Dolls, wolves, and perverts. Oh my.
At long last, this is the final post of the psychic detectives/ghostbusters series (you can read the other posts by clicking on Psychic Detectives or Ghostbusters in the sidebar menu). Enjoy!
The Smurl Haunting
The following information comes primarily from The Haunted, a 1988 book written by Scrantonian Herald reporter Robert Curran. The Smurl family and the Warrens collaborated with Curran.
Jack and Janet Smurl were a hard-working, straight-laced young couple just starting out. Both raised in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, both devoutly Catholic, they had met at a Christmas party for the candy company where they both worked and married just one year later, in 1968. They moved in with Jack’s parents, John and Mary.
Life went smoothly for them until 1972, when the Smurl home was flooded during Hurricane Agnes. The entire family reluctantly relocated to the small town of West Pittston, where the elder Smurls purchased an old duplex at 328-330 Chase Street, a working-class neighorhood full of similar duplexes and single-family homes. The house had been constructed in 1863, but seemed to be in decent shape. John and Mary lived in the 330 half, and sold Jack the other for a fraction of its worth.
Janet was delighted to have her own home at last. She promptly decorated it with statues of the Virgin and chintz curtains. Jack’s touch was added, too; a German Shepherd roamed the yard, and a portrait of John Wayne squinted down from the living room wall.
They quickly became active in the community, joining the Lions and Lionesses clubs and coaching girls’ softball. John, a welder, settled into middle management at his company. They had four daughters: Heather, Dawn, and twins Carin and Shannon.
Reno work unleashes hell, literally
Nothing of any significance occurred until two years later. When Jack and Janet replaced the old carpeting in their half of the duplex, a “mystery stain” appeared on the new carpeting so many times that they finally got rid of it. Then animal-claw marks appeared on brand-new porcelain bathroom fixtures and on freshly painted woodwork. The plumbing leaked. For the next eleven years, faucets and radios sometimes turned themselves on, empty chairs creaked, and bad smells permeated the house. The smells made the Smurls fear the house was subsiding, a common occurrence in an area riddled with old coal mines.
In the mid-’80s, these minor annoyances started to truly frighten the family. One day in 1985, Janet heard a soft female voice calling to her in the basement. She headed straight for her rosary beads. In February of that year, she glimpsed the first physical manifestation of the presence in the house as she ironed in the kitchen. A tall, human figure made of “black, roiling smoke” (much like the “man” on the ceiling of the Snedecker house) floated soundlessly past her, only to vanish in the living room.
Simultaneously, Mary Smurl saw an identical shadow person float through her living room wall on the other side of the duplex.
Janet began reading everything she could find about ghosts and demons.
The haunting escalated rapidly. On the evening 13-year-old Heather Smurl was confirmed into the Catholic church, a light fixture crashed to the floor, narrowly missing one of the 7-year-old twins. Janet attributed this to a demon, because she had read that demons are outraged by sacred rituals and objects.
Later that year, Jack and his mother experienced levitation while lying in bed, just like Kathleen Lutz in the Amityville House. Mary claimed her entire mattress floated close to the ceiling and refused to descend, forcing her to jump to the floor. She injured both knees.
Janet was dragged across her bedroom by an invisible force.
John and Mary heard “foul, abusive” language coming from Jack and Janet’s side of the duplex even though the couple swore they hadn’t been home at the time.
Mary watched a “headless puppy” race across her living room and disappear beneath the sofa. Rather than say, “Maybe it’s time to take Gran to the doctor”, the Smurls declared this another demonic manifestation.
All this time, the house continued to stink.
Janet finally decided to seek professional help in the summer of ’85. She phoned up parapsychology departments at various colleges, without success. Finally, a professor at Marywood College in Scranton referred her to the Warrens.
Once inside 328 Chase Street, the Warrens gave the Smurls their standard lecture about the very real dangers of tampering with witchcraft, ouija boards, and Satanism. The Smurls assured them they hadn’t experimented with anything of that nature.
It was time for Lorraine to do her sniff test. She quickly detected the presence of four entities: A senile old woman, an insane young woman, a man with a mustache, and a demon. Note, please, that Jack Smurl had a mustache.
As for the demon, it resided in the master bedroom closet. According to Lorraine, it had extraordinary powers; it could manipulate the other three spirits, put people into a state of “telepathic hypnosis”, and implant frightening images in the human mind. It might have been dormant in the duplex for a long time, but the adolescence of 16-year-old Dawn and 13-year-old Heather provided energy for the demon. Its goal was to keep the Smurls in a state of confusion, always doubting their own and each other’s sanity.
