Decades before they became immortalized in the Conjuring series of films, Ed and Lorraine Warren were already among the most famous—and infamous—paranormal investigators in the world, having tied themselves to a variety of notorious and high-profile cases, including the Amityville haunting, the so-called Enfield poltergeist, and many others.
According to their website—which is now maintained by their son-in-law Tony Spera—the Warrens “have been considered America’s preeminent experts on the subject of spirits and demonology” for the past half-century, while “religious authorities have consistently turned to Ed & Lorraine to control some of the most profane outbreaks of diabolical phenomena in the country. If you had nobody that would listen or help, you turned to the Warrens.”
Scandals and Accusations
Others, however, have a less-rosy opinion of the Warrens. A 1997 investigation on behalf of the New England Skeptical Society (NESS) found that the Warrens were pleasant enough people, but were also “at best, tellers of meaningless ghost stories, and at worst, dangerous frauds.”
Indeed, accusations of fraud have dogged the footsteps of the Warrens throughout their “careers” as paranormal investigators. Horror author Ray Garton worked with the Warrens to write a nonfiction book about their case involving the Snedeker family, which was loosely adapted into the 2009 film The Haunting in Connecticut. Garton was even more direct, saying of Lorraine, “If she told me the sun would come up tomorrow morning, I’d get a second opinion.”
Ed and Lorraine Warren Death
Whether they’re selfless (and self-taught) saviors or dangerous frauds, the Warrens have been an inescapable part of the world of paranormal investigations and “true” hauntings for the past fifty years, and with the continuing success of The Conjuring franchise, that doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon. Ed passed away in 2006 and Lorraine lived long enough to see the release of two of the films in the Conjuring series, only going to her rest in 2019. They had been paranormal investigators for more than half-a-century.
How Ed and Lorraine Met
Ed and Lorraine met in 1944, when they were both mere teenagers. Ed was working as an usher at the Colonial Theater in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where Lorraine was a regular attendee. By 1945, Ed had enlisted in the Navy and was aboard a ship that was sunk, leading him to return home on 30-day “survivor’s leave,” during which time he and Lorraine were married.
By 1951, the pair had a daughter named Judy, and by 1952 they began the other most important undertaking in their lives: founding the New England Society for Psychic Research (NESPR), one of the oldest ghost-hunting organizations in America. An amateur artist with a passion for painting, Ed got started by going around to supposedly haunted houses, sketching a picture of the exterior, and then giving that sketch to the homeowners as a way to get his foot in the door.
Annabelle, the Demonic Doll
It wasn’t until 1968 that the Warrens had their first major case—one that has become, thanks to The Conjuring and its sequels, every bit as famous as any of their others. A student nurse was given a Raggedy Ann doll as a gift—the real doll that inspired the infamous Annabelle doll of the movies. Like its cinematic namesake, this real (albeit less spooky-looking) Annabelle doll really did occupy a glass case in the Warrens’ home, emblazoned with a placard reading “Positively do not open.”
Famous Paranormal Cases Investigated by the Warrens
More famous cases followed. Indeed, by the time of their deaths, the Warrens claimed to have investigated more than 10,000 various cases of hauntings, demonic possessions, and much more. Many of the most famous—and notorious—have found their way onto film, either with the Warrens’ participation or without it.
After Annabelle, the next big one was the haunting of the Perron family, investigated by the Warrens in 1971. This haunting, which the Warrens claimed was caused by a curse laid down by a witch named Bathsheba Sherman, formed the basis of the first film in the Conjuring franchise.
The Haunted House Diaries
When ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren investigated this 1790 farmhouse, they dubbed it "Ghost Central". Nestled deep in Litchfield Hills, Connecticut, the house overlooks the epicenter of a paranormal crossroads. The family that resides there regularly encounters its own ancestors, as well as strangers—human and nonhuman—who seemingly occupy the same physical space in parallel worlds. When William J. Hall visited the house, family member Donna Fillie showed him her journal of the paranormal activity she’s experienced there over the years. Here is Donna’s diary spanning five decades of uncanny occurrences, supplemented with background information provided by Hall.
The Amityville Horror and Other Hauntings
Until the various Conjuring films, however, by far the most notorious case the Warrens ever consulted on was that of the Lutz family, in Amityville. The story, which became the basis for the bestselling-book-turned-hit-movie series The Amityville Horror, helped to catapult the Warrens into fame within paranormal circles, even if they weren’t included in the book or movie versions, being only two of a wide range of investigators both amateur and professional who were involved in the case.
Other notable cases include the “Enfield poltergeist,” which became the main plot of The Conjuring 2—despite critics who claimed that the Warrens were involved “to a far lesser degree than portrayed in the movie” and, in fact, had shown up to the house uninvited and were turned away—and the 1981 case of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, who famously tried to use demonic possession as a defense in his murder trial. This became the basis for The Conjuring 3, even though, again, in real life the judge dismissed the demonic possession claim.
The Warrens’ Occult Museum
Throughout all this, the Warrens also published numerous books (frequently working, appropriately enough, with ghost-writers and other authors like the aforementioned Ray Garton) and maintained their Occult Museum, which was run out of the back part of their Connecticut home. Akin to the room full of cursed objects shown in the Conjuring movies, the Occult Museum was made up of a variety of artifacts purportedly taken from Ed and Lorraine’s various investigations. The museum is now closed, but in 1997, admission was $13.
The Truth About the Warrens
Even before they were portrayed by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in The Conjuring, Ed and Lorraine Warren already had a wide circle of devoted fans—and an equally large number of fervent critics. Lifelong members of the Roman Catholic Church, Ed was a self-taught (and self-proclaimed) demonologist, while Lorraine claimed to be a light trance medium and clairvoyant. To their detractors, they were nothing more than peddlers of snake oil, preying on the desperation of vulnerable people.
We may never know which is the true version of the Warrens—or whether, like most people who ever became famous for anything, they really exist somewhere on the spectrum between those two poles. Like them or loathe them, though, the Warrens have left an imprint on the world of paranormal investigation that few others can match, for good or ill.