Paranormal research has steadily gained more mainstream acknowledgement since the 1970s, following the release of books and films such as The Exorcist and The Amityville Horror, the latter of which was supposedly based on a true story. And while there is a serious science fueling supernatural exploration, many organizations such as the those featured in the numerous "ghost investigator" reality TV shows - groups that are primarily concerned with entertainment and brand-building, compelling them to fabricate evidence in order to get ratings - give genuine researchers a bad name.
Perhaps the forbears to this conglomeration approach are Ed and Lorraine Warren, self-described demonologists whose names have been attached to some of the most well-known paranormal cases in the latter half of the 20th century. Lorraine claims to be a psychic who can communicate with spirits. Since her husband's death in 2006, she has worked as a psychic consultant on various TV shows and she has maintained The Occult Museum in Connecticut, featuring artifacts from some of their cases. Many people swear they are "the real deal" - in particular devout Christians; according to Ed Warren, one has to believe in God in order to understand the couple's research. But other writers and skeptics have discovered outright fabrications in their claims.
Below are some of the Warrens' most famous cases, and the thorough debunking they've undergone. Let's find out the real stories behind The Conjuring, The Amityville Horror, Annabelle, and more.
Note: The intention of this list is not to question the existence of supernatural entities, nor to assert that the families investigated by the Warrens are also frauds or in any way co-conspirators of hoaxes. Moreover - because who doesn't love a good ghost story - it is the Warrens' intertwining of Catholicism into their own folklore that make them highly questionable figures, because they aren't only preying upon people's fears, they're also preying upon their faith.
Amityville is perhaps the most famous Warren case out there, and thus it the most thoroughly investigated. As Stephen King predicted in his book Danse Macabre, the Amityville narrative has become a kind of campfire ghost tale, effective as a spine-tingler but likely fabricated, or at least mostly so.
The facts are these: In 1974, in the Amityville neighborhood of Long Island, NY, Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his entire family in the middle of the night, later claiming he heard voices plotting against him, which motivated his actions. Roughly a year later, the Lutz family - George, Kathy, and their three children - purchased the DeFeo home (including some of the DeFeo furniture) and moved in. The Lutzes later claimed they experienced unexplainable phenomena, nightmares, and encountered entities of a demonic nature. The public at large became aware of their story following the 1977 release of the book The Amityville Horror by screenwriter turned novelist Jay Anson, and even more so with the film adaptation, which appeared in theaters two years later.
There are countless articles revealing the Lutzs' haunting as more fiction than fact, including statements made by Ronald DeFeo's lawyer, William Weber, who claims he, Kathy, and George Lutz consumed "four bottles of wine" one evening and had "a creative writing session about what kind of thing could go into writing a horror book," according to ABC News. George and Kathy Lutz always maintained that their experiences were real, and their son Daniel even made a documentary, called My Amityville Horror, in which he effectively expands upon the lore. Perhaps something truly unexplainable did happen to the family in that short month stay in the DeFeo murder house, perhaps not. We'll likely never know for sure.
But where do the Warrens fit in with all this? They participated in a "psychic slumber party" some two months after the Lutzes abandoned their new home in the middle of the night, followed by a camera crew from a local news affiliate. Lorraine sensed great malevolence in the house, and insisted it was infested with demonic entities. A photograph was allegedly captured of one such entity, though it is likely just one of the crew members in the house that night.
This TV appearance catapulted the Warrens as experts in the field of paranormal research, despite the fact that they presented no concrete evidence of their findings that the Amityville house was haunted or "infested with demons," and that they furthermore had no real evidence in any prior cases they had worked on. But the fervor for this "true ghost story" had already begun, reaching a fever pitch with the release of The Amityville Horror film in 1979, and cementing the Warrens' reputation for years to come.
One of the biggest issues with any case associated with the Warrens is that there is scant information concerning the hauntings outside what is provided by the Warrens - meaning that we are supposed to accept whatever facts are presented to us by the couple based on their word alone.
