Ghost hunters like the legendary Harry Price
and Most Haunted
star Derek Acorah
want to capture evidence of the afterlife, and perhaps get famous while they’re at it. Ghostbusters, on the other hand, actually try to de-ghostify homes and businesses by finding out what the ghost(s) or demons want, then helping them or banishing them. One of the psychic detectives mentioned in Psychic Detectives: Part IV
, Annette Martin, is also a ghostbuster.
Beyond any doubt, the most prolific ghostbusters of the twentieth century were the late Ed Warren of Connecticut and his wife, Lorraine. Together they spent over 40 years getting rid of spirits, demons, and poltergeists with the aid of some assistants and a few traditionalist Catholic exorcists. Their exploits have been featured in numerous sensationalistic horror books and TV documentaries. The recent horror flick The Haunting in Connecticut was inspired by one of their cases, and Lorraine makes regular appearances as Ryan Buell’s mentor on the A&E program Paranormal State.
Ed Warren (1926-2006) referred to himself as a religious demonologist. Raised Catholic in what he described as the rough-and-tumble part of Bridgeport, Connecticut, Ed lived in a haunted house as a child. He witnessed ghost lights, heavy breathing, and the spectre of an old woman. His commonsense policeman father always reminded him that there was a logical explanation for everything that occurred, but this never sank in with Ed. He became fascinated by the supernatural.
Lorraine also grew up in Bridgeport. She began to experience psychic phenomena when she was about 9 years old, starting with auras, but kept her powers in check to avoid disapproval from her devout Irish-Catholic family. She knew nothing about hauntings. spirits, demons, or any other supernatural things until she met Ed. They married in 1945, when Ed was serving in the Army. Then, at 20 or 21 years of age, Lorraine stepped into the Ocean Born Mary House in New Hampshire and experienced her first out-of-body experience. We’ll examine this incident soon.
Ed attended art school after his stint in the Army. Throughout the ’50s, he and Lorraine roamed New England in a Chevrolet Daisy, searching for haunted houses for Ed to paint. This was the extent of their training in psychical research.
In the ’60s the Warrens set up a sort of ghost-investigation service, but they discovered that many haunted houses are infested by a far more malign presences than the spirits of the dead.
Typically, this is what the Warrens did when called in on a case: After getting some background from the complainants (usually a family), Lorraine walked through the house to pinpoint the problem. Demons can be detected by the presence of a particular nauseating odor, according to the Warrens. They prefer dark nooks and crannies, so the Warrens always cased out basements, crawlspaces, and closets. After giving the house the sniff test, they turned on an ordinary tape recorder. It sometimes picked up unexplained noises, and the Warrens played these tapes for their demonology students and lecture audiences, to prove that demons walk among us. They also displayed blurry photos that depicted white streaks; Lorraine explained these were round “globules” of spirit energy invisible to the human eye, but not to cameras.
The Warrens believed that people, not just homes, can be possessed by demons. Ed taught his students that demonic possession occurs in an orderly, 5-step process: Encroachment/permission, infestation, oppression/obsession, and possession (actual replacement of the human spirit). If the process isn’t interrupted by a knowledgeable demonologist or spiritual leader, he warned, suicide and/or murder is always the final step. The Warrens always determined which stage had been reached when investigating a demon-infested house.
Depending on the severity of the haunting or demonic infestation, Ed would either perform a prayer session or call in assistance. The Warrens then studied the phenomena closely and advised the complainants on what to do and not to do. In the most extreme cases, an exorcist was summoned to perform a “deliverance” (a sort of “exorcism lite”, popular with evangelical Protestants and Charismatics).
According to Ed, inhuman/demonic spirits are so unworthy of life they are prevented from taking on physical form, but can manipulate the physical environment in sundry ways, causing enormous damage and destruction. They harbor “immense, eternal hate of both Man and God”. He taught that demonic manifestations often result from Satanic rituals, or curses, or occult activity. “Leave the occult alone and your chances of having spirit problems is almost nil.” (Brittle, 118)
Part of his investigative process was to identify the occult “entryway” the spirit(s) had used to enter our reality. It could be something as innocuous as a ouija board session conducted for fun by a single member of the household a decade earlier, or something as dastardly as generational curses and pacts with the Devil made by Satanists.
To determine if someone was at the third stage of infestation, bodily possession by a demon, the Warrens relied almost exclusively on eyewitness reports. Ed insisted that he always sought ordinary explanations for strange phenomena before he would even consider a supernatural explanation, but he rarely consulted doctors or psychologists to find out if mental or medical conditions were to blame for his clients’ unusual behaviour. This would have disastrous consequences in several cases.
In most cases, the people involved with the Warrens weren’t harmed by having their house blessed or by holding prayer vigils. However, over the years the Warrens made a habit of aiding scammers, child molesters, and even murderers by offering supernatural excuses for their bad behaviour. They have blamed people not directly involved with their cases of creating supernatural havoc by practicing Satanism or placing curses on innocent people. They have been accused of exaggeration, sensationalism, exploitation, even outright fabrication. A look at some of their most famous cases will show these patterns clearly.
