The true story of the doll that inspired Annabelle

The Conjuring franchise of films, the first of which was released in 2013, takes its audience down a scary path and is chock-full of scenes that make viewers shudder and retreat further into their seats. In the films is a doll which is supposedly possessed by a demonic spirit. Inspired by real events, The Conjuring managed to spook viewers, many of whom have wondered about the actual doll, which is currently locked up. The story behind the doll is unnerving and creepy — it involves a student, her surreal experiences with the doll, and experienced paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren.

The series of events that unfolded in 1970 were talked about quite a lot, especially by Ed and Lorraine Warren whenever they would speak of their long career as investigators. Lorraine Warren spoke in a 2014 interview about why no one has ever been allowed to touch Annabelle, including cast and crew from The Conjuring. "We allow no one to touch or handle the doll," she said. "Because by touching it, a person's aura may mingle with the aura of that evil force within the doll, and cause great harm to the person."

Annabelle's story continues to generate interest among members of the public. Here are some lesser known details about the doll that inspired an entire film series.

The doll was purchased by a mother for her daughter

In 1970, a 28-year-old nursing student was in for a surprise when her mother decided to do something different for her birthday and gift her a doll. The simple-looking doll was picked up from a hobby store, according to Tony Spera, the Warrens' son-in-law and a paranormal investigator himself. Spera noted that the doll was an antique Raggedy Ann and looked far from scary, unlike the doll portrayed in The Conjuring and subsequent films, which was much more unnerving to look at, with its piercing eyes, red lips, and creepy facial expression.

The student nurse, identified only as Donna, shared an apartment with her flatmate and was rather pleased with the gift. She decided to keep the doll in her bedroom and called her Annabelle. The seemingly innocent-looking doll started to frighten Donna and her flatmate only a few days later, according to several accounts, and did some rather out-of-the-ordinary things. Its location would change, or it would be found with its arms and legs in different positions from what they'd been in.

The doll started moving on its own

Soon after the doll arrived in the nurse's home, Donna and her flatmate realized something was terribly amiss. The doll seemed to be moving on its own. Donna said she would often find it in random locations around the house, something which was extremely unsettling to her because no one ever moved the doll. In just a short period of time, according to Donna, it became obvious that things were creepy: The doll would even be found in different positions. There were times when despite leaving Annabelle on the couch, Donna would find the doll back in her room later in the day — and the bedroom door was shut.

Per a Glamour piece, there were apparently strange messages left around the apartment after Annabelle arrived, all written on parchment paper that didn't belong to Donna or her roommate. The notes seemed to be cries for help and were usually written in what seemed like a child's handwriting, saying things like, "Help Us." 

One incident in particular unnerved Donna. A description on Spera's website reads, "One night, Donna came home to find the doll had moved again, this time it was on her bed. [...] A sense of fear came over her when she inspected the doll and saw what looked like blood drops on the back of its hands and its chest. Seemingly, from nowhere, a liquidy red substance had appeared on the doll."

The owner's friend was attacked by the doll

Per Tony Spera's descriptions, one of Donna's friends, Lou, had openly expressed his distrust for the doll. He found it evil and didn't want his friend to keep it. However, Donna didn't take him seriously until Lou described waking up one night and seeing Annabelle at his feet. He claimed that the doll tried to choke him, and he passed out as a result. 

The next morning, he narrated the sequence of events to Donna and her flatmate, and he had another close call with the doll that same day. Upon hearing odd sounds from the bedroom, Lou went to search for an intruder but realized that there was only Annabelle in the room. "Lou scoured the room for forced entry but nothing was out of place. But as he got close to the doll he got the distinct impression that somebody was behind him," Spera wrote. "Spinning around he was quick to realize that nobody else was there. Then, in a flash, he found himself grabbing for his chest, doubled over, cut, and bleeding." He'd received several scratches to his chest, and although they bled initially, they healed oddly quickly afterward.

According to Vice, these incidents left Donna shaken, and she decided to reach out to a priest for help, hoping that she'd find answers to her questions. The priest she called, Father Hegan, reached out to another priest, Father Cooke, for advice, and they eventually decided that the best course of action was to talk to paranormal investigators and get the Warrens involved.

