Exploring the incantations of Ed and Lorraine Warren.
When we think of theatre, most of us picture a stage, complete with curtains, bright lights and an eager audience carefully positioned behind a “fourth wall.” We think of actors, writers and directors, all guiding a nightly performance of an indefinite run. But what if those barriers no longer existed? What if your home became the stage? After all, is there anywhere more private or intimate than your home? Your child’s room? Your bed? Our houses seem to exist on another plane of the imagination. They breathe, creak, crack and whistle. Some even have faces with menacing windows as eyes. “If only these walls could talk,” we say; but do we really want to know? Could there be ghosts? Evil spirits? Something we cannot see? Do such things even exist, or is it all in our minds? No one understood these questions better than Ed and Lorraine Warren.
Self-proclaimed demonologists and ghost hunters, the Warrens are famous for the work they began in the late 1940s. “Do you believe in God?” they’d ask. “Because without faith, you can’t understand what we do.” The couple’s website, warrens.net, displays a quote by Ed: “The Catholic Church refers to God as a supernatural being, and the Bible is filled with tales of Demons, Devils, Saints and Angels.” While this statement does not prove the existence of these entities, it does prove Ed’s point: if we can believe in one supernatural being, why not all of them? And by accepting this premise — Ed and Lorraine’s modest proposal — you are simply paying your price of admission.
Of course, Ed and Lorraine Warren were a traveling show long before their portrayal as the loving and devout Catholic couple in 2013’s The Conjuring. Over more than 60 years together, the pair wrote and were featured in countless books documenting their thousands of “cases” dealing with demons, ghosts, werewolves and hauntings. Perhaps you’re familiar with their involvement in The Amityville Horror or The Haunting in Connecticut. Maybe you’ve heard of their Occult Museum or their demonic doll Annabelle. But however the Warrens came into your life, you’ve undoubtedly crossed their path — or their tall tales — at some point.
Ed & Lorraine Warren with Annabelle, the “most evil item” in their museum.
He was born Edward Warren Miney on September 7, 1926, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. His father worked nights as a police officer, while his mother, allegedly a closeted alcoholic, was often absent, leaving him home alone with his sister. He later claimed that their home was haunted and that he had heard his dead grandfather walking around the house at night, his cane hitting the floor with heavy thuds.
Ed’s partner in crime, on the other hand, was born Lorraine Rita Moran on January 31, 1927, and attended the prestigious Catholic girl’s school known as Lauralton Hall. The effects of their upbringings can be seen in Lorraine’s polished, upper-class appearance and Ed’s scrappy, investigative vibe. Both were fantasy prone and raised in harsh Catholic environments, which no doubt influenced their work.
The pair first met in 1943. Ed was an usher at the local movie theatre, the same year Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man with Bela Lugosi was released. Lorraine was a schoolgirl who had already admitted to a French teacher that she could see “lights” around individuals. And as Lorraine Warren tells it, it was love at first sight.
They married at 17 and 18, respectively, then began their careers as ghost hunters, searching for clippings in the newspapers for tales of ghosts and paranormal activities. They would then make contact with the families to satisfy their own curiosity. Ed explains their process: “I’d go out in the middle of the road, where they could all see me, and I’d start to sketch the house, and you’d see the curtains going back and forth. ‘What’s this kid doing?’ they would be thinking. I would do a really nice sketch of the house with ghosts coming out of it, and I’d give it to Lorraine, she’d go knock on the door, and with her Irish personality, she’d say, ‘Oh, my husband loves to sketch and paint haunted houses. And he made this for you.’ I made it special for them.”
One of Ed’s paintings, The White Lady of Union Graveyard.
Ed’s artwork and Lorraine’s charm got them in the door. Ed would then act as investigator, opening his notebook to record his findings as he interviewed the inhabitants. Meanwhile, Lorraine Warren would be left alone to wander the house. Once in a bedroom, she would supposedly sit on the beds of family members, where she “got the best vibrations.” And when they did “help” a family cope with their haunting, the Warrens would never charge for their services. Instead, they turned their stories into case studies and began to sell them, along with Ed’s paintings, as they worked the Northeast college circuit. They managed to make a modest living off these fabrications by giving lectures and teaching courses on demonology and ghost hunting.
In 1952, they established the New England Society for Psychic Research, as well as their Occult Museum in the back of their home. Filled with knickknacks, masks and Tarot cards, it resembles the dusty guts of a theater, filled to the brim with worthless props from past productions. The Museum plays a small role in The Conjuring, which focuses on the Warrens’ experience with the Perron family. While promoting the film, Lorraine Warren stated that “a lot of it is very accurate.” But the reality of the Perron case tells a different story.
Carolyn Perron had chosen to buy the Rhode Island farmhouse on an impulse. She and her husband didn’t have the money, which kept Roger on long road trips for work, leaving Carolyn and their five daughters alone in the new house. The Warrens showed up, uninvited, at Carolyn’s doorstep around Halloween, 1974. It was then that Carolyn shared her research on the house with Lorraine Warren, including her discovery of the supposed “kitchen witch,” Bathsheba Sherman. Her meticulous notes and journal of events were “borrowed” by Lorraine Warren and never returned.
In an effort to gain publicity, the Warrens gave lectures on the case and revealed the family’s actual address, prompting droves of ghost hunters and religious zealots to show up at the farmhouse. This only fueled Roger’s dislike of the Warrens, whom he often referred to as two-bit charlatans. He warned his wife, “They’ll only use you for notoriety, for their own purposes” (Perron, Andrea, House of Darkness House of Light: The True Story, pp. 358-62). And “Don’t you realize when you’re being played?” (Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 263).
But Carolyn was invested. The more her husband protested, the more absorbed she became. The children fueled that fire with their pranks, and her research kept it alive — this need for something to be there. When the Warrens conducted a séance in the house, she was finally allowed to channel that energy into an exhaustive performance. Like a sinner before a televangelist, Carolyn went into her trance. Pretending to be possessed, she soon reached the psychological orgasm she’d craved, the climax of Warren Home Theatre. Roger ended the show abruptly by punching Ed in the face. He kicked both of the Warrens out and never invited them back.
Skeptics believe the entire haunting was simply caused by a fantasy-prone mother, left alone in an old house, with five children playing pranks. Roger certainly never believed there were ghosts or demons in the house. But the Warrens never needed real evidence to build a good ghost story. For instance, the Enfield Poltergeist, which is featured prominently in the upcoming sequel, The Conjuring 2, was widely accepted as the work of two very clever girls who were pranking their mother, but the Warrens enhanced the story with their own imaginative speculations.
How else could a few girls playing tricks in Enfield, England, suddenly turn into a full demonic possession with the eldest daughter, Janet, levitating in midair? No real evidence was ever produced to support either claim made by the Warrens. And Guy Lyon Playfair, one of the chief investigators of the Enfield Poltergeist case, claims the Warrens had just shown up uninvited, stayed for only a day and were simply trying to “make money out of it.”
But if the Warrens were going to become famous, they’d need more than childish pranks and rumors of a witch — they would need something bigger, scarier and more compelling. And that opportunity would soon present itself in the quiet lakefront Village of Amityville, New York. Ed and Lorraine Warren had been working door to door for some 30 years; now they were ready for prime time.
View of a house in a scene from the film The Amityville Horror, 1979. (Photo by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Getty Images).
There was no evidence to support the theory that the residence at 112 Ocean Avenue was haunted. The only thing you could know for sure was that six people had been murdered there on the morning of November 13, 1974: a father, mother and four children. The eldest son, Ronald “Butch” DeFeo, Jr., was found guilty and given six separate sentences of 25-to-life. His lawyer, a man by the name of William Weber, retained the case files and was looking to capitalize on the widespread notoriety of his client’s trial.
Thirteen months after the murders, George and Kathy Lutz purchased the house for $80,000. Much of the DeFeo’s furniture was still inside when they moved in. Kathy had three small children from a previous relationship, and George was the third-generation owner and operator of his family’s land surveying business. Supposedly, the property was their dream home, but they would stay for only 28 days.
During that time, they worked closely with Weber and his writer, Paul Hoffman, to devise their ghost stories and get them straight. But when the Lutzes realized that they stood to make next to nothing by collaborating with Weber and Hoffman, they abandoned the deal, moved to California and hired Jay Anson to draft the book. Once published in September 1977, The Amityville Horror became an instant best seller, and when the film opened in 1979, it grossed roughly $86.4 million.
But prior to the Hollywood treatment and just months after the Lutzes left 112 Ocean Avenue in January of 1976, the Warrens arrived with a news crew from Channel 5 New York. Lorraine Warren explored the house independently and later said that she “had never been closer to hell.” The camera crew felt the opposite, stating that they neither witnessed nor experienced anything unusual. Nevertheless, both Ed and Lorraine Warren maintained that the house was indeed haunted. They were interviewed, broadcast on television and regarded as experts and authority figures in the field.
The Warrens conducting a séance.
But as the story gained notoriety, more people began to question its authenticity, pointing to the similarities that the case shared with The Exorcist, an international sensation released a few years prior. In an attempt to appease skeptics while promoting the film version of The Amityville Horror in 1979, the Warrens released a photo that their friend had supposedly taken inside the house, which featured a “demonic boy.” The Warrens claimed that the photograph was proof enough that the house was haunted, and Lorraine Warren swore that she would never return.
Three years after visiting 112 Ocean Ave., the Warrens released this photo as “proof” of demons in the house, just in time for The Amityville Horror motion picture release.
That same year, Weber himself admitted the entire story was a fabrication. He told People Magazine, “I know this book is a hoax. We created this horror story over many bottles of wine.” But the damage had already been done. Now the American public was hungry for “true” horror stories, and the Warrens had gotten their first real taste of fame. But how would it affect their cases? How far were they willing to bend the truth for their own purposes?
Now the American public was hungry for “true” horror stories, and the Warrens had gotten their first real taste of fame.
