The Real-Life Inspiration Behind The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Although there have been countless claims of demonic possession throughout history, in 1981, according to Newsweek, the phenomenon was used as a legal defense for the first time in the history of the United States by Arne Cheyenne Johnson. The public became obsessed with the case, and although possession didn't pan out as a legal defense in court, the story inspired books and movies.

The film "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It" takes on this real-life story, ramping up its supernatural aspects and telling the version that paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren helped detail in "The Devil in Connecticut." But the real story is about much more than the paranormal investigators. Even at the time, police said that it wasn't "an unusual crime," so how did demonic possession become part of a legal defense? Was it really the devil, or was it just another drunken fight that went too far?

What's interesting about this case that for some, Johnson's good behavior in prison can be used to strengthen the argument that the murder he committed occurred as a result of demonic possession, yet what it really demonstrates is how the capacity to change is the most human thing of all. But the story actually doesn't start with Arne Johnson. It starts with his girlfriend's younger brother, David. This is the real-life inspiration behind "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It."

The Glatzel home

In the summer of 1980, 11-year-old David Glatzel was helping his mother Judy and his 25-year-old sister Deborah clean up a rental property of theirs in Connecticut. Eighteen-year-old Arne Cheyenne Johnson, who was dating Deborah, was also present. Radio Times writes that while they were there, David claimed that he saw a "burnt and black-looking" elderly man, who pushed him and told him that "he would bring [Arne and Deborah] harm if they moved into the house."

Over the following days, David continued to see the elderly man, "who would also appear as a demonic beast muttering in Latin, threatening to steal his soul," according to Nerds of Color. Sometimes, the demon was described as a burned old man with a flannel shirt and a white beard, while other times, it'd have horns and hoofs and a "thin face with animal features."

David began to have night terrors and would wake up with scratches and bruises all over his body. He also reportedly started acting strangely during the day as well, "growling, hissing, and speaking in otherworldly voices, and reciting passages from the Bible or 'Paradise Lost.'"

The Glatzel family also reportedly heard strange sounds coming from their attic during this time. Although some sources write that Johnson moved into the Glatzels' home after David's reported possession, according to UVA Law, Johnson moved into the Glatzel home in May 1980, roughly one month "before her brother David began to claim he was being tormented by a demon."

Performing exorcisms

Initially, the Glatzel family called the Catholic Church and asked them to perform an exorcism. Although Nerds of Color reports that the church declined, Radio Times writes that a Roman Catholic priest did come at one point to bless the house.

The Glatzels also reached out to Ed and Lorraine Warren, who were relatively well-known paranormal investigators at the time, and they agreed to come and investigate. The Washington Post reported in 1981 that the Warrens immediately identified what was going on as a demonic possession rather than simply paranormal activity. Ed Warren remembered, "Right away, I knew there was something to this, I felt like a good fisherman when he knows there's something on the line."

The Warrens also determined that "42 demons and one devil" were possessing David, numbers which would reportedly increase slightly over time. According to UVA Law, the Warrens performed "four minor rites of exorcism" in an attempt to expel all the demons and devils from David's body.

During one of the exorcisms, Arne Johnson was present and reportedly shouted, "Take me on, leave my little buddy alone!" Within a few days, David reportedly started showing signs of improvement. Johnson, however, was allegedly attacked by one of the demons and fell under its possession after "making eye contact with it on the [Glatzels' rental] property," writes Nerds of Color. Deborah was there when it happened and told him that "The Beast" had gone into him.

Was the Catholic Church involved?

It's unclear how much the Catholic Church was actually involved in the exorcisms performed on David. According to CBR, a spokesman for the church has insisted that what was happening to David "never met the standards of exorcism, nor [had it] ever been requested."

Newsweek claims that "lesser" exorcisms were conducted with local priests, but since the Glatzel family hadn't done any of the psychological tests the Catholic Church reportedly asked for, they refused to sanction an exorcism. But Judy Glatzel claimed that she had, in fact, taken her son to a Bridgeport psychiatrist, "who charged her $75 an hour and then announced that the next time he wanted to see the whole family."

According to the BBC, a "major exorcism" can only be performed when a priest has a bishop's approval, but it's rare for a case to require this. And it wasn't until 1999 that the Catholic Church updated its rules and regulations surrounding exorcisms, distinguishing for the first time "between demonic possession and physical or psychological illness." However, even though the diocese admitted that "Father Virgulak and three priests from St. Joseph's worked to resolve the boy's affliction," The New York Times reported in 1981 that the priests were ordered not to speak with the police or the public.