Immediately after warning the Smurls never to acknowledge or challenge a demon, the Warrens ordered the entire family to troop into the master bedroom while they attempted to flush out and challenge the demon. After taking infrared photos of the closet for no apparent reason, they used the time-tested method of turning out all the lights and playing Ave Maria on a tape recorder. Ed sprinkled holy water and prayed.
The demon reacted fiercely. The unplugged TV set glowed, dresser drawers trembled, mirrors swayed. Later that night, spirits slapped Janet awake and tickled Jack’s feet – not playful tickling, but what Curran described as the kind of tickling that can cause “weakness and even madness” if continued for a long time, whatever that means. Quake-like vibrations shook the entire house.
The house was blessed by priests on three separate occasions, but the Catholic church rebuffed all requests for an official exorcism. It was up to the Smurls and the Warrens to oust the spirits. The Warrens provided phone support throughout February 1986, as the infestation steadily worsened. Jack began seeing two transparent women hanging around the bedroom at night, wearing old-fashioned dresses and bonnets. Small objects like makeup vanished continuously, causing the girls to bicker. Lorraine pointed to this as another example of the demon causing strife; she didn’t suggest that perhaps the girls really were filching cosmetics from each other.
To aid them, the Warrens assembled a large, eclectic team of witnesses and researchers to spend time in the house. Members included police officer Roger Coyle and Ed and Lorraine’s grandson, Chris McKinnel (who also helped them investigate the Snedecker haunting). Every member of the team reported witnessing strange phenomena in the house, but McKinnell and Coyle saw and heard more than anyone. Chris heard pigs’ squeals on a tape recording.
Lorraine saw the shadow-man scratching on a bedroom window, and identified him as the demon. Ed claimed the demon tried to strangle him when he performed the “very dangerous” rite of provocation (calling forth a demon, then banishing it in the name of Christ). Writing appeared on a mirror: “You filthy bastard. Get out of this house”, an incident that echoes the scene from Jay Anson’s Amityville Horror in which a priest is ordered out of the house by a demon.
The creepiest revelation by any of the Smurls (and remember, these are people who saw headless puppies and leapt from floating mattresses) came from Curran’s interview with Jack. He related how on the night of June 21, 1987, he was sexually assaulted by a succubus in the form of a hag disguised as a young woman. The entity had red eyes and green gums. Janet didn’t witness this episode – she was sleeping on the couch at the time – but she accepted her husband’s story as factual, and again attempted to enlist the church’s help.
Another odd incident occurred the next day, when Janet phoned the diocese. She spoke with a Father O’Leary, who, to her relief, expressed sympathetic concern. He even promised to speak with the chancellor on her behalf. Later, however, a friend informed the Smurls there was no Father O’Leary in the diocese. Sure enough, when Janet called back, a Father Mullally (sounds a bit like O’Leary…) confirmed this. He was patient but uncooperative. Curran and the Warrens rejected the possibly that Janet had simply misheard a name over the phone, concluding instead that the demon had infiltrated the phone line to impersonate a friendly, compassionate priest just to humiliate Janet.
The Warrens soon called in Father McKenna to perform an exorcism. McKenna was defrocked in the ’60s for refusing to recognize the reforms of Vatican II. He then became a traditional Roman Catholic in the Dominican Order of Preachers, and was later declared a “bishop”. He worked with the Warrens several times, performing exorcisms at his own discretion (like that of Maurice Theriault, which we’ll examine later). In fact, at the time of the Smurl haunting he claimed to have performed 50 exorcisms – about 20 of them successful.
This one was not successful. Within a few weeks, Dawn had to fight off an invisible incubus in the shower, Janet saw a slimy 3-foot-tall creature in the bathtub, and horrible odours became routine. The family decided to load up the Smurlmobile and go camping in the Poconos to get some peace and quiet. Things went fine until Jack, alone by the campfire one evening, spotted a teenage girl in Colonial dress lurking in the bushes, smiling at him. She vanished before his eyes. Later, they all watched a metal trash can spinning in circles. This convinced them the demon had followed them, and would probably follow them wherever they went.
