An unremarkable place in many ways, the ordinary Ossett folk had no idea that soon the eyes of the world would fall on their community. Something sinister and truly evil was brewing in the bosom of their town.
By the time the first week in October was over, a most heinous and sickening crime would have been committed, a crime that would begin with the possession of Michael Taylor.
The Blood of Satan
At 9:45 am on the 6th October 1974, West Yorkshire Police received a phone call. A man had been seen wandering naked through the streets of Ossett, covered in red paint.
Uncertain as to whether or not it was a hoax, PC Ian Walker was sent out to investigate. Making his way along the cold deserted streets that Sunday morning, the police constable could have had little idea what the day would hold.
Arriving at the scene, the officer discovered a naked man curled in the fetal position and covered not in red paint, but in blood. As the officer approached him the man began to scream, ‘It is the blood of Satan. It is the blood of Satan’.
Clearly in a state of great distress he was making little or no sense. Fortunately, by this time a witness had arrived who identified the naked man as Michael Taylor.
Suspecting that foul play may have taken place, PC Walker immediately radioed for officers to be dispatched to Taylor’s home to check his wife and children.
A Scene of Bloodshed And Carnage
What greeted the police at the home of Michael Taylor, was a scene of appalling depravity. Mrs. Christine Taylor, the wife of Michael, and her small pet dog, lay dead.
Both had been murdered in the most shocking and gruesome way. Whoever had committed the crime was clearly deranged and evil.
Mrs. Walker had asphyxiated on her own blood but before she died her attacker had ripped off her face, pulled out her tongue and gouged out her eyes.
Her little dog lay close by, he had been strangled, his legs were torn out of their sockets and his eyes and tongue also removed. Investigating officers immediately realised that Michael Taylor was the crazed killer.
There was just one problem though, Taylor could not remember anything of his crime. Claiming to love his wife he appeared to have no motive.
For the time being police and the public would have to wait to discover why this tragedy happened. In the meantime Taylor was remanded to Broadmoor Hospital, a high security psychiatric unit, to await trial.
The Story Unfolds
If the murder of Christine Taylor was shocking, the story that eventually unfolded was amazing. So sensational were the events leading up to the crime, that they divided public and legal opinion and shook the Anglican Church of England to its very core.
Michael Taylor was an ordinary man of 31 when the murder was committed. Married to Christine, the couple had five children and lived an ordinary life.
At a time of high unemployment in Northern England, he wasn’t helped by a long standing back injury and spent periods of time looking for work.
This was far from unusual in an area where the main industries of coal and cotton weaving were on the decline. When Michael began to feel depressed and unsettled in the months preceding the murders, a friend, Barbara Wardman, invited him to attend a prayer group at The Christian Fellowship Church.
Eventually, Michael who was not religious, agreed to go.
The prayer group was led by a young woman of 22, Mary Robinson. At some point during the evening she began to shake and tremble, a sign that the Holy Spirit was within her.
At these times Mary believed she was able to offer healing to the suffering. Knowing that Michael had an injured back and was suffering from depression, she believed that God wanted her to heal him.
When another member of the church, Mavis Smith, began to weep uncontrollably Mary was torn who to help first. Eventually she knelt before Mavis and began to speak in tongues in order to exorcise the woman.
To the astonishment of the congregation Michael Taylor joined with Mary, also speaking in tongues and praying fervently.
Over the next few weeks Michael Taylor became obsessed with Mary Robinson, much to the consternation of his wife Christine. On the 1st of October, just a few days before the murder, Taylor and Robinson sat up all night making the sign of the cross over each other.
The reason for this bizarre behaviour was their concern that the full moon would adversely affect Mary. As Michael’s behavior became more uncharacteristic and disturbing, Christine reached breaking point.
Eventually, she publicly confronted her husband in front of the congregation of The Christian Fellowship Church, accusing him of having an affair with Mary.
At this point, Michael began to display the violence that would lead to tragedy before the end of the week. Speaking in tongues he attacked Mary Robinson in a blind rage.
Members of the congregation intervened to drag Taylor away, leaving the young Mary Robinson trembling and fearing for her life.
Despite this display of uncontrolled rage Michael returned to the church the next day and received absolution and forgiveness. This wasn’t to be the end of the matter.
Some felt that Taylor’s behavior had gone too far. They believed that the only explanation for this once mild mannered man’s actions was demonic possession.
The local vicar was particularly concerned, so concerned in fact that he called for the exorcism of Michael Taylor’s soul.
The exorcism of Michael Taylor was hastily organised. Two ministers, Father Peter Vincent, an Anglican Priest and Reverend Raymond Smith, a Methodist Minister, were asked to perform the ritual.
At midnight on Saturday 5th of October 1974, St. Thames Church Yorkshire, the exorcism began. For the next seven hours Taylor was put through unimaginable horrors.
As soon as the exorcism began he started to spit, scream, bite and scratch. Eventually he was tied to the church floor to prevent him from attacking the two priests.
Despite this he continued to have convulsions while he was doused in holy water and crucifixes placed upon his body. Over 40 demons were identified as inhabiting Taylor’s soul.
These demons included incest, bestiality, heresy, lewdness, carnal knowledge and blasphemy. According to the priests they had to be dragged kicking and screaming from Michael Taylor’s body.
By daybreak everybody involved was exhausted. The exorcism had only been partially successful. Despite this failure, the decision was taken to allow Michael to go home and the exorcism would be completed the following night.
Before he left the church the two exorcists warned Taylor that three demons still stubbornly occupied his soul, insanity, anger and murder.
Within two hours Michael Taylor had arrived home and slaughtered his wife and dog.
In 1975 the trial of Michael Taylor began with the warning that the details of the case would take the jury back to the middle ages.
Sensationally reported in the national papers, the evidence would divide public opinion and turn many against the church.
Taylor’s defence rested greatly on discrediting both the prayer group and the priests who attempted the exorcism. In defending his client Mr Ognall QC stated:
“Let those who are 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”.
Eventually Michel Taylor was found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity. Christine Taylor’s death was recorded as misadventure rather than murder.
Taylor was detained on a secure psychiatric ward for the next four years. He was then judged to be sane and released back into society.
Since his release he has attempted suicide four times and in 2005 was brought before the courts again, accused of inappropriate conduct with a child.
The possession of Michael Taylor continues to divide public opinion. What role did the Christian Fellowship prayer group play in the death of Christine Taylor?
Did this group led by the charismatic Mary Robinson tip a depressed and vulnerable man over the edge of sanity?
As for the priests who carried out the exorcism of Michael Taylor, if they truly believed that he was possessed by demonic entities, should they have allowed him to walk out of St. Thames Church on that fateful Sunday morning?
A witness to the exorcism, Margaret Smith had begged the priests not to allow Taylor to leave the church until the job was complete, her pleas fell on deaf ears.
Some may argue that the fact that Taylor left a psychiatric unit four years after the murder a sane man, indicates that he was never possessed by demonic forces.
Others would argue that Taylor’s subsequent suicide attempts are the sign of a deeply troubled soul. Both sides appear to agree that Michael Taylor was driven to commit this terrible act by outside forces, whether it was a demonic possession or the hysterical neurosis of the church, we may never know.
Whatever the truth of the matter an innocent woman was brutally killed, a family torn apart and a small town scarred forever by a macabre and grisly tragedy.