Jo Craig on the true story behind The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It…
Adrenaline is currently racing for The Conjuring franchise, following the reveal of the official title and plot synopsis for The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, which confirmed initial whispers of the new film depicting the first demonic possession trial in the United States.
The “Devil Made Me Do It” case was one of the most high profile paranormal occurrences that demonologist and clairvoyant Ed and Lorraine Warren experienced – shoulder-to-shoulder with the Amityville haunting of 1976 – and it’s the disturbing accounts of possession that we’re going to take a thorough look into.
*The following details may contain spoilers fpr The Conjuring 3 plot*
Brookfield, Connecticut was celebrating its 193rd homicide-free year when Debbie Glatzel moved into her mother’s property with her 11-year-old brother, David, her parents, and her fiance, Arne Cheyenne Johnson. According to Debbie’s recorded interview for Discovery Channel’s “A Haunting”, paranormal activity began immediately, targeting her brother, David, who spoke of an old man who threatened to harm his family if they stayed. He also described visions he had of the old man, who appeared to him as a “demonic beast”, spoke Latin and swore to take his soul.
David suffered from night terrors and demonstrated strange behaviour while the family claimed to hear strange noises coming from the attic. Judy, David’s mother, stated that he would wake up screaming about a “man with big, black eyes, a thin face with animal features and jagged teeth, horns and hoofs” who told him to “beware”. David’s bizarre visions progressed into the day, this time of “an old man with a white beard, dressed in a flannel shirt and jeans” and later received scratches and bruises over his body from unknown causes.
Convinced that the house was evil, the Glatzels brought in Roman Catholic priests to bless their home and invited paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, to aid in the cleansing as an extreme measure to help David.
Quoted from People Magazine, Lorraine Warren disclosed, “While Ed interviewed the boy, I saw a black, misty form next to him, which told me we were dealing with something of a negative nature. Soon the child was complaining that invisible hands were choking him—and there were red marks on him. He said that he had the feeling of being hit.” Lorraine continued, “David would be doodling and he’d be concentrating, then he’d look up and it was no longer a little 11-year-old boy.”
The Warren’s accompanied the Catholic priests who performed exorcisms on David, as he began to growl, hiss, speak in other voices and recite passages from Paradise Lost. Lorraine explained how David levitated, stopped breathing and demonstrated precognition, foreseeing the murder that would occur. “He would kick, bite, spit, swear -terrible words. Powerful forces would flop him rapidly head-to-toe like a ragdoll.” the family explained.
During a series of exorcisms that lasted several days, The Glatzel’s sought psychiatric advice and were told he was “normal” but had a “minimal learning disability”. In conclusion to the exorcisms, Ed Warren explained, “We know there were 43 demons in the boy. We demanded names, and David gave us 43.”
While family members monitored David as he spasmed and convulsed, Lorraine informed Brookfield police that David’s condition was becoming perilous, and it was at this point that Debbie’s fiance, Arne Johnson, allegedly goaded one of the demons within David into possessing him while participating in one the exorcisms. According to Ed Warren, Arne cried, “Take me on, leave my little buddy alone.”
After provoking the demon, Johnson was later attacked by the entity that speculatively took control of his car and forced it into a tree, but he was unharmed by the incident. As a last resort to rid the evil from his family, Johnson returned to the unholy property to inspect an old well that reportedly contained the demon, all against Lorraine Warren’s advice. Johnson then descended into his last coherent confrontation with the demon, before making eye contact and becoming possessed himself.
As David’s condition worsened, Debbie and Johnson decided to move out of her mother’s property and find a new apartment in a different residence of Brookfield, where Debbie later found work as a dog groomer via landlord, Alan Bono. However, after the move, Johnson started to exhibit odd behaviour similar to David’s, where he would experience trance like states and hallucinate, but have no memory of it later.
February 16, 1981
Johnson phoned in sick to his job with Wright Tree Service, who later met Debbie at the kennel where she worked with her sister, Wanda, and her 9-year-old cousin, Mary. Alan Bono bought lunch for the family at a local bar, where he started drinking heavily. When they returned to the kennels, Bono was intoxicated and through his agitation, grabbed Mary and refused to let her go. Johnson demanded Bono release Mary, and according to police reports, began growling whilst drawing a 5-inch (130mm) pocket knife and stabbing Bono repeatedly.
Bono died several hours later, suffering from four or five serious wounds to the chest and and one that stretched from his stomach to the base of his heart, according to Johnson’s lawyer. Police found Johnson two miles from the scene of the crime and was held on a bail of $125,000. Johnson pleaded not guilty, claiming the Devil made him do it.
Johnson’s attorney, Martin Minella flew to London to examine similar cases and intended to serve subpoenas to the priests who carried out the exorcisms on these cases. He claimed that Johnson was possessed and he had the evidence to prove it, stating, “The courts have dealt with the existence of God. Now they’re going to have to deal with the existence of the Devil,” he told the New York Times in 1981, several weeks after the murder. The trial began, but the judge dropped Minella’s defense stating it would be “irrelative and unscientific” to allow Johnson’s testimony.
November 24th, 1981
Arne Cheyelle Johnson was convicted of first-degree manslaughter for killing his landlord, Alan Bono, after the judge ruled that his possession couldn’t be proven and was subsequently illogical in a court of law. Johnson was sentenced to 10-20 years.
This chilling account of demonic possession is perplexing and intriguing, especially since the entire account is, for the most part, true. The “Devil Made Me Do It” case appears to be the strongest source material that The Conjuring franchise has adapted thus far, and that already carries an eerie weight in its anticipation. Expectations are high for the case to be told accurately in the hands of James Wan, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, who spent a large amount of time conversing with Lorraine Warren before her peaceful passing back in April.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It hits theaters on September 11th, 2020.