Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and there’s no better example than the tale that inspired The Conjuring 3. The film, officially titled The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, follows the true case of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, who pleaded not guilty by reason of demonic possession in the death of his landlord.
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga return to the franchise as Ed and Lorraine Warren, real-life paranormal investigators who were tied to the case. The movie is expected to be equal parts true-crime thriller and bone-chilling horror flick—but who are the real people who inspired it? Find out the real story of Arne Cheyenne Johnson before The Conjuring 3’s release on Friday, June 4 (in theaters and HBO Max).
Ed And Lorraine Warren Were Real Life Ghost Hunters
The Conjuring Universe, a franchise of supernatural horror films, is based on the true tales of Ed and Lorraine Warren. Ed, a self-described demonologist, and Lorraine, a psychic medium, were the founders of the New England Society for Psychic Research, the region’s oldest ghost hunting group. They dedicated their lives to researching paranormal activity from the 1950s up until their deaths—Ed died in 2006 and Lorraine passed away 13 years later in 2019.
In other words, the Warrens were the godparents of ghost-hunting, practicing their craft long before paranormal television was a popular genre. Their investigations inspired a number of horror films, not limited to The Conjuring Universe. They were the first to study the site of The Amityville Horror, as well as the house that inspired The Haunting in Connecticut.
The Warrens often cited their work as an extension of their Catholicism. They believed that people who lacked faith were inviting demonic forces into their home.
“When there’s no religion, it is absolutely terrifying,” Lorraine told the Irish Independent in 2013. “That is your protection. God is your protection. It doesn’t matter what your religion is.”
But the couple wasn’t exactly pious. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the Warrens were in an open relationship. The outlet revealed that Ed had a decades-long affair with a female who was only 15 when they met. At one point, the young woman became pregnant with Ed’s child; Lorraine allegedly convinced her to have an abortion.
“They wanted me to tell everyone that someone had come into my apartment and raped me, and I wouldn’t do that,” said Judith Penney. “I was so scared. I didn’t know what to do, but I had an abortion. The night they picked me up from the hospital after having it, they went out and lectured and left me alone.”
Critics remain sour that the Warrens weren’t accurately portrayed in The Conjuring films. There are also plenty of skeptics who simply believe that the Warrens were phonies. A 2012 editorial from The Viking News of Westchester Community College concluded, “Warren, along with her late husband, Ed, are audacious and unabashed frauds, capitalizing on the completely meritless superstition which is all too common in modern society.”
‘The Conjuring 3’ Will Cover The Case of Arne Cheyenne Johnson
The basis of the upcoming Conjuring installment centers on Arne Cheyenne Johnson. In 1981, the then-19-year-old stabbed his landlord Alan Bono to death. Johnson’s girlfriend, Debbie Glatzel, was the only witness to the crime.
However, the story actually begins with Glatzel’s younger brother, David. The Glatzels believed that David, 11, was possessed by a demonic force. In 1980, the young boy began making claims that an invisible beast choked and threatened him. And whenever he was allegedly possessed, he began to speak in tongues and recite Biblical verses.
After failed attempts to enlist the help of a Roman Catholic priest, the Glatzels turned to the Warrens to conduct exorcisms. The Warrens claimed that Johnson, who was present during one of the rituals, taunted the spirits and became possessed himself.
”[David] said he had seen the beast go into Cheyenne’s body,” said Debbie. ”And it was the beast who had committed the crime.”
When Johnson was apprehended as a suspect in Bono’s death, Lorraine rushed to his defense. Johnson entered a plea of not guilty by virtue of possession in court, marking a first in U.S. legal history. A media circus ensued, and the world awaited a verdict for the infamous “Demonic Murder Trial.”
For a fictionalized version of the crime, check out the trailer of The Conjuring 3:
Arne Cheyenne Johnson Was Convicted Of First-Degree Manslaughter
Judge Robert Callahan rejected the possession defense and ordered jurors to decide Johnson’s fate based on his second motive: acting in self-defense.
“Evidence of demonic possession is simply not relevant,” he said in court.
Johnson was found guilty of first-degree manslaughter in November 1981. Deliberations took 15 hours over the course of three days. He served five years of a 10 to 20 year sentence and eventually married Debbie Glatzel. The two maintain to this day that their story is true.
In 2007, David Glatzel’s brother Carl Jr. sued Lorraine Warren and Gerald Brittle, author of The Devil in Connecticut. He said he never gave permission to be included in the book and that he was too young to sue them earlier. He added that Warrens’ story was a complete fabrication. David’s issues stemmed from mental illness, which he effectively manages today.
“They saw a gold mine,” Carl said. “We’re not going to be ridiculed again.
“We couldn’t do half the stuff we wanted to do in life,” he added. “They made me sound like a freak from outer space.”
Lorraine called the lawsuit “ridiculous”; Brittle concurred. He said his book was based on direct statements from the Glatzel family members.
“He’d go right up off the bed,” Warren claimed. “He had marks all over his body. He could tell things that were going to happen in the future, such as the murder.”
To see how the movie compares to the real story, check out The Conjuring 3 when it is released on June 4.