The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is the third entry in this frightening film series to dive into the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren. This husband-and-wife team of self-styled demonologists claimed they’d been combating supernatural evil since the 1970s. They spread the word on their work through lecture tours, books, and TV appearances, where they documented their accounts of haunted houses, demonic dolls, and possessed people.
As the title of the newest film suggests, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is about the latter, focusing on the true crime case of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, who tried to beat a murder wrap by blaming demonic possession.
1. The murder of Alan Bono was the first recorded murder in the history of Brookfield, Connecticut.
In early 1981, 19-year-old arborist Arne Cheyenne Johnson and his 26-year-old girlfriend, Debbie Glatzel, were living in an apartment above Brookfield Kennels, where she worked under their landlord, 40-year-old Alan Bono. On February 16, 1981, the couple was hanging out at home with Bono and a trio of Johnson’s young relatives. Lunch and listening to music led to heavy drinking on Bono’s part, so Glatzel decided it was time to get the girls (ages 9 to 15) out of there. Their attempted exit sparked a violent confrontation between Bono and Johnson, during which Johnson fatally stabbed Bono four to five times with a five-inch pocket knife.
Though it was the first homicide in the town’s then-193-year-old history, “It was not an unusual crime,” Brookfield police chief John Anderson told The Washington Post in the fall of 1981. “Somebody got angry, an argument resulted.” What was unusual was the media frenzy that followed. “We couldn’t have a simple, uncomplicated murder, oh no,” Anderson lamented. “Instead, everyone in the whole world converge[d] on Brookfield.”
2. Arne Cheyenne Johnson’s “demon defense” drew worldwide attention.
There was no question that Johnson killed Bono. However, his defense attorney, 33-year-old Martin Minnella, planned to argue that the 19-year-old was not guilty by virtue of demonic possession. Ahead of the trial, Minnella pled his case through the media, giving interviews to major press outlets. “The courts have dealt with the existence of God, and now they’ll be asked to deal with the existence of the demonic spirit,” Minnella told People.
“Everyone is interested in this case,” Minnella boasted to The Washington Post. “Everyone. We got calls from Australia, from Switzerland, from England, everywhere. When I went to London, they recognized me on the street. All the top studios are interested in this, all the top producers. Of course, my position is that we won’t talk until after the trial is over. My client is more important to me.”
3. The “demon defense” began with Ed and Lorraine Warren.
The day after Johnson was arrested, Lorraine Warren called the Brookfield police and blamed the killing on a demon. Johnson didn’t actually say the devil made him do it; he only claimed he didn’t remember stabbing Bono. However, according to the testimony of an officer on the scene, Johnson did tell police, “I think I hurt someone.”
Minnella credited the Warrens for his defense strategy, which was an unprecedented religious variant on pleading not guilty by reason of insanity. “Everybody asks, ‘How could you come up with a defense like this?’ I didn’t come up with this,” Minnella told The Washington Post. “This is what was presented to me. I went to see Ed and Lorraine and I decided to take the case after talking to them. They told me that when you’re possessed, you have no control over your actions.”
4. The demon story began with a little boy and a waterbed.
In a rare video interview done for the paranormal docuseries A Haunting, in an episode titled “Where Devils Dwell,” Johnson and Glatzel explained that Arne was not the first person in their family circle to become possessed. Months before the murder, the young couple was renting a house in the country. There, her 11-year-old brother, David Glatzel, claimed a malevolent spirit that he called “the old man” shoved him onto a waterbed that was left behind by a previous tenant. From there, David saw the old man everywhere. The boy spoke in strange voices, screamed horrid things, and lashed out in violence. His concerned mother, Judy Glatzel believed her son was haunted. So, she called in the Warrens, having previously seen the couple lecture on ghosts.
5. The Warrens determined a horde of demons was to blame.
“We know there were 43 demons in the boy,” Ed Warren told People in 1981. “We demanded names, and David gave us 43.”
With this demonic diagnosis, Ed and Lorraine performed what they called “lesser exorcisms” to rescue David. During one of these rituals, Johnson reportedly begged “The Beast” to leave the boy and take him instead. Glatzel says after this, her beau began to act strange. “Cheyenne would go into a trance,” She told People, “He would growl and say he saw The Beast. Later he would have no memory of it.”