The Ocean Born Mary House
According to Lorraine, this is where her psychic powers first manifested fully. Ed had painted the haunted house as a dreary and forbidding place, but Lorraine had no reservations about entering it; she didn’t believe in ghosts at that time. As soon as she stepped into the house, however, she experienced her first out-of-body experience and felt the overwhelming presence of despair. She soon discovered she was a clairvoyant and a trance medium.
From 1917 to 1965, this house was touted by owner Louis Roy as a haunted home containing hidden treasure. He gave it the name Ocean Born Mary House, after Mary Wallace, and ran it as a tourist attraction. His elderly mother would dress up in a shawl and bonnet and work at an old spinning wheel by the fire, while Roy rented out shovels so visitors could dig for gold in the backyard.
As legend had it, Mary Wallace had been born at sea in 1720, en route from Ireland to America on a ship captained by her father, James Wilson. Somewhere in the Atlantic the Wolf was raided by Spanish pirates under the command of a terrifying buccaneer called Don Pedro. Hearing the newborn baby’s cry from below deck, Don Pedro demanded the baby be brought to him. He had intended to slaughter everyone on board, but when he saw this tiny infant cradled in her mother’s arms, he softened. He ordered his men back to their vessel, allowing the Wolfto forge on to America. As a parting gift, he gave the captain’s wife a length of beautiful green brocade silk.
Twenty-four years later, Mary wed her husband in a gown made from that silk.
Around 1760, the pirate Don Pedro (now retired) learned that the Irish baby he had spared lived in New Hampshire. So he settled in the town of Henniker, built a spacious house, and invited the young widow with three sons to live in it. Mary Wallace agreed. Shortly after moving in, she saw Don Pedro and a swarthy stranger burying a trunk in the backyard in the dead of night. The old pirate refused to tell her what was inside it.
One day Mary came home to find the old pirate slain, run through with a cutlass. She remained in the house until her death in 1814, amid rumours that a fortune in pirate gold was concealed somewhere on the property.
The real story of the Ocean Born Mary House isn’t quite as interesting. The house had actually been owned by one of Mary Wallace’s sons, and she never lived there; she lived a mile away, with another son. There wasn’t a pirate protector, there was no gold. But the legend and the tales spun by Louis Roy gained wide attention with the publication of Hans Holzer’s book Yankee Ghosts, and to this day the Ocean Born Mary house – though unremarkable in just about every respect – continues to draw curious tourists.
Whatever residual despair Lorraine Warren felt there didn’t come from pirates or secretive widows.
In August 1979, New York and Connecticut state police contacted the Warrens to help investigate the alleged Satanic doings of a “prominent rock-&-roll singer” living in Ridgefield, Connecticut, on the New York border. Residents had been reporting “profane chants, gunshots, and bizarre music” coming from the singer’s property. A policemen had been attacked by a caped and hooded mob.
Poking around the singer’s estate, the Warrens found the remains of a “ritualistic bonfire, ceremonial stakes, and signs of animal sacrifice.” (Brittle, 103) Later, this singer introduced a new form of music: Satan rock.
The problem with this story is that Satanic rock was around before 1979, and not one of its originators lived in or around Ridgefield.
However, I came across a mention of Keith Richards in Maury Terry’s book The Ultimate Evil. Richards lived in Connecticut around the time in question, and according to Terry his then-girlfriend Anita Pallenberg was practicing weird rituals in his mansion. A “burned-out” area was found on the property, indicating ritual bonfires.
In my humble opinion, bonfires, loud parties, and a freaky girlfriend do not a Satanist make.
This was the case that made the Warrens famous. Lorraine still brags about their involvement, and Ed never failed to tell fans that if they wanted to see the most shocking photos taken inside the house, they would have to attend one of the Warrens’ lectures.
You probably know the story. In November 1974, 23-year-old Ronald “Butch” DeFeo, Jr. killed his entire family with a rifle as they slept in their home in the village of Amityville, New York. Butch DeFeo was a heroin junkie who was stealing money from the family’s car dealership. He had never done an honest day’s work in his life, but he seemed to think his family owed him a living. So he shot his parents, his two younger brothers, and his two younger sisters in the hopes of inheriting everything. It’s still not known how he was able to shoot each family member without waking the others. All were found in their beds.
After murdering his family, Butch drove to the dealership and pretended nothing had happened. Late that night, after hanging out with friends, he “discovered” the bodies. Faced with evidence that one of his guns had been the murder weapon, he soon confessed. Though he pled insanity and did a passable impression of a lunatic on the witness stand, the jury saw through DeFeo’s manipulations and convicted him of second-degree murder.
Over the years, Butch DeFeo made many ludicrous allegations about the murders: In 1986 he declared his mother Louise was the real killer, and in 2000 he said his sister Dawn and her friends carried out the murders in front of him. Afterwards, he shot Dawn. At other times, DeFeo has openly admitted he murdered his family.
Others have come forward with strange, highly suspect stories about what happened that night. An anonymous man claiming to be a DEA agent told researcher Ric Moran that he been surveilling the house when the murders occurred. He saw Dawn leave the house and drive away in one of the family cars.
