(This article contains details that could be regarded as “spoilers” for “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” though it does not reveal the primary twist in the plot of that film).
The opening scene of “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” loosely based on the experiences of a real family, begins with shots of a Connecticut home that appears to have been ransacked, or worse: a chandelier smashed to bits on a hardwood floor; clawmarks on the dining room door jamb; a mess in the kitchen and furniture toppled over in the dining room. The scene takes place in July 1981.
As foreboding music plays, the camera pans slowly across a framed family portrait, sitting, still intact, on a side table. It shows a smiling family of four — the Glatzels. Carl, Judy, and their children, Debbie and David. A man reads from the Book of Psalms, and the camera pans across and reveals the living room, dimly lit by candles, with the whole family sitting together praying, along with Debbie’s teenage boyfriend, Arne Cheyenne Johnson, and the Warrens, Ed and Lorraine, renowned paranormal investigators.
The imagery conveys a simple message. The Glatzels, beset by demonic forces and torn at by evil spirits, are bound together and kept strong by their love for each other. Despite their terror and suffering, they are still a united family.
In reality, that family portrait was glaringly incomplete. The Glatzels had two other children: Alan, aged around 14 at the point where the movie begins; and Carl Jr., aged around 15. They are missing from the photograph, and conspicuously absent from the film, which is the eighth in “The Conjuring” franchise, and grossed an estimated $24 million in its opening weekend of June 4-6.
The Glatzels in actuality were torn apart over the ensuing four decades. Not by demonic possession or the totems of a vindictive, subterranean witch, as the film portrays it, but by a clash of world views, as well as mutual resentments and charges of greed and self-interest, all triggered by the involvement of the Warrens and the media circus that surrounded a series of traumatic events — the supposed demonic possession of young David Glatzel, and the trial of Johnson for stabbing to death his friend, Alan Bono, in 1981.
Carl Jr. never bought into the demonic possession narrative — the claim that his little brother, David, was possessed by a demon at the age of 11, a demon that then transferred itself into Johnson, compelling him to stab Bono to death. In fact, he openly rejected it. In time, David did too.
Snopes spoke recently with Carl Glatzel Jr., now aged 55 and living in another state, many miles from his childhood home in Brookfield, Connecticut. He shared his thoughts on the movie, his strained family relationships, and “The Devil in Connecticut,” the book that prompted him, and David, to sue Lorraine Warren, and the book’s author, a decade ago.
‘Take Me On!’
During his childhood, David Glatzel displayed unusual behavior. In court filings, his attorneys would later say that he had “suffered from behavioral problems and learning disabilities and probably mental illnesses.”
In newspaper articles from Johnson’s trial, and in “The Devil in Connecticut,” it was reported that, beginning in the summer of 1980, David heard voices, lashed out against his family and felt the malevolent presence of a “ghost man” inside a house in Newtown, Connecticut, which his sister Debbie and her boyfriend, Johnson, intended to rent.
In later court filings, David and Carl Glatzel’s attorneys stated that the “episodes” began in 1979, significantly undermining the claim of a sudden and drastic change in David’s behavior, related to the Newtown house. Speaking to Snopes, Carl scoffed at the narrative surrounding the Newtown rental house, saying that when Johnson and Debbie balked at living there, a member of Johnson’s own family subsequently “lived there for four months by herself” and experienced no problems or disturbances.
He also laughed off another memorable episode, recounted in both the 1983 book and the 2021 movie, in which a water bed in the Newtown house supposedly “attacked” his little brother. Carl told Snopes: “I was in that room with David, jumping up and down on the water bed. Nothing grabbed him.”
At some point — July 1980, according to “The Devil in Connecticut” — Judy Glatzel contacted a local Catholic priest, who began the preliminary investigation required in order to sanction an exorcism. She also got in touch with Ed and Lorraine Warren, already well-known paranormal investigators who lived in the state.
The book, written by Gerald Brittle, in collaboration with the Warrens, was first published in 1983. It described an escalation in David’s “possession,” and associated disturbances, over the summer of 1980, as various priests and the Warrens attempted to resolve the problem with prayers, holy water, and blessings, while awaiting an official church sanction for an exorcism.
