"Get out! Get out! I’ll drive you out with death and gloom!”
That wasn't the welcome the young Perron family expected when they moved into their dream home. But that was the warning that greeted Carolyn Perron when she, her husband Roger and their five children moved into what they thought was a charming old farmhouse in rural Rhode Island.
It was the winter of 1970. Locals called the house the Old Arnold Estate, and it quickly unleashed its malevolence on its new tenants. Carolyn Perron told the Providence Journal she was awakened soon after moving in by a very tall woman in an old gray dress with her head hanging to the side, resembling a sack of cobwebs. It was she who delivered the ominous warning that the Perrons needed to find another place to live.
When the Perrons initially moved in, there was no indication of a nefarious presence—until things went missing and objects seemed to move on their own. The Perron children began to notice spirits in the house. At first, there were only a few harmless spirits, but soon they became resentful.
Carolyn conducted her own historical research on the house and uncovered eight generations of one family which had lived there. Many of them died mysterious or horrible deaths at the farm—some committed suicide, others were murdered, and come children died by drowning. Andrea Perron—the oldest of the Perron children—later recalled that her mother’s research was valid because “virtually every [entity] we were able to name had, as living beings, either died by their own hand or died so traumatic a death and so sudden a death that they didn’t seem to know they were dead.”
Carolyn decided her ghostly nemesis was a woman named Bathsheba who was born in Rhode Island in 1812. In the 2013 movie The Conjuring, based on the Perron family’s haunting, Bathsheba is said to have practiced witchcraft, sacrificing her baby to the Devil before hanging herself from a tree in the backyard. In the movie, Bathsheba tries to possess the living and force them to repeat her grisly crime.
Bathsheba Thayer was a real woman. Records indicate she married a man named Judson Sherman and had four children, three of whom died in childhood. But at least one historian says she gets a bad rap in The Conjuring. J’aime Rubio writes about the real Bathsheba Sherman in a well-researched blog. Rubio says the Perron house may in fact be haunted, but that Bathsheba was no witch. Childhood deaths were not uncommon in the 19th century and Rubio finds no evidence that any of the children she lost were murdered.
All three children are buried nearby in a Harrisburg, Rhode Island cemetery. Bathsheba and her husband are buried there too, something Rubio says this pious 19th-century town would never have allowed if they believed she was practicing dark arts.
But the story of this haunted house is based on the memories of another real person, Carolyn’s eldest daughter, Andrea Perron. Andrea wrote about her family’s years living with spirits in the three-volume series, House of Darkness House of Light.
In the family’s accounting of their years in the house, Bathsheba resorted to more than threats. She got physical, starting with pinches and slaps and working up from there. Carolyn was the ghost’s chief target, and the family says she was ultimately threatened with images of fire and even stabbed with a knitting needle.
Despite being the most violent, Bathsheba was far from the only spirit tormenting them. The Perron family experienced an overpowering smell of flesh rotting and watched as beds rose from the floor. Sometimes the heating system would fail mysteriously, forcing Roger to enter the basement which the Perrons believed was inhabited by a spirit.
The Perrons didn’t move, but they did get professional help. Lorraine and Ed Warren are well-known paranormal investigators and real-life ghost busters, best known for their connection to the Long Island house immortalized in The Amityville Horror and the possessed Annabelle doll.
Despite the film’s portrayal of Carolyn seeking out help, the Warrens came to the rescue of the Perrons in their battle with Bathsheba. They were brought in by a paranormal group in Rhode Island. Lorraine later claimed that the hauntings were caused by the Perrons’ lack of religious faith.
The Warrens were consultants on The Conjuring—Lorraine even appeared in a cameo role—directed by Saw’s James Wan. The film received positive reviews from critics and grossed over $319 million worldwide. The Warrens’ reports on the DeFeo murder house and the Perrons inspired the movie. In the film, they successfully cleanse the house of evil spirits. But in reality, according to Andrea, the Warrens never drove the ghosts away, only aggravated them: “The Warrens tried to help, but we essentially found things got worse around them.”
One horrific night after the Warrens’ arrival, Carolyn was possessed by Bathsheba. A séance conducted by Lorraine caused Carolyn to speak a strange language and levitate in her chair. It lasted several hours and Carolyn’s body distorted until they de-demonized her. Both Andrea and Cindy Perron were hiding but witnessed everything and “the power of evil in this life.” At the end of the night, Roger—worried about Carolyn’s mental stability—threw out the Warrens. Although the movie portrays the haunting ending that night, the true story did not end there.
The Perrons continued to live in the house after the séance because they couldn’t afford to move. They had to learn how to live with as many as nine spirits. In 1980, after a decade of horrors, they finally sold the farmhouse and fled to Georgia, bidding goodbye to Bathsheba and the other spirits–or so they thought. In Andrea Perron’s three volume history on her family’s haunting, she reports a final twist: Many of the ghosts had grown attached to the family and came with them, haunting them for years to come.