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 forebearers 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 passing in 2006, she has worked as a psychic consultant on various TV shows and she has maintained The Occult Museum in Connecticut (which is temporarily closed due to zoning regulations) 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's 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. slayed 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 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's haunting as more fiction than fact, including statements made by Ronald DeFeo's lawyer, William Weber, who claims he, Kathy, and George Lutz consumed "many bottles of wine" one evening. George and Kathy Lutz always maintained 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 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" shortly 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 she insisted it was infested with demonic entities.
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, 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 [deceased] woman named 'Annabelle Higgins.'" The student and her roommate took sympathy on the spirit and allowed Annabelle permission to inhabit the doll. However, frightening happenings began to occur, and the student contacted the Warrens to investigate.
The demonologists took the doll back to their museum and put in on display for safety's sake. Before his passing, Ed would apparently warn museum visitors that the last man to mock Annabelle ended up perishing 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).
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 they 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 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'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.
This case inspired the Hollywood film A Haunting in Connecticut, which Lorraine Warren reportedly detested for its alleged 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, etc.
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.