On the night Hollywood released the horror movie, “Annabelle,” a sell-out audience at Lauralton Hall was spellbound, hearing about the real Annabelle — a demonic doll — from paranormal investigator Lorraine Warren, who cracked the real-life case, along with her late husband, Ed Warren.
The real Annabelle doll lives in a locked box at Warren’s Occult Museum at her Monroe home.
The doll in the movie is a frightening looking porcelain doll in a child’s image, with long hair and the real Annabelle — the one in Warren’s museum — is a plain-looking classic Raggedy Ann doll with red yarn for hair.
But the Raggedy Ann at the Warren’s Museum is no ordinary doll. According to the Warrens, it is inhabited by an “inhuman spirit,” and there is a warning on the glass case not to touch.
One museum-goer who ignored the warnings and taunted the doll, died in a motorcycle crash shortly after being told to leave the museum.
The movie is a prequel to “The Conjuring,” based on the Warren’s real-life case involving the doll. The couple had a lot of input in the first movie, but “Annabelle,” is fabricated.
Warren, who mostly along with her late husband, has investigated more than 10,000 cases of paranormal activity, presented the talk and slide show of cases at the Catholic girls’ high school with the help of her son-in-law Tony Spera, also a paranormal investigator.
Warren, now 87, soft spoken and sweet to all those who engaged her in conversation at a meet and greet, said presenting at Lauralton was like “going home,” because she attended the school in the late 1930s, but had to leave because of illness.
Warren said her presentations are in extra demand during September and October because fascination with the subject is heightened during, “Hallow’s Eve,” as she calls it.
A Roman Catholic, Warren now and in the early career with her husband, often works with priests and other clergy because they rely on blessings and sometimes exorcism to resolve a case.
She said the power of faith has gotten her out of many scary situations because it’s often about fighting the demonic with goodness. Holy water is a tool.
Warren said her Catholic faith is both her protection and her drive.
Warren began by telling the audience that ever since the age of “7 or 8” she saw lights or auras around people, but was afraid to tell her parents, for fear they would think she was, “crazy.” She spent many years praying about it because, “I didn’t want to be different,” she said.
Warren recalled a story from her Lauralton days. She had a favorite teacher, a nun who taught French, and once told her, referring to her aura, “Your lights are brighter than Mother Superior’s.”
Warren said she was told to go to the chapel and “pray about it,” and it will go away. Her Lauralton audience, many with no connection to the school, but there as Warren fans, roared with laughter.
At first she didn’t even tell Ed Warren, whom she met at 16 about her abilities. But later he would tell her, “You are different.”
Ed, a self-taught “demonologist” — an interest he developed after growing up in a house he said was haunted — and Lorraine, would pool their talents and go on to become world-famous paranormal investigators. Her career has spanned 65 years.
The Warrens have done jobs throughout the United States and in faraway places that Japan, England, Scotland, France, Australia. The couple charged only travel expenses — nothing for the actual investigating — but built an empire on books, movie work and lectures about their cases. In 1952, Ed Warren founded the New England Society for Psychic Research. Their investigations often included other professionals, including nurses, doctors, police officers, researchers.
Some of their famous cases besides Amityville and Annabelle include: the Demon murder; Werewolf; Smurl family; The Perrons; Stepney Cemetery; Borley Church; Union Cemetery; The Haunting in Connecticut.
Warren said most unwanted spirits enter through vehicles such as Ouija boards, Tarot Cards and psychics, and urged the audience to keep their kids away from such things. Spera said seven of their 10 cases involves someone with a Ouija board asking, “Is there a spirit here?”
“If you go into a very happy home, very seldom,” bad things will be found, Warren said.
She and Spera continued the work after Ed’s death in 2006 and are currently working on a haunting case in Stratford, she said. Every town in Connecticut has paranormal activity, Warren said, noting a recent exorcism-like event on a New Haven man, 31.
“Going into haunting experiences, there were some bad ones, scary ones. My faith was always my protection,” she said.
She said that some five years ago a retiring priest moved into an apartment on her grounds, and not only does he help on jobs, but, “We have mass every day in our house,” she said, adding, “It’s beautiful how God works.”
The presentation Friday, which drew lots of audience oohs and ahhs, included a slide show of findings on cases such as images of people from the beyond or ghost-like forms appearing in photographs.
Spera spent part of the talk on the eery, real life Annabelle story and emphasized that of all the items in the family’s Occult Museum, “that doll is what I’d be most frightened of.” Curators believe the doll has the power to kill, according to a film on the Annabelle case.
Noting the case of the motorcyclist who died after leaving the museum, Spera said, “Never take things like this lightly, thinking it’s a joke.”
According to a clip Spera showed, the real-life Annabelle story began in 1970 when a 28-year-old nurse received the Raggedy Ann doll as a birthday gift from her mom. She put the rag doll on her bed and began to notice it changing positions. A leg would be crossed, or the doll would be lying on its side. Then the girl and her roommate began to find parchment paper on the floor with written messages, such as, “Help me, help us.” They had no parchment paper in the house. The doll began appearing in different rooms and at one point appeared to be leaking blood.
Then, one day, a male friend was taking a nap and woke up with the doll staring at him, as he felt like he was being strangled. There were deep scratch wounds on his upper body.
The girls at first thought maybe an intruder was moving the doll around and leaving notes. When they ruled that out, according to the Occult Museum website, “Not knowing where to turn they contacted a medium and a seance was held.” The girls were introduced to the spirit of Annabelle Higgins, said to be a young girl that resided on the property before the apartments were built and died there at age 7.
According to the website, the spirit related to the medium that she felt comfort with the two roommates in the apartment and “wanted to stay with them and be loved.”
The roommates gave Annabelle “permission to inhabit the doll,” but things got worse.
The Warrens took an interest in the case and contacted the women. They “came to the immediate conclusion that the doll itself was not in fact possessed but manipulated by an inhuman presence,” according to the Warren’s website, which goes on to say, “Truly, the spirit was not looking to stay attached to the doll, it was looking to possess a human host.”
Spera said the Warrens took the doll and Ed Warren told his wife they should avoid the highway because he was going to be a rough ride home. He was right. At some point he had to sprinkle the Annabelle doll with Holy water to calm it down.
The movie “Annabelle” doesn’t resemble the real-life story. In the movie, the doll is owned by a young couple, given to the woman for her doll collection. As the woman nears her pregnancy due date, a pair of Satanic cultists break in, stab the pregnant woman in the belly, and end up dead in their home. One of the cultists is named Annabelle Higgins, and some of her blood lands on the doll. That’s when the doll starts doing over-the-top scary things.
Spera and Warren said they don’t really care that the producers of “Annabelle” fabricated the story for the movie because it still serves the purpose of warning the public about demons.
“Eeveryone in the audience who believes in God must also believe there’s a Devil,” Spera said. “Ghosts, devils, demons are real.”
He said while most people are focused on the “bad stuff,” regarding ghosts, there are “beautiful stories,” as well, such as the soldier who appeared to visit a loved one. Spera said it’s a “ghost” if it is a stranger appears and an “apparition” if you recognize the person.
“The key is don’t open any doors,” Spera said.