The doll was said to be haunted by a little girl's spirit

Spera writes that after Donna found blood on the doll, she and her roommate had approached a medium. The group organized a séance to seek answers, and Donna was told that there was a seven-year-old's spirit in the doll's body: "Annabelle was a young girl that resided on the property before the apartments were built, they were 'happy times.' She was a young girl of only seven years old when her lifeless body was found in the field upon which the apartment complex now stands." Donna and her flatmate believed this story and communicated further through the medium.

Donna and her roommate were told that the lonely girl's spirit felt comforted and safe around Donna and her flatmate and wanted to be around them. She asked for permission to stay. Donna was moved by this and apparently told Annabelle's spirit that she could continue staying with them. However, despite the séance, the girls' troubles didn't stop, and the creepy incidents didn't come to a grinding halt as Donna had expected them to, making her wonder about the actual nature of the spirit.

Paranormal investigators got involved

Renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Lorraine is pictured above) were asked for their take on the case after Lou was attacked. The couple were experienced investigators and would collectively spend almost 50 years intervening whenever there were reports of demonic involvement, taking up as many as 3,000 cases in their long career together, per CNN.

Donna now felt it was likely that the spirit was, in fact, demonic and not an innocent child, according to Tony Spera's website. The Warrens spoke extensively to everyone involved in the case, including Donna, her flatmate, and Lou, and felt that the doll was simply being used to manipulate them and wasn't possessed.

Their interest was piqued, and they decided to take the case and would become actively involved in a bid to try to unravel the mystery and find a solution to Donna's troubles. After visiting Donna and examining Annabelle, the investigators felt that the truth was far more sinister than they'd previously realized. The doll wasn't controlled by a tiny girl's spirit at all, they said. "Spirits do not possess inanimate objects like houses or toys, they possess people," Spera wrote, explaining the Warrens' theory. "An inhuman spirit can attach itself to a place or object and this is what occurred in the Annabelle case."

The Warrens believed a demonic spirit was present

The Warrens were convinced that Donna was dealing with a sinister demonic presence that had ulterior motives and wanted attention from Donna and her friends. "This spirit manipulated the doll and created the illusion of it being alive in order to get recognition. Truly, the spirit was not looking to stay attached to the doll, it was looking to possess a human host," Tony Spera stated. Per the Warrens, if the spirit had been allowed to continue its misbehaviors for a few more weeks, it would have probably hurt or murdered Donna and her flatmate or possessed one of them.

Spera gave further details about how the spirit was in its infestation stage at that point and used the earlier opportunity with the medium to win the girls over and make them feel sympathetic toward Annabelle, a step that apparently gave the spirit more power and control over the situation. After being allowed by Donna and her roommate to stay with them, the spirit began to do disturbing things, such as attacking their friend Lou, and created a sinister presence in the apartment. The Warrens reckoned that human possession was definitely up next on the spirit's agenda and that they'd caught the demon just in time.

An exorcism failed

Per Glamour, the Warrens figured that it was important to arrange for an exorcism after determining that a demonic spirit was at work. They asked Father Cooke to perform the ritual and oversee the proceedings. "The Episcopal blessing of the home is a wordy, seven page document that is distinctly positive in nature," Ed Warren said. "Rather than specifically expelling evil entities from the dwelling, the emphasis is instead directed toward filling the home with the power of the positive and of God."

While Father Cooke wasn't keen on performing the exorcism, he acquiesced to the Warrens' request and carried out the lengthy ceremony. The Warrens hoped that after the cleansing ritual, the evil spirit would leave Donna's house for good. However, things didn't go exactly as planned — the exorcism, as the couple would find out later, didn't seem to have worked completely, as eerie events continued to occur.

The investigators witnessed unusual activity

Donna asked the Warrens to take Annabelle with them, and the couple agreed to do so. On the way home, they realized that things weren't exactly normal as they struggled to stay on the road. According to Glamour, they nearly crashed due to the brakes and power steering failing. As told by Spera, they faced several near-accidents, with the car's components seemingly betraying them at every curve in the road.