Gunpowder was allegedly found on Dawn’s nightgown, as though she had fired a gun. Some suspect that Dawn really was the killer, or conspired with her brother only to be betrayed by him in the end.
Whatever happened, there is little doubt that the murders were Butch DeFeo’s idea and that his motive was financial.
In December 1975 surveyor George Lutz moved into the DeFeo house at 112 Ocean Avenue with his wife Kathy and his three stepchildren, ranging in age from 5 to 9. In February of the following year they held a few press conferences, claiming to have spent just one month in their new home, because they had been tormented by terrifying phenomena that included hundreds of flies materializing in a closed room, disembodied voices, and mysterious fluids leaking from walls and keyholes. Kathy claimed they saw a demonic pig floating outside a window. George said he experienced bursts of rage that were very out of character while living in the house. Both claimed that Kathy spontaneously levitated in her sleep one night, and that her face took on the appearance of an old hag for the next six hours. The youngest child, Missy, had conversations with a ghost. The priest who blessed the house on the day they moved in (Kathy was Catholic) heard a man’s voice say “get out” while he was alone in a room, and his car mysteriously broke down that evening.
The Lutzes consulted an eccentric paranormal researcher and “vampire hunter” named Stephen Kaplan
to investigate their house. Kaplan, who often referred to himself as a doctor despite his lack of a doctorate, didn’t conduct an investigation, but inconsistencies in George Lutz’s story led him to conclude the entire haunting was a hoax. Researcher Rick Moran reached the same conclusion.
The Warrens, on the other hand, fully supported the Lutzes’ account. Lorraine said she could sense a demonic presence in the house from the moment she entered it, and suggested that Butch DeFeo had been possessed by an evil spirit at the time of the murders. As evidence of possession, she pointed to the time at which the murders began: 3:00 AM. According to the Warrens, 3 AM is the “witching hour” at which people are most vulnerable to demonic attack. The Warrens concluded that the DeFeos were in a state of “phantomania” when Butch shot them, which paralyzed them and prevented them from crying out for help. They attributed the hoax allegations to Stephen Kaplan’s 20-year “vendetta” against them, and seemed to delight in the fact that he died from a heart attack one week before his second book on the case, The Amityville Conspiracy, was published.
Jay Anson’s nonfiction book The Amityville Horror and the movies of the same name contained numerous exaggerated elements:
- The house was not situated on a site where local Native Americans abandoned their insane and dying, and there is no evidence for Hans Holzer’s claim that an Indian chief was buried at the site.
- There is no evidence to support Jay Anson’s claim that Amityville settler John Ketcham lived “within 500 feet” of the house, or that he was a devil worshipper, or that he was driven out of the area for practicing witchcraft.
- The “secret red room” in the basement was an ordinary storage area, clearly marked on floorplans.
- The priest who blessed the house, Father Pecoraro, gave conflicting accounts of what he experienced there. At first he told researchers he didn’t experience anything unsual at all, though in the fictionalized account he was ordered to “Get out!” by a throaty, disembodied voice, and later broke out in boils. Later he admitted he heard the voice and experienced some car trouble, but didn’t attribute these things to the supernatural.
- Subsequent owners found no evidence that the doors and windows had been damaged by mysterious gale-force winds that came of out nowhere, as described by George Lutz.
- The Lutzes resided in the house for several months, not just one.
- Most damning of all, Butch DeFeo’s defense attorney, William Weber, had commissioned Anson’s book and met with the Lutzes to discuss its contents. He told People in 1979 that he and George Lutz had concocted the whole story in the hopes of selling the rights to it. He hoped to gain an appeal for his client by presenting evidence that the house contained some force, natural or otherwise, that drove some of its inhabitants to insanity. He won the protracted legal battle that resulted from his collaboration with Anson and the Lutzes, but his client remains in prison.
- In 2003 Kathleen Lutz’s middle child, Christopher, declared the haunting was a hoax. He later partially retracted his accusation, saying that while some of the incidents were fabricated, the haunting really did occur.
The Warrens in no way contributed to resolving the case, aside from bolstering William Weber’s argument that his client was insane or under some mysterious influence, rather than being criminally liable for the carefully orchestrated murder of his entire family. And even in that regard, the Warrens were less than helpful: Butch DeFeo remains in prison. Currently, he denies that any external influence drove him to kill his parents and siblings.
The Warrens were paid consultants to the first Amityvillemovie sequel.
George and Kathy Lutz insisted until their deaths (in 2006 and 2004, respectively) that the haunting was real.
– Anson, Jay. The Amityville Horror: A True Story. Prentice Hall, 1977.
– Brittle, Gerald. The Devil in Connecticut. iUniverse, 2006.
– Lynott, Douglas B. “The Real Life Amityville Horror: The Murder of the DeFeo Family”. TruTV Crime Library website.
– Nickell, Joe. “Amityville: The Horror of it All“. Skeptical Inquirer, Jan./Feb. 2003.
– Osuna, Ric. The Night the DeFeos Died. Imprint, 2006.
– History’s Mysteries: Amityville – Horror or Hoax? documentary (History Channel, 2000)
– Wikipedia entry for “The Amityville Horror”