Arne Johnson: The Devil Made Me Do It
The murder that inspired The Conjuring III.
Sketch of Arne Johnson via UVA School of Law Archives
The town of Brookfield, Connecticut, sits close to the New York state border, around an hour’s drive from Hartford. Despite the University of Connecticut’s population projections, the town grew faster than anticipated, and by the early 1980s, nearly 13,000 people were living in the area.
One of these was 19-year-old Arne Cheyenne Johnson, who tried to convince a jury that the Devil made him do it when he killed Alan Bono.
Debbie Glatzel and Arne met in a supermarket in Bridgeport when he was 12, and she was 19. When Arne was 16, he asked Debbie on a date, and they soon fell in love and were engaged to be married.
In July 1980, Debbie’s family had inherited a property that was in disrepair, but their plan was to move into it. Knowing it would take a while to clean up, even her little brother David was asked to get involved but he refused.
He claimed a man with dark eyes had physically pushed him and taunted him.
11-year-old David started to have night terrors and would wake up crying and shaking, telling whoever had come to aid him that the “man with the big black eyes, a thin face with animal features and jagged teeth, pointed ears, horns and hooves” was after him. These weren’t normal dreams; the family was convinced that David was possessed.
A priest from the local church was brought in to bless the property and David, but this did nothing to stop the terrors the child was experiencing and instead, the family took it in turns to sit with the little boy and comfort him when he awoke from his nightmares throughout the night.
Arne and Debbie helped out with David as much as possible, protecting him as he slept, but they needed to move out of the house. So instead, they rented a property owned by Debbie’s boss at the dog kennels she worked to pay the bills. Arne found employment as a tree surgeon.
David’s behaviour became more erratic, and throughout the day, the boy would hiss and speak in odd voices, meanwhile quoting books and scripture he didn’t know. He claimed the Beast Man was appearing during the day now, and not just the night.
Debbie and her mother claimed that they’d seen him being choked and beaten by “invisible hands”, and more recently, David had gained 60 lbs in a short time. The family was at a loss as to what they could do next.
Ed and Lorraine Warren were eventually brought in after reviewing the case. The couple lived in the same state and had begun to gain infamy from their involvement in the Amityville house, and they’d not taken on another large case since the haunting of the house in Enfield, England.
Though the pair had been on television and given countless guest lectures, they never took money from their clients, and they helped as many people as they could.
When the couple met David and his family, they saw a misty form appear next to him. The Warrens knew that David was possessed. Simultaneously, the Glatzels sought help from a psychiatrist, who told them David was normal but had a ‘minimal learning disability’.
The Warrens told police, “Brookfield priests called in the diocese after they heard the 11-year-old’s story that he had recently entered a Newtown house, sat on a waterbed and was suddenly confronted by an elderly man with hooves, whose image was soon joined by men in grotesque costumes”.
In October 1980, David was given three “lesser” exorcisms, which priests oversaw. The Warrens were sure that David had dozens of demons inside him, and according to Lorraine, David levitated during one of the events.
“We know there were 43 demons in the boy. We demanded names, and David gave us 43”, claimed Ed Warren.
The transfer of demons
During one of the exorcisms, Arne goaded one of the demons to possess him instead of 11-year-old David. He cried, “take me on, leave my little buddy alone”. Arne later claimed that the demon took control of his car while driving and crashed it into a tree.
After the accident, unhurt from the crash, he visited the well where the demon supposedly lived, and he recalled that this was the last “lucid” moments he had before the murder. Ed and Lorraine contacted the local police department to tell them what had happened to Arne and to inform them that the situations the Glatzels and Arne found themselves in were becoming unsafe.
“We tried to warn Arne,” said Lorraine Warren back in 1981. “But he just wouldn’t listen.”
It wouldn’t be until the following year when whatever was inside Arne would manifest.
The Devil made me do it
On the 16th of February, Arne called into work sick. Instead of staying at home, he went to join Debbie at work. When he arrived, Debbie’s sister Wanda and her cousin Mary were already at the kennels, helping out around the business.
Later that day, Debbie’s boss and landlord, Alan Bono, took them all out for lunch at a bar. While in Mug ’N’ Munch, Alan drunk a lot of red wine. “Next Saturday”, Wanda recalled, “he was going to give up drinking next Saturday”.
When they all arrived back at their apartment, Debbie went to buy him pizza to sober him up. On her return, Arne was already fixing a stereo for the inebriated Alan. When she suggested he be left alone, Alan refused and grabbed her cousin Mary. Arne squared up to Alan, and in anticipation of a fight, Debbie put herself between the two men, but it was no use.
“All of a sudden, it just broke,” said Wanda. “I can’t explain it. It just broke, that’s all. He was like a stone,” she said. “I couldn’t budge him.”
Growling like some sort of animal, Arne removed a 5-inch pocket knife and began to stab Alan. The wounds were so brutal that one ran from Alan’s stomach to his heart. The 40-year-old died a few hours later. Alan Bono’s murder would be the first homicide in Brookfield in 193 years.
Arne walked away from the scene and was found two miles down the road by police. He was taken to the Bridgeport Correctional Center and held under a $125,000 bail (around $377,000 today).
19-year-old Arne was charged with the murder of his landlord, Alan Bono, and went to trial on the 28th of October 1981. The media picked up the story almost immediately and was egged on by Ed and Lorraine Warren, whose involvement in the case saw them book further lectures, book deals and television and movie appearances.
The trial was held at Connecticut’s Superior Court in Danbury, and Arne’s lawyer, Martin Minnella’s tactic was to plead ‘not guilty by virtue of possession’. Minnella had visited England where he spoke to lawyers who’d helped in similar cases that hadn’t gone as far as Arne’s, but they suggested that Minnella try the ‘not guilty’ plea.
“Everyone is interested in this case,” said Minnella. “Everyone. We got calls from Australia, from Switzerland, from England, everywhere.”
Local hotels were fully booked, and the courtroom that held just 70 standing people was likely not going to be big enough for the case now known as “The Demon Murder Trial”. In fact, the victim had been wholly forgotten during the publicity of the upcoming case. However, in the end, that line wasn’t going to work in the God-fearing community.
The judge, Robert Callahan, rejected Minnella’s plea and said that virtue of possession could never exist in a court of law. Instead, Minnella chose to tell the jury that Arne acted in self-defence against Alan Bono.
“I’m very confident,” said Minella. “I could put the pope on [the stand] and he’d tell you that if a guy is demonically possessed, he is not responsible.”
On the 24th of November, after 15 hours, the jury came back into court with a conviction of first-degree manslaughter. Arne was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison and he was taken away.
Release and aftermath
Arne only served five years behind bars, and was released early, ″He was an exemplary inmate,″ Chief of parole, Hans Fjelman said at the time. ″His mental condition was carefully examined. They found no negative factors.″
Arne was released onto a programme that kept him under supervision for several years, but he was offered a job upon his release. During his time in prison, Arne gained his high school diploma and married Debbie Glatzel. The pair remain together and have two children.
So, what happened for Arne to commit such a crime? The Warrens stuck to their story.
″Possession doesn’t last 24 hours a day,″ Ed Warren said at the time. ″It comes quickly and leaves quickly. Arne understands what happened to him. He now knows if something happens how to ward it off and he won’t be stupid enough to take on the devil again.″
Lorraine went on to publish a book, alongside Gerald Brittle, named The Devil in Connecticut. The profits from the book sales were shared with the Glatzel family, though David and his brother sued the Warrens in 2006 and went through a lengthy court battle.
The family claimed that the children were forced to drop out of school and were put through ‘intentional affliction of emotional distress’. They also said that David had a mental illness and not demonic possession, as the Warrens and the six priests in attendance of the exorcisms claimed.
“Put simply, they robbed us of our childhood and our education, something we can never get back. It’s not a matter of vengeance, but justice, and I think it’s important that people know the truth. If we can show that to them, it may save others the grief and hardship we faced. Nobody should have to go through what we did.”
Little is known about what happened to the Glatzels and Arne, who is now in his late ’50s. According to IMDB, none of the family members are credited as consultants on the newest chapter of The Conjuring films.
“If you believe in God, you’ve gotta believe in the devil,” recalled Minnella in 2014, “and what I saw in Arne as a young guy has profoundly affected me the rest of my life.”
So, do you think Arne Johnson knew what he was doing when he stabbed Alan Bono in the chest multiple times, or did the Devil really make him do it?
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