Annabelle is a porcelain doll, possessed by an evil spirit, who wreaks havoc when people's backs are turned. She's the star of her own series of films, popular entries in the 'creepy doll' genre. Now... meet the real life Annabelle.
The Set Up
Ed Warren was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1926. The son of a policeman, his upbringing was comfortably middle class, unremarkable in every respect.
But then, sometime around his twelfth birthday, Ed Warren had his first supernatural experience:
'I'd see a light beginning to form, and it would morph into like a ball shape, like a basketball.
In the ball shape was a face. The face of an old woman, and she was not looking at all pleasant. The ball would then come into my bedroom, accompanied by heavy footsteps and audible breathing.
The room would become icy cold. An unnatural cold.'
-Ed Warren, description in his biography
Ed was otherwise a knockabout kid; restless, gregarious, lacking in ambition. Leaving school at 16 he took a job at the local cinema, which is where he met Lorraine Moran.
Lorraine would come to the cinema every Wednesday night, to catch whatever was playing. Friendly and charming, she quickly caught Ed's eye. The two outgoing teenagers became friends, and later started dating.
In 1943, at the height of World War II, Ed left the cinema to join the Navy, keen to do his duty. Lorraine promised to wait for him. The couple were subsequently married when Ed had shore leave, in 1944.
After the War, the young newlyweds lived an almost itinerant lifestyle. Ed, a talented painter, enrolled in art college, but found he still had little taste for formal education. After he dropped out they moved around, working odd jobs, living out of Ed's 1933 Chevy Eagle.
Travelling the countryside, the Warren's found they had something unexpected in common; Ed shared his supernatural experience from his childhood, while Lorraine explained that she had inherited some clairvoyant abilities from her mother. These experiences had left them both fascinated with ghost stories, demonology, and the the spirit world.
And so, as they roamed about they began taking in well known supernatural sites; haunted houses primarily. Firstly out of simple curiosity, but then in a more deliberate fashion; asking questions, taking notes, snapping photographs. In their free time they read as much supernatural literature as they could get their hands on.
The Warrens had stumbled onto their life's work. In 1952, they founded the 'The New England Society for Psychic Research.'
In 1970, a young Connecticut mother bought a 'Raggedy-Ann' style doll as a gift for her daughter.
After receiving it, the daughter, Donna, took the doll back to a flat she shared with her friend, Angie. Within days, the two women began noticing odd things happening.
The doll seemed to, somehow, change position when they weren't looking at. At first this was confined to the position of its arms, or head, but later it seemed to be able to move from room to room. If Donna left the doll in her bedroom in the morning, when she returned in the evening she might find it in the lounge room.
Creepier still, were the messages.
These began to appear after a month, dropped in random spots around the apartment. 'Help us,' said one. And, 'Help Lou' another. The messages were scrawled in a simple, childlike hand, on screwed up pieces of paper.
Things escalated further.
Donna returned to the apartment one day to find the doll on her bed, oozing a red, viscous substance from its hands. A friend, curiously also named Lou, who stayed on the couch reported that the doll attacked him, climbing up his leg and trying to strangle him (although later he would say this may have been a dream, after all).
It was time to get help.
Donna called in a local psychic who examined the doll, and conducted a seance in the apartment. The psychic was able to contact a spirit, named Annabelle, who claimed to have been murdered on the apartment building's location, many years before it was built. Her restless spirit had taken up residence in the doll, as a means for her to interact with the world of the living.
Alarmed, Donna contacted her local priest, to see if he could help her remove this presence from the apartment. The priest, Father Cooke, referred the case to the Warrens.
Ed and Lorraine duly came to the apartment to investigate. They concluded that the doll itself was not possessed, and that the 'Annabelle' story was false.
Rather, they determined that an evil spirit had fixated on Donna and was controlling the doll, externally, using it to communicate and interact with her. The spirit's ultimate objective was to possess Donna herself, enabling it to live again.
The Warren's arranged for an Episcopalian exorcism to be conducted at the apartment. This extensive cleansing ritual, lasting several hours, was designed to promote positive energy, and so expel any evil presence.
At the conclusion of the exorcism, the Warren's declared the apartment cleansed. For good measure, they took the Raggedy-Ann doll, now known as 'Annabelle', with them.
So what really happened?
The story recounted in the previous section is largely taken from the Warren's own website. And it has been retold, in different versions, in a variety of publications since the 1970's.
Most often, these articles depict the events as a 'true story', based on eyewitness testimony. And the popularity of the movies has raised interest in the film's real life backstory.
But while the Warrens claim the story is true, it is worth noting there is no evidence that any element of the story actually occurred.
The full names of Donna and Angie, and Donna's mother, have never been revealed by the Warrens. Similarly, the location of the apartment where the possession manifested itself, or the shop where the doll was bought, have never been disclosed.
The case has been investigated by sceptics, and most objective observers think the Warren's simply made the whole story up.
The Warren's continued to investigate paranormal events through the next three decades. Among their other well known cases was the 'Amityville Horror', a haunted house in Long Island that would also later serve as the basis for a horror film franchise (and which the Warrens were also accused of helping to fabricate).
As their collection of photos and artefacts grew, the Warren's would eventually open an 'Occult Museum'. They spent their later years leading tours, and showing their prize exhibits to curious visitors.
Kept in a custom built box, in the middle of the museum, fortified with prayer scrolls and other psychic defences, was the original Annabelle doll.
A sign on the front read, 'POSITIVELY DO NOT OPEN.'