It wasn’t until the sentencing in 1979 that Bateson’s former colleagues at NYU found out about the murders.
“He was the chief neuro-radiology technologist. He was the most experienced and he was the best. He taught me an awful lot and I considered him a good friend,” Lane remembers of Bateson. “When you do radiology, even though there's the radiologist whose kind of the doctor, you also have a very important support team and I couldn't have done it without Paul. He was really excellent. I didn’t realize until many years later that he had killed a man. I thought it was bizarre. I just had no idea.”
Bateson’s former colleagues describe him as a talented and smart man with a good bedside manner.
“People were shocked,” remembers Dr. Ajax George, who was involved in the filming of
The Exorcist angiogram scene and is still with the NYU radiology department. “There was no inkling in his behavior that would raise any suspicion. He was very good with patients and he was extremely smart ... he was an asset to the department.”
After weeks of sorting through archives, public records, and phone conversations with the NYPD and the New York County Clerk, Bateson’s involvement with film history—and his crime in general—began to expand.
In the late '70s, the news of Bateson’s conviction reached William Friedkin, the director of
The Exorcist, who read about it. Aside from one interview in 2012, as far as I have been able to tell, Friedkin rarely discussed Bateson by name. I first reached out to the director’s publicist in mid-September, and after a month of back-and-forth, Friedkin eventually declined to be interviewed. However, shortly after I requested comment about Bateson, Friedkin brought up the story in an interview for The Hollywood Reporter podcast, “It Happened in Hollywood,” released on Oct. 1.
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He was a really nice young guy. I remember he wore a leather studded bracelet and he had an earring, which in 1972 was not common in the workplace... Then about four or five years later after the film I see the front page of the New York Post and the Daily News and he’s accused of five or six murders. And they were murders in the S&M bars on the west side of Manhattan. His lawyer’s name was in the story. And I called his lawyer and told him who I was and asked him ‘Could I visit with Paul?’ His lawyer said okay. He was at Rikers Island… I went through about eight layers of bureaucracy and I get into his cell where there’s a guy outside, and I’m sitting with him in the cell. He was very cheerful … He said, ‘I remember killing this one guy … I cut him up and I put his body parts in a plastic bag and threw it in the East River.’ Well, this is how they got him. At the bottom of the bag, in very small print that you can’t even read, it said, ‘PROPERTY OF NYU MEDICAL CENTER NEUROPSYCHIATRIC CENTER.’ He said, “That’s the only one I remember but they want me to confess to another five or six.” And I said, ‘what are you going to do?’ He said, ‘Well I’m thinking it over, because if I confess to six or seven of these they’ll lower the sentence.’
This conversation with Bateson, Friedkin says, helped inspire his next film,
Cruising, which is based off the 1970 Gerald Walker novel of the same name, starring Al Pacino as a police officer going undercover in New York City to solve the slayings of gay men in the ‘70s. (The film, for what it’s worth, sparked massive protests in New York City from those who thought Friedkin’s portrayal of the gay community would be offensive. Bell wrote in the Village Voice that it promised to be “the most oppressive, ugly bigoted look at homosexuality ever presented on screen.” It was eventually released to mixed reviews.)
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Was all of this information that Bateson told Friedkin true and never before reported? Or has the director mythologized the origins of his film?