Annabelle the Doll: The True Story Behind the Movie

"Positively Do Not Open": The warning to those who visit the Warren's Occult Museum, the current home of Annabelle the doll.

The year was 1970. For her 25th birthday, Deidre Bernard received what, at the time, would have appeared a quirky and fun present – a Raggedy Ann doll. Her mother had given it to her in the hope that it would bring cheer to her daughter’s apartment whilst she was studying to become a nurse. The gift was well-received. The following morning Deidre placed the doll on her bed, with its arms and legs stretched out.

The doll’s behaviour troubles Deidre

After just a few days of this new routine, Deidre started to notice something peculiar: every morning she would leave her Raggedy Ann doll seated with limbs stretched out, yet, every night she would return to find the doll’s arms and legs in different positions. Sometimes the doll’s legs would be crossed. Occasionally its arms would crossed and resting in its lap. Then, there were the times when Deidre would find the doll’s arms pointing outwards, almost as though it was silently gesturing to something…

The doll’s activity grew odder still. It began to move to different rooms of its own accord. It was at this point that everyone in the apartment began to feel the eerie effect of the Raggedy Ann doll. One night Deidre returned home with her roommate Lara Clifton, also a trainee nurse, and her fiance Cal Randell. Upon opening the door, they found the doll kneeling before them on a chair. It sat there, staring at them with its big, black eyes. Despite having been left, as usual, on Deidre’s bed, the doll had moved.

Bothered by the doll’s inexplicable relocation, they moved the doll and tried to make it kneel again. However, as the rag doll had no joints with which to kneel, each time they positioned it, it flopped over. The only conclusion they could draw was that some force had been keeping the limp legs of the doll in the kneeling position.

Raggedy Ann is a character created by American children’s writer Johnny Gruelle (1880–1938). Having now been in production for over 100 years, the dolls were originally made by hand.

The doll leaves written messages

From then, the occurrences grew stranger still. Notes, written in pencil on parchment paper, began to manifest randomly around the apartment. The messages included phrases like “help us” or “help Cal”. Strangely, neither Deidre or her roommates could link these messages to an emergency or urgent situation to attend to at the time. Not only that, none of them kept pencils or parchment paper anywhere in the apartment.

Assuming that someone was breaking into their home to play a trick on them, Deidre and Lara began leaving marks around windows and doors. They also rearranged furnishings, all in the hope that, if anyone did enter the apartment, they would leave a trace. All was to no avail.

The doll continued to teleport from room to room and change its posture frequently One day, they arrived home to find the back of the doll’s hand covered in something which they could only discern as blood. Its hands were bloody, with three distinct spots of blood on its chest. Understandably, the young women were terrified.

Help is sought

In need of resolution, Deidre and Lara contacted a psychic medium for help.

The young women are said to have contacted a clairvoyant for help.

The clairvoyant claimed to have channeled the spirit of a seven-year-old girl from the doll.

It was said that she used to play in the area, long before the houses were built, back when all that was there were fields. Many happy hours were passed in childish innocence until, all of a sudden, it mysteriously came to an end. Since her death, the child spirit had wandered the fields. Once the apartments were built upon them, its halls became a lonely place for her to haunt. The pace of modern life meant everyone was at work all the time, leaving the spectral girl with no one to play with. But then, one day, two young women moved in and brought with them a playful looking Raggedy Ann doll. Finally she had something to play with, and more so, young people who would be more sympathetic and allow her to play with them.

Through the vessel of the psychic medium, the spirit girl asked if she could live in the doll and be with Deidre and Lara. Touched by her story, the two women said yes to the little girl, whose name was Annabelle Higgins.

The doll is named Annabelle

That was when the haunting truly began. The doll became Annabelle, and the two young women started to treat it like a living, breathing being. It was no longer a doll, but Annabelle – a young and lonely girl. Regardless of the nurses’ compassion, Cal, Lara’s fiance, was convinced that no good would come from this. He saw it as a voodoo doll of sorts, whose ambition was to trick and take advantage of them.

Annabelle saw that he was a threat, and so she turned her malevolent gaze upon him. In the weeks that followed, Cal was plagued with nightmares and ill feelings. One night he awoke to see the doll Annabelle gliding over his semi-conscious body. Before he could react, its hands were around his neck. The doll’s big, black eyes stared into his, as its grasp sought to sap the life from Cal’s body. As hard as he pushed against Annabelle, the doll would not move – it was as if he were pushing a wall.

After much effort, Cal managed to free himself.

However, Annabelle would not forget his insult so easily. Soon after that incident, Cal was alone with Lara one night in the apartment. After hearing a noise coming from Deidre’s bedroom, Cal went to investigate the source of the sound. There was nobody in there, except for Annabelle, which had been tossed on the floor in the corner of the room. Alone, he walked over to the doll. It was then that he claimed he was physically attacked: doubling over in pain, Cal felt the searing sensation of seven “claw” marks being etched into his chest. When Lara found him, there was blood “all over his shirt”.

