Over five years into his 10-to-20-year sentence, Arne Cheyenne Johnson had proved himself so exemplary of an inmate that the prison had decided to release him on parole one month early. Sure, he had murdered someone, but as the demonologist Ed Warren told the Associated Press, “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.”
Yes, this actually happened. In 1981, Arne Cheyenne Johnson was the first man in the United States to use demonic possession as the basis of his defense, and indeed, Ed and Lorraine Warren — the self-styled demonologists whose investigations serve as the basis for The Conjuring franchise — had investigated a previous case of supposed possession in the family. These events will serve as the “true story” on which the 2021 film The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, also known simply as The Conjuring 3, are based. However, as can be surmised from the fact that Johnson did land in prison, this defense did not work. On November 25, 1981, the New York Times ran a short bulletin announcing that Johnson has been convicted of first-degree manslaughter, for stabbing his friend and landlord, thus committing the first ever murder in Brookfield, Connecticut.
In the reporting after the murder, photographs were brought to the New York Times depicting Johnson knelt over a prone, obese boy, pressing a crucifix against the child’s forehead. The circumstances of such images was that, in months previous, the boy — David Glatzel, the younger brother of Johnson’s fiancee Deborah Glatzel — had suffered from demonic possession.
According to what the Glatzels told People Magazine, David stopped going to school, rapidly gained 60 pounds, growled, and started randomly quoting from the Bible and Paradise Lost. The Glatzels brought in the Warrens. Lorraine Warren claims to have immediately seen a presence around the boy: “While Ed interviewed the boy, I saw a black, misty form next to him, which told me we were dealing with something of a negative nature. Soon the child was complaining that invisible hands were choking him — and there were red marks on him. He said that he had the feeling of being hit.”
Then came the exorcisms. Three of them. During one of these, Johnson reportedly grew so desperate that he challenged the 43 demons inside David to come out and possess him, instead. Then, as the Lineup writes, Johnson got involved in a car crash, which he claimed was due to demonic interference. This pushed him across the line. He stomped over to investigate a well on his property, against the Warrens’ warnings, allegedly made eye contact with the demon inside it, and lost lucidity until after the murder.
The Devil made me do it!
On February 16, 1981, Arne Johnson joined Debbie and Alan Bono, her boss who was also their landlord, for lunch. They started drinking, and eventually a heated argument led to Johnson repeatedly stabbing Bono. In the lead-up to this act, Debbie had noticed a change in the behavior of, as Lynne Baranski put it in People, “her audacious beau,” stating that he would “go into a trance. He would growl and say he saw the beast. Later he would have no memory of it. It was just like David.” Similarly, as he plunged his knife into Bono again and again, Arne Johnson was reportedly “growling like an animal.”
The defense decided to use these anomalies to suggest innocence by virtue of possession. The judge, Robert Callahan, dismissed this out of hand, arguing that such a case was impossible to prove with such subjective testimony. So, the defense morphed to a case of self-defense, which did not convince the jury. However, Johnson was convicted of manslaughter, and not murder, for not entirely clear reasons.
Nonetheless, Johnson served his time, married Debbie, and continued working as a tree surgeon without a repeat offence.
Exorcism or exploitation?
That’s the story, as it is often packaged and sold. However, in 2007, Carl Glatzel Jr., brother of Debbie and David, sued Gerald Brittle and Lorraine Warren (Ed had died a year beforehand) over the republication of Gerald Brittle’s book The Devil of Connecticut, which recounts the Warren investigation into the claimed possession of David Glatzel.
While he was only a child when Brittle’s book was first published, Carl Jr. felt compelled to challenge the story’s reentry into the public discourse, as he explained to Newswire: “My brother was never possessed. He, along with my family, was manipulated and exploited … The Warrens told my family numerous times that we would be millionaires and the book would help get my sister’s boyfriend, Arne, out of jail. I knew from day one it was a lie, but as a child, there was nothing I could really do about it.” If they won, they intended to create The Glatzel Foundation, a non-profit that would consist of a nationwide network of doctors and therapists who could help with the unique trauma Carl Jr. and David suffered, that is being cast as the victims of a demonic possession. Their sister, they admitted, claimed they were only pursuing such a course for the money, according to the Hartford Courant. Either way, however, no concrete result seems to have come from the case, as any news about it ends with its initiation.
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