The Real Story Behind “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It”

As all the trailers and promotional materials suggest, yes Arne Johnson really did plead not guilty to manslaughter in 1981, and his lawyer (along with Ed and Lorraine Warren) contended that it was due to demonic possession.

However, the murder and subsequent trial are merely the tip of the iceberg to a much larger and more complex story.  So with the release of The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, we thought it would be interesting to delve into that story.

There will probably be spoilers from the movie itself, but at the time of writing this, I myself haven’t seen the movie yet.  The information presented here is from a collection of sources including the 1983 book “The Devil in Connecticut” by Gerald Brittle, as well as news reports from that time, court documents, and a 2006 episode of A Haunting titled “Where Demons Dwell”.

Initial Haunting
Back in 1980, the Glatzel family lived in Brookfield, Connecticut and consisted of a young boy David, his brother Carl Jr., his older sister Debbie, her boyfriend Arne Johnson, and his parents.  One night, David was reported to have seen a toy dinosaur of his start to move on its (without hitting the button that made it do so) and a voice came from it, warning him that a legion of demons was coming for him and his family.

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According to the Warrens, David was singled out and targeted by the demon because young children tend to be more vulnerable.

Over the next several months, young David began to show signs of demonic possession, all while the family was tormented by unexplained paranormal phenomenon that fostered conflict among them.  Arne and Debbie were completely convinced that there was supernatural cause of everything, while Carl was more skeptical.

Eventually, Ed and Lorraine Warren were called in to investigate.  This was one of the closest investigations they had ever done, considering their home in Monroe, CT is less than 20 miles from Brookfield.  Their investigation resulted in an exorcism for David himself, during which Arne (heartbroken over seeing David in such turmoil) dared the demon to enter him instead.

Up until this point, this case seemed no different than the countless others that Ed and Lorraine Warren investigated.  Things did seem to get better for David following the exorcism.  Much of this family dynamic is portrayed in Brittle’s book “The Devil in Connecticut”, but to be fair, a lot of it does seem sensationalized.  And not every Glatzel family member agrees on the narrative (more on that later).

Eventually, the Warrens came the conclusion that the Glatzel family had in fact been cursed by a Satanist family whom they had vacationed with in the past.  There’s not a lot written about this detail, other than what’s contained in Brittle’s book, so take it with a grain of salt.  But it does add one more element to the aforementioned complex story.

The Murder and Trial
Things took a very dark turn in early 1981, when Arne Johnson got into a heated argument with his landlord Alan Bono (who was also Debbie Glatzel’s employer).  According to Brittle, Arne had been displaying signs of demonic possession following his challenge during David’s exorcism.

The day after his arrest, Lorraine Warren herself went to speak with the police, and told them that Arne had been under demonic possession, and filled them in on the entire backstory of the Glatzel family and the case she had been working.

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Much like with Amityville, this case put Ed and Lorraine Warren front and center with the press and media.

And while the judge did accept Arne’s not guilty plea, he did not accept the defense of demonic possession, and therefore allow no evidence or testimony of it to be entered into court.  So while the trailers do make it look like the Warrens are very involved in the trial, they were largely barred from participating.

Eventually, Arne was convicted of voluntary manslaughter.  While his lawyer couldn’t argue the possession defense, it was successfully argued that it was a very heated argument between Bono and Arne, in which drinking was involved.

And while the jury agreed that Arne intended to harm Bono in the moment, it was a fit of passion and rage, without any premeditation, and thus he was sentenced to 10-20 years under manslaughter, rather than the much higher crime of murder.

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The incident occurred in this very unassuming parking lot of a vet clinic in Connecticut.

The trial itself caused waves and massive headlines, particularly with the Warrens’ involvement and possession plea, for lack of a better term.  Two years later in 1983, Brittle published his book, stating that it was for the Glatzel family to have their story told.  That same year, a TV-movie The Demon Murder Case debuted, starring an up and coming Kevin Bacon.

In January 1986, Arne was released on parole, being described by the board as an “exemplary inmate”.  Having served 5 years with good behavior, Arne was ready to move on with his life.  While incarcerated, he had legally married Debbie, and even got his GED.

By this point, the family had been through a media storm that proved detrimental in many ways.  Years later, David and Carl Glatzel (now adults) sued Brittle for libel, citing that “The Devil in Connecticut” book contained a lot of falsehoods, and wrongly portrayed Carl as a villain for not believing in the supernatural.

Arne and Debbie on the other hand, still maintain that it was a true case of demonic possession.  They both appeared on the “Where Demons Dwell” episode of A Haunting, along with Lorraine Warren.  It was a bit strange and awkward to see them talking about David Glatzel, who at the time was just a child, but at the time of the episode airing, he was denouncing the Warrens as frauds.

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The weird thing is the episode of A Haunting only really talks about the David Glatzel possession, it doesn’t get into the family curse, nor the murder, despite having Arne as a guest.

It’s now been 40 years since these events occurred, which would put David in his early 50’s and Debbie and Arnie in the late 50’s/early 60’s now.  With the release of the new movie, there will certainly be more interest in the case.

But as someone who’s studied the Warrens and read many of their books (as well as many writings by skeptics criticizing them), I wanted to present the story as I understand it, prior to seeing the movie.  I’m both curious and excited to see how the story is portrayed, because honestly this is probably the most interesting Warren case I’ve ever read.

Do you think Arne Johnson was truly possessed?  If you’ve seen the new movie, how well does it do telling this story?  Let us know in the comments!

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