This is especially true with the Annabelle Doll case (adapted into the movie Annabelle in 2014, a prequel to The Conjuring, though the doll had nothing to do with the case upon which The Conjuring was based). According to Joseph Laycock in his article "The Paranormal to Pop Culture Pipeline," "...a nursing student received a Raggedy Ann doll from her mother in 1970. When the doll exhibited strange behavior, a medium revealed that the doll was possessed by a dead woman named 'Annabelle Higgins.' The student and her roommate took compassion for the spirit and granted Annabelle permission to reside in the doll. However, when frightening incidents continued to occur, they contacted the Warrens, who declared that 'Annabelle Higgins' was actually a demon."
The demonologists took the doll back to their museum and put in on display for safety's sake. Encased in a glass cabinet with a cross over its head, the doll comes with a warning: "POSITIVELY DO NOT OPEN." Before his death, Ed would apparently warn museum visitors that the last man to mock Annabelle ended up dying in a motorcycle crash, providing no names or evidence to this claim whatsoever. It's a great little ghost story, but the Annabelle legend originates from the Warrens themselves (or, as Laycock points out, from a 1963 episode of The Twilight Zone, in which a woman named Annabelle gives her daughter a doll that comes to life and terrorizes the family).
Perron Family Case
This case was the basis for the hit 2013 film The Conjuring, though the Annabelle doll was related to a separate case. While certain events depicted in the film were exaggerated for the purposes of spectacle, Lorraine Warren and one of the daughters, Andrea Perron, both insist it was mostly accurate to real-life events. Problem is, outside sources insist otherwise, and have a fair amount of evidence to back up their claims.
Primarily, the current owner of the supposedly haunted/possessed house, Norma Sutcliffe, researched the history of her home and discovered many factual errors presented as truth by the Perron family, the Warrens, and subsequently the filmmakers behind The Conjuring (she also sued Warner Bros. due to an influx of trespassers following the film's release). Sutcliffe and journalist Kent Spottswood produced a video detailing her research, which alleges - among other things - that the "witch" featured in the film, Bathsheba Sherman, was anything but, and that any Satanic worship, infant sacrifices, or general witchery was pure fabrication. Sutcliffe and Spottswood's evidence is further detailed by Andy Smith in an article for the Providence Journal, and it is corroborated by J'aime Rubio on the investigative blog Dreaming Casually.
Much like the Lutzes, the Perron family (alongside the Warrens, of course) always maintained the veracity of their claims, and perhaps they truly encountered something unexplainable that terrified them. It should be clear, however, that at least some of the backstory surrounding their haunting is made-up.
Snedeker Family Haunting
This case inspired the Hollywood film A Haunting in Connecticut, which Lorraine Warren reportedly detested for its "historical inaccuracy," stating "It's embarrassing. Do you know the amount of time and effort that we put into that case? Do you know how many meetings with the clergy we had to finally bring closure to the family?" (The Warrens are notoriously staunch Catholics, and most of their investigations centered around families of the same faith - which, for them is apparently the "one true faith," if we're to interpret Ed's somewhat anti-Semitic remarks correctly.)
According to Lorraine, the REAL story of A Haunting in Connecticut involved the Snedeker family, who purchased a home for a knockout price and at a convenient location to the hospital, where their son was receiving treatment for cancer. Of course, it turns out the home's perfection was too good to be true, as it was formerly a funeral home, where the morticians were rumored to have been caught in acts of necrophilia. This naturally meant the place was haunted, and the family began experiencing the usual strange sounds, demonic entities, possessions, and whatnot.
If this overall scenario sounds familiar, it should: it's more or less the same narrative shaping The Amityville Horror and The Conjuring - family moves into house, is terrorized by demons. And like those cash cows, the Snedeker Haunting came with its own book, In a Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting, which is credited as written by Ed and Lorraine Warren, Carmen Reed, Al Snedeker, and Ray Garton. The latter (a horror novelist) was hired by the Warrens to help shape the Snedeker's narrative. According to Benjamin Radford, writing for Live Science, Garton told Horror Bound magazine he "interviewed all the family members about their experiences, and soon realized that there was a problem: 'I found that the accounts of the individual Snedekers didn't quite mesh. They couldn't keep their stories straight. I went to Ed [Warren] with this problem. "Oh, they're crazy," he said..."You've got some of the story - just use what works and make the rest up... Just make it up and make it scary.""