According to the book, on one occasion in August 1980, Johnson challenged the demon that had possessed David, shouting “In the name of Jesus Christ, leave David’s body! Come out of him and take me on. I’m stronger than David. I’ll fight you. Leave David and come into me!” After that, according to the book, Johnson suffered “six possession episodes.”
The Warrens, along with a small number of Catholic priests, carried out two exorcisms on David, according to Brittle. During the second one, on Sept. 9, 1980, Johnson again supposedly invited the demon he believed to be possessing David to transfer itself into him: “Let David live! Take me on! Come into me!” The second exorcism of David was deemed successful.
‘I Found Him That Night on the Front Lawn’
On the evening of Feb. 16, 1981, five months after the exorcisms, Johnson stabbed to death his friend, 40-year-old Bono, who managed a dog kennel where Debbie Glatzel worked and an apartment building in Brookfield.
Police and prosecutors claimed the two friends had been drinking together, got into an argument over Debbie, and fought, during which Johnson stabbed Bono with a 5-inch knife, outside of the kennels. Absent from Brittle’s book, and the 2021 movie, was the fact that Leo Hengstler, the ambulance driver who arrived at the scene, testified in court that he had heard Debbie tell her father: “Oh Daddy, he didn’t mean to do it. You know how he gets when he’s been drinking.”
In the book and in the movie (in which he is re-named “Bruno Sauls”) Bono is portrayed as drunk, slovenly and lascivious, sexually harassing Debbie and attempting to bully a reluctant and noble Johnson into drinking with him. Glatzel told Snopes he resented the depiction contained in “The Conjuring,” and insisted that Bono was, in fact, “a very clean-cut guy” and a “nice person,” and certainly not the “drunk and hoodlum” shown in the movie.
He was one of the first people to arrive at the scene on Feb. 16 and told Snopes, “I found him that night on the front lawn. I saw him laying by a tree. He had four marks in him, with blood coming out of them.” Glatzel was just 15 years old at the time, and the trauma of that scene is clearly still present, some four decades later.
In newspaper interviews, Johnson’s attorneys, as well as the Warrens and members of the Glatzel family, especially Debbie, argued that Johnson had become possessed during the exorcisms performed on David, and said he intended to present a defense of demonic possession.
That legal bombshell, combined with the public involvement of the Warrens, transformed the case from a local crime story to a national media circus, and prompted countless “The devil made me do it” and “The devil on trial” headlines.
However, Connecticut Superior Court Judge Robert Callahan, who would later go on to become chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court, barred Johnson’s legal team from entering any such defense, telling them:
I’m not saying I don’t believe in demonic possession. I’m just saying I’m not allowing that defense. Period. There’s no such defense.
Instead, Johnson’s lawyers argued self-defense, claiming that Bono had initially charged at their client with the knife. The jury rejected those claims and found Johnson guilty of manslaughter in November 1981. The following month, Callahan gave him the maximum sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison.
‘Ridicule, Embarrassment, Vexation and Humiliation’
The conviction and imprisonment of Johnson could have brought an end to the whole saga, but it didn’t. In 1983, NBC broadcast “The Demon Murder Case” — a made-for-TV movie based on the trial, starring Kevin Bacon and Andy Griffith. Later that year, Brittle published “The Devil in Connecticut,” which was researched with the help of the Warrens, and gave an unquestioning supernatural explanation of the events that took place a few years earlier.
The book also presented a portrayal of the Warrens, Johnson, and most of the Glatzel family that was distinctly flattering, but consistently criticized and made serious allegations against Carl Jr. — including that he beat and threatened his mother, sister, and brothers — even though he was just 15 years old during most of the events depicted in the book.
Brittle and the Warrens further claimed the demons that had possessed David also held sway over Carl, and quoted Debbie as saying that “the beast,” as the family referred to it, “turned [Carl] into a violent madman” and “worked through him.”
In 2006, the book was reprinted, and Carl and David subsequently went to court. At the time, Carl told The Associated Press (AP) the Warrens had cynically seized upon David’s childhood mental illness as a way to make money and seek further fame, saying “They saw a gold mine,” but he vowed: “It was living hell when we were kids. It was just a nightmare. I’m not going through that again. Neither is my brother.”
Back then, Debbie told AP that Carl was only suing in order to make money. Speaking to Snopes in June 2021, Glatzel insisted it was she, not he, who was driven by self-interest. The rift within the Glatzel family was firmly in place, and the republication of Brittle’s book, as well as Carl and David’s lawsuit, brought those tragic divisions into the public eye.
