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 .)
#1 bigjohn756 (Guest) on Friday March 27, 2009 at 12:40pm
Very nice watercolor, Joe! Now I’ll read the blog.
#2 David Vanderschel (Guest) on Friday March 27, 2009 at 1:28pm
Yes, the watercolor is nice. But we don’t need a 370KB file to transfer it - especially not as a GIF file, which is not even suited to this sort of picture. I converted the image back to JPG and reduced its size to something more like what it is scaled to on the blog, and the size of file was reduced by a factor of 20! And that was without any apparent loss of detail. This is the second time I have noticed on the CFI site an absurdly large picture file for an image which did not require a very large file at all. Someone with more image savvy should be looking over the shoulders of the bloggers on the CFI site.
#3 David Vanderschel (Guest) on Friday March 27, 2009 at 1:41pm
In my rant on the waste of resources involved with the overly large picture files, I should have mentioned the following: If there is a desire to allow the user to click on the small picture in order to view a large version of it, that is still possible without using the large version in the clickable instance.
I recall that the other overlarge file I saw recently was that for the “UFO picture” making. In that case, the extra resolution you could get by clicking on the small picture is useful, but the small picture need not have itself used the large file.
#4 NMTony on Saturday March 28, 2009 at 8:25pm
Fun article, Joe. I was wondering when someone would get to this movie. I saw the case presented on the Discovery Channel’s craptasitc “Hauntings.” What a piece of hyped-up Hollywood fodder. The whole shower curtain attack just cracked me up. Upon seeing the episode it certainly sounded as though the son had some problems, but they sure didn’t mention that he was ultimately diagnosed with schizophrenia. When I saw the movie advertise, I couldn’t help but shake my head at the claims of being “based on a true story” and then seeing the crazy events being played out and exaggerated to the extreme. Unfortunately, many gullible viewers are going to leave the film thinking that crap really happened.
I guess the current owners are already having problems with people stopping by the house and taking pictures or wanting to visit. The very fact that people are still inhabiting the house and not claiming anything unusual should be a sign, but you know that believers will view it as proof that the house has been excised by Ed and Lorraine Warren.
#5 straightgodless (Guest) on Saturday March 28, 2009 at 10:38pm
Dr. Nickell have you researched and come to an assessment of the Rosenheim Poltergeist? It’s particularly interesting because the case was well investigated by both physicists and a skeptical magician. The magician said he couldn’t explain the events. I would really like some skeptical input.
#6 Lauren Adasiak Cocilova (Guest) on Sunday March 29, 2009 at 1:18pm
Mr. Nickell, thank you for addressing this silliness. What “good Christians” these folks are, and what a poor example for their children. Yes, if something is not going your way: lie about it. Get out of your commitments and responsibilities, lie, cheat, get a book (which was not very good, I’m glad Mr. Garton seems to have distanced himself from it) and a movie. If only we humanists didn’t have ethics, we could make up hauntings, too!
#7 Beacon Schuler (Guest) on Monday March 30, 2009 at 1:33am
Remarkable number of similarities, then, with Amityville. Didn’t Jay Anson have the same problem with the Lutzes, who kept changing their story while on the road promoting the Horror?
#8 Doctor Atlantis (Guest) on Saturday April 18, 2009 at 2:43pm
Amusing to see that Roger Ebert invokes Randi and Houdini in his review of this film: