The trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson has become something of an urban legend since the release of the 2021 movie, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. In fact, so much so that the facts are getting lost in translation.
Naturally, a significant percentage of those viewers have since been trying to learn as much as possible about the true story that inspired the movie’s events and how many liberties the horror movie made with the facts.
Arne Cheyenne Johnson was tried for manslaughter in Connecticut in 1981 and was found guilty; he was the first individual to assert a defense of demonic possession in a murder trial.
The paranormal investigator’ Ed and Lorraine Warren were called in to provide advice in what rapidly became known as “The Devil Made Me Do It Case,” hence the title of the movie. However, as you might think, the court could have been more interested in such a fantastical defense.
The True Story Behind the Conjuring: The Devil Making Me Do It
The trial of 19-year-old Arne Cheyenne Johnson, accused of killing his landlord Alan Bono in February 1981, inspired The Conjuring 3. The defendant made headlines throughout the trial for being the first individual to assert a defense of demonic possession in a US court; however, rather predictably, the judge did not accept this account of events.
The testimony of Debbie Glatzel’s family served as the basis for his defense. Debbie’s 11-year-old brother apparently experienced demonic possession in the months before the murder, and his parents grew increasingly concerned due to several mysterious and scary occurrences.
The narrative actually begins in July 1980, when 11-year-old David Glatzel assisted Johnson in preparing to move into a rented home in Connecticut by cleaning it up.
David claimed to have encountered a “burnt and black-looking” old man while there who allegedly shoved him into a waterbed and threatened to harm them if they entered the home.
David kept seeing the elderly man after he got home. He described him as sporting a flannel shirt, pants, and a white beard. According to David, the man’s skin appeared to have been burned along with him. The youngster had night terrors and awoke with body bruising and scratches.
He would awaken in a rage and report to his parents that the old man’s sunken features looked “like a beast,” with horns, pointed ears, and jagged teeth. (The demon from The Conjuring 3 seems to have taken a different path; early images depict a white-masked figure donning a red-striped long coat.)
The family reported hearing strange noises coming from their attic as well.
They sought the help of Ed and Lorraine Warren, who were already well-known paranormal investigators by this time, to identify the problem and treat their kid. Lorraine saw a black mist next to David, which appeared to be a sign of an evil presence.
Debbie informed the Warrens and her mother that they had witnessed David being assaulted and suffocated by unidentified individuals and that red marks had later emerged on his neck. David had begun to hiss, growl, use otherworldly voices, quote the Bible or Paradise Lost, and growl and hiss.
The Glatzels described how one family member would stay up all night long with David while he struggled with convulsions and spasms. David had three “lesser exorcisms” after the Warrens informed him that he had many possessions.
Lorraine claims that David had supernatural abilities such as levitation, temporary cessation of respiration, and even precognition, particularly in reference to the manslaughter Johnson would subsequently commit.
The Warrens alerted Brookfield police to the unsafe scenario in October 1980.
Lorraine further said that while her husband was interviewing David, a black mist materialized next to him. “As Ed spoke with the youngster, I noticed a black, misty shape close to him, which indicated that we were dealing with something unfavorable.
The Warrens disputed the mother’s earlier allegation that it was a ghost, claiming it was a sign of a demonic presence instead.
David allegedly informed Lorraine that he “had the sense he was being hit” and that she witnessed him being choked by phantom hands. She reported to People that she afterward noticed red markings and heard him hiss and growl.
Debbie Glatzel alleged he cursed, bit, kicked, and flopped around “head to toe like a ragdoll” at her.
She said “he manifested” in a statement to the Chippewa Herald Telegram. “A face on the wall, all that. Slender cheekbones. A little chin. A little nose. Dark holes conceal large, black eyes. His teeth were visible.”
The Washington Post quoted Ed Warren saying, “Right away, I sensed something to this. I felt like a skilled fisherman when I realized anything was on the line.” He said that David had identified each of the 43 demons he believed to be present inside the youngster.
The Exorcism of David Glatzel
Father Gordon, played by Steve Coulter, blesses the house in the film. Although the name of the priest was altered for the film, a Roman Catholic priest did come to the house to bless it in the true story.
