Hauntings, Hoaxes, and the Dubious Legacy of Ed and Lorraine Warren

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Lorraine Warren has passed away at the age of 92. Half of the husband and wife paranormal research team made famous by the Amityville haunting of the 1970's, their reputation for exorcising evil spirits was exceeded only by their relentless self promotion. I've always been told not to speak ill of the dead but, in the case of the Warrens to heap praise in the wake of Lorraine's passing would be irresponsible. The Warrens’ legacy is one of notoriety and controversy and with the continuing success of The Conjuring “universe” of films, it warrants some consideration in the wake of her passing.

Ed and Lorraine Warren were self professed and largely self taught demonologists and paranormal investigators. A deeply religious pair, Lorraine was also a self professed clairvoyant and light trance medium. Beginning in 1952 the couple claimed to have investigated more than 10,000 incidents of paranormal and demonic activity largely in Connecticut and the New England area. From their involvements at the Amityville house and the now famous Raggedy Ann doll Annabelle to a number of lesser known cases. You would think that one duo so prolific might have found some definitive evidence over their 50 plus year career.

Spoiler alert: they didn’t.

The Warrens amassed a collection of “haunted” objects which they stored in a museum at the back of their home. While they had any number of anecdotal tales about the demons they had rested from these cursed objects, there was no evidence other than their own word for any of it. This is the problem with the couple’s entire career in paranormal investigation. Entering into case after case with preconceived notions of what they’d find based largely off of their own personal faith, the evidence they collected was almost exclusively word of mouth. It’s very much like the way a campfire ghost story is told. A mundane object or locale is filled with vague, unverifiable details which is a quintessential part to any campfire tale and that is, in reality, all that the Warrens ever created.

The greatest legacy of Ed and Lorraine Warren comes not from their “research” into the occult or paranormal but rather the influence they’ve had on pop culture and horror cinema. Numerous films, documentaries, reality shows, and stories have relied heavily on “true events” from the reports that the Warrens and their proteges made over the years. Characters like Tangina in Poltergeist or Louis and Claire Berger from the WNUF Halloween Special are obvious homages to the Warrens as are countless other characters in fiction. Then, of course, there’s The Conjuring universe and The Amityville Horror franchise. There’s no denying that the allegations of the paranormal made by the Warrens through the years have influenced horror as a genre as well as our perceptions of the unexplained.

However, to sum up the life of Lorraine Warren and her husband Ed, I think no one did it quite as well as author Ray Garton. “If she [Lorraine] told me the sun would come up tomorrow morning, I’d get a second opinion.”

I’m not trying to run down Ed and Lorraine Warren now that they are both passed. In fact, I’ve said many of these things over the years with each new book or movie inspired by the “true events” of the pair. It’s important to note that, whether or not they truly encountered and did battle with the paranormal and the spiritual forces of evil they created a discussion on the topic that entered into the mainstream in the 1970’s after their involvement with the Amityville incident and has remained in the mainstream in one way or another ever since.

In my opinion, Ed and Lorraine Warren were religious zealots who felt that they had been given a task from God. They used this to justify exaggerations of accounts and to outright lie about incidents if they thought that their tales of supernatural combat would convert others to their personal faith. Moreover, they were skilled self promoters and marketers who found a way to use these stories as well as their exploitation of others for personal and financial gain.

So, with the passing of Lorraine Warren we have to ask ourselves a fundamental question about her legacy: do the ends justify the means? Shoddy, unscientific examination of paranormal phenomenon, exploitative appropriation of other people’s tragic stories, and refusing to entertain any notion that the strange and otherwise unexplained events could have real world, logical explanations without a divine or demonic influence are the largest part of that legacy.

For family, friends, and fans of the Warrens, Lorraine’s passing marks the end of an era and is a personal tragedy for which I am deeply and truly sorry.

For the rest of us, it leaves behind an unverifiable body of work and a series of events and tales that will forever remain shrouded in questions.

Ed and Lorraine Warren: Demonologists. Raconteurs. Charlatans?

Dan is an author, editorialist, podcaster, and horror culture & lifestyle correspondent from the Southeast. You can find Dan's stories at Danno of the Dead Blog and through PDI Press.

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