Predictably, the Warrens urged the Smurls to go public with their story on the pretext that someone who could help would contact them. They arranged for themselves to appear with Jack and Janet on an exploitative Philadelphia talkshow hosted by Richard Bey. But Jack and Janet protected their identity, appearing behind screens as Jack described being raped by the succubus. The Warrens, of course, did not.
In the months that followed the broadcast, no one with helpful information stepped forward, and the demon retaliated against the Smurls for appearing on Bey’s show (having seen it a few times myself, I can’t say I blame him).
Ed warned that the demon was struggling to physically possess one of the Smurls, and was frustrated because they were too resilient and godly to be overtaken.
The horrors increased: Jack saw a hairy pig-creature that walked on two legs (two legs good), and Janet spied the mustachioed spirit (he had horns).
In desperation, the Smurls decided to publicly reveal their names. Perhaps that would shame the Scranton diocese into helping them. Instead, rowdy gawkers camped out on their lawn, and reporters made the haunting a local legend.
Robert McKenna performed two more exorcisms, both unsuccessful. All-night prayer vigils were ineffective. Finally, in the late ’80s, the Smurls sold the old duplex and returned to Wilkes-Barre. Though they have remained mum on the haunting for many years, the Warrens have claimed the demon followed them to their new home and may never leave.
If the incidents in The Haunted really occurred, then the Chase Street haunting would be one of the nastiest and most bizarre on record. But the Warrens’ involvement casts a shadow on the entire affair. Aside from the shadow man, the elder Smurls didn’t see or hear anything unusual at first; it was only after Janet began to tell frightening stories that they started to have strange experiences. The Haunted states there were 28 witnesses to the events, but virtually all of them “wished to remain anonymous”, and the ones who did permit their names to be used didn’t witness anything that couldn’t be easily explained as non-paranormal in nature. None of the photos taken in the house showed anything unusual. The tape recordings that featured mysterious pig squeals were not examined or preserved. In the end, there is no compelling evidence that the Smurl haunting was truly as horrendous as The Haunted or the 1991 TV movie of the same name would have us believe. It’s simply another notch on the Warrens’ very strange belt.
The Ultimate Frivolous Lawsuit
In a 1989 court case, according to Ed, the Warrens proved that a woman and her son had been driven out of their Hebron, Connecticut home by ghosts. “The Realtor that leased her the house was suing her for $2,000. She begged us to go into the house and to get some evidence that would prove that there really were ghosts,” Ed told Jeff Belanger (“50 Years of Ghost Hunting and Research With the Warrens”, Ghostvillage.com).
Strangely, this isn’t listed among the Warrens’ famous cases on their website (nor is the Snedeker case, nor the Arne Johnson case). And I can’t find any information on the lawsuit. However, a very similar judgement handed down by the New York Supreme Court in 1991 made it possible for new property owners to sue the sellers if they were not told the property was previously advertised as haunted.
The Warrens actually highlighted this case on their website, and it was featured in Gerald Brittle’s book The Demonologist. More than any other case in their careers, this one indicates that the Warrens were not dealing with the full deck of cards. It reads like a script treatment for Bride of Chucky: In the ’70s, two young nurses named Donna and Angie turned to the Warrens for help. A large Raggedy Ann doll given to Donna by her mother was changing position and moving around their apartment of its own volition when they weren’t looking. Then childishly scrawled notes with the unsettling messages “HELP US” and “HELP LOU” (their roommate) began to appear.
A medium told the nurses that the spirit of a little girl named Annabelle had entered the doll. She had died in their apartment when she was just seven years old, and was desperate for human playmates. So, rather than burning the thing or laughing themselves into a coma, the women started calling the doll Annabelle and treating it like a real child. Lou, on the other hand, was convinced Annabelle was a “voodoo doll” that was “taking advantage” of Angie and Donna. He had nightmares of the doll crawling up his leg to strangle him, and on one occasion a deep claw mark mysteriously appeared on his chest. The doll only moved when Angie and Donna weren’t around, but there’s no mention of where Lou was during these times. Both women insisted there were no signs of entry by an intruder. Now, any half-sensible person would wonder what role Lou might have played in all this.
Ed, on the other hand, immediately concurred with Lou: The doll was possessed, and not by some sweet little dead girl. The nurses had inadvertently welcomed a demonic entity into their home. It caught their attention by teleporting the doll around, which made them acknowledge the presence of a spirit (their first mistake). Then they consulted a medium to find out more about the supposed ghost (their second mistake; while self-proclaimed demonologists like Ed and self-proclaimed psychics like Lorraine are able to diagnose supernatural problems, self-proclaimed mediums are not). He immediately summoned an Episcopal priest, Father Cooke, to perform a blessing of the apartment.
