“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?” – Police Inspector
This week on TTCE it is my pleasure to bring you the strange and compelling story of the case known as The Ossett “Exorcist” murder. This was the case featured in the premiere episode of The True Crime Enthusiast Podcast – links to which can be found at the end of the blogpost.
In 1974, in a case that shocked the nation, a particularly violent and shocking murder was committed by a peaceful and loving family man, who was overcome either by inner demons, or literal ones.
Ossett is a market town near the city of Wakefield, in the English county of West Yorkshire, and the kind of town that wouldn’t strike most people as the sort of place where a sensational bloody, horrific murders, talk of exorcisms and demonic possession would stem from. But it is in Osset where the sinister story begins.
The Taylor family called the Osset district of Havercroft their home in 1974, and this family consisted of 31-year old Michael Taylor, his wife Christine, their five children, and their family dog. The family and their home was considered mostly a cheerful and happy one by their friends and neighbours, and Michael in particular was described by those who knew him as mild mannered, but a generally kind and loving father and husband.
It was noted, however, that he was sometimes prone to minor bouts of depression, the cause of which had been due to a severe back injury he had received a number of years before, and which had left him with chronic pain and an inability to find long term employment. Apart from this observation, nothing else seemed to be amiss or unusual in the Taylor household.
At the time, Osset had a highly religious population and most people regularly attending church, but the Taylors had never been particularly devout, mostly skipping church services that were held near where they lived.
In a belief that Michael’s periods of depression could be somehow eased with a spiritual intervention, a friend of Michael’s called Barbara Wardman took it upon herself to introduce him to a church group called the Christian Fellowship Group, which was led by 21-year-old pastor Marie Robinson.
Whereas Michael had previously been non-religious, he soon began to attend regular meetings of the group, and he became an active member of the congregation. He became well acquainted with their teachings, and quickly fell under the spell of the charismatic Marie Robinson.
Michael began spending what seemed an inappropriate amount of time with Robinson, attending more and more meetings and gatherings of the group, and joining Robinson in congregations where they would use “the power of God” to “exorcise” people of their sins and speak in tongues.
They also began to engage in private rituals, in which both Michael and Robinson would stay up all night making the sign of the cross at each other in order to ward off what they believed was the evil power of the full moon. In fact, it soon became clear to the rest of the congregation that Michael had become rather enamored with Robinson.
Unsurprisingly, Michael’s attitude at home towards his family began to change as a result. He was spending less and less time at home with them, and when he was there he was sullen and irritable, and very argumentative. This was a total character change from the easygoing and peaceful way Michael had once been, and the assumption was that the church group was somehow exerting a negative influence on him. The character change and increasingly bizarre beliefs, erratic behavior, and bad attitude was clear to see to anyone who knew him.
But most notably to Christine Taylor, on whom it was not lost that Michael had an infatuation with Robinson.
During one congregation, Christine suddenly decided to publicly confront Michael about his relationship with Robinson, and openly accused him in front of people of being unfaithful.
Now, if it already didn’t sound bad or strange enough, it was at this point where Michael’s behavior would take a turn for the worse.
Michael is reported to have felt “an evil influence cast a shadow over him”, and then compelled by this force, vented a sudden fury on surprisingly not Christine, but Robinson. He lashed out at her, verbally and physically, to the point that several other churchgoers in the congregation had to physically restrain him, fearing that he would seriously hurt himself or someone else.
Perhaps as a good example of the religious mania that was running through the group, Marie Robinson herself later testified as to what happened when Michael attacked her: She said:
“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… I was on the verge of death and I seemed to come to my senses. I knew that only the name of Jesus would save me and I just started saying over and over again ‘Jesus’. When Chris (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”
Michael would claim later to have had no memory of this incident.
Surprisingly, despite this frightening violent outburst, the following day Michael was to receive full forgiveness and a church absolution from Robinson for what had happened. But none of the rest of the congregation could forget the outburst, and Michael was closely watched following this episode.
It soon became apparent that his deteriorating, out of character behavior seemed to now be permanent, and was in fact getting worse as time went on, with his sanity clearly slipping. The seriousness and frightening condition that Michael was in was so severe that several local ministers became involved, and came to the realization that Michael might be under the influence of demonic forces. Finally, the local vicar came to the controversial conclusion that an exorcism should be performed on Michael.
Two ministers, by the names of Father Peter Vincent and the Rev. Raymond Smith were brought in to carry it out, and the exorcism was set to happen for midnight on the 5th of October, 1974, at St. Thames Church in Barnsley. That night, in front of the congregation of the Christian Fellowship Group, the two ministers began the harrowing ritual, which would prove to last throughout the night and well into the next morning.
As soon as the exorcism had started, Michael went into uncontrollable convulsions and fits, and bouts of scratching, spitting, and biting, requiring him to be forcefully tied to the floor. Over the next 8 hours, Michael was subjected to all sorts of indignities, such as having crucifixes shoved into his mouth and being doused with holy water. All throughout, Michael was growling and snapping at anyone who came near him. The priests in charge of the exorcism claimed that the ceremony had managed to ascertain that there were about 40 demons inhabiting Michael’s body, representing such traits as incest, bestiality, blasphemy, lewdness, heresy, masochism, and carnal knowledge. As one can imagine, these alleged demons did not go easily from Michael, each one having to be reportedly dragged out kicking and screaming. After 8 hours of this, by 8 AM on October 6th 1974, the priests carrying out the exorcism could no longer continue through exhaustion.
