The twisted story of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, also known as 'The Devil Made Me Do It' case, comes directly from the case files of demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren. You might recognize the controversial ghost hunters from the Conjuring movie franchise, where the real-life couple is played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. While the various spin-offs of the franchise have gone in more overtly fictional directions, the core titles have stuck closer to their “inspired by true events” logline: 2013’s The Conjuring covers the haunting of the Perron family, while 2016’s The Conjuring 2 centers on the Amityville horror and the Enfield poltergeist.
The third installment—originally scheduled for release in September of 2020, now sometime in 2021—looks to be no exception. For the new movie, titled The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, filmmakers are digging into the case of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, the first known person in America to attempt to use demonic possession as a defense plea in a murder trial.
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On February 16, 1981, Johnson, then 19 years old, stabbed his landlord several times with a five-inch pocket knife. It was the first murder on the books in the 193-year history of Brookfield, Connecticut. According to Johnson, however, while his was the hand that held the knife, the murder was committed by a demonic force that had overcome him.
For Johnson’s victim, the story ended there. But for Johnson and the Warrens, it had started months earlier, when 11-year-old David Glatzel allegedly had a strange encounter. Glatzel’s older sister, Debbie, was Johnson’s fiancée. David Glatzel, Debbie Glatzel, and Johnson were cleaning up a rental property when David told them that an old man had appeared, pushing and threatening him.
At first, the couple wrote it off as a kid trying to get out of doing his chores, but David remained adamant. The odd sightings not only continued—they increased in both frequency and intensity. At night, David would wake up sobbing, describing visitations by a “man with big black eyes, a thin face with animal features and jagged teeth, pointed ears, horns and hoofs.”
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The Glatzels asked a priest from nearby St. Joseph’s Catholic Church to bless their home, but David’s frightening encounters continued unabated. Over the next few months, he gained 60 pounds in rapid succession, and family members had to sit up with him through the night. David would suddenly jerk awake at all hours to hiss, growl, speak in strange voices, and “suddenly begin reciting passages from the Bible or from Milton’s Paradise Lost.” His nocturnal visitor also began making daytime appearances, during which it took on the more innocuous shape of “an old man with a white beard, dressed in a flannel shirt and jeans.”
In desperation, the family called upon self-styled demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren. When the couple first interviewed the family, Lorraine reported seeing “a black, misty form next to [David], which told me we were dealing with something of a negative nature.”
During the course of David’s possession, the Warrens had feared that they were “sitting on a powder keg.” In October of 1980, the Warrens contacted the Brookfield police and warned them that the situation was growing increasingly dangerous. “David made numerous references to murder and stabbings,” Lorraine claimed.
David complained of being choked and hit by invisible hands, and witnesses reported that red marks appeared spontaneously on his body. As the situation worsened, the Warrens claimed to have been present at “three lesser exorcisms” in an attempt to rid the boy of whatever dark spirit was troubling him. Four priests from St. Joseph’s were said to have been in attendance.
During these “lesser exorcisms,” David purportedly levitated, ceased breathing, and gave the names of the 43 demons that were possessing him. In desperation, Arne Cheyenne Johnson, who was present at the exorcisms, demanded that the demons leave David alone and possess him instead.
After the exorcisms failed, Johnson was in a car accident during which he claimed that a demon took control of his vehicle and forced him off the road and into a tree. He was unharmed, but determined to do something to try to put an end to the demonic activity.
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According to an episode of the Discovery Channel series A Haunting, which aired in August of 2006, there was a well on the same rental property where all the trouble had started. The Warrens warned Johnson not to investigate the well, but after his car accident, he did just that. Johnson recalls making eye contact with the demon in the depths of the well. According to Johnson, this was the last time that he was completely lucid until after the murder.
Shortly thereafter, Debbie Glatzel and Arne Cheyenne Johnson moved out of the Glatzel home, which was becoming unbearable. Debbie had been hired by Alan Bono as a dog groomer at the Brookfield Pet Motel, and the couple also rented a nearby apartment from Bono. But Debbie began to fear that they had brought David’s demons with them. Johnson, who had played Little League and sang in the church choir when he was younger, would “growl and say he saw the beast,” Debbie recalled. “Later he would have no memory of it. It was just like David.”
On February 16, 1981, Johnson called in sick to work and joined Debbie at the Brookfield Pet Motel. Bono took them all out to lunch at a local bar, where he apparently drank heavily. Later in the day, there was an altercation, at which point Johnson stabbed Bono repeatedly while “growling like an animal.”
When it came time for the trial, Martin Minnella, Johnson’s attorney, attempted to enter a plea of “not guilty by reason of demonic possession.” While this was the first time such a plea had been attempted in the United States, Minnella cited two cases in England where similar pleas had been used—although neither case ever went to trial.
Lorraine Warren agreed that Johnson had been possessed at the time of the murder, and Minnella planned to fly in experts from Europe and subpoena the priests who had been involved in the exorcisms of David Glatzel—none of which ultimately came to pass. Robert Callahan, the presiding judge in the case, rejected the plea, arguing that such a defense would be impossible to prove, and that testimony on the subject was irrelevant and unscientific.
Ultimately, Johnson’s legal team entered a plea of self-defense. However, the jury was not persuaded of his innocence. On November 24, 1981, Johnson was convicted of first-degree manslaughter and sentenced to 10-20 years in prison, though he served only five. Upon his release, he married Debbie Glatzel.
The bizarre events surrounding Alan Bono’s murder were published in a book called The Devil in Connecticut, written by Gerald Brittle in collaboration with Lorraine Warren. The case was later dramatized in a TV movie called The Demon Murder Case, which premiered on NBC in March of 1983. The movie featured Andy Griffith and a very young Kevin Bacon playing the role of the possessed boy who, in the movie version, goes on trial for murder.
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In 2006, The Devil in Connecticut was re-released, prompting David’s older brother, 42-year-old Carl Glatzel, to sue Gerald Brittle, Lorraine Warren, and the William Morris Agency, who owned the rights to the book. According to Carl Glatzel, his brother David suffered from mental illness and had been exploited by the Warrens. The book also painted Carl as a villain, “simply because I had a sane voice and knew the story was false since the beginning.”
Carl isn’t the only one to cast aspersions on the Warrens’ account of what happened to the Glatzel family. While Father Nicholas Grieco of the diocese of Bridgeport did concede that David’s case was investigated by the church, he denied that any exorcism was performed. As for the priests who were supposedly present for the rituals, they weren’t talking, and were transferred to other parishes after the ordeal.
So did Arne Cheyenne Johnson really believe that he was possessed by demons, or was it just an excuse to distance himself from his deplorable actions? We will likely never know what happened in the small Connecticut town of Brookfield back in 1981—though the questions surrounding this chilling true crime case will certainly return with the release of The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.
Sources: Hartford Courant, People, Newsweek, NewsTimes
Featured still from "The Demon Murder Case" via NBC