This article is part of the POMEmag Séance Theme Week.
Movies about ghosts make for some of the best horror films of all time. Serial killers and monsters are spooky, sure, but there’s something about an enemy you can’t see or fight that takes it to another level. Films like Annabelle, The Amityville Horror, The Haunting In Connecticut, and The Conjuring have been capitalizing on our fear of the supernatural for decades. But maybe the scariest thing of all is the tagline that underlies each of these movies: Based On True Story.
And in the truth that binds these films lies a mysterious tale: that of Ed and Lorraine Warren, ghost hunters and self-styled demonologists. It’s a little-known fact that the Warrens were involved in the real cases these films are based on. All of them. And it doesn’t stop there. The Warrens have investigated over 10,000 cases of ghosts and hauntings, and if you believe the stories, they’ve crossed paths with their fair share of demons.
The Warrens have been around for decades and so too have the infamous accounts of their exploits. Through their media appearances and their foundation, the New England Society for Psychic Research, they’ve inspired generations of ghost hunters and spun off countless paranormal research organizations. But if you dig a little deeper into the research teams, church officials, and authors that have worked with the Warrens personally, the gleaming public persona starts to lose some of its luster.
Over the years, the Warrens have left behind a trail of people who feel misled, taken advantage of, and harmed for the sake of their own reputation. Today we take a skeptical look at the true events behind four films:
In 1970, a young woman named Donna received a doll that appeared to be able to move and communicate on its own. After setting up a seance, Donna learned that the lost spirit of a young girl named Annabelle Higgins had somehow found its way into the doll’s body. Sympathetic to young Annabelle’s tragic story, Donna allowed her to inhabit the doll.
Annabelle turned out to be a demon masquerading as a little girl, though, and Donna had unknowingly given it permission to tear her life apart. She called in the Warrens, who claim that if they hadn’t arrived when they did, the doll would surely have murdered her. They blessed the home and took Annabelle back to their Museum of the Occult, where she remains under heavy guard to this day.
The Amityville Horror
In 1974 in Long Island, New York, Ronald DeFeo Jr. killed his entire family in the dead of night, claiming that the Devil made him do it. One year later, George and Kathy Lutz moved in with their children.
Malevolent spirits reportedly resided in the house and began attacking them from the moment they moved in. In the Hollywood version of the story, the evil presences in the home attempt to push George Lutz into another full-scale murder, but he overcomes their dark will and gets his family out pronto. In reality, the Lutzes simply fled their home after being unable to handle any more.
These initial events have nothing to do the Warrens. Their involvement came years later when a local news reporter named Scott Marvin did a story on the alleged hauntings. He brought in a small army of paranormal investigators, including Ed and Lorraine, hoping to catch some evidence of the afterlife. Marvin and his crew went home empty handed, but not Ed and Lorraine. They managed to snap a photo of a ghostly child who many think looks like one of the murdered DeFeo children.
The Warrens’ involvement ingrained them into the history of the case despite their absence during the actual haunting, and they have been tied to retellings of the story ever since. They claim that the home was filled with evil due to having been first built on an Indian burial ground and then owned by a man who dabbled in dark magic. However, they have never backed this up with evidence. Since then, Jay Anson, author of The Amityville Horror book, has clarified that his work was a fictional embellishment of the Lutz’s experiences.
In 1970, Roger Perron, Carolyn Perron, and their five daughters moved into a massive farmhouse on 200 acres of land in Burrillville, Rhode Island. Right away, the family experienced bizarre occurrences like oozing walls and apparitions throughout the 14-bedroom home. But one spirit in particular was determined to make them feel unwelcome.
There was a female apparition that seemed to consider herself the lady of the house, and so targeted Carolyn Perron relentlessly. Carolyn would endure slaps, scratches, and strikes from furniture that would launch itself at her from across the room. Meanwhile, the ghost had taken a shine to Roger. If he was alone, he’d be touched or stroked by phantom hands.
After several years of torment, Ed and Lorraine showed up at the farm in late 1974 stating that they’d heard the Perron’s story and thought they could help. The Warrens claimed that the ghost was the spirit of a previous owner named Bathsheba Thayer, who’d allegedly killed her children as a sacrifice to the Devil and then been hanged in turn for her crimes. According to the Warrens’ version of events, the townspeople suspected Bathsheba of witchcraft, though it was never proven.
This is the version of events featured in The Conjuring, which also depicts Carolyn Perron becoming possessed by Bathsheba and subsequently exorcised by the Warrens. In reality, the Warrens did conduct a seance to remove the female spirit, but it was unsuccessful. After Carolyn Perron was harmed during the seance, the Perron family forcibly ejected the Warrens from their property. According to Andrea Perron, one of the daughters who has written several books on the experience, the haunting became much worse after the failed seance.
