One of the most publicized exorcisms in modern day history occurred in the fog-drenched town of Daly City, a suburb south of San Francisco. The exorcism case received nationwide attention in 1972 due to reported claims of possession, and strange poltergeist events that multiple people had witnessed.
“On July 10, 1972, Jan and Brian Neven called a psychic study group frantically requesting help and saying that fires were spontaneously occurring in their home. That same evening several psychics went to see the family. The following day, I visited their home. Within the month I spent the night there on eight occasions, and also made three shorter visits. Some of these were made because some member of the family called in a panic. The first activity occurred in May, 1972…” That’s how UCLA psychologist Dr. Freda Morris began her July and August, 1974 article in Fate Magazine documenting what is now known as the Devil in Daly City case.
A Haunting in Daly City, or something more Evil?
Paranormal activity began with spontaneous fires breaking out in the home of a young couple, Jan and Brian Neven, and their newborn son, Stephen. As Brian Innes stated in his 1996 book, Ghost Sightings , “…Doors unlocked and opened by themselves, furniture and other household pieces were overthrown, small objects disappeared and then, some time later, returned.”
The poltergeist paranormal activity later increased to physical and psychological attacks. The paranormal activity seemed follow the Nevens. No matter where they went, even other homes or motels, the family was constantly under demonic attack. Brian, an Orthodox Jew, was in the process of converting to Catholicism, the religion practiced by his wife. The psychics believed that hauntings were also tied to their baby Stephen, who was born around the time the conversion began.
As time went on, their baby became the focus of the poltergeist, which evoked a deep sense of terror in the young family. D. Scott Roco notes in his 1979 book The Poltergeist Experience that: “…the poltergeist ignited one crib several times and incinerated a new crib the same day it was installed in the nursery.”
This experience was verified by Dr. Morris, who related another terrifying attack on the child: “I had been carrying the baby around the house for about 20 minutes, when suddenly he began to cry so loud that I returned him to Brian. He and Jan took the baby into the bedroom to change his diaper. Almost as soon as they entered the bedroom Jan screamed and we all rushed after them. Jan said the baby had started to shake and his eyes had rolled back into his head. When I touched him he was damp and cold but his eyes were focused and he was quiet. Jan went ahead with changing his diaper and when she took it off we all saw twined around his genitals a necklace with a cross which had disappeared from Jan’s neck two hours earlier. The young mother fainted and the baby began to cry again.”
After this incident, the attacks picked up in intensity. As Rogo noted, “…the poltergeist was no longer interested in anything but physically attacking the Nevens. They were hit by innumerable objects and the blows often caused pain and injuries.” The crucifix returned, found wrapped around the baby’s leg moments before a nearby Bible caught on fire. The infant was pelted with eggs and had his blankets wrapped around his face in an attempt to suffocate him.
But the rest of the family was terrified by the entity’s attacks on the baby. Dr. Morris wrote: “I asked Ben, Brian’s father, what had frightened him most throughout the experience. He said that one evening when he and Ebon (Brian’s brother) were visiting Brian and Jan they decided to try to communicate with the spirit. They put pencil and paper on the kitchen table and went to sit in the living room. Returning to check every few minutes, they found the following words on various pieces of paper: he, child, die, baby, back, baby, stay. Eventually, all except one of the pieces of paper were destroyed by spontaneous fires.”
On the 17 th of July, Greek Orthodox priest Father Karl Pazelt came into the Nevens’ home for the first time. The now deceased Karl Patzelt (1916 – 1988) was well known for performing exorcisms, and performed them during his career. Father Patzelt was born and raised in Czechoslovakia, and was studying at a Jesuit seminary when he was conscripted into the Nazi army during World War II. He was later captured by the Russians where he remained in a prison camp for several years. In 1957 he was ordained into Russian Rite of the Catholic Church.
A New York Times article from January 24, 1974 stated: “…Father Pazelt said the family members were reportedly the victims of peculiar forces that he labeled as “exterior signs of the devil.” At times, he said, the devil choked them by the throat, knocked them unconscious, threw knives and glasses through the air and caused objects to break, burn, move, and fly.” Father Pazelt concluded that After receiving permission from San Francisco Archbishop Joseph T. McGucken, Father Pazelt performed 14 exorcisms of the Nevens family and Dr. Freda Morris in 1972-73. Church officials, prayer groups, and parishioners accompanied the priest to these sessions, as reported by the LA Times in May of 1988 : “I went with kind of a jaundiced eye to begin with,” said the parishioner who accompanied Patzelt. “But the lady’s head was being banged against the wall. It was so rapid. I went home and tried it myself . . . and you can’t do it to yourself. The husband cut his arm being thrown through a window.”
Father Patzelt gained a lot of notoriety for the case, and related details to numerous press outlets.
As he said in a February 25, 1974 issue of New York Magazine, “What scientific explanation could there be,” he asked, “for a kitchen knife of steel going through a wall?” He also confirmed (Ellensburg Daily Record report on January 20, 1974) that as many as thirty people witnessed the paranormal activity and added (January 19, 1974 interview with Watertown Daily) that twenty lay persons assisted him in the exorcisms in the Nevens home. “It was a test of their faith in God, how much that faith would tolerate or break under the attacks of the devil,” the priest said. “He was trying to bring them on his side by bringing all kinds of trouble and attacks. If they had yielded, the incidents would have stopped.”
Exorcism from the Evil One
Patzelt defined the activity at the home as a ‘disturbance cause by the Evil One’. Between the 19th of August and the 8th of September in 1972 Father Patzelt performed the right of exorcism 12 times so that the family could be freed from the diabolical forces that were haunting their home.
The final exorcism took place on September 8, 1973 and lasted two hours. Afterward, Archbishop McGucken told the NY Times, the family found relief and peace.
“They visited once in a while and they’re doing fine,” said the parishioner (LA Times), who asked not to be identified. The family never gave Patzelt a gift for his efforts “because they’re of modest means and they spent all their money repairing their house.”