By now, it was becoming increasingly clear that Annabelle’s attacks were escalating, and that all of their lives were in danger.

Deidre, Lara and Cal contacted their local priest. He in turn contacted his superiors, who passed on the story of Annabelle to the paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.

Ed and Lorraine Warren investigate Annabelle

Ed and Lorraine Warren.

Upon arriving at their apartment and listening to their testimonies, the Warrens diagnosed the happenings as the result of demonic infestation.

There had never been an Annabelle; instead, it was all the trick of a demonic, “inhuman spirit” delivered through the mouth of an unsuspecting medium. As Deidre and Lara had agreed to let the entity possess the doll, it had received the permission required to be able to inflict harm. The Warrens further stated that if the situation had continued unchecked, the demonic entity would have probably killed them all within a “week or two”. Thus, Ed contacted the priest and requested an exorcism of the apartment. The priest duly exorcised and blessed the apartment and its residents.

At Deidre’s request, the Warrens took the doll home with them. Whilst Deidre, Lara and Cal were now free of the malevolent entity, for Ed and Lorraine it was only the beginning.

Annabelle was placed in the back seat of the car. Within no time at all, the Warrens felt the presence of the demonic spirit in the car with them. Angry, it plagued the car, making it stall and causing the power steering and brakes to fail. At times, Ed claimed he lost all control of the car. Several times during the drive, they came close to a fatal accident. The third time that the car stalled, Ed pulled out a vial of holy water from his equipment bag and splashed the demonic doll with it. For the rest of the car journey home, the demonic spirit did not bother them.

Annabelle continues to cause problems

Once home, Ed placed Annabelle in a chair next to his desk. The Warrens have stated that over the next few days, the doll levitated and teleported between different rooms of the house. Not only that, one time whilst home alone, Lorraine reported hearing “loud, rolling growls that reverberated throughout the house”.

On one occasion, a priest visited to talk with the Warrens about their recent case involving Annabelle. During the discourse, the priest picked up the doll and said:

“You are just a rag doll, Annabelle. You can’t hurt anything.”

With a laugh, Ed warned him not to say such a thing again. When it was time for the priest to leave, Lorraine took special care to tell him to drive carefully. She claimed that her clairvoyance had “discerned tragedy for that young priest.”

A few hours later the priest’s car was totaled in a near fatal car accident after his brakes had failed.

In the years that followed, more incidences of paranormal phenomena were said to have occurred around Annabelle, including at least one death. The situation became so dangerous that Ed and Lorraine had Annabelle encased in a glass box, with the warning:

“Positively do not open.”1

Critical analysis of the Annabelle story

Directed by John R. Leonetti, Annabelle (2014) is a prequel to 2013’s The Conjuring and the second film in The Conjuring franchise.

Such is the tale of Annabelle the doll. This is the story that has been recounted by various writers, most notably Gerald Brittle, who based his book on the Warren’s own case files and exclusive interviews with the husband and wife duo. In the years that have followed, the tale, despite its almost fantastical elements, has been presented as unquestionably true. In 2014, these allegedly true events inspired the prequel to the much-beloved Conjuring horror movie.

However, the actual evidence for Annabelle the doll being infested by an inhuman demonic spirit is scant.

Beyond the testimonies of the Warrens and a Raggedy Ann doll locked away with a warning written in scary font, there is little to prove the truth of the story. Certainly, even confirming the names of those involved is a difficult task. Depending on where one looks, Deidre changes into both “Donna” and “Debbie”.

What did the Warrens investigate?

Asides from these inconsistencies, the Warrens initial handling of the cases raises alarm bells. When they first met with Deidre and the others, little or no evidence was collected. Their testimonies were taken at face value, meaning that demonic infestation was the first, and only, conclusion to be drawn. Of course, one can argue that Lorraine’s clairvoyance allowed her to confirm what they said. But, is this really enough to convince skeptics?

Whilst Deidre, Lara and Cal can be said to have had no motive to lie, misinterpretation or misremembering were never consider a possibility by the Warrens. As for the spiritual relief felt after the priest exorcised the apartment, this could be attributed to the natural positive effect – regardless of the situation – of a priest’s presence to the religious.

Can Ed and Lorraine Warren be trusted?

With such a shaky base, the most cynically minded might even question the very existence of Deidre, Lara and Cal in the first place. Certainly, it is not necessarily a wise policy to automatic trust the word of the Warrens.

Lorraine photographed holding Annabelle, the alleged vessel of the inhuman demonic spirit.

Ed and Lorraine Warren have always been regarded as sincere and kind-hearted people. However, since founding the New England Society for Psychic Research in 1952, their work has attracted much criticism and controversy. Indeed, they profited greatly from book sales, ticket-only evening events, tickets sales to their exclusive museum, and $5,000 lectures they conducted in the 1990s. 2

All this being said, it is unfair to deny the couple an income. After all, Ed and Lorraine dedicated much time to their paranormal research – it would have been impossible for them to have explored all the cases they did had they not treated it as a job. Even to this day, at the age of 90, Lorraine is still active, hosting the occasional lecture and evening event. Providing that the Warrens were honest and professional in their research and fair in their fees, it is unreasonable to criticise them for making a living.

