Graveyard Shift
29.2k readers

The True 'Devil Made Me Do It' Case That Inspired 'The Conjuring 3'

March 16, 2020 29.2k views12 items

"The devil made me do it." The subtitle of the third film in the main sequence of the Conjuring franchise (not counting spin-offs like Annabelle and The Nun) has become a cliche and has been used as a justification for a variety of terrifying real-life crimes over the years. But the true story behind The Conjuring 3 is also the first time in American history that demonic possession was used as a defense in a court of law. 

In February 1981, Arne Cheyenne Johnson stabbed his landlord several times with a 5-inch pocket knife. The crime became the first murder on the books in the 193-year history of the sleepy town of Brookfield, Connecticut - but according to Johnson, while his was the hand that held the knife, the crime was actually committed by a demonic force that possessed him. Months earlier, Johnson had been present when amateur demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren had performed an exorcism on an 11-year-old boy. He claimed that one of the demons possessing the child had entered him and driven him to his dark deeds.

Now, here's the real story behind The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It.

  • Photo: Image courtesy of The Courtroom Sketches of Ida Libby Dengrove / University of Virginia Law Library / CC BY 4.0

    Johnson's Defense Argued That He Was 'Not Guilty Due To Demonic Possession'

    "The courts have dealt with the existence of God," said Martin Minella, Johnson's attorney, who attempted to enter a plea of not guilty by claiming that his client was suffering from demonic possession at the moment of the crime. "Now they're going to have to deal with the existence of the Devil."

    While Johnson's defense had plenty of what they considered evidence - including testimony from the Warrens and Debbie Glatzel, not to mention photographs and tape recordings made during David Glatzel's supposed demonic possession - their case was not helped along by the refusal of the Catholic Church to cooperate. While the diocese acknowledged that four priests had worked with the Glatzels to try to help David, none of them were allowed to speak publicly about what had happened there, and church representatives vehemently denied the claim that any exorcism had ever been performed.

    "We hope that the priests will do what's right, and come in and testify," Ed Warren, who claimed to have tapes showing that the priests had gone to the bishop to request an exorcism, said prior to the trial. "If they don't, we will have to subpoena them to testify, and we'll have to use our tapes to prove it."

  • Photo: Image courtesy of The Courtroom Sketches of Ida Libby Dengrove / University of Virginia Law Library / CC BY 4.0

    The Prosecution Claimed The Crime Was The Result Of Drinking Gone Wrong

    Debbie Glatzel claimed that her brother had experienced a vision, which he told her about the day after Arne Cheyenne Johnson fatally stabbed Alan Bono. "He said he had seen the beast go into Cheyenne's body," she said, "and it was the beast who had committed the crime."

    Prosecutors claimed that the crime was the result of something very different entering Johnson's body - a lot of alcohol. The second witness called by the prosecution was a waitress at the Mug and Munch cafe, who testified that Johnson and Bono had spent about three hours in the establishment on the day of the slaying, drinking between 13 and 15 glasses of wine. The crime, the prosecution asserted, was the result of a day spent drinking, which led to an altercation, which led, in turn, to Bono's violent demise.

    According to the EMT who arrived on the scene, Debbie Glatzel repeatedly said, "He didn't mean to do it, but you know how he gets when he's drinking."

  • Photo: Image courtesy of The Courtroom Sketches of Ida Libby Dengrove / University of Virginia Law Library / CC BY 4.0

    The Judge Threw Out Johnson's Defense And He Received A 10-20 Year Sentence

    While Johnson's defense attempted to enter a plea of "not guilty by virtue of demonic possession," presiding judge Robert J. Callahan rejected the plea, claiming that it would be impossible to prove and that any attempt to do so would be "irrelative and unscientific." 

    Johnson's attorney then changed his plea to self-defense, but the jury, after 15 hours of deliberation over three days, found Johnson guilty of first-degree manslaughter. He was sentenced to serve 10 to 20 years, but was released after five.

  • Photo: The Demon Murder Case/NBC

    The Warrens Commissioned A Book, And A TV Movie Was Based On The Case

    In 1983, less than two years after Arne Cheyenne Johnson was convicted, Bantam Books published The Devil in Connecticut, a book written by Gerald Brittle, working with the Warrens. That same year, a TV movie called The Demon Murder Case premiered on NBC, also based on Johnson's crimes, albeit with the names (and many of the details) changed. The movie was directed by William Hale, who had previously helmed several episodes of Night Gallery, from a screenplay by William Kelley, who would later pen the Harrison Ford-starring Amish thriller Witness. It featured Kelly McGillis and Danny Glover.

    The family received $2,000 from the book publisher at the time, but more than 20 years later, David Glatzel's brother, Carl, brought a lawsuit against Lorraine Warren, Gerald Brittle, and the publishing company that was reissuing the book, claiming that the Warrens were attempting to "get rich and famous at our expense." According to Carl Glatzel, "The Warrens told my family numerous times that we would be millionaires and the book would help get my sister's boyfriend, Arne, out of jail."

    The book's author, Gerald Brittle, on the other hand, claimed to have spent more than 100 hours interviewing the Glatzel family, and that his book was based entirely on fact. "Just to be sure I got it right, the family got the manuscript before it went to the printer, and they vouched to its accuracy," he said.