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  • Writer's pictureAdam Williams

The Real-Life Case Behind The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

The third Conjuring film is not far from release now, and let's be honest we've waited long enough for this one! Of course being moved from its original 2020 release date due to the Corona Virus pandemic, the film will now release 28th May 2021 in the UK (4th June 2021 in the US). You can check out the trailer HERE.

This article DOES contain spoilers and includes information about the entire case and the outcome, so if you wish to go into the film with little to no knowledge of the real-life case I would recommend not reading on.

What is the real-life story behind the film?

The crimes and trial of 19-year old Arne Cheyenne Johnson are in fact the inspiration behind the upcoming Conjuring film. The iconic case was not only the first recorded murder in the 193- year history of Brookline, Connecticut, but also the first time in U.S history a defendant used 'demonic possession' as a defense.

It all began in May 1980 when Johnson moved into his fiancée's, Debbie Glatzel, house. A month later Glatzel's 11-year old brother, David, began claiming about increasingly violent encounters with an old man. This continued and escalated to the point David would wake in the middle of the night hysterically crying about visions of “man with big black eyes, a thin face with animal features and jagged teeth, pointed ears, horns, and hoofs." According to a 1981 article by People, the apparition warned him "Beware!"

“We believed David. He didn’t lie, and he never liked anything spooky, not even scary comic books.” - Debbie Glatzel, People, 1981

Their parents approached a Catholic priest from St. Joseph's to come and bless their house; this had no effect. By now things had again worsened with David's 'demon' making daytime appearances as "an old man with a white beard, dressed in a flannel shirt and jeans." The Glatzel's then took it upon themselves to call in famed demonologists Ed & 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. Soon the child was complaining that invisible hands were choking him—and there were red marks on him. He said that he had the feeling of being hit." - Lorraine Warren re-counting her first encounter with David Glatzel.

Over the coming months, David began missing school, gained 60 pounds, growled, hissed and spoke in strange voices. In addition to all that he would suddenly begin reciting passages from the Bible or from Milton’s Paradise Lost and jerk into 30-minute frenzies of rapid sit-ups throughout the night. The Warrens called in various priests from the Catholic Church to perform four exorcisms on the boy to expel the 43 Demons (according to Ed Warren) that resided in David's body. Witnesses claimed that during one of the exorcisms a demon transferred into Arne Cheyenne Johnson's body after he taunted them demanding they take him and leave David alone.

After the exorcisms, David went back to as he was the months before and returned to normal. The same, however, could not be said for Johnson. Debbie told People in an interview he would go into a trance and have no memory of it later.

"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."

Debbie Glatzel in fact worked for Johnson's soon to be victim, Alan Bono, as a dog groomer at the Brookfield Pet Motel. Bono had not long moved into the quaint and quiet community. According to testimony, Alan Bono had taken his employees, including Debbie and her nine-year-old cousin Mary, out to lunch. Bono drank too much, became intoxicated, grabbed Mary and refused to let go. Arne Cheyenne Johnson then lunged for Alan Bono attacking him with five inch pocket knife, eye witnesses described Johnson's behaviour as animalistic. Johnson stabbed Bono in excess of twenty times (mostly in the chest and abdomen).

19-year old Arne Cheyenne Johnson in custody.

When word got out Johnson's defense was 'demonic possession' the trial turned into a media circus which in turn dubbed it "The Demon Murders". Johnson’s defense attorney cited two British court cases permitting a legal defense based on demonic possession. Judge Robert Callahan ruled against it and argued the claim could not be objectively proven by evidence or substantiated by science. Johnson's plea was changed to self-defence and on November 24th, 1981 a jury found him guilty of first-degree manslaughter. He was convicted and given a prison sentence of 10-20 years, he only served 5 due to good behaviour. Upon his release Arne Cheyenne Johnson and Debbie Glatzel married.

Lorraine Warren later wrote the book The Devil in Connecticut with Gerald Brittle. When the book was re-issued in 2006, Debbie’s brother Carl Glatzel sued for damages. He called the occult claims a hoax engineered by the Warrens, who “concocted a phoney story about demons in an attempt to get rich and famous at our expense.”


Regardless of how much of the 'true story' you believe it's a great premise for a horror film. And judging by the previous two, I'm pretty excited for this one! Not much longer to wait, in the meantime though you can read our interview with Steve Coulter as he discusses The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It and more.


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