Rather than burn Annabelle, Ed and Lorraine decided to take the doll home with them. But Ed “decided it was safer to avoid traveling on the interstate, in case the entity had not been separated from the rag doll. His hunch was correct. In no time at all, Ed and Lorraine felt themselves the object of vicious hatred. Then, at each dangerous curve in the road, their new car began to stall, causing the power steering and breaks to fail. Repeatedly the car verged on collision. Of course, it would have been easy to stop and throw the doll into the woods. But if the item didn’t simply ‘teleport‘ back to the girls’ apartment, at the least it would place anyone who found it in jeopardy.”
“The third time the car stalled along the road, Ed reached into his black bag, took out a vial, and threw a sprinkling of holy water on the rag doll, making the sign of the cross over it. The disturbance in the car stopped immediately, allowing the Warrens to reach home safely“.
In Ed’s office, the doll repeatedly levitated before his eyes (remember, the nurses didn’t see it move at all). Lorraine heard growling sounds throughout the house. She warned an exorcist named Jason Branford to be careful driving home after he casually picked up Annabelle and said, “You’re just a doll.” Sure enough, his brakes failed that day.
The doll is now safely ensconced in a glass cabinet in The Warren Occult Museum, behind a warning sign: “Positively do not open.” The museum also houses a haunted organ, a cursed string of pearls, a vampire’s coffin, and a portrait painted by the ghost of a witch. Price of admission? A mere $35 a head.
A London Werewolf in America
The Warrens branched out from ghosts and demons with the case of Bill Ramsey, an unassuming London carpenter/cabdriver who, one night in 1983, felt searing chest pains on his way to work. He drove himself to Southend Hospital, where he viciously attacked two ER nurses. A police officer happened by at the right moment, and with an intern’s help wrestled wild-eyed Bill onto a gurney. At some point, the cabbie confessed that he couldn’t remember anything about the incident except “changing into a wolf”, and this enraged wolf persona must have attacked the nurses. This made him a minor tabloid celebrity in the UK. The Warrens heard about him and offered to ship him to Connecticut to be exorcised by Father McKenna. Bill accepted. He told the Warrens that he had experienced intense, unfocused rage as a teenager and often saw mental images of himself as a wolf.
McKenna, in all seriousness, touched Bill’s forehead and attempted to “banish the werewolf” in front of numerous onlookers. Bill growled, drooled, and even charged McKenna at the altar, but the exorcism was ultimately successful. Bill returned to his wife and kids a wolf-free man. The Warrens wrote a book, Werewolf: A True Story of Demonic Possession.
Bill Ramsey probably suffered lycanthropy, a rare delusional disorder that gave rise to epidemics of werewolf hysteria in the Middle Ages (along with tarantism, the delusion that one is being attacked by spiders or has been injected with a tarantula’s venom). Sufferers genuinely believed, as did Bill, that they were possessed by the spirits of wolves or had become wolves, and behaved like wolves for short periods of time. The symptoms usually subsided on their own, leaving sufferers confused but essentially unharmed. They often couldn’t remember what transpired while they were “under attack”, a common symptom of delirium. In other words, altthough the exorcism evidently helped Ramsey cope psychologically with his experience by placing it in a context that was more acceptable to him than believing he was delusional, it was not at all necessary.
Next to the Arne Johnson murder case, the possession of Massachusetts tomato farmer Maurice “Frenchy” Theriault is the most disturbing one ever handled by the Warrens. At best, the Warrens helped a deeply troubled man overcome his guilt. At worst, they aided and abetted a child molester by providing supernatural excuses for his behaviour.
It began in the summer of 1985. Maurice was experiencing blackouts, bleeding from his eyes, and accomplishing feats of what he considered to be paranormal strength. For some reason, he considered himself a danger to others and voluntarily relinquished all his firearms to the local police (note that this is something George Lutz reportedly did while living in the Amityville house, though Lutz himself denied it during a Coast to Coast AM interview with Art Bell shortly before his death).
Like all of the Warrens’ clients, Theriault was devoutly Catholic. So his wife, Nancy, appealed to the parish priest, Father Boyer, who in turn got in touch with the Warrens. They sent assistant Paul Walukiewicz to the farm to observe Theriault overnight.