Yet, it is precisely the matter of honesty and professionalism which has aroused the suspicions of some who have encountered the Warrens.

Ed and Lorraine Warren’s Occult Museum

The Warrens’ Occult Museum is claimed to be the “oldest and only museum of its kind”. It has attracted attention from across the globe. Undoubtedly, it is the jewel in the crown of the Warrens work. Annabelle is housed in this museum. During an interview sometime before Ed passed away in 2006, Ed and Lorraine showed many of the items in their collection to an interviewer. One of the objects discussed was an alleged original “Books of Shadows”, the Necronomicon (start clip at 7:40).

In spite of Ed’s assertion that the Necronomicon book contains English translations of old and dangerous incantations, it is widely known to be a fictional grimoire published by an unknown author in 1977.3 In the years afterwards, it was independently denounced as fraudulent by many members of the occult community. 4 By stitching together fiction with material from older sources, the book is “a well-constructed hoax”5, being known to have duped several wannabe paranormal practitioners, including, it seems, the Warrens.

Not only is the Necronomicon a literary hoax, but the claim that it is a Book of Shadows is misleading. Rather than be a collection of ancient and dangerous spells and rituals, Books of Shadows are associated with the Neopaganism movement of the 1940s and 50s. They usually contain religious texts and white magic.

For someone who made a career off paranormal research, investigations and knowledge of the occult, it seems like quite a rookie mistake for Ed to have made. As such, some have drawn the conclusion that the “Necronomicon” “Book of Shadows”, and many of the other items in the Warrens’ Occult Museum, are merely the stuff of Halloween horror stories – juicy morsels of sensational horror which serve the purpose of drawing in visitors to their museum.

Annabelle the doll, an item in that museum, could very well serve this same purpose.

Yet, as serious a folly as it might seem for a pair of paranormal experts to present a well-known hoax as real, let us not judge too harshly. After all, every now and again everyone makes mistakes: human errors should not be what defines our intellect or our ability to scrutinise. Perhaps it is more prudent, then, to investigate the ethics of the Warrens. It is here, however, that possibly the most damning piece of evidence against Ed and Lorraine can be found.

“The Haunting in Connecticut”: based on a true story?

In 1992 novelist Ray Garton published the book, “In a Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting”. The focus of the story, a possession case involving the Warrens, eventually inspired the 2009 horror film “The Haunting in Connecticut”.

The story told of the Snedekers, a family whose home was possessed by ghosts and demons. According to the book, the grip which these dark entities had on the family was so strong that the family were sexually molested by the beings.

The author’s confession

Ray Garton is an American author, well known for his work in horror fiction. To date he has written over sixty books. (Image source)

The extent of the “truth” behind this “true” story is questionable. Much of the evidence against the Warrens comes from the author himself.

During an interview for Horror Bound magazine, Garton explained how he worked closely with both the Warrens and the family whilst writing the book. However, after interviewing the family members about their experiences, the novelist encountered a problem:

“I found that the accounts of the individual Snedekers didn’t quite mesh. They couldn’t keep their stories straight. I went to Ed with this problem. ‘Oh, they’re crazy,’ he said…. ‘You’ve got some of the story — just use what works and make the rest up… Just make it up and make it scary.'”6

In the interview, Garton admitted that he did what Ed told him.

“I used what I could, made up the rest, and tried to make it as scary as I could.”7

Perhaps it is all slander. Either way, the claims of Garton and other instances of doubt, do tarnish the trustworthiness of the Warrens’ word. And, unfortunately, in the case of Annabelle, the Warrens’ word is all we have.

As such, the case of Annabelle the doll can only be regarded as, at best, dubious.

DISCLAIMER:

This account of the origin of Annabelle the doll relies heavily on the work of Gerald Brittle, the author of the 1980 book The Demonologist (buy the book here), in which the career of the paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren was documented using the Warren’s own case files and exclusive interviews with the author. In its aftermath, it appears that the names associated with the Annabelle the doll case were changed or confused. Thus, in the interest of accuracy, we will be using what are claimed to be the real names of those involved, as used by Brittle in the 2013 edition of his book.

For clarification, Deidre Bernard is popularly referred to as “Donna” or “Debbie”, Lara Clifton as “Angie”, and Cal Randell as “Lou”.

Further reading:

About Erik 11 Articles
A life-long dabbler in the paranormal, Erik researches other-worldly phenomena to sate his curiosity. More of a believer than Laura, he is of the opinion that only through science can the reality of the paranormal be confirmed. Some of Erik's main interests are demonic possession, occult groups and the possibility of parallel dimensions.