The Perron family’s story stands out among these incidents as one of the few where the Warrens were unable to alleviate the paranormal activity. The history they offered the Perrons has little basis in fact. There was a Bathsheba Thayer living in town, but she was not a resident of the Perron’s farmhouse and none of the details of her life fit the Warrens story. Her gravestone has been destroyed, reconstructed, and destroyed again by vandals who believe the cinematic version of events.
None of this is to say that the Perrons weren’t being haunted by a malevolent female spirit, though. It just means that if there was an angry ghost lady, it probably wasn’t Bathsheba.
The Haunting in Connecticut
In 1986, Allen and Carmen Snedeker were in need of a cheap place to live in Southington, Connecticut. The family was from upstate New York, but they had a teenage son named Phillip who’d just been diagnosed with Hodgekin’s lymphoma, a type of blood-cancer. Phillip needed specialists who were only available in Southington, so the Snedekers moved their three sons, daughter, and nieces into a white duplex in town.
While moving in, Allen and Carmen discovered mortuary tools in the home’s basement. The house, it turns out, had been a former funeral home. Worried that proximity to the reality of death would have a negative impact on Phillip, the Snedekers cleared the equipment and hid the house’s past from their kids. This proved to be easier said than done, however, because Phillip claimed that basement as his room.
Soon after the move, Phillip started seeing ghosts and hearing voices that would tell him to hurt the others. The children would complain of being groped in the night by countless hands or being attacked by the spirits. Allen and Carmen themselves claimed to have been sexually assaulted and sodomized on numerous occasions by the ghosts, and even followed to work a few times.
The Snedekers put out a call for help, which brought the Warrens to their doorstep. Upon entering their home, the Warrens immediately identified the place as “infested by demons.” They proposed that necrophilia had occurred in the funeral home, angering the dead, and they believed that Phillip’s illness and vulnerability had drawn demons to him. The Warrens exorcised the home with the help of a priest, and the evil entities were expelled.
In the years that followed, neighbors and people who knew the Snedekers personally cast doubts on their story. Their duplex neighbors experienced no paranormal activity in spite of the fact that the other side of the home seemed to be a hotbed for ghosts. Families who moved in after claimed no ghostly experiences, though the Warrens have argued this was due to the success of the exorcism.
Phillip Snedeker was revealed to be exhibiting symptoms of schizophrenia while all of this was going on. The signs became clear to his doctors early during his cancer treatments, but dealing with potential mental health issues on top his already hefty medical bills was a no-go for the family. The signs went ignored.
It would come to light later that untreated Phillip was responsible at least in part for the molestations the children complained of, which had resulted in the family removing him from the home and placing him in a psychiatric facility. Phillip would later tell Ray Garton, the ghostwriter who the Warrens hired to pen the novel on the Snedekers’ experiences, that the medication he’d been prescribed put a stop to his seeing ghosts and hearing voices.
While interviewing the family and the Warrens about the haunting, Ray Garton came to believe that both parties were hoping to recreate the success of The Amityville Horror. He was ordered to make up large swaths of the story, and his book In A Dark Place would go on to form the basis of the “true” events behind The Haunting In Connecticut. Garton, regretful of the misleading tagline, has spent decades denouncing the book.
A number of authors and researchers who’ve worked with the Warrens over the decades have told a similar tale: that the Warrens asked them to lie to turn a profit, or that Ed Warren was a bully who would resort to threats against those who slighted his and Lorraine’s public image. At 38:55 in the video clip above, you can see Ed Warren shouting down investigator Joe Nickell during an appearance on the Sally Jessy Raphael Show.
Others, like Steve Novella of the New England Skeptic Society, who debunked some of the Warrens’ video evidence in the 90’s, believe that the Warrens aren’t so much swindlers as they are out of touch. Novella determined after his examination of their footage that the Warrens didn’t fully understand how the equipment they used worked, and they didn’t necessarily want to. They dealt, it seemed, in pseudoscience born out of misinterpreted results.
Pseudoscience, however, can often be more captivating than hard facts. Even a surface-level search on these and other Warren investigations will dredge up decades-old evidence of hoaxes and dishonesty, but it hasn’t put a dent in the Warrens’ reputation. Today, Ed Warren has passed away and 89-year-old Lorraine has retired from paranormal research. She does, however, still do work as a movie consultant on films that feature her and Ed as demon-battling ghostbusters.
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