Ed decided to stop and intervene. He sprinkled holy water on Annabelle and proceeded to make a cross over the doll. This worked, and the Warrens were able to get home without any further mishaps. However, the eerie incidents didn't stop at the Warrens' home, and Annabelle started moving around again. "When the Warrens were away and had the doll locked up in the outer office building, they would often return to find it sitting comfortably upstairs in Ed's easy chair when they opened the main front door," Spera wrote. "The doll also showed a hatred for clergymen who came to the house."

At one point, according to the Warrens, a Catholic exorcist was rude to Annabelle and expressed his contempt. "You're just a ragdoll, Annabelle, you can't hurt anyone," Father Jason Bradford said. The Warrens warned him to be cautious on his way back home. As it turns out, he almost died in a road accident that day when his brakes suddenly stopped working.

Annabelle was locked up in a special case

Ed and Lorraine Warren eventually decided to get a custom-built case for Annabelle and found the doll a spot in their occult museum in Monroe, Connecticut. Per Glamour, this was done after they observed that the doll often broke free from locks at the Warrens' home when left to its own devices. After putting Annabelle in a glass case inside their museum, the investigators observed that the doll had finally stopped moving and seemed to stay put.

That said, Annabelle's story did become popular, leading to The Conjuring and its spin-offs. Even though the movie's events were mostly fiction, the Warrens were still happy about the ultimate message that was being delivered to cinemagoers. Tony Spera has stated that the investigators hoped people would simply believe. "Everyone in the audience who believes in God must also believe there's a Devil," Spera said. "Ghosts, devils, demons are real."

A museum visitor died because he mocked Annabelle

The Warrens often warned that it was important to censor oneself around the doll and not mock or ridicule it in any way. As detailed on Tony Spera's website, unsettling incidents have occurred due to visitors testing the doll in the past. A museum visitor was reportedly killed because he mocked Annabelle. The description of the incident read, "The young man after hearing Ed's account of the doll, defiantly went up and began to bang on the case insisting that if the doll can put scratches on people then he wanted to also be scratched, Ed said to the young man 'Son, you need to leave' and put him out of the building."

After the man and his girlfriend left the building, they got on their motorcycle and were heading back home when they crashed straight into a tree. The guy died on the spot, and his girlfriend spent a year in the hospital, recuperating from her injuries. "When asked what happened, the young woman explained that they were laughing about the doll when they lost control of the motorcycle," Spera wrote.

Annabelle was rumored to have escaped

In August 2020, rumors started floating around online about the doll having escaped from the occult museum. According to Vice, Tony Spera issued a special statement in a video to put all the rumors to rest. "Annabelle's alive — well, I shouldn't say alive [...] Annabelle's here, in all her infamous glory," he said. "She never left the museum. I have high-tech security here. If she had left the museum I'd instantly know if something happened, or somebody broke in [...] But Annabelle's here, she didn't go anywhere."

Spera also cracked a joke while talking about Annabelle. "Annabelle's here. She didn't go anywhere. She didn't take a trip. She didn't fly first class and she didn't go out to visit her boyfriend," he said. He also urged people not to worry and to stop speculating. "I appreciate all the concern. I'd be concerned if Annabelle really did leave because she's nothing to play with," he added.

Annabelle is currently with the Warren family

While Lorraine and Ed Warren have passed on, their legacy is very much alive, with their son-in-law Tony Spera (pictured above) taking over the responsibility of diving deeper into the world of the inexplicable and paranormal. The doll is currently in his possession.

In 2014, Lorraine was asked in an interview about why she chose to keep Annabelle despite knowing that the doll was possibly a threat. "It would be quite careless on my part to get rid of it. As explained in The Conjuring, getting rid of the doll would only get rid of the vessel, not the evil that resides within the doll," she told Yahoo. "At least as it sits, we know where it resides. It isn't out into the world causing harm to others. We have a Catholic priest who performs a binding prayer around the doll which acts as a blockade. The evil can't penetrate the holy prayers that bind it."