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The Special Page

On this month's Special Page:

John Kachuba tells us about the real life story behind the film The Conjuring...because he met the Warrens personally

IN THE "SPECIAL PAGE" ARCHIVES:

John Russo
Joe R. Lansdale
Scott Virtes
Andy Weir
Caleb Straus
Elizabeth Massie
Ramsey Campbell

actors

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga acting as Ed and Lorraine Warren in the film The Conjuring

real

The real Ed and Lorraine Warren

film doll

Annabelle doll in the film The Conjuring

real doll

The real Annabelle, held by Lorraine Warren (left) and in her permanent display case (right)

THE ORIGINAL GHOST HUNTERS
by John B. Kachuba

For more than a half-century Ed and Lorraine Warren have been stars in the world of the paranormal, investigating over 10,000 cases and participating in innumerable “ghostbustings” and exorcisms.

I first met the Warrens in 1993, while doing research about Dudleytown, a Connecticut ghost town nick-named Dark Entry. The Warrens had lived all their lives in Connecticut and knew its many ghostly residents intimately. By the time I contacted them, their reputations as ghosthunters and psychic investigators was well established. They had several books in print, were in demand on TV, radio, and the lecture circuit, and were investigating paranormal events worldwide. They came to national attention investigating a haunted house in Amityville, New York, in which Ronald DeFeo shot to death his parents and four siblings in 1974. That controversial case later became the subject of the novel and subsequent film, The Amityville Horror.

I called Lorraine, introduced myself and told her about my visit to Dark Entry. Gracious and polite, she invited me to visit them at their home.

The Warrens lived in Monroe, a small town in Connecticut. On a sunny June day, I drove past a reservoir with dead trees standing in black water, bright green lily pads floating on the surface, and turned onto a dead-end road surrounded by deep woods. A nondescript one-level house nestled beneath tall trees at the end of the road.
Cicadas buzzed in the hot air. Shafts of sunlight shot through the trees. I walked up to the screen door and rang the bell. No answer. I rang the bell again. Nothing. I peered through the screen into the gloom inside the house.

“Hello?”

A little yappy dog came out of nowhere, startling me, throwing itself against the screen, barking its fool head off.

I walked around the back of the house. A chain-link fence enclosed the rear yard. A barn-like annex with several windows drew my attention. Inside, strange, grotesque masks hung on the walls. Protruding tongues, bulging eyes, horns. I realized I was looking into the Warren’s Occult Museum of haunted artifacts they had acquired in their exploits. I would have studied them more closely had not another lunatic dog, a German Shepard leapt at the chain-link fence, threatening to dismember me if he got through.

I retreated to my car and waited. A few minutes later, a car turned into the driveway. Ed and Lorraine were older than I had expected, maybe in their sixties. Ed, a big man, solid, with close-cropped hair, wore a slight smile that seemed to hide secrets. He looked every inch the former police officer.

Lorraine, tall and thin, with the misleading fragile looks of a porcelain doll, was dressed conservatively but fashionably in a long skirt and blazer, her salt and pepper hair pulled back in a bun, tied with a scarf.

They apologized for being late. I remarked that I was surprised they had gone out and left the house open. Didn’t they worry about someone getting inside? Robbing them?

Lorraine looked at me and said, without a trace of humor, “Who would ever break into our house?”

I thought of the dogs and the scary masks in the back, and thought, yes, you’d have to be crazy, or carrying some serious juju, to break into this house.

Inside, the house was cool but dark. Paintings, photos, ceramic plates, tapestries, and various art objects, planters, and sconces covered every bit of wall space. This vertical treasure trove went horizontal as well, spilling over onto any available surface. More framed photos, religious statues, figurines of various sorts, coasters, travel keepsakes.

Many of the decorative objects were of a religious nature. The Warrens were devout Catholics and humbly thought of their life’s work in terms of good against evil, God against Satan. Before the notorious Amityville case made them famous, the Warrens had gone about their work almost invisibly, well known to clergymen who consulted them on cases of demonic possession, but otherwise flying below the radar of the public.