Strangely, it was decided that the exorcism would have to be finished at a later time, although the priests claimed that three demons, those of insanity, anger, and murder, were still stubbornly possessing Michael and had not been successfully removed yet.
Apparently, the congregation who had been present for the exorcism agreed in part, for one witness to the terrifying events, a minister’s wife named Margaret Smith, was to claim later that she had received a warning in her mind from what she believed to be God, saying that the demon of murder was going to escape from Michael and kill Christine. She pleaded with the two priests to complete the exorcism, but they dismissed her warnings and instead told Michael and Christine to go home to rest and prepare for the next and final part of the exorcism, which was to be performed the following day.
Now, whether there were really demons still infesting Michael Taylor’s body or not, or whether he had succumbed to a full on psychosis and had been tipped over the edge by the events of that night, what would follow that day was nothing short of pure evil and insanity.
It was about 09:45 the next morning, October 7th, and not two hours after Michael and Christine had been sent home to rest up to prepare for the next part of the exorcism, that a police patrol car passing through the normally quiet streets of Osset came upon a shocking and un-nerving sight.
Coming around a corner, the officer in the car, PC Ian Walker, was confronted by the sight of a man stumbling around in the middle of the street, naked, and covered head to toe in blood. His body was slicked with it. Stopping the car and approaching the man, PC Walker saw the man curl into the foetal position, and heard him ranting and screaming over and over:
“IT IS THE BLOOD OF SATAN”
Unsurprisingly, this had attracted a crowd of onlookers, some of which knew the disturbed man.
It was Michael Taylor.
The police officers who had approached the man immediately called for an ambulance, fearing that Michael had hurt himself or someone else, and tried his best to talk to and calm Michael, who was still screaming and senseless, ranting only about Satan. He continued screaming as the ambulance from the local hospital arrived and he was placed into it and taken away. The crowd of onlookers who had crowded around the ambulance now told the police that the deranged maniac was Michael Taylor, and gave the officer his address, to which the patrol car then went to.
PC Walker, upon arrival at the Taylor house, was surprised and perhaps apprehensive to find a police car there already, which he later found out had been summoned for by frightened neighbours who had heard a commotion. PC Walker approached the house but was stopped by the sight of his Inspector emerging from the front door, bending over, and vomiting.
“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?”
Feeling that he had go in, PC Walker stepped into the Taylor house and was to see exactly what his shook his inspector had meant.
The interior of the front room was destroyed, with signs of destruction apparent even from a cursory look. Blood covered every surface of the room, along with flesh, pulp and brain matter, and on the floor of the living room lay the bodies of Christine Taylor and the family pet dog, almost unrecognisable. The blood that had covered Michael Taylor was Christine’s blood. At about 09:30 that morning, in the Taylor family home, Michael had killed his wife Christine, the woman that that he loved and the mother of his children.
In a maniacal and deranged attack, Michael had stripped off and strangled Christine, and had literally torn off her face. There was no murder weapon involved – He had gouged out her eyes and ripped out her tongue with his bare hands, tearing the rest of her face down to the bone, so much so that she was left unrecognisable. Whilst Christine had died of shock and asphyxiation on her own blood – mercifully quickly – Michael had turned his attentions to the Taylor pet dog, strangling it and literally ripping it limb from limb. He had torn its legs from their sockets, and hair and teeth and eyes from the skull. He then left the house screaming, and was found by PC Walker a short time later.
It was described as being the most horrific crime scene that any police officer who had attended it was ever to see
Michael was taken into police custody from the hospital, and when interviewed some hours later – when he was deemed rational to talk, he was asked to try to explain what had happened: He told Detective Inspector Brian Smith about the exorcism that had occurred only hours before, saying:
“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”
Although Michael claimed he could remember nothing of the actual murder, claiming to deeply love his wife, when asked by DI Smith how he felt, Michael replied:
“Released. I am released. It is done. The evil in her has been destroyed.”
Although he appeared to have no motive for his actions, Michael Taylor was charged with the murder of Christine Taylor and was remanded to Broadmoor secure hospital in Berkshire to await trial. Whilst on remand, Michael was reported to have spent most of the time in silence or sleeping. Perhaps some part of him never wanted to face what had happened, and how five children had in the space of a single day lost a mother – and a father.
The crime was a sensation – horror such as this belongs in fiction and should not happen anywhere, let alone in a sleepy Yorkshire market town. It created a media frenzy, and the bloody crime, coupled with the background of exorcisms and alleged demonic possession drew huge amounts of interest to Michael Taylor’s upcoming trial.