Moreover, according to investigator Joe Nickell in the June 2009 issue of Skeptical Inquirer, neighbors of the Snedeker family (as well as Garton again) attributed most of the paranormal happenings to the family's serious drug and alcohol abuse. All signs seem to point less toward a family legitimately terrorized by an evil spirit, and more toward the Warrens trying to create another Amityville phenomenon.
The "Devil Made Me Do It" Case
According to a contemporary article from People magazine by Lynne Baranski, in 1981, Arne Cheyenne Johnson was arrested and tried for murdering his landlord, Alan Bono. His defense argued that Johnson was not in control of his actions, not by reason of insanity, but by way of demonic possession.
See, Johnson's fiancée Debbie Glatzel had a little brother, David, 11 years old at the time, who, after being visited by "a man with big black eyes" that bore a striking resemblance to Satan, began showing signs that he was no longer himself - gaining 60 pounds, growling and hissing, involuntary spasming, speaking in strange voices, and "reciting passages from the Bible or from Milton's Paradise Lost."
Rather than seeking psychiatric help immediately, the Glatzels first brought in a priest to bless their house; when that didn't work, guess who they called? Enter the Warrens, who began making regular visits to the Glatzel house, bringing with them more priests and performing "three lesser exorcisms." Ed Warren commented that he and Lorraine knew "there were 43 demons in the boy." While the priests involved denied any exorcisms had actually transpired in the Glatzel home, David began to show signs of improvement, especially after the boy was placed into counseling and moved to "a private school for disturbed children." But Johnson was not so lucky, as apparently a few of the demons exorcised from David's body entered his, eliciting growls and hisses similar to his soon-to-be brother-in-law's, as well as slipping into "trances" off and on for a period of months before killing Bono with a five-inch pocket knife, stabbing the man over and over as Debbie Glatzel watched.
The "Devil Made Me Do It" plea didn't work for Judge Robert Callahan or the jury, and Johnson eventually went to prison for his crime. Years later, in 2007, Carl Glatzel, David's older brother, attempted to sue Lorraine Warren and Gerald Brittle, author of the requisite "true story" book The Devil in Connecticut for unspecified damages. As part of his suit, Glatzel claims his family was manipulated by the Warrens, that they and Brittle "concocted a phony story about demons in an attempt to get rich and famous at [their] expense"—none more so than little David, whose mental illness he feels was exploited for monetary gain. Of course, it should be noted that the Warrens and the other Glatzels might not be the only the only ones looking for a little moolah off the experience: Carl reportedly wrote his own tell-all book, Alone Through the Valley, with Francis Richards. The book doesn't seem to be available for purchase, but there's an excerpt still available on an old Geocities site.
The Enfield Poltergeist
These events, beginning in August of 1977 in Enfield, a suburb of London, and petering out sometime in 1979, are the basis for the 2016 film The Conjuring 2, depicting the further adventures of Ed and Lorraine Warren. Much of their work investigating the Hodgson home appeared in The Demonologist: The Extraordinary Career of Ed and Lorraine Warren by Gerald Brittle, the same man who wrote The Devil in Connecticut for the Warrens a few years later. This case centered mostly around Janet Hodgson, at the time 11 years old, who was alternately tormented and possibly even possessed by a poltergeist. The evil spirit was responsible for throwing random items across the room, knocking sounds, strange voices, and growling noises, and even causing young Janet to levitate in midair. The story became a media sensation, and led to numerous investigations of Janet, her 13-year-old sister Peggy (who also seemed to be affected by the poltergeist's presence), and the entire house.
What most of the investigators took away was that the girls were playing pranks. Joe Nickell wrote a detailed piece for Skeptical Inquirer in July/August 2012, referencing numerous sources that reveal how most of the paranormal happenings in the Hodgson house occurred when no one was actually looking at either Janet or Peggy, such as instances of objects being flung across the room. An audio recording of a dresser falling to the floor seemingly of its own accord reveals what could very likely be footsteps creeping up to the dresser just prior to its collapse. Instances in which the poltergeist seemed to converse with Janet happened mostly when Janet and/or Peggy were behind a closed door, and when the voice would manifest in the presence of others, it was painfully obvious Janet had learned to throw her voice - i.e., she was practicing ventriloquism.