Though Maurice’s primary complaint was the bleeding, no one thought to take him to a doctor. Ed, when asked by a young assistant if there might be a medical rason for the bleeding, sadly informed her there couldn’t be – Mr. Theriault was clearly possessed.
Nice try, but numerous conditions and diseases can cause blood to seep from the tear ducts, including thrombosis of the sinuses, brain tumours, adult onset hydrocephalus (“water on the brain”), and syphilis. Some of these can also cause delirium.
Only Mrs. Theriault had actually witnessed anything “demonic” about Frenchy. The Boston archdiocese recommended he see a psychiatrist, but as soon as the psychiatrist ruled out demonic possession as a possible source of his problems, Maruice stomped out of his office. Ed gave the shrink a tongue-lashing, hinting that he wished the doctor would become possessed just like the man he “refused to help”.
Ed came up with his own diagnosis: Theriault had become possessed in his sixties because his father had practiced Satanism on him when he was a child. Needless to say, the senior Theriault was not around to defend himself against these allegations in 1990, when they were published in the book Satan’s Harvest, by Boston Herald reporters Michael Lasalandra and Mark Merenda.
The archdiocese refused to push for an exorcism, so the Warrens again called in “Bishop” McKenna. McKenna would perform three exorcisms on Theriault, the final and most dramatic of which was successful. The video of this event, portions of which are still available on YouTube, is disturbing. In the opening interview, Theriault seems to be a calm and ordinary man in farmer’s clothes, but as soon as McKenna begins to speak Latin, Maurice’s skin blisters, he drools blood, and his staring eyes become filmy and blank. A split appears to form in his forehead, though this could be just a deep furrow.
Though the demon was successfully expelled, Maurice’s troubles weren’t over. Shortly after the exorcism he was arrested and charged with molesting his stepdaughter over a period of several years. The charges were dropped not because the girl or Theriault denied they were true, but because the district attorney was reportedly reluctant to deal with a bizarre insanity plea involving possession. Theriault relocated to another New England town, still bleeding occasionally.
The Warrens didn’t try to convince anyone that the molestation occurred only because Theriault was demonically possessed at the time, unable to control his actions. No, that would be too simple. Instead, Ed actually declared that Maurice didn’t molest his stepdaughter – an incubus in his image did. Maurice, he stated, simply wasn’t capable of such actions.
As for evidence, there is none. Maurice’s preternatural strength was demonstrated by a single photo of him lifting a concrete statuette of the Virgin, roughly 3 feet tall, a few inches off the ground. Maurice was a farmer who had done hard physical work all his life – it would be remarkable only if he couldn’t pick up Mary.
Ghostbusters: The Next Generation
With cases like this, you would think that Lorraine Warren would be living in obscure semi-retirement, known only to a handful of the most credulous ghosthunters, supernatural enthusiasts, and lovers of ’70s horror paperbacks.
You’d be so wrong.
Lorraine Warren is currently a consultant to Pennsylvania State University’s Paranormal Research Society, the subject of A&E’s popular program Paranormal State. The founder and head of the society, Ryan Buell, is also a psychic who has had terrifying encounters with ghosts and demons (which he calls bunnies, to disempower them) since he was a small child. Lorraine is his mentor, and she appears on the show whenever Buell feels compelled to call in the big guns. That is, whenever a case is suspected to involve malevolent entities or bunnies.
In one case, a woman was compulsively using Electronic Voice Phenomena to contact her dead son. Lorraine firmly told Buell that this must be stopped; the woman was bringing spirits into her home with this activity (which consists of turning on recording devices in empty rooms). In another case, a deeply distressed woman reported hearing a disembodied voice in her home say “Malthus”. A member of Buell’s team looked up the name on Wikipedia and found an entry for a demon known as “the Earl of Hell”. Seeing it, Lorraine expressed shock and horror, a rather dramatic reaction for a seasoned ghostbuster.
Buell, taking the Warrens’ cue, believes that supernatural activity is heaviest around 3:00 AM. He refers to this witching hour as the Dead Time, and schedules his team’s activities to coincide with it. The hour features prominently in The Amityville Horror, The Haunting in Connecticut, and other movies inspired by the Warrens’ investigations.
Psychic medium Chip Coffey also serves as a consultant for the Paranormal State ghostbusters. He and Carmen Reed are writing a book about the haunting in Connecticut.