Michael Taylor’s trial for the murder of his wife Christine began in March 1975, and upon it commencing, the jury were advised by the barrister for the prosecution, Mr Geoffrey Baker QC, that the evidence they were about to hear:
“will make it difficult to believe that you are not back in the Middle Ages”
Neither prosecution nor defence denied at the trial that Michael Taylor had severe mental issues. Michael himself testified, again claiming that he had no recollection of the actual killing, that he had deeply loved his wife and had been under the control of evil supernatural forces, and that he had suspected that Christine had also been possessed by demons. He offered no other explanation.
The lynchpin of his defence was the discrediting of the Christian Fellowship group, and the Anglican and Methodist priests who had carried out the exorcism. Mr Ognall QC, for the defence, claimed that the Christian Fellowship Prayer Group was actually more of a fanatical cult, and had managed to influence Michael by using potent mind control and indoctrination, feeding his already existing mental issues. At one point, he described the group as:
“Neurotics, feeding neurosis, to a neurotic”
Blame was also apportioned to the exorcism itself. The prosecution claimed that the ritual had taken its toll on an already mentally disturbed man, and coupled with the warped religious ideals and beliefs that the Prayer Group had instilled in him, these negative influences had pushed Michael over the edge into a realm of madness and murder. Mr. Ognall made an impassioned personal statement during the trial that illustrated just how much responsibility the church was viewed to have held in the horrific crime, 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.”
The jury found Michael Taylor not guilty of the murder of his wife by reason of insanity. Deemed to be both clinically and legally insane, he was sent to Broadmoor Secure Hospital, where he would remain for 2 years, followed by another 2 year sentence at Bradford Royal Infirmary before being released back into the world, apparently cured.
The aftermath of the trial was a public outcry over the use of exorcisms within the church, and indeed this became the last recorded exorcism to be carried out by the Anglican Church. But they defended themselves to the full. Throughout the trial, and in the years following it, the chief Anglican priest who had been in charge of Michael’s exorcism, Father Peter Vincent, continued to insist that Michael Taylor had indeed been inhabited by demons, and that the Osset case had indeed been an authentic case of demonic possession. Father Vincent’s career in the Church was unaffected following the case, and even he seemed to be, almost having little consideration for a family destroyed and the horror of what had happened. He would only simply say:
“God will bring good out of this in His own way”
It was only Peter Vincent’s partner in exorcism, the Reverend Raymond Smith, that seemed to admit that the situation had not been handled well and that the “exorcism” had indeed failed. He was quoted as saying:
“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”.
What then, became of the main player in this horrific story? After his release from hospital, it is reported that Michael Taylor went back to live in Osset, although one can only wonder at the relationship he would have had back there after such horror. How would his relationship with his children have been – if there even was any type of relationship? How does a person even begin to start again after such horror?
Michael would continue to display odd behavior and to suffer bouts of depression, as well as making a total of four suicide attempts over the following years, still haunted by his actions that October morning. These involved cutting his wrists and jumping from a bridge, in which he badly injured his back and legs. Surprisingly for such a sensational and chilling crime, he dropped out of the news and the public eye for many years.
But Michael Taylor would enter the news again in July 2005, when he was arrested for sexually harassing and having inappropriate conduct with an underage girl. During his court hearing on these charges, Taylor was said to have told police that it was all his fault, and then said:
“Am I going to Broadmoor for murdering my wife?”
Taylor had spent a week in custody over the sexual assaults, and during this incarceration the psychiatric problems that had existed in 1975 had manifested themselves once again. Upon being bailed, however, they had disappeared. His previous charges from thirty years before were deemed to have no bearing on the current case, and he was deemed to have a low to medium risk of re-offending. This led him to a relatively light sentence of a 3-year stint of community service, but with a condition of psychiatric treatment.
The case of Michael Taylor and the Osset Exorcist Murder raises many questions for debate.
Could someone who had committed such a horrific crime and was found insane really be well enough to rejoin society within four years? Is evil an outside force that can infect a person, or does it always lurk within? It perhaps ventures into the realms of the supernatural, but what if there really are such things as demons that can possess a person and drive them to commit heinous or violent acts that that person would normally never commit? Or is it just simply a form of psychosis?
Many people connected with the Osset murder will have debated these points long and hard over the years they have had to remember and think about it. Five children, who undoubtedly have families of their own now, lost a mother in a horrific way that they will never forget. How do you even begin to rebuild your lives following such horrific events? Michael Taylor himself has been so tortured by not being able to understand his actions that he has attempted suicide four times. Members of the jury and the court who sat through the trial will never forget what must have been some of the most horrific crime scene photographs ever shown in a court, and disturbing and frightening accounts that they were to hear. But perhaps the effect that the case was to have on people is best summed up by an account given by PC Ian Walker, when interviewed about the case as one of the officers on the scene years after his retirement. He said:
“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 and destruction of a family, not to mention the death and other traumas, are far beyond anything else I have ever come across. Obviously my wife asked questions but there are some things that you do not take home, and this was one of them. However, within the next 24-48 hours the news hit the national newspapers and the TV news bulletins. You just bury it and get on with your life as best you can. Before this event I was agnostic… and now I was an atheist.”
The True Crime Enthusiast
Links to the case covered on The True Crime Enthusiast Podcast: