The smash hit motion picture “The Conjuring” -- based on the harrowing story of the Perron family’s encounter with an evil entity and how they were saved by controversial demonologists, Ed and Lorraine Warren -- has earned tens of millions of dollars and spawned as many nightmares worldwide. But while the core story of possession and witchcraft may have propelled the plot forward, it is the allegedly true story of a demonic doll named Annabelle that has left a lingering shadow on the memories of moviegoers across the globe; transforming this arguably inanimate (and ostensibly cursed) object into a surprise pop-culture phenomenon.
Let me be frank right from the outset: “I hate dolls.” Always have.
It started with a dotty old great-aunt, who (of course) lived in a dusty, labyrinthine manor full of long corridors, peeling wallpaper, the lingering scent of mothballs and rooms that all seemed to have at least one porcelain doll with a cracked face that leered menacingly down at me from whatever perch it had made home.
As my beard began to transform from random Klingon-like patches into a cohesive whole and my school days drifted farther and farther into my past, I began to dismiss those childhood fears. I convinced myself that fearing inanimate objects was foolish, but I still harbored an intuitive distaste for dolls; especially old ones.
While looking for curios in old thrift stores and junk shops, I would always grow uneasy when I would catch a figurine or (God forbid) a marionette unmistakably staring at me with its glassy, dead eyes and a bio-electric chill would ripple up my neck. Oh, I’d act cool (especially if I was with my girlfriend) and chuckle and tell myself that it was all in my head, but a part of me knew better… and that’s how I knew, when I hunkered down to watch the aforementioned film, “The Conjuring”, that I had been right all along.
Like all cinematic depictions of purportedly factual stories, the filmmakers responsible for “The Conjuring” have taken some liberties with the source material. The bizarre case of Annabelle is no exception, as the pig tailed, rosy cheeked, ghastly apparition from the movie was, in actuality, a run of the mill Raggedy Ann doll.
Now, for the seven of you out there who might not know what that is, Raggedy Ann is an adorable rag doll with a triangle nose and a mop of red yarn for hair. The character was created by writer (and marketing genius) Johnny Gruelle when his daughter brought him an old doll and he drew a face on it. Gruelle would go on to feature the character in a series of children’s books he wrote and, following the tragic death of his daughter, as the symbol for a virulent anti-vaccination campaign. On September 7, 1915, he received a U.S. Patent for his Raggedy Ann doll and with it a toy legend was born.
The particular doll in question, the one which would serve as the inspiration for James Wan’s disturbing plaything in “The Conjuring”, was first purchased in an antique shop in 1970, by a woman looking for a unique birthday present for her daughter, Donna.
The woman, who’s name (much like the ark from “Raiders”) has evidently been lost somewhere in the annals of paranormal research, must have concluded that the antiquated, child-sized rag doll would be the perfect gift for her daughter who was just about to graduate from nursing school. Apparently she was correct in her assumption and, even though Donna was not known to be a collector of dolls, she happily brought the object into to the apartment that she shared with another nursing student, Angie. Once there the Raggedy Ann doll was tossed on the bed and promptly forgotten about… for the first few days anyway.
At initial the signs that something was amiss were subtle. From time to time, Donna would notice that the toy seemed to have changed position slightly, but simply attributed it to a jostling of the bed or something equally mundane. As the weeks passed, however, the doll’s erratic movements became more troubling and both Donna and Angie became genuinely alarmed when they returned home to find the rag doll standing upright and leaning against a chair in the dining room, as if it had frozen mid-step when it heard the door open.
It was then that Donna and Angie realized that there was something truly bizarre about the doll. Donna would later describe the unsettling situation to renowned paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren. According to Donna:
"I put it on my bed each morning after the bed was made. The arms would be off to its sides and its legs would be straight out -- just like it’s sitting there now. But when we’d come home at night, the arms and legs would be positioned in different gestures. For instance, its legs would be crossed at the ankles, or its arms would be folded in its lap. After a week or so, this made us suspicious. So to test it, I purposely crossed its arms and legs in the morning to see if it really was moving. And sure enough, every night when we’d come back home, the arms and legs would be uncrossed and the thing would be sitting there in any of a dozen different postures.”
At times Donna would leave the doll on the bed only to find that it had mysteriously migrated to the living room and was now sitting on the couch with its arms and legs crossed almost indignantly. In other instances, Donna would leave the doll on the couch only to return home to discover that it was now in her bedroom -- with the door latched shut! Angie shed some more light on this odd increase in apparently paranormal activity:
“The doll also changed rooms by itself. We came home one night and the Annabelle doll was sitting in a chair by the front door. It was kneeling! The funny thing about it was, when we tried to make the doll kneel, it’d just fall over. It couldn’t kneel. Other times we’d find it sitting on the sofa, although when we left the apartment in the morning it’d be in Donna’s room with the door closed!”
The girls, becoming more and more perturbed by this strange turn of events, decided to confide in a male friend that the Warrens' chronicle only as “Lou”. Lou claimed that he realized that something about the doll was evil the moment he laid eyes on it. Donna and Angie, though made anxious by the toy’s clandestine mobility, were not prepared to believe that anything insidious was afoot.
That was when curious notes began to appear around the apartment. Donna and Angie both found strips of parchment paper upon which would be scrawled the words “HELP US” or “HELP LOU” in a conspicuously child-like fashion, although in the movie the filmmakers apparently decided that "MISS ME?" would be for unnerving. This startling development perplexed Donna:
“It would leave us little notes and messages. The handwriting looked to be that of a small child… Lou wasn’t in any kind of jeopardy at the time. And who ‘us’ was we didn’t know. Still, the thing that was weird was that the notes would be written in pencil, but when we tried to find one, there was not one pencil in the apartment! And the paper it wrote on was parchment. I tore the apartment apart, looking for parchment paper, but again neither of us had any such thing.”
Lou became convinced that these notes were from the doll, which was attempting to communicate with its human hosts. But the nurses, being women of science, began to wonder if someone they knew might not have come across a door key and decided to have some fun at their expense by playing an elaborate hoax on them.
To that end, Donna and Angie became amateur sleuths and began marking windows and arranging carpets against the doors to reveal if they had any intruders in their absence. Much to their chagrin their traps lay unmoved while the doll continued to have it’s run of the apartment.
Still, the roommates took solace from that fact that while they might have a “living doll” sharing their home, it seemed not to have any nefarious intentions. In fact, according to Donna, that Christmas the odd being even seemed to offer them a small present:
“Christmas, we found a little chocolate boot on the stereo that none of us had bought. Presumably it came from Annabelle.”
Sadly, the state of affairs with the entity living in their home would not remain harmonious for long. Angie recalled another seemingly supernatural occurrence in the apartment:
“One time a statue lifted up across the room, then it tumbled in the air and fell on the floor. None of us were near the statue; it was on the other side of the room. That incident frightened us totally.”
Things would only get worse from that moment on.
Less than two months after these bizarre events began, Donna and Angie returned home, weary after a long day of school.
Of course, neither of the women were particularly surprised to find that the doll had managed to make its way from the living room back into Donna’s bed, but this time Donna claimed that she suddenly was struck by a feeling that something was wrong and that the doll seemed to have a ominous aura about it.
Hesitantly, the women approached the doll and that was when they noticed that the inanimate object was oozing blood from its hands and chest. Angie described the scene:
"The Annabelle doll was sitting on Donna’s bed, as was usual. When we came home one night, there was blood on the back of its hand, and there were three drops of blood on its chest!"
Added Donna: "God, that really scared us!"
The now terrified roommates decided that they would have to seek the help of someone more experienced in paranormal activity than themselves. It was then that they decided to call in…
Following the “bleeding doll” incident, the roommates resolved to find out just what it was that they were sharing their apartment with.
To that end, Donna and Angie decided to contact a medium in order to conjure up and communicate with whatever was inhabiting the doll.
The unidentified medium agreed to perform a séance in the nurses’ apartment. In Donna’s own words:
“So Angie and I got in touch with a woman who’s a medium. That was about a month, or maybe six weeks after all this stuff started to happen.”
The medium wasted no time in entering a trance and before long she was weaving a heartbreaking tale of a young girl named Annabelle Higgins, whose body was discovered in the field upon which their apartment complex had been constructed. According to Donna:
“We learned that a little girl died on this property, She was seven years-old and her name was Annabelle Higgins. The Annabelle spirit said she played in the fields long ago before these apartments were built. They were happy times for her. She told us.”
The medium was unable to ascertain the details of the girl’s death, but in telling Annabelle’s story, she had inadvertently tugged at the heartstrings of these compassionate, young women. Donna continued to detail Annabelle’s plight as heard through the medium:
“Because everyone around here was grown-up, and only concerned with their jobs, there was no one she (Annabelle) could relate to, except us. Annabelle felt that we would be able to understand her. That’s why she began moving the rag doll. All Annabelle wanted was to be loved, and so she asked if she could stay with us and move into the doll. What could we do? So we said yes.”
Angie would explain the logic behind their decision: “It seemed harmless enough. We’re nurses, you know, we see suffering every day. We had compassion. Anyway, we called the doll Annabelle from that time on.”
There is no way that these kind women could have imagined at the time just how terrible a mistake inviting this apparently innocent apparition to live inside the rag doll would prove to be.
As things between the newly christened Annabelle and her roommates seemed to be entering a new phase of détente, Lou maintained that he sensed something dangerous about the itinerant doll and admonished Donna to get rid of it.
She refused his request, feeling that getting rid of the doll would be the equivalent of abandoning a child. But even though Annabelle was not removed, it seems apparent that she was not pleased by Lou’s interference.
Lou understood that there was something fundamentally wrong with the doll, but was not prepared for the hellish encounter he would have when it followed him home. The Warrens related the experience Lou had not long after turning in for the night:
“Lou awoke one night from a deep sleep and in panic. Once again he had a reoccurring bad dream. Only this time somehow, something seemed different. It was as though he was awake but couldn't move. He looked around the room but couldn't discern anything out of the ordinary and then it happened. Looking down toward his feet he saw the doll, Annabelle.”
Lou continued to recount his petrifying experience:
“While I was lying there, I saw myself wake up. Something seemed wrong to me. I looked around the room, but nothing was out of place. But then when I looked down toward my feet, I saw the rag doll, Annabelle. It was slowly gliding up my body. It moved over my chest and stopped. Than it put its arms out. One arm touched one side of my neck, the other touched the other side like it was making an electrical connection. Then I saw myself being strangled. I might as well have been pushing on a wall, because it wouldn’t move. It was literally strangling me to death, I couldn’t help myself, no matter how hard I tried.”
The Warrens concluded the harrowing tale:
“Paralyzed and gasping for breath Lou, at the point of asphyxiation, blacked out. Lou awoke the next morning, certain it wasn't a dream. Lou was determined to rid himself of that doll and the spirit that possessed it.”
Lou felt as if whatever was animating the doll was warning him to mind his own business, but out of concern for his friends, he refused to be deterred. It would be back at Donna and Angie’s apartment that Annabelle would strike again.
The following evening, while preparing for a road trip, Lou and Angie were alone, studying maps in in the living room just before 11 pm. Without warning, the pair heard an odd shuffling sound emanating from Donna’s room. Angie was concerned that someone might have broken into the apartment, but Lou feared that it might be something much worse.
Lou, summoning a courage that I’m not sure I could replicate, crept toward Donna’s bedroom door. He paused outside the entrance until the sounds abated, then eased the door open and anxiously flipped on the light switch.
The room was empty, save for Annabelle, which seemed to have been haphazardly thrown into the corner of the room. Lou entered the space and apprehensively approached the crumpled rag doll. It was then that he claimed to have felt a tingling sensation on the back of his neck, as if he was being watched from behind. Lou explained the feeling in an interview with the Warrens:
“But as I got close to the doll, I got the distinct impression that somebody was behind me. I swung around instantly and, well…."
At this point Angie interjected:
“He won’t talk about that part. When Lou turned around there wasn’t anybody there, but he suddenly yelled and grabbed for his chest. He was doubled over, cut and bleeding when I got to him. Blood was all over his shirt. Lou was shaking and scared and we went back out into the living room. We then opened his shirt and there on his chest was what looked to be a sort of claw mark!”
On his chest were seven slices. Four were horizontal and three vertical. Both the Warrens, Donna and Angie confirmed that the wounds existed, but unfortunately no one bothered to take any photographs. Oddly, the Marks (which Lou claimed burned horribly and actually radiated heat) were all but gone the next day and completely vanished a mere forty-eight hours later.
Not sure where else to turn -- and now realizing that they were dealing with something much worse than the benign spirit of a lonely child -- the trio decided to contact a someone in the clergy. The first man they got a hold of was an Episcopalian priest named Father Hegan. Hegan went to the apartment and allowed the witnesses to explain their dire predicament.
Hegan understood the gravity of their situation, but felt that he was not qualified to deal with it himself, so he referred them to one of his superiors, Father Cooke. It would be Cooke who would contact the most experienced demonologists he knew of -- the now legendary husband and wife team of Ed and Lorraine Warren, who were also part of the Amityville Horror investigation -- and put them on the case.
The Warrens wasted no time in contacting the group and upon interviewing the three witnesses, Ed Warren (a devout Catholic as well as paranormal investigator) seemed astounded that these young adults were so quick to trust the words of the ghost as spoken through the medium. Ed Warren summed up the situation thusly during his interview with Donna, Angie and Lou:
”To begin with, there is no Annabelle! There never was. You were duped. However, we are dealing with a spirit here. The teleportation of the doll while you were out of the apartment, the appearance of notes written on parchment, the manifestation of three symbolic drops of blood, plus the gestures the doll made are all meaningful. They tell me there was intent, which means there was an intelligence behind the activity. But ghosts, human spirits, plain and simply can’t bring on phenomena of this nature and intensity. They don’t have the power.”
