Demonizing in Connecticut

March 27, 2009

The Hallahan House, Southington, Connecticut where demonic events allegedly occurred. Watercolor by Joe Nickell.

They’re ba-a-ack! Those demons that plagued the Lutz family in the 1979 movie The Amityville Horror are again loo­sed in the March 2009 movie   The Haunting in Connecticut , “Based on true events.” Sure, sure.

The fact is, I investigated that case years ago, with revealing results. In 1986 the Allen and Carmen Snedeker family had moved into the Hallahan House, a former funeral home in Southington, Connecticut. The place captured everyone’s imagination. Soon Philip the oldest boy, began to see ghosts; a niece claimed she was fondled in bed by an unseen hand; and Carmen and Allen Snedeker even reported experiencing demonic sexual attacks.

Enter the notorious Warrens, “demonologist” Ed and his “clairvoyant” wife Lorraine. Although some saw them as sincere, religious people, others called them “charlatans” and “scaremongers” for their   modus operandi : with fanfare they would arrive at a “haunted” house (whose residents were typically fellow Catholics), soon transform it into a “demonic” one, and secure a lucrative book deal.

I appeared with Carmen Snedeker on   The Maury Povich Show and later with the Snedekers and Warrens on   Sally Jessy Raphael (the latter taped for broadcast just before Halloween 1992). There I took the measure of a blustering, would-be bullying, demon-huckstering Ed Warren. Skeptical neighbors were also on the show, notably Kathy Altemus, an across-the-street neighbor of the Snedekers who had been keeping a journal of events relating to the “haunting.” Later she generously shared her journal with me and invited me to Southington in June 1993.

As it happened, the neighbors had good reason to be skeptical. Some of the “haunting” claims (e.g., the sound of a clanking chain, presumably from the old coffin lift in the basement) were explained by Mrs. Altemus’ journal (which tied the claim to a passing truck that sounded like it was “dragging a chain”). Other revealing information came to light, much of it concerning Philip’s drug use and other misbehavior. Philip was actually caught fondling his nieces while they slept, a fact he confessed to police. He was subsequently diagnosed as schizophrenic.

The Snedekers’ landlady, who evicted them for nonpayment of rent, found the ghost/demon claims “ridiculous.” Her husband said, “It’s a fraud. It’s a joke. It’s a hoax. It’s Halloween.” He concluded, “It’s a scheme to make money.” Subsequent developments support that conclusion. Some of the Warrens’ co-authors have reportedly since admitted that Ed told them to make up incidents and generally create “scary” tales. Ray Garton, who wrote the Halloween-released book on which the movie is based,   The Haunting in Connecticut (1992), has effectively repudiated it, saying he is glad it went out of print, and adding, “[I]t’s hard writing a non-fiction book when all the people involved are telling you different stories.” (For more, see   my article on the case in the May/June 2009   Skeptical Inquirer .)