Who killed Alan Bono? That question has haunted Brookfield, Connecticut since 1981. A man drove a knife into Bono’s chest, pierced his flesh, and ended his life. A man was convicted in his death. But first-hand accounts, a popular non-fiction book, and now a major Hollywood movie all claim the actual culprit may have been a demon—even the Devil himself.
On June 4th, Warner Brothers Pictures releases the latest entry in its supernatural horror franchise The Conjuring. The film, subtitled The Devil Made Me Do It, reinterprets the events surrounding the death of Alan Bono, and, as you might have guessed from that title, it involves a questionable case of demonic possession. The film repeats claims made by a family with an unusual history and two of the world’s most notorious paranormal investigators. Above all else, the film revives once more a case told many times over.
So, who killed Alan Bono? It depends on the story.
On February 16, 1981, a man named Arne Cheyenne Johnson drove a knife into the chest of Alan Bono outside of Bono’s business in Brookfield. Johnson, the boyfriend of a Bono employee named Debbie Glatzel, was arrested the following day by the Brookfield Police Department and charged with murder. An open and shut case, right? Arne Cheynne Johnson killed Alan Bono. Maybe.
From the beginning, there was something off about the Johnson case, not in the least because Bono’s killing was the first in the 200-year history of Brookfield. During his interrogation by Brookfield police, Johnson confessed to stabbing Bono—but claimed he wasn’t responsible for his actions. Shortly after Johnson’s arrest, his version of events began to filter out to the public via paranormal researchers Ed and Lorraine Warren. Speaking to The Hartford Courant, on February 27th, the Warrens claimed “Johnson had participated in at least three exorcisms since July  on an 11-year-old Brookfield youth” possessed by 43 demons, and challenged one (or all) of the demons possessing the child to leave its host and enter his body. It did. Allegedly.
On Sunday, March 8, 1981, a more complete account appeared in newspapers nationally courtesy of the Associated Press. The article’s author, Scott Kraft, quoted the Warrens as stating Johnson had experienced three possessions before the stabbing (accounting for four, in total). Further, Kraft laid out Johnson’s unusual legal defense: he would claim innocence because “the devil made [him] do it.” Speaking to the legal implications of a supernatural defense, Johnson’s attorney Martin Minnella argued: “The courts have dealt with the existence of God. Now they’re going to have to deal with the existence of the devil.”
Minella’s legal strategy backfired. The judge refused to allow an argument of demonic possession into the courtroom, citing that such a defense could not been proven using evidence. The prosecution followed up on this by arguing that the short-tempered Johnson had lost his cool and stabbed Bono in a jealous rage after Bono made an advance on Debbie. Eyewitness testimony appeared to support this account. In an August 1981 article in The Los Angeles Times, a man named Sanford Mead, Johnson’s former employer, claimed he had fired Johnson on two occasions prior to the stabbing because Johnson was moody and often lost his temper on the job. The case kicked off on October 28, 1981, three days before Halloween, and without his demon defense Johnson was convicted of first-degree manslaughter. Again, a clear case of murder? Not so fast. The conviction was the conclusion of the first in a series of more convoluted—and increasingly bizarre—stories surrounding the murder.
Gerald Brittle had written one book prior to the Johnson case, 1980’s The Demonologist: The Extraordinary Career of Ed and Lorraine Warren. The book functioned as brief vignettes in the life of Ed and Lorraine, pulling from case files of their paranormal investigations, to offer, in Brittle’s words, “the grave religious process behind supernatural events.” It would gain notoriety decades later when adapted and expanded upon for The Conjuring (2013). Subsequent films in the series would also pull from chapters in the book for inspiration with the series’ haunted doll, Annabelle. But the book served another more important function—it would, for a time, christen Brittle the official biographer of the Warrens and their paranormal exploits.