At about this point Lou interjected: “It’s a damn voodoo doll, that’s what it is… I told them about that thing a long time ago. The doll was just taking advantage of them.”
Nevertheless, Donna defended the position that she and Angie had previously assumed in protecting Annabelle:
"It was the spirit of Annabelle we cared about! How were we to know anything? But looking back on it now, maybe we shouldn’t have given the doll so much credence. But really, we saw the thing as being no more than a harmless mascot. It never hurt anything… at least until the other day.”
After completing the interview, inspecting the rag doll, checking Lou’s wounds and confirming that none of the eyewitnesses ever saw the specter of the child in the apartment, the Warrens came to the startling conclusion that it was not a ghost that they were dealing with, but an actual demon.
Even more chillingly, the Warrens postulated that the doll itself was not actually possessed by an evil entity, but that the doll was a conduit between the earthly realm and hell itself.
They also affirmed that the medium had been manipulated in order to gain the trust of the people in the apartment, leading to what they called an “infestation" of the home.
The Warrens further claimed that the “inhuman demonic spirit,“ had preyed upon the nursing students’ intrinsic compassion by pretending it was a lost child. According to Ed Warren:
“…what has happened is something inhuman has taken over here. Demonic. Ordinarily people aren’t bothered by inhuman demonic spirits, unless they do something to bring the force into their lives. Your first mistake was to give the doll recognition, that is the reason why the spirit moved into the doll to draw attention to itself. Once it had your attention, it exploited you, it simply brought you fear and even injury. Inhuman spirits, enjoy inflicting pain, it’s negative. Your next mistake was calling in a medium, The demonic has to somehow get your permission to interfere in your life. Unfortunately, through your own free will, you gave it that permission.”
Adding to the shock that the three friends were no doubt experiencing at that moment, the Warrens went on to insist that following Lou’s attack, the demon’s next movie would be to exit Annabelle and enter one them for the purpose of “complete human possession” followed, almost inevitably, by murder. According to Ed Warren:
“Spirits don’t possess things, spirits possess people. Instead, the spirits simply moved the doll around and gave it the illusion of being alive. Now, what happened to Lou earlier this week was bound to occur sooner or later. In fact, you all were in jeopardy of coming under possession by this spirit, this is what the thing was really after. But Lou didn’t believe in the charade, so he was an ongoing threat to the entity. There was bound to be a showdown. Had the spirit been given another week or two, you might have been killed."
This, according to the Warrens, left student nurses with just one recourse…
The Warrens then decided that the best course of action would be to invoke the power of an exorcism blessing to banish the malevolent monstrosity from the doll.
They contacted an Episcopal priest named Father Cooke who was at first reluctant to get involved with this case, but eventually yielded after the Warrens explained just how dire the situation had become.
Ed Warren explained how the Episcopalian blessing differed from the more famous Catholic rite of exorcism:
"The Episcopal blessing of the home is a wordy, seven page document that is distinctly positive in nature. Rather than specifically expelling evil entities from the dwelling, the emphasis is instead directed toward filling the home with the power of the positive and of God."
Unlike most cinematic versions of an exorcism, the ritual occurred without much commotion from the demonic doll. Following the sacred ceremony, Father Cooke extended the blessing to Donna, Angie, Lou and the Warrens, then (in what I hope was his best Zelda Rubenstein voice) declared that the demon was no longer going to be able to harm them... The Warrens weren’t so sure.
Following Father Cooke’s exorcism, Ed and Lorraine -- still doubtful that the demon had actually been banished from the potentially homicidal Annabelle -- suggested they remove the doll from the home. Donna, eager to be rid of the nightmarish entity, readily consented to their request.
Ed then cautiously picked up the hateful doll and handed it to Lorraine, whereupon Father Cooke (who was evidently not completely convinced of the exorcism’s effectiveness either) warned Ed not to drive home on the interstate, lest the inhuman entity managed to linger within the doll and tried to influence the car.
Lorraine then placed the doll into the backseat of his car, buckled up, Ed started the engine and -- in what must have been one of the most stressful late night drives in human history -- they began their lengthy journey home. Ed took the priest’s advice and stuck to the winding back roads, where few other drivers would be jeopardized by their diabolical passenger… it would turn out to be a wise decision.