According to Dr. Joe Nickell, a member of The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, the Warrens are “notorious for exaggerating and even making up incidents.” When he appeared with the Warrens on Sally Jessy Raphael in 1992 in relation to the Snedeker haunting, he added that the “Warrens have never found a house they didn’t think was haunted.” Nickell argued that the “investigator” and “clairvoyant” were merely following a process begun by Weber and the Lutzes with The Amityville Horror, hoping to cash in with a best-selling book.
Step One: Find a house associated with death. It can be a funeral home, site of a mass murder, the home of a former witch who might have killed her child, etc. Step Two: Bring in a pair of “investigators” — a couple of demonologists to prove you mean business. Step Three: Hire a professional writer to “make it scary.” Step Four: Claim it’s a true story. Step Five: Take it to Hollywood. And, finally, Step Six: Get rich.
Patrick Wilson & Vera Farmiga portraying Ed & Lorraine Warren in The Conjuring.
Carmen Snedeker chose to pursue this strategy with the help of the Warrens. The former bowling alley cocktail waitress was raising four children and two of her nieces with her husband, Allen, who worked as a stone-quarry foreman. Her son Philip, at 13, was suffering with Hodgkin’s disease. They’d moved into the former Hallahan Funeral Home nearly two years prior, and now they were behind on rent. Step One — check.
Moving on to Step Two, the Snedeker’s welcomed the Warrens, along with Ed and Lorraine’s grandson and nephew, into their home. The four paranormal “investigators” lived with the family for nine weeks. During that time, the original story changed from Philip possibly seeing ghosts (while under the influence of both pharmaceutical and recreational drugs) to a complete demonic presence.
Moving on to Step Three, the fiction writer Ray Garton was brought on, believing that he was to document a true haunting in a nonfiction book. Instead, he discovered that the Snedekers had difficulty keeping their stories straight. He turned to Ed Warren, who exclaimed, “They’re crazy. All the people who come to us are crazy. That’s why they come to us. Just use what you can and make the rest up. You write scary books, right? Well, make it up and make it scary. That’s why we hired you.”
Garton was under contract, so he wrote the novel but protested against it being advertised as a true story, or nonfiction. However, In a Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting is sold as both, meeting the requirement for Step Four. Of course Hollywood ate it up, and the film, The Haunting in Connecticut, earned over $55 million in 2009, checking off Step Five.
But what about Step Six? What did the Snedeker family get out of all this? Well, Carmen got to be on Sally Jessy Raphael in her red power jacket, holding a lightly used, if not brand-new, Bible. She kept a simple wooden rosary wrapped around her hand while verbally lashing out at her former neighbors in the audience. Kathy Altemus, who lived across the street, presents her scrapbook of neighborhood events, discrediting each and every claim the Snedekers make. Philip’s drug use is made public. Carmen watches as her niece cries, explaining how a ghost had touched her, all while hiding the fact that it was her son Philip who had actually been molesting the girls.
Then, in a last-ditch effort to appease skeptics, Carmen and her husband climb into the prop bed on stage and explain how they were both, on multiple and separate occasions, raped and sodomized by a ghost without gender in a vibrating bed as classical music played. They re-create the scene. “It wasn’t like a normal rape,” Allen explains. “Not person-to-person type.” Carmen adds that on one occasion, she was running down the street while being “sodomized the whole way.” She can barely deliver the line without a visible smirk.
Finally, the Warrens are brought on stage. Lorraine Warren is stillness personified, the eye of the storm, with Ed on her left and Carmen on her right. Both are attacking the skeptics verbally, not letting them get a word in, using the Catholic Church as a shield. Dr. Joe Nickell argues that the Snedeker case is merely following the same pattern as the Amityville hoax. Ed Warren gets in his face, threatening him with violence, arguing that the hoax has not been proven. Carmen chimes in, pronouncing Nickell an atheist who wouldn’t know about these Catholic matters.
Hollywood vs. Reality: Ed & Lorraine Warren.
And it’s at this moment that you realize the Warrens are nothing like their interpretations in The Conjuring, and no doubt, The Conjuring 2. Yes, Lorraine Warren seems poised and polished, but Ed is no Patrick Wilson. He’s aggressive, argumentative and downright childish. Even worse, none of them seem educated or refined enough to pull off their master plot. That’s why the Snedekers never got rich and why the Warren family is still trying to make money off of their Occult Museum and The Warrenology Tour (which includes dinner with Lorraine for $109).
Ed died in 2006, and Lorraine Warren has kept their business going; but the truth is, they never were scientists or saviors. They were just a couple of scrappy kids who were interested in ghost stories, had a rebellious streak and saw a way to make money with their art — Ed with his paintings, Lorraine with her writing. They aspired to be the Hollywood versions of themselves but were about as far from their characters as the film version of Annabelle is from her true Raggedy Ann form.
Hollywood’s Annabelle vs. the real doll that inspired the film.
Sure, you can call them frauds, liars, charlatans and the like. You can point out that it’s theatre, magic or all in their heads. You can question their morality, even their faith in God; but you can’t deny that everything they knew about this type of psychological theatre, they had learned from the Catholic Church. No one can truly prove that the Warrens didn’t experience supernatural forces — and both of them knew it. All Ed had to ask to win their case was “Were you in the house?” No? Then you might as well just enjoy the show.