Ines Vuckovic/Dose

It all started with a little nightmare called “The Amityville Horror.”

Our Unsung Heroes series brings history’s unknown badasses out of the footnotes and into the spotlight.

I hate watching horror movies. There, I said it. The effects are cheesy, the acting is usually bad, the plot lines are predictable and there are always horror tropes sprinkled heavily throughout.

Turns out I’m in the minority. It’s been said that horror is the perfect movie genre to watch on a first date. Scary/slasher flicks have been proven to help ease anxiety. It’s possible horror films actually do more good than you’d expect, but I have to wonder: If the movies “based on real events” are true, how did those events affect the people involved?

No one knows more about the true events that inspired some of the scariest flicks than the famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) Warren couple. Ed and Lorraine Warren are two paranormal investigators who worked with the real-life cases that inspired “The Amityville Horror,” “The Haunting in Connecticut” and “The Conjuring” franchise.


Ed and Lorraine (born in 1926 and 1927, respectively) worked in their field for over 50 years, but only started appearing in mainstream media in the 70s. Originally, Ed was a World War II veteran and police officer. Over time, he became a self-taught “demonologist.”

He started the New England Society for Psychic Research in 1952 with his wife, a clairvoyant and trance medium. The couple rose to fame after being called to help families get rid of evil presences in their homes through exorcism.

“The Devil made me do it”

The Warrens testified in a court case in which demonic possession was used as the defense. In 1980, eleven-year-old David Glatzel of Brookfield, Connecticut, began experiencing possessive symptoms, so the family called the Warrens to exorcise him. The Warrens claimed there were 43 demons within the young boy and performed three small exorcisms.

During the final exorcism, David’s soon-to-be brother-in-law, Arne Cheyenne Johnson, called to the demons, asking them to possess him instead. The demons moved from the young boy to Johnson, prompting him to become violent. The Warrens warned local police that tragedy would soon strike, but the warnings were taken lightly.

Months later, Johnson brutally murdered his landlord.

The Warrens testified on behalf of Johnson, and the case became known as the “Devil Made Me Do It.” The judge sentenced Johnson to 10–20 years in prison, but he was released after four years for good behavior.

The Amityville Horror

Lorraine and Ed took on their most notable paranormal case after George and Kathy Lutz got a great deal on a colonial house in Amityville, Long Island. A year before, Ronnie DeFeo Jr. murdered his parents and four siblings in the house. The Lutzes knew about the home’s grisly history but moved in, anyway.

The infamous Amityville house. | Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty

They decided to have a priest bless the home, just in case. During the cleric’s visit, he claimed to have heard a masculine voice demanding that he “get out.”

The family began experiencing terrible paranormal activities that resembled the same events that had previously occurred in the home, prompting them to call the Warrens to exorcise the home. When the Warrens were unable to rid the house of the demonic spirits, the family moved out of the home, leaving all of their items behind.

The home was up for sale in 2010 and previous owners claim they had no experiences of paranormal activity. So the questions arises: Were the Warrens successful in exorcising the demonic presences? Were there any demons to begin with?

The Occult Museum

The Warrens put artifacts collected from their paranormal endeavors on display in their Occult Museum. There, visitors can see voodoo dolls and the real-life Annabelle doll that inspired the 2014 film.

Although Ed died in 2006, Lorraine continues to make public appearances. She has a cameo in “The Conjuring” film and reunited with one of the victims of the Amityville horror for a documentary released in 2012.

Are the Warrens actually ridding people and places of evil, otherworldly presences? Or are they quacks? The truth is, it doesn’t really matter—they’re heroes for helping families cope with their traumas.

Will I ever enjoy watching horror movies? Maybe, maybe not — but I will start to think more about how the “real events” that inspired many popular horror films we watch today affected the victims.