"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
Arne Johnson Attacked Alan Bono With A Pocket Knife
On February 16, 1981, Arne Cheyenne Johnson repeatedly plunged a 5-inch pocket knife into the chest of his landlord, Alan Bono, who later succumbed to his many wounds in the hospital. At the time, Johnson was 19 years old and working as a tree surgeon. He had moved with his girlfriend Debbie Glatzel into a room adjacent to the Brookfield Pet Motel, where Debbie worked as a groomer. The 40-year-old Bono, who owned both the Pet Motel and the room, had taken them all out to the Mug and Munch cafe earlier in the day, where witnesses say they had been drinking heavily.
Johnson was later found by police two miles away from the scene of the crime at a bar called Hackney's. It marked the first recorded homicide in the 193-year history of the small Connecticut town of around 13,000.
The motive behind the slaying depends on who you ask. Prosecutors claimed that it was just a case of drinking gone bad. But if you ask Arne Cheyenne Johnson, his girlfriend Debbie (who is now his wife), or amateur demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, the devil made him do it.
- Photo: The Conjuring/Warner Bros.
Prior To The Crime, Johnson Participated In The Exorcism Of A Young Boy
While the story ended for Johnson's victim on that February night, according to Johnson and his fiancee, Debbie Glatzel, it had started months before, when Debbie's younger brother David woke screaming, saying that he had been visited by "a man with big black eyes, a thin face with animal features and jagged teeth, pointed ears, horns and hoofs." The terrifying entity told him, "Beware." Unfortunately for the Glatzel family, that was only the beginning.
"We believed David," Debbie Glatzel said of her then-11-year-old brother. "He didn't lie, and he never liked anything spooky, not even scary comic books." David continued to suffer nightmares of the figure that his family came to call "the beast," and it even began to appear before him during the day, taking the form of "a little old man" with "burnt-looking skin and a plaid shirt torn at the elbow."
The family heard odd noises from the attic, and David would wake up with unexplained scratches and bruises on his body. At night, someone had to sit up with him. "He would kick, bite, spit, swear - terrible words," his mother later said. She also described invisible hands strangling him and "powerful forces" that would "flop him rapidly head to toe like a rag doll." He gained 60 pounds in only a few months, and quoted from the Bible and from Milton's Paradise Lost.
The Warrens Determined The Boy Was Possessed By 43 Demons
In desperation, the Glatzel family contacted the local Catholic Church and, eventually, Ed and Lorraine Warren. "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," Lorraine later said of their first encounter with David Glatzel.
"We were sitting on a powder keg," she said, claiming that David made repeated references to stabbings. In fact, the October before Arne Cheyenne Johnson stabbed his landlord, the Warrens called the Brookfield police to warn them "that they were working with clergy in a house they claimed to be a demonic lair, and that there was some potential, they thought, for some violent act."
In their investigations, the Warrens concluded that no less than 43 demons were possessing young David Glatzel. According to the couple, they were present for "three lesser exorcisms," which were attended by members of the local Catholic Church, although a spokesman for the diocese said, "No formal exorcism was ever asked for or performed."
Johnson Challenged The Devil
Whether or not actual exorcisms were performed, during the time that the Warrens were regularly visiting the Glatzel home to check in on David Glatzel, Arne Cheyenne Johnson, who was then engaged to David's older sister Debbie, repeatedly demanded of the devil, "Come into me - leave the little lad alone." The Warrens and the Glatzels all claimed to have seen him make such a challenge and, according to Johnson's defense and the Warrens, the devil obviously took him up on it.
In the weeks that followed, Johnson seemed to change. Debbie, who called her fiance by his middle name, said, "Cheyenne would go into a trance. He would growl and say he saw the beast. Later he would have no memory of it. It was just like David."
As Johnson's defense would later point out, he had never had any trouble with the law when he was younger. He had played Little League, sang in the church choir, and once used his earnings as a newspaper carrier to buy his mother an $80 car so she didn't have to walk to work. According to Johnson, the Warrens, and his lawyer, one of the demons that had been plaguing young David Glatzel had entered the 19-year-old man and forced him to take the life of his landlord.