As The Conjuring 3 has it’s box office and streaming premiere this weekend, I am dusting off this old blog post about the first filmic adaptation of Brookfield, Connecticut’s infamous ‘The Devil Made Me Do It’ case. I was a young middle schooler growing up in a town 15 minutes away by car, in the thick of the satanic panic haunted 1980s, and this looms large in my psychic landscape.
I will also reiterate my belief in, and support of, Carl and David Glatzel. Exploitation by the Warrens is a thing, satanic panic has ruined lives, and I hope the Conjuring crazed public will leave them alone.
(Originally posted on my Open Salon blog on March 20, 2011)
I hail from a Northwestern Connecticut region with no small shortage of scary lore, lore which really took off in the 1980s. From ‘Druid ceremonies’ in Candlewood Lake, to any number of notorious haunted house cases popularized on True TV and even in major studio releases like ‘A Haunting in Connecticut,’ something about the wooded New England country just inspires hushed tales of terror and spectral attack. The one such bit of lore nearest to my vicinity, which left a deep impression on me, was the so-called “Demon Murder Trial.” This took place in Brookfield, Connecticut, about 20 minutes from where I grew up, and is the first case ever in the United States where the defense tried to argue innocence by virtue of demonic possession!
You can read the facts of the case on Wikipedia and in various articles about the 1981 murder of Alan Bono by his tenant, Arne Johnson. Arne Johnson was at the time with his girlfriend Debbie Glatzel. There had been previous claims that the youngest child in the Glatzel family was possessed by more than 42 demons, and then further claims came forth that this demonic influence led Johnson to murder Bono. The claims were widely backed up and fostered by world famous demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren.
This case spawned a 1983 bestselling book, “The Devil in Connecticut,” written by Gerard Brittle with the full cooperation of the Warrens. This paperback was ubiquitous in every supermarket and drugstore shelf in my home region back in the 80’s. But having been recently traumatized by The Exorcist, I couldn’t bring myself to read it, though I’d constantly stare at it in fascination on the racks. I had always regretted never reading it. On Amazon the old used cheap paperbacks were selling for over $100. It had been out of print for over a decade until it was republished in 2006 via backinprint.com (it has since been taken out of print due to a pending lawsuit – more on that later).
I managed to get a copy, take a deep breath, read it through, and….It’s laughable dreck, a book that concludes with the author gnashing his teeth that an unnamed family, who allegedly placed a satanic curse on the Glatzels, hasn’t been convicted of the murder of Alan Bono. The book is hardly non-fiction (though gleefully marketed as such) and even then, hardly original. Really, a 180-degree head rotation? You couldn’t be more original than that, Mr. Brittle?
Beyond that, in 1983 it even spawned a TV movie adaptation, “The Demon Murder Case.” Of course names were changed and the setting was moved from Connecticut to neighboring Rhode Island. It had quite a psychotronic cast. Kevin Bacon plays the possessed murderer, and Andy Griffith plays the Ed Warren analog. Also in this Dick Clark Production are Cloris Leachman, Joyce van Patten and Eddie Albert. Oh yes: Harvey Fierstein was the voice of the devils! I doubt he went through the exacting regimen that Mercedes McCambridge did (a shot of bourbon, an entire pack of cigarettes at once and gargling raw eggs).
Though not really worth watching, “The Demon Murder Case” is not without its chills (and the chills of made-for-TV horror movies is a post I’ll one day get to) even if – again – they’re highly derivative of The Exorcist. The possessed child played by actor Charlie Fields was creepy enough. You can get a good laugh out of a demonic raspberry during the exorcism sequences. Griffith played his role with just enough flinty Matlock ‘showdown-with-the-devil’ gusto. And Kevin Bacon was spacey and dopey while trying to fill his character with earnestness.
The murder scene is worth noting for its glaring silliness. The character who stands in for the murder victim in the case was an obnoxious drunk Australian with designs on Bacon’s character’s girlfriend. He dances extensively to “Waltzing Matilda” and tries to involve everyone in his dance. Frankly, in the fictional sphere, one couldn’t blame whoever is actually guilty – Bacon’s character, or Satan – for wanting to kill the guy.
I’ll leave you with this:
- David Glatzel (the allegedly possessed boy in the case) and his older brother Carl are suing various parties including Lorraine Warren and others involved in trying to revive the story and selling it to Hollywood. They have been seeking to release their side of the story where they refute anything involving demonic possession, and they expose the Warrens as ‘frauds.’ They claim their lives and livelihoods have been deeply and negatively impacted by the false hysteria surrounding this case.
- Allow me to be lazy and quote the Wikipedia article: The trial took place in Danbury, Connecticut Superior Court beginning on October 28, 1981. Minella [Johnson’s lawyer] entered the unprecedented plea of not guilty by virtue of possession by the devil, but the presiding judge, Robert Callahan, rejected Johnson’s lawyer’s attempt to show that Johnson was under the influence of a demon at the time of the murder. Callahan stated that there was no such defense, and it would be “irrelative and unscientific” to allow such testimony, forcing the defense attorney to argue instead that Johnson acted in self-defense. The jury thus never heard Minella’s theory. The jury deliberated for 15 hours over three days before convicting Johnson on November 24, 1981, of first-degree manslaughter, and was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison, of which he served 5.
- It is also not the first time The Warrens’ reputation and moral character has been questioned. Read here for a very thorough de-bunking of the Amityville Horror
Me? I love the thrilling scary rush of local lore, but New England – the world, too – needs to learn from its past bouts with supernatural hysterias. I’m glad truth and reason prevailed as much as it could in this instance.
Bonus: Comments by friends from the Open Salon community
My head is constantly rotating the whole 360 degrees. It does so quickly the naked eye can’t even see it.
And you manage to do it without shearing your own head off! Have you thought about an exorcism?
This is interesting. What do you think of the videos with the body contortionists in exorcisms where the Priests are yelling stuff like, “Out of her body” then repeating prayer after prayer?
Did you see the blog I did on demons not long ago. The concept of demons has been around for a very long time; however, in ever society they held different shapes, etc…etc…
I’m writing about demons right now and it’s really fun. Mine are made up though, not real. Real demons from the seventies and the eighties are the best. r
@ Victoria: I read a book a while ago called “American Exorcism” by Michael Cuneo about how exorcism has become a weird cottage industry in evangelical circles, with people blaming depression, laziness etc on demonic oppression: http://www.amazon.com/American-Exorcism-Expelling-Demons-Plenty/dp/0767910095/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1300846298&sr=1-3
And I did see your post and very much liked it (and I think I commented on it).
@ maureenow: Can’t wait to read it! I don’t think the demons I wrote about in this post are any more real.
Interesting. I hate scary stories. Can’t handle them. And I was glad to see the blue devils get beat last night. R