Few people grow up intending to become professional ghosthunters; the Warrens were no exception. Married just after Ed’s World War II service in the Navy, the young couple hoped to become landscape artists, since both had been schooled in the arts. They traveled around New England, scouting out models for their paintings of old, rundown or abandoned houses. As they painted, they talked to the people who lived in the houses or nearby and learned what they could about their history. Lorraine made an interesting discovery as they traveled to these places. Her natural clairvoyant abilities, which she had tried to suppress as a teenager were now coming forward, perhaps tweaked by the psychic emanations from the old houses. As a result, in 1952, the Warrens founded the New England Society for Psychic Research.

Ghosts and haunted houses were nothing new to Ed. At the age of five he had seen the dead landlady of the building he lived in materialize and often had dreams about a nun who came to talk with him. Ed described the nun to his father who recognized her as his sister. She had died before Ed was born.

We sat in the parlor and I told them about finding a broken Ouija board in an old Dudleytown cellar hole.

“I’m not at all surprised,” Ed said, shaking his head. “That place is truly haunted. If people only knew, a Ouija board is not a toy. It’s a means of communicating with the spirit world. It opens doors for spirits to enter, but you never know what kind of spirit will come through.”

“We’ve almost never seen a positive spirit communicate through a Ouija board,” Lorraine added.

“Here, look at these,” Ed said, handing me several color photos.

He leaned forward on the sofa, pointing out details as I looked through the photos of Ed, Lorraine and others at Dudleytown. Swirling mists and streaks were visible in some. Floating orbs of light appeared in others.

“All of those things indicate the presence of spirits,” Lorraine said. “They need energy to materialize and they were drawn to the energy that came from the auras of our group.”

Ed was holding the last photo. “This one is very odd,” he said, handing it to me. Three people were in the photo, a dense stand of trees behind them. In the lower right corner appeared a small blurry object that looked something like a hot dog wearing a red knit cap.

“What’s that?” I asked.

He shrugged. “I’m not sure, but it’s not human, that much I can tell you.”

We talked for a while, Ed and Lorraine graciously sharing with me all that they knew about Dudleytown, and then I left.

Eleven years later I was once again on the phone with Lorraine, this time inviting her to be interviewed for a new book I was writing. Again, on a sunny June day, everything looked to my eye as it did eleven years before. But there had been some big changes.

Since my first visit to the Warrens, Ed had suffered a massive stroke. The man I remembered as energetic, hale and hearty, slumped in a wheelchair decorated with a Mylar smiley-face balloon, his paralyzed legs bowed, feet crossed at the ankles, his arms lying uselessly in his lap, his head lolling to one side. Unable to speak, he could only emit involuntary howls and groans. The tragic change in the man was stunning, but Lorraine fussed over him and spoke to him as she had always done, his awful debilitation invisible to her loving eyes.

After she had gotten Ed settled with an in-home aide, we drove to a restaurant in nearby Newtown where we could talk. I didn’t want to cause Lorraine pain, but I couldn’t help but wonder how Ed’s condition had affected their work and how difficult it must be for her to take care of him.

“You can’t know how blessed I feel to be able to have God entrust such a special guy to me,” she said. “I never think for one minute that this is a burden. Oh no, honey, believe me, it’s not.”

I did believe her. After all, this was the same woman who as a teenager, after meeting Ed for the first time, wrote in her diary, I will spend the rest of my life with you. Fifty-nine years later she was doing just that.

As she sat across the table from me, I marveled at how little Lorraine had changed since I last saw her. Thin as ever, stylish but conservatively dressed as always, her hair a bit grayer but still fashioned in her trademark bun adorned with a scarf, she exuded enthusiasm and energy that I rarely saw in people half her age.

Even with Ed sidelined by his medical condition, Lorraine kept up the work the two had started so long ago. She continued on the college lecture circuit, now assisted by her son-in-law; she had filmed a promotional trailer for the remake of The Amityville Horror; she was in negotiations with various TV and film producers about creating paranormal programs and movies; was finishing up a new book, Ghost Tracks; and was still actively working as a paranormal investigator.

“I don’t sit around knitting, dear,” she said. “As soon as you slow down, you get rusty.”

“Tell me about some of the investigations you’re doing now,” I said.