A formal exorcism was performed after repeated efforts from the Warrens, the Glatzels, and numerous priests (including Rev. Francis E. Virgulak), and witnesses claimed that a demon exited the child’s body.
During the exorcism, Arne yelled, “Take me on. Leave my little buddy alone!”
David seemed to be getting better, but Arne seemed to worsen. In the episode Where Demons Dwell of the television show A Haunting, Johnson’s automobile is claimed to have been taken over by the demon, who then drove it into a tree.
He was unharmed, but the event left him shaken. When Johnson fell from a tree while working, the series also attributed it to a demon.
David’s mother revealed to The Washington Post that she paid $75 per hour for a consultation with a local psychiatrist. Still, it was up to church administrators to schedule and fund any psychiatric tests. David was described to his parents as “normal” with a “little learning handicap.”
Murder of Alan Bono
Apparently not satisfied with its newfound freedom, the demon allegedly instantly seized control of Johnson. It was while under the influence of this malevolent beast that the landlord’s murder occurred months later.
Instead of renting the original house, Johnson and Debbie Glatzel opted to rent a smaller home close to Debbie’s place of employment. Debbie was a dog groomer for the 40-year-old landlord and kennel manager Alan Bono.
Bono, now known in the film as Bruno Sauls, resided in a unit above the kennels.
Johnson had taken the day off work the day of the murder to spend the day at the kennel with Debbie, 26. Debbie, Johnson, and Bono went out to lunch and had a few drinks at a nearby restaurant, becoming drunk in the process.
When they later returned to the kennel, a violent argument started, with Bono getting more and more upset.
During this altercation, Johnson confronted Bono and eventually stabbed him repeatedly with a five-inch pocket knife while growling like an animal. Bono had grabbed Debbie’s nine-year-old cousin Mary earlier and wouldn’t let her go. Most of Bono’s “four or five huge wounds” were to his chest.
Johnson was detained around two miles from the murder scene, and Bono passed dead a few hours later. The murder is considered the first in the 193-year history of Brookfield, Connecticut, and the first in the 30 years since the town started keeping police records.
The following day, Lorraine Warren quickly asserted that it was an instance of demonic possession, which obviously sparked extensive international media coverage.
Trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson
On October 28, 1981, Johnson’s trial got underway at Danbury’s Superior Court in Connecticut.
Martin Minnella, Johnson’s attorney, attempted to enter a “not guilty” plea on his client’s behalf, claiming that Johnson was “possessed by a demon, and it was a demon who actually operated his body.” It was the first known instance of this defense being used in a US court case.
Speaking of the lawsuit and the subsequent renown, Minnella said: “The issue of God’s existence has been discussed in court. They will now have to deal with the Devil’s existence.”
Despite the subsequent media attention, the jury was not legally permitted to consider demonic possession because the plea of not guilty based on demonic possession was immediately rejected by the presiding judge Robert Callahan, who claimed it would be “irrelative and unscientific” to allow testimony on these grounds.
Witnesses testified that they saw a demon pass from Glatzel to Johnson as part of Johnson’s defense, arguing that he hadn’t been the same since Glatzel’s exorcism. According to Debbie Glatzel’s testimony, Johnson exhibited identical behaviors to Glatzel.
According to Ed Warren, Johnson made a “fatal blunder” by mocking the purported demon.
Debbie asserted that Johnson had visited Bono’s residence to fix a stereo for him but that because Bono had been drinking red wine, the two disagreed over the repair’s cost. She also claimed that he was in a trance when Johnson stabbed Bono.
They reportedly became friends during the three months that Debbie and Johnson resided beside Bono. Although the police claimed the disagreement was over Debbie rather than the stereo, Debbie contested that the connection between Bono and Debbie went beyond that of employer and employee.
This approach to the plot is taken in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, which also examines the “jealous lover” plot from the 1983 film The Demon Murder Case (starring Kevin Bacon).
On November 24, 1981, the jury found Johnson guilty of first-degree manslaughter and handed down a sentence of 10 to 20 years in jail. After serving only five years of his sentence, he was freed in 1986.
The case became known as “the Devil made me do it case” even though demonic possession was not actually accepted as a legal defense during the trial; therefore, the subtitle of this movie.
