The mega-successful horror franchise The Conjuring universe includes blockbusters The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2, Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation, Annabelle Comes Home, The Nun, and the forthcoming The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It. The series has grossed $1.9 billion and is the second most successful horror franchise of all time behind the long-running Godzilla movies. Yes, the Conjuring movies are more successful than horror legends like the It movies and franchises like Halloween, Saw, Paranormal Activity, Final Destination, and Friday the 13th.
The series is based on the works of real life Catholic couple Ed and Lorraine Warren, who were famed paranormal investigators and possibly grifters.
The most famous of the Warren’s investigations was the home at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York. In the home in 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered six members of his family with a shot gun in the middle of the night. DeFeo told police that he shot his family members because voices in his head told him too, but the court found that he was aware of (and responsible for) his actions at the time of the crime.
One year later, George and Kathy Lutz moved into the home with their three children and dog. They purchased most of the DeFeo’s furniture for $400 and it was left in the house for them. They lived there for 28 days before leaving in the middle of the night. The family claims demonic activity at the house drove them out. This story became The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson, which has sold over 10 million copies and lead to the Amityville Horror movie franchise. William Weber, Ronald DeFeo Jr.’s lawyer, claims that the entire story of the haunting experienced by the Lutz’s was fabricated, saying the story was “invented over many bottles of wine” by himself and the Lutzes and helped along by Jay Anson and the Warrens.
Here are Ed and Lorraine Warren discussing the Amityville haunting with their son-in-law, Tony Spera:
The second most famous story associated with the Warrens is that of the Annabelle doll. As they tell it, the Annabelle doll was a Raggedy Ann doll purchased in 1970 by a mother for her daughter, a nursing student. The nursing student and her roommate are said to have noticed that the doll moved around their apartment or changed positions with no help from either of them. They began to find notes in the apartment that looked like they were written by a small child and attributed them to the Annabelle doll as neither woman wrote the notes. The notes said things like “help me.”
This sounds like something right out of a horror show. Maybe that’s why The Twilight Zone included a suspiciously similar story in their fifth season which aired in 1963. In the episode, titled Living Doll, a woman named Annabelle buys her daughter a talking doll named “Talky Tina” that turns out to be evil, even capable of murdering the people around her.
Here’s a clip from the episode:
Every case the Warrens investigated were plagued by similar concerns about the validity of their stories. There was never any proof that any haunting investigated by the couple were real. There always seemed to be a money grab or a book deal or a television appearance in the works that could explain away what the Warrens always insisted was genuine concern for the wellbeing of others.
Most troublesome of all the claims about the Warrens, are those of Judith Penney. Penney says she was just 15 when Ed Warren began grooming her while he was a bus-driver delivering her to school. She moved into the Warren’s home in 1963 and stayed for four decades as Ed’s girlfriend, obviously with Lorraine’s knowledge and cooperation. Penney said Ed frequently told her she was the “love of his life” and physically abused Lorraine in front of her. In 1978, following Lorraine Warren’s direction, Penney says she aborted a pregnancy she conceived with Ed.
Ed and Lorraine Warren have one daughter, Judy Spera. Judy’s husband Tony Spera ran the Warren’s Occult Museum. Judy and Tony Spera maintain that Ed and Lorraine allowed Penney to move into their home when Penney was 18 as an act of charity because Penney had nowhere else to go. They describe Penney as a long term family friend who frequently ran the Warren home when Ed and Lorraine were on the road. They say Penney had a long term boyfriend while living with the Warrens to whom she is now married. Due to Lorraine Warren’s involvement in the Conjuring movies, they’ve all included a contract which precludes the filmmakers from portraying Ed or Lorraine as having an affair, having sex with a minor, having any involvement with child pornography or sex workers, or as being guilty of sexual assault.
Ed Warren passed away in 2006 and Lorraine Warren died in 2019. Of her life with the Warrens, Penney says, “Sometimes I get angry thinking about it, how so much was taken away from me.”