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As far as movie genres go, horror and true crime are perhaps the most frightening crossover—and the lives of real paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren continue to provide ample material in The Conjuring series. The latest installment, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, hits theaters and HBO Max on June 4.
While the previous two The Conjuring films have taken paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren to haunted houses, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is a new kind of horror story for the on-screen duo—a murder. And while the film takes the demon plot and runs wild with it in the latter part of the movie, the first half is loosely based on the real story of the first time that demonic possession was brought up as a defense in a U.S. court.
The film begins with Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) at the exorcism of a young boy named David Glatzel (played by Julian Hilliard). The real-life story begins the same way—Ed and Lorraine Warren really attended the exorcism of a young boy named David Glatzel in the early 1980s. Present was also 19-year-old Arne Cheyenne Johnson, the boyfriend of David’s older sister Debbie. Allegedly, during this exorcism, Johnson asked the demon possessing David to enter him instead, and the demon complied. Several weeks later, on February 16, 1981, Johnson stabbed his landlord Alan Bono to death after a booze-soaked argument.
As the film shows, Johnson’s lawyers argued at trial that he was innocent because he was possessed by demonic forces at the time of the murder. "The courts have dealt with the existence of God," his attorney Martin Minella told the New York Times in 1981. "And now they're going to have to deal with the existence of the Devil." While the movie goes on to spin a horrifying tale of the occult, in reality, a judge refused to allow this defense, and in November 1981, Johnson was convicted of first-degree manslaughter and sentenced to 10-20 years in prison.
The case attracted widespread media buzz despite the defense not being permitted in court, and went on to inspire a book and film starring Andy Griffith and Kevin Bacon called The Demon Murder Case. ″Possession doesn’t last 24 hours a day,″ the real paranormal hunter Ed Warren told the Associated Press at the time. ″It comes quickly and leaves quickly. Arne understands what happened to him. He now knows if something happens how to ward it off and he won’t be stupid enough to take on the devil again.″
The real Arne Johnson married Debbie Glatzel while he was serving his sentence, and was released one month early for good behavior after serving almost five years at the age of 24.
In 2007, David Glatzel and his brother sued Lorraine Warren and Gerald Brittle, the author of a book about the case, over the claim that David had been possessed at all. “My brother was never possessed. He, along with my family, was manipulated and exploited, something the Warrens were very good at, and along with their author, Gerald Brittle, they concocted a phony story about demons in an attempt to get rich and famous at our expense, and we have the evidence to prove it,” his brother said in an interview.
Conversely, Arne Johnson and his wife Debbie, David’s sister, stand by the demon story wholeheartedly. Debbie, who very recently passed away, was involved in the marketing of The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, and her interview recounting the exorcism and murder features in the film’s featurette.
“The newspaper came, and I told them what happened,” Debbie says of the day following the murder. “He was possessed.”
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