“I got a call from a woman who said they see this shadowy black figure, no face. This thing has been witnessed by every member of the family. They see it go down the hallway. It will come into the room. It goes away and comes back again. She just wanted to have the knowledge of what was going on and why. I said, What is your religion?

Catholic.
I said, You’re not practicing, are you?
No.
How old are your children?
Sixteen and twenty.
I said, Is there turmoil in your house?
Yeah, a lot. What part does that play?
I said, It’s breaking down the structure of your family. Is your husband still living in that home?
No.

Everything was there, John. They can’t see the fire for the smoke.”

“What did you do?” I asked.

“I said to the woman, “Let’s start with your daughter, who I believe is the catalyst. Let’s start by having her baptismal vows renewed.”

She doesn’t believe in God anymore.

“They can’t see it, John! They cannot see it!” Lorraine said, slapping her hand on the table for emphasis. “Anyway, I went on and told her what we would be able to do for her. She said she’d have to talk it over with her family. I asked her if she really believed she was going to get the cooperation of her son and her daughter, when they didn’t believe in one solitary thing I was talking about. I gave her my home phone number and told her she could contact me anytime. I have to just wait now.”

“So, which comes first? Is it a bad family situation that causes the haunting, or is it the other way around, or both?”

“It’s both, honey,” she said. “I asked that woman when the thing comes back if there is a lot of turmoil in the house at that time, a lot of fighting and she says, Oh, yes. It’s hard to keep peace in this house. I said, How can you keep peace in a house that’s void of anything spiritual? If she calls, it would be wonderful.”

“Why did you ask the woman to have her daughter renew her baptismal vows?”

“It’s important to get your baptismal vows renewed because they are a form of exorcism,” Lorraine said.

“I know for you and Ed, your work has always been about spirituality.”

“Oh my, yes! Ed would never admit to being psychic but probably nobody in this country, or out of this country, is as knowledgeable as him in the field of religious demonology. He was called by clergy all over the world; Mormons, Buddhists, Anglicans, Hebrews, it didn’t matter. In the weeks just before he collapsed we were in the mountains of Japan working with Buddhist monks.”

She was quiet for a few moments, eyes fixed on some point behind me, lost in some shining memory of the past. “You know, dear,” she finally said, “Ed and I look back on our lives since we became public figures in 1969 and ask, Was that really us that all this happened to?’’

She shook her head slowly, as if she couldn’t believe her own memories.

“I was brought up in a very loving, secure Irish Catholic home. There was no talk of stuff like that,” she said, referring to her psychic abilities. “As long as it was like a parlor game I wouldn’t be serious about it, so I suppressed it. But as we went into these old houses to satisfy Ed’s curiosity, my psychic ability started to develop naturally.”

“And as a result, you’ve been able to help many people.”

“Oh, yes. Even with Ed’s collapse, God is allowing me to help these people without jeopardizing my time with my husband. We’ve always had faith. I don’t believe my husband would be here without prayer.”

Although Ed has since passed on—he died in 2006 at the age of 79—Lorraine carries on their work, even at age 91. Dozens of TV programs, documentaries, and  movies have been produced based on the Warren’s work such as, The Amityville Horror series, the Annabelle series, and The Conjuring series, with the most recent film, The Nun, released in 2018; Lorraine has actively been involved in the production of these movies.

The Warrens have not been without detractors. There are others in the paranormal community who, while acknowledging the couple’s sincerity, believe their work lacks scientific rigor and is, at best, a collection of ghost stories based on flimsy evidence. A few have gone as far as to state their cases have been invented.

But Lorraine Warren remains undeterred in her work. As she said to me in our last meeting, “Everything is based on faith, dear.”

TWO PHOTOS BELOW OF THE REAL COLLECTION ROOM

COLLECTION

COLLECTION

conjuring

 

About John Kachuba

John Kachuba

John Kachuba is the author of 12 books and a paranormal investigator. His most recent book is Dark Entry, a paranormal novel from Hellbender Books. His nonfiction, Shapeshifters: A History, will be released in Spring 2019 from Reaktion Books. John is a frequent speaker on paranormal topics at universities, conferences, and libraries, and on TV, radio, and podcasts.

His website is: www.johnkachuba.com