Behind The Conjuring: uncovering the true Ed and Lorraine Warren

Posted on 21 February 2019
By Rob Lea
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Ed and Lorraine Warren are the real-life paranormal investigators and ‘demonologists’ at the centre of the Conjuring series of films. Whilst portrayed on-screen by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga with warmth, bravery and compassion, the real Ed and Lorraine often displayed anything but.

A friend once advised me always to be extremely sceptical of any Hollywood movie that begins with the legend ‘Based on a true story.’ Mainly because the word ‘based’ can be extremely subjective, as can, unfortunately, the word ‘true’. 

That’s certainly the mindset that I was in when I first approached James Wan’s 2013 horror-hit ‘the Conjuring’. I viewed the film, loosely based on the ‘case-files’ of ‘paranormal investigators’ Ed and Lorraine Warren, as someone all too familiar with the couple’s actual personas and exploits.

There is little doubt that just as William Peter Blatty’s phenomenally successful book ‘the Exorcist’ and its subsequent film had inspired George Lutz to create the vivid story of his family being tormented by the denizens of hell that became ‘the Amityville Horror’, Ed and Lorraine were inspired by this latter franchise to create stories of demonic hauntings that could be optioned for films and books.

Though the Warrens were involved in the Amityville haunting, they arrived too late on the scene to be considered part of the main narrative of the story. After much petitioning they gained access to the house with a television crew – who ended up bored stiff rather than scared stiff – long after the Lutz’s had fled.

It’s my opinion that this experience shaped Ed and Lorraine and as a result they were determined never to miss out on such a money-making scheme again.

As a sceptic of the paranormal and someone who had spent years at that point debunking and explaining so-called paranormal evidence, I considered the Warrens as little more than travelling snake-oil salespersons.

They would blow into a town, make all sorts of extraordinary and outlandish claims and then move out with as much publicity and cash as they could garner, too often leaving the people at the centre of their ‘investigations’ to pick up the pieces.

They had little scruples and often involved themselves with cases that other paranormal investigators wouldn’t touch with a barge-pole. This was never truer than their involvement with the case that became ‘the Haunting in Connecticut’.

Before ‘the Conjuring’ came ‘the Haunting in Connecticut’

The events that formed the basis for ‘Haunting’ centred around the Carmen and Al Snedeker and their family, who had recently moved into an ex-funeral home.

When their son began to experience ‘paranormal’ visions and ghostly encounters. Soon after this, Carmen too begins to suffer haunting nightmares, and after reading in a newspaper about Ed and Lorraine Warren, she reaches out to the couple for help. 

After arriving on the scene, the Warrens employ the aid of horror author Ray Garton to document the case.

The movie is based on Garton’s book ‘In a Dark place’ which Garton himself confesses was mostly his own creation and almost completely fabricated. Garton even tells of Carmen’s disgust at the ‘demon rape’ elements of the book which the author says Ed Warren insisted were added.

Way before the movie’s release, Ed, Lorraine, and the Snedekers appeared on an edition of 90s chat show ‘Sally Jesse Raphael’. The show was an extraordinary spectacle. Titled ‘I was raped by a demon’ the host had the Snedekers recreate their supposed sexual assault by supernatural entities on a bed she’d kindly provided.

The ever classy genre of 90’s US talk shows sinks to a new low

Perhaps more shocking, if less lurid, than this was the anger local-residents, who had been invited to the taping by the show’s producers, directed toward both the Snedekers and the Warrens and Ed’s pugilistic reaction to it.

Most people who met Ed, who passed away in 2006 considered him a rather brutish bully of a man. It was also often painfully obvious Ed had little compassion for the people he and Lorraine claimed to have helped.

A still from the Sally Jesse Raphael show sees a bombastic Ed Warren react to accusations that he and the Snedekers fabricated the whole affair
Ray Garton, recalls his dealings with Ed, particularly when questioning him about the Snedeker’s mental health during the process of researching the book:

“Elements of Carmen Snedeker’s story clashed with elements of Al Snedeker’s story, and it seemed everyone was having a problem keeping their stories straight.

Ed told me: ‘They’re crazy, everyone who comes to us is crazy. Make it up and make it scary’.”
In addition to Carmen and Al, the Snedeker family was represented on publicity tours by son Michael and niece Kelly who lived with them at the time. Kelly looks less than thrilled to be present on the Sally Jesse Raphael show, and there’s a very good reason for this.

Carmen’s on-screen son Stephen, the main focus of both the book and the film, allegedly suffering from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the time of the haunting, never appeared in public. This is hardly a surprise, firstly “Stephen” is actually Phillip, there is no Stephen Snedeker. Phillip was never confirmed to suffer from Hodgkin’s or any other form of cancer, he was a very troubled young man though.

To my knowledge, to the day of his death in 2012, Phillip had never talked publicly about what occurred at that time. Unfortunately, there’s a serious reason for this and his exclusion from the show than his simple failure to toe the line with regards to the haunting.

During the Sally Jesse Raphael show, Kelly is asked to recount her experiences being sexually abused in the house. Unlike Carmen’s robotically delivered claims of being sodomised as she washed dishes, yes, she really said this, Kelly is clearly uncomfortable and upset as Carmen talks about cold hands under her bedclothes and pulling at her bra, on her behalf.

The reason for this may well be because Kelly WAS sexually abused in the Snedeker household. Unlike with the demonic assaults that Carman and Al claim to have suffered, there’s corroborative evidence for Kelly’s ordeal. This abuse wasn’t perpetrated by a ghost or any demon though.

