Difficulties will arise; they must be expected to arise. The devil will try his utmost to foil our plans. While waiting I prayed constantly that the evil spirit would not be able to harm you, as I suspected that he would try to interfere with your coming, yea, that he  would try to injure you personally."

In the convent, the woman became enraged because the Sister in the kitchen had sprinkled holy water over the food on the tray before she carried the supper to the woman. The possessed woman was aware at once of the presence of the blessed food and became terribly enraged about it. She purred like a cat, and it was absolutely impossible to make her eat. The blessed food was taken back to the kitchen to be exchanged for unblessed food

The first Session- August 18 - August 26, 1928

The woman was placed firmly upon the mattress of an iron bed. Her arm-sleeves and her dress were tied to keep her dressed. The strongest nuns were selected to assist by holding the woman quiet upon her bed.

Soon after the prescribed prayers were begun, the woman sank into unconsciousness and remained in that state throughout the period of exorcism.

Her eyes were closed up so tightly that no force could open them.

While the exorcism continued, Ecklund dislodged herself from her bed and from the hands of her guards; and her body, carried through the air, landed high above the door of the room. Father Riesinger alone kept his peace and ordered "Pull her down. She must be brought back to her place upon the bed!"

Pulling her back down to the bed and better securing her, the prayers were continued.

Ecklund began howling like she was “head with a club. Like a pack of wild beasts suddenly let loose…”

The howling was so loud it brought the attention of the neighbors. Because of the scene, a great number of people are said to bear witness to the screams coming from the convent.

The details of the individual exorcism sessions have become blurred. It was noted that during many of exorcisms, Riesinger experienced physical attacks that left him “trembling like a fluttering leaf in a whirl-wind.” As a result and with the permission of the bishop he would wear a pyx on his chest with a consecrated host.

In an effort to disrupt the serve, Ecklund reportedly would frequently vomit, deficate and urinate “in quantities that were, humanly speaking, impossible to lodge in a normal being.” All manner of items emerged from the vomit, which occurred 10 to 20 times each day, even though Ecklund had only consumed “a teaspoonful of water or milk by way of food.”

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Anna Ecklund 2

Father Theophilus Riesinger

Map of Iowa

Bishop Thomas Drumm

Rev. Joseph Steiger at St. Joseph’s Parish