When Dr. E. Winchester Stevens, accompanied by a local priest, first entered the house of Thomas and Lurinda Venum in Watseka, he was greeted by an animal-like hostile growl coming from the throat of 13-year-old Luransi Venum, whose almost inhuman face was distorted into a grotesque grimace.
In a harsh, strange voice, which could not belong to a girl her age, she warned them not to approach her. Evidence from that time, however, does not mention that she shared a priest with ‘pea soup’ or performed other feats as little Reagan in ‘Exorcist’, but it is possible that such a detail by which Luransi welcomed visitors could be a model for the character of the possessed girl in Peter Blaty’s novel of the same name, later translated into a film.
Luransi Venum was born on April 16, 1864, in a place seven miles from Watseka, a small town in the northeastern state of Illinois, where the family moved when she was seven years old.
It all started in the summer of 1877, when the news spread through the city that something strange was happening to young Luransi. The girl began to fall into mysterious, catatonic trances, during which she claimed that she was able to talk to angels and the spirits of the dead. This happened to her several times during the day and the attacks sometimes lasted for hours, during which time she spoke in different voices and described distant places about which she could know nothing. She claimed to have talked to her deceased four-year-old brother as well! When she woke up, she didn’t remember anything she said or did during the trance.
She died in a Madmen
Mary Roff was born in October 1846 in Indiana. Even as a baby, from the age of six months, she began to suffer from strange attacks and cramps, and her childhood was never normal. As a child, she complained that she heard voices in her head telling her to do something she shouldn’t. The older she got, the longer she had trance-like states when she spoke in different voices and seemed to be possessed by other people’s ghosts.
At that time, the Rofs were already living in Watseka and many citizens, including the editors of local newspapers and priests, had the opportunity to see how much Mary is able to predict future events with inexplicable accuracy and knows a lot about people. For a while, she would prophesy and interpret to those present, and then, without any reason, she would become aggressive and violent, initially towards strangers, and later towards her family.
Over time, Mary developed an obsession with the need to remove all blood from her body and used needles, leeches and, finally, a razor. After one such performance, her parents found her unconscious on the floor, in a pool of blood, and concluded that they had no choice but to place her in the State Institute for the Mentally Ill in Peonija.
It was not an easy decision, because at that time, medieval methods of ‘treatment’ were applied in such institutions, and whoever once found himself behind the walls of an asylum, could hardly have come back ‘back’. Mary, like many other patients, experienced terrible agony, because the ‘treatments’ involved immersing a naked patient in a vessel resembling a pipe with ice water, and immediately afterwards he was placed in hot water. Female patients were given cold water as a ‘supplement’ directed from a hose, and then tied tightly to damp sheets so as to stop their circulation. They were then rubbed hard, to the point of pain, to restore blood flow.
Mary did not last long and died on July 5, 1865. When he heard what was happening with Luransi Venum and that it was most likely that he would end up in Peony, Mary’s father, Asa Roff, decided to visit her parents and ask them to give it up.
On January 31, 1878, the arrival of Asa Roff at the Venum family triggered a series of unexplained events. Although Thomas and Lurinda were skeptical and not at all inclined to the spiritualism that was fashionable at the time, the similarity in the events with their daughter and those that drove Mary Roff to death was more than obvious. The family has already tried every known medicine for Luransi, and the local doctor and priest advised placement in a mental institution. Asa objected, his conscience biting that he hadn’t done everything to save his daughter, and he didn’t want to see another young woman in the arms of the doctors who were torturing his Mary. So he persuaded her parents to allow her to be examined by Dr. Stevens who, like Roff, was a staunch spiritualist. The Venums, though reluctant, finally agreed.
The scene described at the beginning of this text followed, after which the doctor, with a lot of patience, still managed to gain the girl’s trust and to ‘mesmerize’ her, that is, to try to get in touch with the ghosts through her. Luransi advertised as multiple personalities in one person, so once it was Katrina Hogan who died at the age of 63, and then Willy Cunning, a young man who committed suicide. While in a trance, she continued to talk about her visions and claimed that some of the evil spirits were chasing her around the house and calling her by name.
Dr. Stevens suggested to Lawrence Venum that he try to allow some good spirit to establish control over her. The girl accepted and, after a while, said that she was in paradise and that she had come into contact with a spirit whose name is – Mary Roff!
The trance continued for the rest of the evening and the next day. Luransi now spoke like Mary, claiming that she had no idea where she was or who the people around her were and that she wanted to go home, to the Rofs. The news about that quickly spread through Watsek, and the next day, two women visited the Venum house.
That morning, Luransi, or Mary, was sitting by the window when she saw Mrs. Roff and her daughter Minerva approaching the front door. ‘Mom and Nervi are coming!’ She exclaimed happily and ran into their arms. The married daughter of the Rofs, Minerva, has not been called by the nickname Nervi since Merina’s death.