Snopes has obtained a copy of the complaint filed by Carl and David Glatzel in November 2010. It can be read in full here. The brothers sued Brittle, as the book’s author, as well as iUniverse, the Nebraska company responsible for republishing “The Devil in Connecticut,” and Lorraine Warren, for her role in the researching and writing of the book. (Ed Warren had died in 2006).
The Glatzels alleged four counts of invasion of privacy and one count of libel, and their lawyers wrote that the book:
… Contained false and defamatory matter including but not limited to the statement that David Glatzel was possessed by demons and that Carl Glatzel, Jr. was influenced by demonic forces into committing assaults and batteries on members of the Glatzel family and others.
The lawsuit also outlined the potential damage that the republication of the book could cause, stating:
Carl Glatzel, Jr. and David Glatzel have lived quietly, assumed respectable roles in society, and made several friends and acquaintances who were not aware of alleged incidents dealing with violence, discord and demons that David Glatzel and Carl Glatzel suffered from during [their] early life, or the effects of said incidents on the Glatzel family.
The brothers’ attorneys also outlined the damage allegedly already done by the original publication of “The Devil in Connecticut” in 1983, writing:
As a direct and proximate result of the actions of the Defendants, David Glatzel and Carl Glatzel were subject to ridicule, embarrassment, vexation and humiliation, as well as loss of potential earnings.
In a December 2010 response, also obtained by Snopes and available in full here, iUniverse rejected the first four counts, arguing that by virtue of the fact that they had facilitated the republication of the book, they could not have invaded Carl and David’s privacy, precisely because the information and allegations contained in “The Devil in Connecticut” had already been in the public domain since 1983.
An attorney who represented Brittle in the lawsuit did not respond to our inquiries in time for publication, and Snopes was unable to contact the author himself. While the lawsuit was ongoing, Brittle told AP he stood by his book, and its accuracy, saying it was based on accounts that Carl’s own family provided back in the early 1980s. Max Rosenberg, a Stratford, Connecticut attorney who represented the Glatzel brothers in the lawsuit, told Snopes the case came to a satisfactory resolution.
It’s commonplace, and generally accepted, that even books and movies that claim to be “based on a true story” don’t include every last detail, no matter how awkward or trivial. Imagine, though, the impact on viewers of “The Conjuring: the Devil Made Me Do It,” if they were aware, while watching the film, that in reality, little David Glatzel went on to sue Lorraine Warren, accusing her of libel and invasion of privacy, and describing the claim that he was possessed by demons as “false and defamatory.”
‘I Have Nothing to Trash’
Glatzel and his wife recently watched “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.” Perhaps surprisingly, he told Snopes it was a “fun, scary movie,” and said he was glad, rather than insulted, to have been left out of the cast of characters.
He said friends had expected him to “trash” the film, but his exclusion from it, and its radical deviations from Brittle’s book, meant that, in his words, “I have nothing to trash,” aside from the portrayal of Bono, which he characterized as unfair and inaccurate. Glatzel also chuckled at the film’s addition of an entirely new character and subplot — a malevolent Satanic witch whose identity is revealed in a twist during the final act of the movie.
Debbie Johnson died in April. Carl Glatzel Sr. died in 2018, and his wife, Judy, died in 2011. Lorraine Warren died in 2019. As of February 2021, David was still living in Connecticut, as was Arne Johnson, as of 2019. Snopes was unable to verify the current status of Alan, the middle of the three Glatzel boys.
Many of the major protagonists from the “Brookfield demons” saga have died, returned to private life, or maintained a public silence. Carl Glatzel Jr., though, is aware that, with the release of the movie, and another republication of “The Devil in Connecticut” in June 2021, a whole new generation of unsuspecting film-lovers and paranormal enthusiasts are being exposed to what he clearly sees as a fundamentally dishonest account of events that ultimately, over the years, tore his own family apart.
He plans to take action. Though he declined to provide any more than the most basic details, Glatzel told Snopes he was in possession of explosive evidence, dating from the early 1980s, that would further undermine the supernatural narrative promoted in the book and movie. He plans to publish the materials soon, but would not say exactly when. Like the people behind “The Conjuring” films, he knows how to keep us in suspense.