NEW YORK — The worried woman described the bizarre goings-on at her home in the Bronx, which she suspected was haunted, to the police officer standing before her.
He was off duty, there on his own time. If she was braced for a gentle pat on the shoulder and a brushoff, she was in for a surprise.
“Let me explain your problem,” the officer, Ralph Sarchie, replied. “Your home has been invaded by a demonic spirit, which is causing the phenomena you’ve described. Only a demon can inexplicably move something as heavy as a washing machine or make an object disappear. No human spirit, or ghost, can do that.”
Sarchie, 52, spent 20 years with the New York Police Department, patrolling crime-ridden housing projects and drug-filled neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and he was promoted to sergeant in 2000.
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For most of his career, he divided his time between “the Job,” as it is widely called among officers, and what he calls “the Work,” his side pursuit as a demonologist investigating cases of possession and assisting in the performance of exorcisms.
Sarchie wrote a book, “Beware the Night,” with a co-author, Lisa Collier Cool, about encounters like the one above in the Bronx.
It was published in 2001 by St. Martin’s Press, to little fanfare, and he retired in 2004.
But 10 years later, a horror film based on the book, “Deliver Us From Evil,” is set to open July 2, and the countless posters advertising it all over New York announce its source material in bold red letters: “Inspired by the Actual Accounts of an NYPD Sergeant.”
The role of Sarchie, the film’s main character, will be played by Eric Bana (“Munich,” “Hulk”). For Sarchie, a father from Queens who has spent the decade since retirement working security jobs, driving trucks, delivering food to Greek restaurants and for 13 months serving as a police consultant in Iraq, the spotlight is a bit on the bright side.
“I don’t like all the attention,” he said.
But he said he hoped the film would serve a greater good.
“The devil is real and is very active in your life,” Sarchie said. “Knowing your enemy is a must in order to defeat him.”
He joined the Police Department in 1984. At home, he enjoyed reading ghost stories as much as the next guy, until he discovered the nonfiction accounts of hauntings and the work of Ed and Lorraine Warren, paranormal investigators whose caseload inspired “The Amityville Horror.”
Sarchie began meeting the Warrens at their Connecticut home every Monday, and soon he was accompanying them to meet people who were believed by their loved ones to be possessed by demons.
“I put aside my gun and police badge,” he wrote in his book, “and arm myself with holy water and a relic of the True Cross.”
A typical case among many in the book, in a chapter titled “Werewolf”: “For our safety, Greg agreed to wear a straitjacket. If he hadn’t agreed, I don’t think any of us in the church that day would have wanted to be there, because this was one nasty, dangerous demon.”
When a bishop performing the exorcism splashed him with holy water, Greg broke out of his binds, Sarchie wrote, “stood to his full height, and let out an even more terrifying roar.” But soon it was over, the demon gone.
Film rights to the book were sold in 2003, and Sarchie said he was able to buy a house on Long Island with the windfall, but he did not charge for his paranormal investigations.
Sarchie said he did not engage in exorcisms or demonology on the job, but spoke freely of “the Work” with his fellow officers.
“There were some people who believed it and some people who didn’t,” he said. One of his superior officers, a lieutenant, had a favorite prank.
“He’d call me on the phone in the precinct,” Sarchie said. “He’d rattle the leg irons, like the chains, and go, ‘Woooooo.’ ”
Laugh it up, was his attitude.
“You go home tonight and some of your furniture goes moving around the house on its own, you’re going to call me in a heartbeat,” he would say.
The department never weighed in on what he did on his own time, he said.
“It’s my religious beliefs,” he said.
While he was waiting to meet with a police review board considering his promotion to sergeant, a captain asked him, in colorful language, to perform an exorcism on the bosses.
Laugh it up. Fourteen years later, on Monday, a Manhattan theater presented a private screening of “Deliver Us From Evil” for the Sergeants Benevolent Association.