Where Are the Glatzels and Johnson Now?
While Johnson was incarcerated, he wed Debbie Glatzel. While inside, he also earned his high school diploma. Two kids were eventually born to the couple.
Gerald Brittle and Lorraine Warren later collaborated on the book The Devil in Connecticut, which details the case. The Glatzel family received a portion of the book’s sales proceeds.
When the book was reissued in 2006, David’s brother Carl Glatzel did speak out against it, calling it a “total fraud” and claiming that “the Warrens invented a phony story about demons in an attempt to make rich and famous at our cost.”
Carl said the Warrens informed the family they would become billionaires; however, it was later discovered they were only paid $2,000 for the story. Additionally, Carl claims that David experienced mental health issues at the time but later recovered.
David and Carl sued Brittle and the Warrens in 2007 for unspecified financial losses. They filed a lawsuit against the writers and publishers for privacy violations, libel, and “intentional infliction of mental anguish.”
Brittle asserts that his book is founded on reality, and he has a film of the more than 100 hours he spent interviewing the Glatzel family. According to Lorraine Warren, the six priests who performed the exorcisms on Glatzel concurred that he was possessed.
Although David’s father disputes the claim that his son was possessed, Debbie Glatzel and Arne Johnson have consistently supported the description of the possession.
Who is Michael Taylor?
A reference to Michael Taylor, an Englishman who invoked demonic possession as part of his defense in a previous murder trial in the UK, is made by Ed Warren at one point in the movie.
Although it’s not precisely true that Taylor pled innocent because of demonic possession, this was a real-life incident, as he was found guilty of killing his wife shortly after receiving an exorcism in 1974.
Taylor was a member of a religious group that determined Taylor’s strange behavior over a period of several months could only be the result of demonic possession. Vicars reportedly said up to 40 demons possessed Taylor, and an eight-hour exorcism was required to drive them out.
This was brought up during his trial, but he was exonerated on the grounds of insanity, not demonic possession. In fact, his attorneys held the religious organization he belonged to partially accountable for this.
Who Are Katie and Jessica from The Conjuring 03?
The storyline involving Katie and Jessica is one element of the script based on something other than reality.
The Warrens’ inquiry in the movie takes them to the case of Katie Lincoln, a young woman who had been stabbed repeatedly by her friend Jessica, who had obviously been under the influence of the occultist when she leaped off a cliff.
Actual events inspired Conjuring 3’s premise, but Jessica’s story is fiction. Like past Conjuring films, The Conjuring 3 incorporates side storylines to heighten the suspense or tie together an overall plot.
The tale of Katie and Jessica establishes a pattern that brings Ed and Lorraine to the Occultist. The infant, the lover, and the man of God were the final two victims required by the occultist to complete her curse.
The purpose of Jessica’s passing was to play the child. Jessica Louise Strong (and the Disciples of the Ram) are fictitious characters who serve as plot devices.
However, The Conjuring 3 found inspiration from a spate of homicides that occurred in Connecticut in the 1980s. During that time, the United States was engulfed in a Satanic Panic, and thanks to scare tactics, everyone began blaming the Devil for any instance of “evil.”
Satanic cults became the newest bogeyman in town when families like the Manson Family made newspaper headlines. Many people blamed the killings on the actions of demons and their worshippers when the number of serial killers peaked in the US in the 1980s.
Are Arne and Debbie Still Together?
In an interview, director Michael stated: “This is the story of Arne and Debbie Glatzel, who was his girlfriend before becoming his wife.
She witnessed the murder and the exorcism, and she testified in his favor because she believed. They remained married for the remainder of her life because she stood by that; she recently passed away from cancer.”
Where is Arne Johnson Now?
Despite receiving a 10- to 20-year prison term, Arne Johnson was released after five years. In 1986, he was released. Since then, while he was incarcerated, he wed Debbie Glatzel. In prison, he also completed his high school graduation.
After that, the couple had two more kids. Since that time, Debbie Glatzel has died away, and although Arne Johnson is still alive, there is no information on his whereabouts. After being released, according to Lorraine Warren, he started working as a landscaper.
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