Phillip, the Snedeker’s eldest son, was removed from the Snedeker home at some point during the “haunting” by the police. He was accused of sexually abusing Carmen and Al’s two nieces, including Kelly, and confessed to the abuse and attempting to rape his 12-year-old cousin. He was placed in juvenile detention where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Phillip Snedeker was only allowed to speak to the author documenting the family’s story, Ray Garton once over the telephone. Odd, considering that he was the centre for much of this alleged activity.

During the conversation, Phillip told Garton that he had indeed seen ghosts and demons, but the apparitions stopped as soon as he resumed his treatment for schizophrenia. Carmen, his mother quickly ended the conversation after hearing this. 

He was never allowed to speak to Garton again.

Phillip Snedeker (right) spoke to Ray Garton once regarding the events that centred around him and launched books and movies

The Warren’s disregard for the well-being of their clients is apparent if you look beyond the public version of the ‘Haunting in Connecticut’ story. At its core there is a tragic story about a young-man with severe mental health problems and the young cousin he sexually abused.

Ed also had little regard for anyone else involved in the case either. During the publicity tour for the book, Ed claimed on numerous occasions that the reason the former funeral home the Snedekers had lived in was occupied by demons was because the previous owners had engaged in necrophilia with the corpses in their care.

The funeral director who had operated in the home was a well-known and much-respected member of the local community. Many of the locals’ loved ones had passed through that home at one time. Ed cared nothing for this or the potential upset and harm that could have arisen from allegations of that nature.

It’s my feeling that the truth behind this whole affair – sexual assault of minors and severe mental health issues – makes the film ‘the Haunting in Connecticut’ an uncomfortable watch.

Couple this with the fact that the film is spectacularly dull and it’s definitely one to avoid. 

The themes mentioned in this tale will resurface in the Warrens’ further adventures, especially that of a troubled family.

Conjuring a hit. The Warrens and Annabelle get extreme makeovers.

I doubt the actions and lack of concern and discretion listed above could be further from the portrayal of Ed Warren that Patrick Wilson gives in the first
Conjuring movie.

Of course, the disparities between Wilson and Warren don’t end there. Ed was hardly what you would describe as a dashing leading man. In fact, if

James Wan had wanted a truer to life representation of Warren he would have been better speaking to John Goodman about the role.

Perhaps Ed’s Hollywood make-over in ‘the Conjuring’ isn’t as extreme as the one that Annabelle, the film’s possessed doll protagonist – who has gone on to star in her own series of films-received.

Visitors to the Warrens’ haunted museum of knick-knacks and paraphernalia are often perplexed and confused when faced, not with the terrifying visage of Hollywood’s Annabelle, but instead a rather ordinary cloth ‘Raggedy-Ann’ dolly.

The Conjuring is roughly based on the experiences of the Perron family that occurred after they moved into a farmhouse, which they alleged was haunted by the ghost of a dead witch.

One interesting thing to note about the film that is common to all the Warrens’ tales; in the movie Andrea Perron reaches out to the Warrens for help.

Similarly, in the sequel the Warrens are contacted to help in Enfield. This is not how the Warrens generally came across their cases. Normally they would read about a haunting in the local press or be informed of such a story and they would arrive on the doorstep of the affected family. 

Usually when they would arrive, what had been considered as a ‘ghostly haunting’ and transform it into the work of ‘demons’ in accordance with their own very stringent Catholic belief system. Well, that and the fact demons sell better.

The Perron family, who became the focus of the case that would go on to become ‘the Conjuring’

The final third of the film majorly diverges from real events too. In the movie, Ed performs an exorcism and dramatically rescues the family from Bathsheba. In the real events, Ed performed a séance and Roger, the family’s father who was often away from home working as a long-haul driver, threw
Ed and Lorraine out of the house.

Roger Perron felt the couple were exploiting his wife, Carolyn, and negatively affecting her mental state.
Roger had good reason to be sceptical, he had never experienced anything remotely paranormal in the house. His wife and children seemed to be the centre of the ghostly ‘pranks’ that mostly occurred when he was on the road. 

It’s not particularly difficult to tell what was occurring here, especially for those with mischievous children.

Aside from this the older sister, Andrea was prone to assigning seemingly mundane events a supernatural cause. This would include the time her father, in a temper, had knocked a pan of meatballs off the stove. Andrea insisted that the pan had flown from the hob, barely touched by Roger.

Despite these blatant aberrations of the truth, I find ‘the Conjuring’ to be a guilty pleasure. I’d go as far as to say, the first two-thirds deliver some nice chilling moments before it unravels a bit at the end. I can put aside my feelings towards the Warrens and enjoy it as a well-made piece of horror fiction.

Say what you will of James Wan, but he could direct a good, if somewhat unoriginal, horror yarn. 

Unfortunately, the distortion of the truth connected to the film’s sequel, based on the ‘Enfield Poltergeist’ furore of the 1970’s tabloid press, is somewhat harder to ignore. At least the Warrens had been involved with the above two cases. 

Ed and Lorraine had barely ever visited Enfield and when they did, they were given the short shrift by the actual investigators working on the alleged haunting and sent packing back to the US. 

The reason why New Line cinema would choose to make a film about the

Warrens that revolved around a case they were not involved with is more fascinating than the film itself. It’s a story that deserves an article to itself. 

In unpicking the reasons why the Enfield poltergeist case was chosen for ‘the Conjuring 2’ we’ll look at the truth behind the Enfield case, the actual investigators feelings on Ed and Lorraine, and what happened when I attempted to get a straight answer from the curator of the Warrens haunted museum as to the Warrens’ involvement in the affair.