In August of this year, while my family were visiting for the summer from their current home in the Far East, I decided I wanted to go to the cinema one afternoon with my brother and father to watch one of the latest blockbuster releases. The original plan was to catch a screening of The Lone Ranger. But, being discouraged by the poor reviews for that film, I opted instead to see new horror offering The Conjuring, about which I had read nothing but good things. I was familiar with the general plot of the film and knew that it related the experiences of two real-life paranormal investigators. What I didn’t realize was how harrowing their experiences were, nor how fascinating I would grow to find this couple as the film wore on. The paranormal researchers in question were Ed and Lorraine Warren, played with subtlety and quiet genius by the ethereally beautiful Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson.
It may sound odd, especially as I have a reputation among family and friends for being fascinated with the paranormal, but up until that day I had never heard of the Warrens – nor did I know anything about their terrifying Occult Museum, their lectures or the New England Society for Psychic Research which the couple founded in 1952. Originally developed as a means of studying ghostly occurrences the Society’s scope and purpose deepened from 1965 onwards and it became a platform for helping people struggling with such paranormal experiences as possessions and hauntings. Using a blend of scientific and religious knowledge the Warrens would travel across the country to afflicted homes where they would offer their services not only to the living people inside the house but also the trapped souls that lingered there.
Ed and Lorraine Warren – a demonologist and a trance medium respectively – undoubtedly had a fascinating profession, but they were intriguing characters in their own right. They met when they were 16 and Ed was working at The Colonial Theatre in Bridgeport, Connecticut and married a year later when Ed, then a Navy recruit, had 30 days survivor’s leave after his ship sank in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic. Ed served in World War II and then left the Navy to become an artist, studying for a time at the Perry Art School before leaving school to travel around the new tourist hotspots of Vermont and New Hampshire where he could earn decent money selling his paintings.
It was during these trips that the couple first began to develop their fascination with the paranormal. Ed had always been interested in ghosts, having grown up in a haunted house when he was a boy, and now he dragged his young wife to every haunted location they stumbled across. Back then the pair probably never imagined they would go on to become America’s leading paranormal investigators, founders of their own society, noted authors, trainers of demonologists and founders of their own private occult museum.
It is the museum that arguably holds me most enthralled. Recreated in The Conjuring, it is a small, highly atmospheric and terrifying showcase of haunted and obscure items from around the world. Packed with everything from possessed animal figurines to a haunted organ, shrunken head and vampire coffin, the museum’s most notorious inmate is the Annabelle doll which was also featured in The Conjuring. A Raggedy Ann doll haunted by a vicious entity named Annabelle, the toy has been responsible for all manner of petrifying paranormal activity. Bought as a gift for a nursing student, Donna, back in 1970 the doll soon began to exhibit unnatural qualities – namely the ability to seemingly move itself into different positions and leave eerie pencilled messages on scraps of paper lying around the apartment.
Understandably Donna and her roommate were rather disturbed by these strange happenings – but when Donna came home one night to find what looked like bloodstains on the antique doll her concern turned to fear and a medium was called in to conduct a séance. Supposedly the toy was being haunted by the spirit of a 7-year old girl named Annabelle Higgins who had died on the land that Donna’s apartment complex was built on. The spirit asked to remain inside the doll as she felt comfortable and safe ‘living’ in the apartment with the two girls. Donna and her roommate agreed – a decision which would turn out to be an awful mistake and lead to dreadful consequences for the young women and those who sought to help them.
To cut a long and gruesome story short, Donna’s decision to keep the doll resulted in the injury of her friend Lou, who had always been suspicious of the toy and warned her that it was evil. Lou ended up with vicious scratches across his body and was almost suffocated one night by the wicked entity controlling the doll. It was after these incidents that the two women sought help from the church and at the same time the Warrens decided to take on the case. Working together with Episcopal priest Father Cooke they came up with an exorcism ceremony to cleanse Donna’s home and it was agreed that the Warrens would take the doll away with them when they left.
This could have been the end of the troubles but the spirit animating the doll had other ideas. During the drive to the Warrens’ house it caused their car’s steering and brakes to fail perilously and once in residence in the Warrens’ home it resumed its eerie movements around the house, showing up in different rooms unexpectedly, particularly Ed’s study and favourite chair. It also nearly caused the death of a visiting exorcist, who spoke in contemptuous tones to the doll before tossing it down onto Ed’s easy chair where it was once again mysteriously seated. Just hours later the brakes in the priest’s car failed, resulting in a collision which could easily have killed him.
After this the Warrens made a special glass case for Annabelle and there she remains even now, though being locked away has not prevented her from killing and injuring again.
As well as the Annabelle case the Warrens were also directly involved in the infamous Amityville Horror, entering the house with a team of other researchers to try and determine the cause of the terrible happenings which had been plaguing the Lutz family, who were living there but had now fled in fear of their lives. Both Ed and Lorraine experienced physical attacks and Lorraine felt a demonic presence inhabiting the building as well as being troubled by psychic visions of the family who had been murdered in the building before the Lutz family took it on. Sadly the Warrens could do no real good in this case as the negative energies inside the building were too powerful but they did help to retrieve some of the Lutz’s property so that the house could then be sold.
Ed Warren sadly passed away in 2006 but his legacy remains a powerful one and his wife Lorraine still dedicates herself to their paranormal work, conducting investigations and continuing to run their Occult Museum in Connecticut. Whether you agree with their statements about the supernatural world or not, there is no doubt that this devoted couple were fascinating people and led incredible lives, standing firmly on the frontline between this world and a darker one we tend to prefer not to think too much about…
If you share my fascination with this intriguing couple, why not check out their website to learn more about their work and, if you are brave enough, arrange a museum tour where you can come face to face with Annabelle herself.
“Diabolical forces are formidable. These forces are eternal, and they exist today. The fairy tale is true. The devil exists. God exists. And for us, as people, our very destiny hinges upon which one we elect to follow.” – Ed Warren