The Psychic Who Made Bank off the Satanic Panic
Together with her husband, Lorraine Warren injected herself into numerous high-profile cases of house hauntings and demonic possession. Hollywood was never far behind.
Paranormal investigator and self-proclaimed clairvoyant Lorraine Warren, one of the psychics most closely associated with what was known as the Amityville haunting, died Thursday, April 18 at the age of 92. Warren and her husband, Ed, who died in 2006, achieved their greatest fame for their research and writing about the events in Amityville, New York. From there, their probes into rampant hauntings and demonic possessions mostly along the eastern seaboard inspired a series of novels and movies including The Amityville Horror, The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2, the Annabelle trilogy, and The Haunting in Connecticut.
The purported haunting of a house in the Long Island town of Amityville was the Warrens’ most high profile case, thanks to the subsequent books and movies based (loosely in most versions) on the events. After a family moved into the house where a multiple murder had previously occurred, they reported several inexplicable occurrences and sensations. The Warrens were among the paranormal investigators called in to inspect the property, and duly reported having found evidence of psychic trouble, some of it predating the multiple murder. Lorraine would say years later that the Amityville case even haunted her.
Early pioneers in the ’70s Satanic Panic era, a time when cults performing satanic rituals were supposedly, although without much evidence, thought to be a widespread problem. Lorraine and Ed capitalized on the trend and made a killing—not by charging clients (their services were free) but through book and movie deals. The couple collected enough satanic paraphernalia to fill a museum at their small Monroe, Connecticut home.
Satanic Panic and the hauntings and possessions that the Warrens dealt with (all conveniently located in their own New England backyard) mostly occurred in the ’70s and ’80s, when fears of the occult and devil worship bubbled onto the national scene as never before. The Warrens, devout Catholics, decided to hop on the pentagram bandwagon (the Catholic church does, after all, acknowledge demonic possession). Where there was a knock, a smell, a draft, or a person possessed, the Warrens stood as consultants to predominantly Catholic families who were suffering from household demons. Sometimes they only had to show up and talk into empty rooms where angry spirits dwelled, dust off their hands, and leave. Other times, they had to be more hands-on.
In March 1981, The New York Times published an article with a pretty absurd headline: “Defendant in a Murder Puts the Devil on Trial.” The story began by recounting the Bible story of Jesus encountering two possessed men. He drives the demons out, and they enter a herd of pigs who flee to the water and die. It’s an odd start to a news story, but not nearly so nutty as what follows.
According to the Times story, David Glatzel, a 12-year-old boy who was afraid of the household waterbed, was pushed onto it by an apparition in the shape of an old man. The old man appeared again. So, at the urging of a Catholic pastor, the boy’s mother reached out to Mrs. Warren.
''Nine years ago,” she said referring to the priest she had worked with, “we were involved in a very bad case. He was the exorcist.'' Altogether, four priests, along with the Warrens and—stay with me—David’s sister’s boyfriend, Arne Johnson, worked to free David from demonic possession. Arne made the mistake of telling whatever possessed the boy to take him instead. And that supposedly happened exactly as it had with the pigs in the biblical story. David’s demon(s) jumped into Arne. Six months later he fatally stabbed his landlord, Alan Bono.
The Catholic Church silenced the priests, only acknowledging they had been present to handle the demons but that no formal exorcism had taken place, since for a sanctioned exorcism, approval by a bishop was required but had not been sought. Ed Warren refuted that claim saying, ''The two younger priests went directly to the bishop. We have it on tape.'' The church wouldn’t speak with the police detectives investigating the murder. But the Warrens did. Four months before the stabbing, according to the Times, Ed and Lorraine warned law enforcement ''that they were working with clergy in a house they claimed to be a demonic lair, and that there was some potential, they thought, for some violent act.''
The story was front-page news for about a week, until John Hinckley shot Ronald Reagan in late March 1981, and then the exorcism was forgotten—at least temporarily, only to be resurrected several months later. In September, the Washington Post wasted about 10,000 words on this garbage. At his trial, Johnson pleaded not guilty by reason of demonic possession. The judge rejected the defense, because there’s no such thing, and Johnson was convicted of first degree manslaughter. Nevertheless, throughout his trial and sentencing, Johnson stood by his devil-made-me-do-it plea and refused to apologize. He served just under five years for the murder of Alan Bono.
In the Washington Post article, Lorraine seemed to have already cashed the checks that she anticipated from the family tragedy. “Will we have a book written about this?” Lorraine Warren asks rhetorically. “Yes, we will. Will we lecture about it? Yes, we will.” Are they talking to writers and movie producers? “No, we're not,” she says. “Our agents at the William Morris Agency are."
The Warrens hit the lecture circuit, wrote books, consulted on films, sold stories to studios and showed up for all the paranormal reality shows. They were rolling in dough, so if you had a haunting, they wouldn’t charge you to look at it. And they were, if nothing else, good story tellers. In a YouTube video, Lorraine said a spirit came home with them and when they walked through the front door, their pets were walking backwards.
Ed Warren died in 2006, and Lorraine had mostly retired from investigation, although she continued consulting on supernatural phenomena. In the last few years, reports of Ed’s relationship with a 15-year-old girl, Judith Penney, have surfaced. With Lorraine’s consent, Penney moved into their home when she was 18 to oversee the house and claims that she was Ed's lover for four decades. Everything about these people seems sinister and exploitative—down to the admission they charged to see the haunted doll in their basement museum.
Born Lorraine Rita Moran in Bridgeport, Connecticut on January 31, 1927, she claimed to have been a paranormal conduit since early childhood. She met Ed Warren when she was a teenager, and they were married in 1945. The Warrens shared an interest in hauntings and used Ed’s artistic ability to get them in the doors of what they believed to be haunted houses: He would offer to paint portraits of the houses they suspected of being haunted, and with that as their foot in the door, the Warrens would gain access to the house and permission to snoop. In 1952, the couple founded New England Society for Psychic Research (NESPR). Her death was announced on the NESPR Facebook page.
At best, Lorraine Warren, was a pop culture fixture of the horror genre. At worst, a con. A moderate stance would be, well, the Warrens got rich off some crazy make believe bwahaha, but at least they did no great harm to the families they purported to help.