According to the Warrens, whenever they approached a sharp curve, their vehicle would inevitably stall, causing the brakes and power steering to fail simultaneously and sending them perilously close to driving off the road. They also had more than one near collision with a passing car. Finally Ed had had enough and he reached into his black bag, removed a vile of holy water and doused the rag doll with the sign of the cross. The doll would behave normally for the rest of the ride.
Once home, Ed (inexplicably) placed the doll into a chair adjacent to his desk. He reported that the doll levitated on more than one occasion, then seemed to fall in an lifeless state. This hiatus lasted only a few weeks and before long, Annabelle was up to her old tricks.
The Warrens claimed that they had locked Annabelle in the outer office building before setting out on a trip, but when they returned home and opened the front door they discovered that the doll was facing them, perched contentedly on Ed’s easy chair, as if mocking their efforts to contain it.
The doll would also, much like in her previous home, randomly appear in different rooms of the house, startling the Warrens.
Finally the Warrens had enough of Annabelle’s unnatural antics and they decided to bring in the big guns; a Catholic priest and exorcist by the name of Father Jason Bradford. By all accounts, Father Bradford did not take to kindly to being called in to deal with this alleged “devil doll.”
According to reports of the encounter, Father Bradford brashly approached the then inert doll and ripped it up from its seat, screaming: “Your just a rag doll Annabelle, you can't hurt anyone!" At which point he threw the doll back down on the chair. Ed blanched at his vitriolic demeanor and stated: “That's one thing you better not say."
Lorraine was also disturbed by Father Bradford’s dismissive behavior and begged the priest to be careful while driving and to call her when he got back to the rectory. The call did not come until late in the evening when the shaken priest told Lorraine that his brakes had given out just as he had approached a hectic intersection. His car was demolished and he and the others involved barely survived the accident.
It was then that the Warrens decided that Annabelle was simply too dangerous to be exposed to the world, so they had a specially sealed case built for the doll -- a sort of glass coffin -- plastered with a sign which read: “WARNING, POSITIVELY DO NOT OPEN.”
The case, which the demon doll inhabits to this day, was placed in a room full of supposedly cursed objects that the Warrens had taken out of circulation and the door was locked.
Eventually, the Warrens turned their terrifying collection into an “Occult Museum,” which is open to the public. The now incarcerated Annabelle seems to be unable to move, but that does not mean that her nefarious powers have diminished.
Arguably the most disturbing tale associated with this malicious rag doll involves a young couple who were touring the museum with Ed as a guide. After Ed had explained the background story of Annabelle, the young man -- full of the hubris of youth and no doubt trying to impress his innamorata -- pounded on the glass case and challenged the doll to rise up and scratch him.
Ed wasted no time escorting the couple out of the museum stating: "son you need to leave." Ed watched as the couple drove off on the young beau’s motorcycle and was, sadly, one of the last people to ever seem him alive.
According to his girlfriend, just after they left the museum, they were laughing about the silly stories surrounding the doll when the man abruptly lost control of his motorcycle and crashed into a tree. He was killed instantly and his girlfriend required over a year of hospitalization. While many skeptics would insist that this was nothing more than a sorrowful coincidence, the Warrens were convinced that they had incurred the wrath of Annabelle.
Ed Warren passed away in 2006, and Lorraine, now in her eighties, remains a thoroughly dedicated paranormal investigator. She claims that while Annabelle has not been able to break out from her case, she still manages to shift positions and, on occasion, has even been known to growl at unwary and no doubt terrified visitors.
There’s so much to consider in terms of the legitimacy of this case…
Are we talking about genuine demonic possession or diabolical manipulation? A misunderstood haunting? A bizarre series of events embellished by media darling demonologists? Or one of the most elaborate paranormal hoaxes ever pulled off; resulting in a legend of a possessed doll so terrifying that it makes Chucky from "Child's Play" look like a Cabbage Patch kid?
The truth, such as it is, remains buried in the memories of just a handful of individuals and is likely never to see the light of day. And while I remain skeptical about this (and most) possession cases, I feel obliged to admit that if I am ever invited to peruse the shelves of the Warren’s Occult Museum and come face to face with Annabelle. I will graciously offer said invitee the chance to “piss off.”
Because no matter how rational I may be sitting in front of this keyboard with the sunlight pouring over my shoulders and a cold brew mere inches from my hand, in my heart of hearts I know that dolls are pure, unrefined, one-hundred percent evil... and no once can convince me otherwise.
And, putting all rationality aside, I shudder to think that the Warrens actually were right and Annabelle (or whatever is inside if her) might just be biding her time, waiting for her caretaker to expire, so that it can be unleashed by less responsible hands onto an unsuspecting world...
In the meantime, I might never go into a toy store again.