Brittle followed The Demonologist with another entry in the Ed and Lorraine case files, this time narrowing his focus to just one subject: the death of Alan Bono. However, the book, titled The Devil in Connecticut, follows the exploits not of Alan Bono (or even Arne Cheyenne Johnson), but of a family afflicted by a demonic presence, the Glatzels. The family—father Carl Sr., mother Judy, older sister Debbie, and sons Carl Jr., Alan, and David—make up the bulk of the book’s nearly-300 pages. Johnson figures into the story mostly as a side character whose actions, while significant, are often mentioned in passing, and Bono, the victim, barely appears. Ed and Lorraine are ultimately the heroes—this is their version of the story, after all—but seemingly wander into the events of the narrative midway through the book as a deus ex machina.
In Brittle’s reimaging, youngest son David Glatzel is the first person in the Glatzel household to become possessed, when, in the summer of 1980, he interacts with a spirit he identifies as The Beast—an old man by day, a demon with red skin, cloven hooves, and black eyes by night. David experiences attacks throughout the summer, culminating in a series of possessions beginning on August 6th. During this period, Brittle alleges that The Beast made life as difficult as possible for the Glatzels, forcing David to make crude sexual remarks to his mother and older sister, blaspheme God and Christ, and physically assault those around him. Johnson acts as the family’s lone physical protector, as David’s father, Carl Sr., had removed himself from the situation, believing his family crazy.
In fact, Johnson appears to be the only adult in the household concerned with the family’s safety. In addition to David’s possessions, Brittle hints that his brother Carl Jr. may have also been under the spell of The Beast. In one passage, Brittle writes: “Carl, Jr., argued back fiercely and viciously, ultimately calling his mother a ‘goddamn bitch who ought to be killed’ and suggesting that he’d be the one to do it.” Shortly after, Brittle does more than suggest when he implicates Carl Jr. in physical abuse directed at his mother and sister. At the time of the release of The Devil in Connecticut, Carl Jr. was only fourteen years old.
Who do you call when demons attack? Ed and Lorraine Warren, of course. The Warrens appear at the suggestion of a priest at the Dioceses of Bridgeport, Father Dennis. (By then, they were minor celebrities thanks to their involvement in a 1976 televised investigation of the home of George and Kathy Lutz, in Amityville, New York.) Father Dennis reasons that the Warrens are experts in the field of parapsychology and can recognize if the Glatzels are dealing with a poltergeist. Upon meeting David, they recognize something is wrong and administer tests; Ed immediately diagnoses a “diabolical possession.”
By fall things escalate. On September 2nd, the Catholic Church authorizes a deliverance, a lower form of spiritual intervention used when it won’t grant a full exorcism. Brittle states that during the deliverance the presiding priest, Father Virgulak, and the Warrens expel 36 demons from David, leaving only three spirits and The Beast (or 40, in total). Six days later, on September 8th, the Church finally authorizes an exorcism, the date chosen to coincide with the birth of the Virgin Mary. Concurrently, Ed Warren attempts to summon the beast to his study in Monroe, Connecticut, to “bind” the demon, a practice in exorcism and demonology which forbids the possessing entity from returning to a host. The dual attack succeeds, and David is free. Before leaving, however, Father Virgulak asks the demon for its name—it claims to be the Devil.
Now, under normal circumstances, this would be the end of the story. The Warrens and Father Virgulak cast out the Devil out of Connecticut, saving David and re-uniting the Glatzels. But we’re forgetting two people: Arne Cheynne Johnson and Alan Bono. This isn’t an accident. Brittle only devotes around 40 pages to the circumstances surrounding the death of Bono. He casts Bono as a belligerent drunk, a figure almost deserving of his fate, and ignores any potential motive for the murder beyond possession. During David’s exorcism, Brittles writes that Johnson even challenges the demon to take his body as a host, which it does on multiple occasions—six in total—culminating in the events of February 16, 1981.
Who killed Alan Bono? Late in the book, Ed Warren states: “[T]he entity had possessed two people and killed another. In fact, the night of the killing, the beast entity replayed the entire stabbing scene to David, who then related the specific details to the rest of the family. The thing had brazenly shown itself to be the author of the crime.”