6. No formal exorcism was ever held.
The bishop of Bridgeport refused to sanction the Catholic rite because the Glatzel family had not consented to the psychological testing required to eliminate mental illness as a factor. David’s mother defended her decision, telling The Washington Post, “They just want to stick needles into my kid. There’s no way in hell they’re going to do that.”
Exactly what kind of psychological testing requires needles remains unclear.
7. Not everyone who knew Arne Cheyenne Johnson blamed the devil.
The Glatzel family stood by Johnson, as did the Warrens. However, in her deep dive on the case for The Washington Post, reporter Lynn Darling cited anonymous sources who described Johnson as “quick to anger [and] extremely possessive of the [girlfriend] he calls his wife.” Darling was also told about an incident in which Arne “once ripped a small stuffed animal to shreds with his knife after an argument at a tree service where he once worked.”
8. The Warrens were reportedly eager to capitalize on Arne Cheyenne Johnson’s story.
Even before Johnson’s case went to court, Lorraine speculated to Darling, ‘Will we have a book written about this? Yes, we will. Will we lecture about it? Yes, we will.” When she was asked whether she had started talking to any movie producers about the case, she responded, “No, we’re not. Our agents at the William Morris Agency are.”
9. A 1983 movie adaptation of Arne Cheyenne Johnson’s trial brought the Warrens name recognition.
In 1983, the made-for-TV movie The Demon Murder Case presented Johnson’s case with a young Kevin Bacon in the lead role as the allegedly possessed killer. Andy Griffith and Beverlee McKinsey played a pair of married elderly paranormal investigators. However, the names of those involved in real life were changed to aliases. The Warrens earned no screen credits.
Ed, who passed away in 2006, never got to see any of The Conjuring movies for himself. But Lorraine, who died in 2019, lived to see the first two films in the series.
10. Lorraine Warren was sued over alleged falsehoods in her book, The Devil In Connecticut.
First published in 1983, The Devil In Connecticut was a collaborative effort between the Warrens and author Gerald Brittle. When the book was poised to be reprinted in 2006, David Glatzel and his older brother Carl sued Brittle and Lorraine (Ed had already passed away), for invasion of the right to privacy, libel, and intentional affliction of emotional distress due to false information within its pages.
Carl, who was 16 at the time of the alleged possession, told the press that the whole thing was a hoax created by the Warrens. He argued that David’s behavior in 1981 stemmed not from 43 demons but from undiagnosed mental illness. “It was living hell when we were kids,” Carl told the Associated Press in 2007. “It was just a nightmare. I’m not going to go through that again. Neither is my brother.”
11. The Glatzel brothers lost their lawsuit, yet still won this battle.
The Glatzels’s lawsuit was dismissed. However, the brothers did succeed in getting the book taken out of print. Brittle admitted as much in a 2021 interview with the Hartford Courant, saying “I did it because I was fed up with the case, fed up with Carl Glatzel. It just wasn’t worth it to me. It had no bearing on the fact that the book was true.”
12. The demon defense didn’t save Arne Cheyenne Johnson.
After all the headlines and hype, the demon defense that could have made for a landmark case never even made it to the jury. Superior Court Judge Robert J. Callahan rejected Minnella’s witness list, which included Catholic priests, paranormal investigators, and members of the Glatzel family. Before a courtroom jam-packed with press, Judge Callahan proclaimed, “The court will take judicial notice that the profession, the business or hobby … of locating demons has not risen to that level of viability where it would be of assistance to the jury in deciding the case,” and “It would be incompetent evidence and I would not allow it.”
On November 24, 1981, Johnson was convicted of first-degree manslaughter, meaning the jury believed he intended to harm but not kill Bono. He was sentenced to 10 to 20 years but served less than five. On January 23, 1986, AP reported the 24-year-old was released early on parole because he had been a model prisoner at the Connecticut Correctional Institute in Somers.
13. Arne Cheyenne Johnson and Debbie Glatzel stayed together.
Johnson and Glatzel married on January 30, 1985, while he was still in prison. The embattled couple went on to have two sons. In her 2006 interview for A Haunting, Debbie Johnson (née Glatzel) declared, “Our love has only grown stronger. He was willing to sacrifice himself to save my brother.”
Outside of this rare TV appearance, the couple has stayed largely out of the public eye since Johnson’s release. However, in the wake of renewed interest because of The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, Carl revealed in 2021 that his sister had recently passed. Johnson has remained off the radar.