Meanwhile, both the Warrens and Judy Glatzel contend that they had requested an exorcism from the Catholic Church. Judy claimed, "I wish so much that it had been done. I pray for it."

Deborah and Arne move out

Arne Johnson and Deborah moved out of the Glatzel family home in the autumn of 1980. But instead of moving into the original house they'd been planning on, the Glatzels' rental property where the possession had reportedly occurred, they decided to look for another place. The Washington Post reported that around this time, Johnson and Glatzel met 40-year-old Alan Bono. Bono ran Brookfield Kennels and asked Glatzel to come work for him. He also started renting an apartment to Glatzel and Johnson in Brookfield, Connecticut, and soon became their landlord, employer, and friend.

Glatzel claimed that although Bono knew nothing about running a kennel and she ended up doing all the work, they got along well. "There was talk of owning a pet store together, the kind of talk that comes of aimless afternoons and the lack of anything better," she recalled.

But during this time, Johnson reportedly exhibited noticeable changes while he worked for a tree surgeon company. He would reportedly go into trances similar to the ones David experienced, where he'd growl and claim that he could see The Beast. Radio Times writes that at one point, the demon crashed Johnson's car into a tree, leaving him shaken but uninjured.

But some in Johnson's life claimed that he was already "quick to anger, extremely possessive of the woman he calls his wife," and had once "ripped a small stuffed animal to shreds with his knife after an argument at a tree service where he once worked."

'Four or five tremendous wounds'

On February 16, 1981, Arne Cheyenne Johnson took the day off work and was at the kennel with Deborah Glatzel and Alan Bono. Johnson's two younger sisters, Wanda and Janice, and Glatzel's younger cousin, Mary, were also there, according to Digital Spy.

Radio Times writes that when they all went out to lunch, Bono got drunk, and he proceeded to drink more and more as the afternoon wore on. At one point, when they were all about to leave Bono's apartment, Bono reportedly grabbed the nine-year-old Mary and "refused to let her go." In response, Johnson, who'd drank a lot as well, confronted Bono and stabbed him with his pocket knife, inflicting "four or five tremendous wounds" to Bono's chest and torso. However, in court, Glatzel claimed that the argument had arisen because Johnson had repaired Bono's stereo, and they'd disagreed about payment.

According to The Washington Post, "Wanda Johnson heard Cheyenne growling like an animal. She saw something shiny flash in the air. And then, she says, 'It just stopped.' And when it was over, Cheyenne walked into the woods, staring straight ahead." Bono died within several hours. Meanwhile, Johnson was found around two miles away from where he'd stabbed Bono. According to UPI, he was discovered at Hackney's bar. 

This is believed to be the first murder in Brookfield, Connecticut, since the town started keeping police records in the 1950s, and possibly even its first murder ever.

Not guilty due to demonic possession?

Police Chief John Anderson claimed that it wasn't "an unusual crime. Someone got angry, an argument resulted." But the defense that Martin Minnella, Johnson's attorney, tried to use was certainly unusual. The Washington Post reported that Johnson entered a plea of "not guilty because he [was] possessed by the devil."

Minnella was planning to pull out all the stops. All That's Interesting writes that "he even planned to subpoena the priests who allegedly attended the exorcisms, urging them to break tradition by speaking about their controversial rites." According to Nerds of Color, Minnella wasn't particularly interested in the supernatural, but his belief in Johnson's demonic possession was "due to the deep wounds in Bono's body that could not have been made by a human."

According to UVA Law, Minnella "cited 2 British court cases that had permitted a defense based on possession by demons." In "Demons, the Devil, and Fallen Angels," Marie D. Jones and Larry Flaxman write that Minnella even tried to argue that not only had Johnson been possessed by the demons inhabiting David Glatzel but that Johnson had been "taunted by demons most of his life."

However, Judge Robert Callahan refused to accept this plea. Radio Times writes that Judge Callahan declared that it would be "'irrelative and unscientific' to allow testimony on these grounds." As a result, Minnella was forced to change his plea to self-defense but stated that he'd argue the demonic possession defense "in the absence of the jury."

The media loves a devil

The day after the murder, Lorraine Warren told the Brookfield Police that Johnson was suffering from a demonic possession, which is what caused the murder, and when the media heard that Johnson's lawyer planned to use the plea of not guilty because of demonic possession, they latched onto the story.

It probably didn't help that this occurred around the same time as the Satanic Panic was sweeping the nation. And Martin Minnella was especially provocative, saying that, "The courts have dealt with the existence of God. Now they're going to have deal with the existence of the Devil.'" Four Nine writes that the Warrens also received a publicity boost and "were promised lectures, a book, and even a movie about the case."

According to Today in Connecticut History, the story was picked up by big media names like People magazine, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, but reporters were disappointed when Judge Callahan refused to accept anything involving the supernatural. As a result, "national interest in the case plummeted," but the trial still ended up being pretty highly publicized.

Ed and Lorraine Warren were also going to be involved in the case and, as noted by The New York Times, had "an arguable commercial interest in the matter." Johnson's trial lasted approximately one month.

Testimonies during the trial

During the trial, numerous witnesses testified that both Arne Johnson and Alan Bono had been "drinking heavily before the slaying." One witness estimated that the two of them drank between 13 and 15 glasses of wine over the course of three hours.

According to UPI, Leo J. Hengstler, the emergency medical technician who arrived at the scene, testified that he heard Deborah Glatzel saying, "Oh daddy, he didn't mean to do it, but you know how he gets when he's drinking." And Johnson appeared to have been aware of what happened, reportedly stating afterward, "I think I hurt someone." CBR reports that during the trial, testimony revealed that not only had the Glatzel family seen "The Exorcist" not long before the alleged demonic possession but that "they'd already attended a Warren lecture on the supernatural" as well.

But in the end, the prosecution was able to successfully argue that the murder was the result of an alcohol-fueled altercation. However, the fact that Johnson genuinely may not have intended to kill Bono might have helped him avoid a murder conviction. After deliberating for three days, the jury convicted Johnson of first-degree manslaughter. He was sentenced to 10 to 20 years.

Although Martin Minnella "vowed to appeal on the grounds that he was barred from using the demon defense," according to the Hartford Courant, he never ended up doing so.

The Devil in Connecticut

Ed and Lorraine Warren were already famous from their involvement in "The Amityville Horror" case. But according to Newsweek, Amityville "was declared fiction by a U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, with evidence pointing to the Lutz family inventing the story in collaboration with the defense lawyer of the murderer who purportedly haunted the house."

According to Radio Times, Lorraine Warren and Gerald Brittle wrote "The Devil In Connecticut" in 1983, detailing the incident as a demonic possession. However, David Glatzel's brother Carl would later claim that the Warrens had created the whole thing and, according to All That's Interesting, "took advantage of his brother's mental health for money."

In 2007, both David and Carl sued Brittle and the Warrens, as well as the publishers. The lawsuit was inspired by the book's republication in 2006, to which Carl responded by saying that "the Warrens concocted a phoney story about demons in an attempt to get rich and famous at our expense." Carl also claimed that the Warrens had said that the book would help Arne Johnson get out of jail and that they'd all end up millionaires.

Ultimately, it was confirmed that the Glatzels were paid only $2,000. Meanwhile, Brittle claimed that his book was based on over 100 hours of interviews with the Glatzel family. Although most of the counts in the lawsuit were stricken, it appears that the count of libel is still pending as of 2021.

What happened to the Glatzels?

Both Arne Johnson and Deborah Glatzel maintain that the murder was caused by demonic possession. They stayed together and got married in January 1984 while Johnson served his prison sentence. According to the Associated Press, Johnson was released in January 1986 after serving five years for good behavior and was described as an "exemplary inmate."

Ed Warren explained Johnson's behavior by claiming that "Possession doesn't last 24 hours a day. It comes quickly and leaves quickly. Arne understands what happened to him. He now knows if something happens how to ward it off and he won't be stupid enough to take on the devil again." Johnson and Glatzel had two children together, but Digital Spy reports that Glatzel died from cancer in 2021.

According to the Hartford Courant, David Glatzel experienced mental illness throughout his childhood, which resulted in hallucinations and seizures, and these episodes increased between 1979 and 1982. The Journal Inquirer writes that David "has since recovered and now has his own construction business." 

But according to his brother Carl, they had an incredibly difficult time as children and were "shunned by friends and classmates" due to the case. Arne Johnson and Deborah Glatzel claimed that Carl just wanted money, but Carl Glatzel said that he just wanted "to set the record straight. The Warrens manipulated dysfunctional families."