In her 1974 review of The Exorcist (1974), film critic Pauline Kael famously tore into the depiction of the film’s possessed child, Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair), with an almost religious fervor, asking a rhetorical question of the young actresses who had auditioned for the role: “When they see The Exorcist and watch Linda Blair urinating on the fancy carpet and screaming and jabbing at herself with the crucifix, are they envious?” It’s unclear if any of the actresses were jealous, but at least a few people clearly were—Gerald Brittle and Arne Cheyenne Johnson, most of all. In The Devil in Connecticut, during one of David’s possessions, Father Virgulak gifts Judy Glatzel with a Madonna totem, but David takes it and begins using it in ways described as “impure,” a suggestion that he was mimicking Reagan’s masturbation sequence in The Exorcist. David’s accompanying commentary is also pulled almost directly verbatim, as he screams phrases like “Eat me!” and “Fuck me!”
The connection between David Glatzel’s possession and The Exorcist would become more explicit in at least two other depictions of the case. Shortly after Arne Cheyenne Johnson’s conviction, Dick Clark Productions announced it was developing a TV movie centered around the murder and trial. Created in tandem with The Devil in Connecticut, The Demon Murder Case (1983) doesn’t show the same level of fascination with repressed sexual urges, but it does share Brittle’s affinity for The Exorcist. David, identified in the movie as Brian (Charles Fields), is a near-perfect analogue for Regan; his voice is pitch-shifted down to match her demonic speech patterns and at one point he even screams “It burns” when doused in holy water. While the TV movie veers off in the second half to cover the trial, it is a mostly faithful adaptation—through the lens of a popular horror film.
Over twenty years later, in 2006, Arne Cheyenne Johnson and Debbie Glatzel gave their version of the ordeal in Brookfield during a second season episode of Discovery’s A Haunting, titled “Where Demons Dwell.” Though their account varies drastically from Brittle’s, it still leans heavily on the histrionics of The Exorcist. David experiences many of the same symptoms, from the change in voice to an aversion to holy water. The most glaring example comes in Johnson himself, with the episode highlighting his confrontations with The Beast. Johnson’s possession plays out in a manner not unlike the ending of the The Exorcist when Father Karras (Jason Miller) challenges the demon Pazuzu to leave the body of Regan and enter his own.
Of the two adaptations, “Where Demons Dwell’ is the more interesting because it represents a moment where the participants in the case became self-aware of the many inconsistencies in their story. Even though The Demon Murder Case came out at the same time as The Devil in Connecticut, meaning its writers had likely not read the book, little changes from page to screen. But “Where Demons Dwell” jettisons all prior versions of the story in favor of a far simpler version of events. In The Devil in Connecticut, friends of the Glatzels, who were secretly Satanists, place a “death curse” on the family, whereas “Where Demons Dwell” introduces an old well hidden at the rental home in Newtown as a portal that allows The Beast entry into this world. Accordingly, David undergoes fewer interventions than before and the demons are cast out in one sitting. In a final twist, “Where Demons Dwell” omits the most important part of the story: the death of Alan Bono.
Who killed Alan Bono? It never happened, according to Johnson and Debbie Glatzel in A Haunting.
Ed and Lorraine Warren are, if nothing else, exceptional self-promoters. They were able to keep their names in the press from the seventies, when they first appeared connected to the Amityville house, up through their deaths (in 2006 and 2019, respectively) by tirelessly promoting their case files as authentic. The Johnson case, in particular, helped propel them to further fame. They began touring with a lecture on their experiences in the Glatzel home on college campuses and other public venues throughout the country as the case unfolded in the press. This caught the attention of producer Dino De Laurentiis who hired them to consult on Amityville II: The Possession (1982). The Warrens publicly promoted the film and the Glatzel case by appearing on talk shows, notably in an appearance with Judy Glatzel on The Merv Griffith Show. Lorraine once again told a national audience that David had been possessed by the Devil and noted that the Warrens got involved because the Catholic Church had strayed from the business of exorcisms.
The Warrens continued to try to make money on the case as the years progressed, incorporating it into other books and home videos, always promoting it as an authentic demonic possession. To that end, in 2006, Gerald Brittle and Lorraine Warren began reprinting copies of The Devil in Connecticut to coincide with Lorraine’s appearance in Johnson and Debbie Glatzel’s episode of A Haunting. Sales were strong—and the case was once again in the public eye. Unfortunately for Lorraine, even the best of stories have their critics. Carl Glatzel, Jr. and David Glatzel, by then fully grown, could finally respond to claims made about them in The Devil in Connecticut. Speaking to The Hartford Courant, Carl Jr. stated that David had suffered from undiagnosed mental illnesses at the time of the alleged possessions. “Lorraine Warren is nothing but a fraud,” he told the paper. “She says she has documentation but she has nothing. Lorraine Warren has incorporated our story into several books, she did a DVD on the Glatzel family, she exploited us.”
Carl Jr. and David sued Brittle and Lorraine, setting off the first of many legal disputes between the parties involved in the Johnson case. Lorraine and Brittle settled, but in 2017 they were back in court again when Brittle sued Warner Brothers and… Lorraine Warren. Warner Brothers released The Conjuring in 2013 to critical and popular acclaim, grossing over $300 million worldwide. This was a problem, Brittle claimed, because it infringed on case files found in his book The Demonologist, for which he maintained sole republication rights. In his lawsuit, he asked for $900 million in damages.
The lawsuit was unusual not only because of the request for a significant financial recompense, although that was a concern. Brittle’s most damning charge came when he claimed that The Conjuring, a film Warner Brothers claimed was based on a true story, couldn’t be historically accurate—because the information contained in his case files was fake. Brittle’s attorney issued a statement in which Brittle accused the Warrens of “a pattern of deceit” in their paranormal claims, a portion of which reads: “The Defendant’s The Conjuring movie is built not on ‘facts’ or on ‘historical facts.’ Rather, it is knowingly built on stories, impressions, conjecture, fiction and in the case of the Warrens, fabrications. There are no historical facts of a witch ever existing at the Perron farmhouse, a witch hanging herself, possession, Satanic worship or child sacrifice.”
Who killed Alan Bono? Not the Devil, if we’re to believe Gerald Brittle in his lawsuit.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It premieres in theaters and on HBO Max on June 4th. It will present another account of what happened on February 16, 1981. To date, the State of Connecticut maintains Arne Cheyenne Johnson killed Alan Bono, but Ed and Lorraine Warren claim the Devil made him do it, yet Gerald Brittle states the Warrens fabricated most (or all) of their case files. Arne Cheyenne Johnson and Debbie Glatzel believe a demon passed from David Glatzel to Johnson; Carl Glatzel Jr. and David Glatzel say that David was suffering from untreated mental illnesses. Alan Bono will never issue a statement with his version of the story.
When you think about it, maybe the Devil is responsible? Which of the parties involved can say they haven’t been touched by his hand? None appear to be possessed by the truth. Is the Devil not the Father of Lies? Some might try to tiptoe around the Devil with their words but, eventually, they dance in step. Since 1981, everyone involved in the Johnson case has devoted significant portions of their lives to chasing the Devil, in books, on TV, and now on film. So, the Devil did make them do it, all of them, and continues to this day.
The same could even be said for those of us about to watch this latest adaptation. We search for the Devil because in the absence of light we see only darkness. If the Devil didn’t exist, we would have to create him—or something like him—to explain the evils found in this world. It’s far easier to believe the Devil killed Alan Bono on February 16, 1981 because if the devil doesn’t exist, then we must ask—Arne Cheyenne Johnson, Ed and Lorraine Warren, and Gerald Brittle must ask—who killed Alan Bono?