There are a series of photographs that staunch believers of the paranormal insist show Janet levitating. Click here to see a collection of gifs of these photos, but just be aware that if you're hoping to see an exorcist or Dana-possessed-by-Zuul-style levitation, you'll be sadly disappointed. The photos depict nothing more than a girl jumping off her bed. And yet, Ed Warren swears up and down in The Demonoligst that he witnessed the girl "sound asleep, levitating in midair." Did he?
But perhaps most damning of all is the admission by Janet in 2011, then 45 years old, "that she and her sister faked some of the phenomena," Nickell wrote. "'I'd say 2 percent,' she admitted." Though Nickell insists the evidence suggests one hundred percent fakery, perhaps this is again a case of the truth lying somewhere in between. Perhaps Janet and Peggy did encounter a supernatural being, but began to fabricate much of their interactions with "The Thing" once they realized how much attention it garnered them. Perhaps the affair was, as Nickell states, a total fabrication, through and through. One thing is certain: Ed Warren likely didn't see Janet levitating.
The Smurl Haunting
The details of this case feel more like something out of a William Peter Blatty novel (or a Jay Anson "True Story" horror tale) than actual events, but like many families on this list, the Smurls of West Pittston, PA swear their story is true, despite numerous investigations and accounts that seem to indicate otherwise. The events in question took place during the 1980s, roughly speaking, and feature all the trademarks of a classic, Amityville-style demonic haunting, in which the supernatural baddie made "loud noises and bad odors" and "pig grunts"; it also "threw [the Smurls'] dog into a wall, shook their mattresses, pushed one of their daughters down a flight of stairs, and physically and sexually assaulted Jack on several occasions," as stated in a 2012 Times-Leader article by Sheena Delazio. Ed Warren - who came to the Smurls' aid along with his wife Lorraine in 1986 - even claimed that he saw "a dripping message on a mirror that told him to 'Get out.'"
Paul Kurtz, a philosophy professor at the State University of New York, Buffalo, drew connections between the Smurls and the Lutzes around the same time the story (with full backing from the Warrens, of course) was exploding in the media. He said of the demonologists, "They have no credentials in the scientific or parapsychological communities," and further added, "There is no explanation for the Smurl house, but I wouldn't simply assume it is a haunting... It seems to us that a great-to-do has been made about it, and we wonder if it s like the Amityville horror hoax, which was based on imagination rather than an actual haunting." Even members of the clergy, brought in for the usual blessings and exorcisms, reported "nothing unusual" happening there. Despite the quick skepticism, the Smurls tale was turned in to a paperback "true story" titled The Haunted, with Ed and Lorraine's name emblazoned on the cover right next to journalist turned author Robert Curran's credit. A TV movie of the same name followed in 1991.
This is perhaps the most ludicrous case in the Warren roster: the couple, alongside Catholic bishops and retired police officers, exorcized the angry spirit of a werewolf from a man's body. Sounds like a great episode of Supernatural, but it's apparently one hundred percent true, at least according to the famous demonologists and their book (there's always a book), Werewolf: A True Story of Demonic Possession. This tome is wonderfully summed-up by Kirkus Reviews, in which the unnamed writer states, "Skeptics, please note the Warrens' assurance that this is a 'carefully documented' case (they forgot to include the documentation, though)."
You can read an overview of this case in a blog post by Ritoban Mukherjee at Unexplained Mysteries, if you so choose. What is most interesting about this post, however, is that it both demonstrates the Warrens' fraudulent nature and shows how blindly faithful and devoted believers of their work can be. Consider this passage: "The Warrens haven't been able to produce any photos or material evidence. But the very presence of the famous demonologist couple, paranormal collector John Zaffis, and famous exorcist Bishop [Robert McKenna] greatly increases the credibility." Moreover, most resources touting the truthfulness of this case are blogs that love to gush on the Warrens. There are no articles devoted to debunking this one because it really debunks itself: man gets violent with some cops, blames a werewolf demon, has an exorcism, man is cured.
But it's real! Because the Warrens are awesome and they don't lie! Say it with me now: "The Warrens tell the truth, this I know / For the Warrens told me so."