Ever since the first Conjuring film hit cinemas fans have wondered how much of the Warrens’ tale is based on truth.
Was there a real Annabelle doll? If so, is it as evil as the movie version?
The answer to the first question is, yes, there was a real doll, though whether or not you believe the terrifying tales that surround it is up to you.
The second question is a little more complicated. The only thing that’s certain is Annabelle’s real life tale is proof that sometimes reality is worse than fiction.
The doll caused such mayhem it is now locked up in Ed and Lorraine Warrens’ Occult Museum in Monroe, Connecticut.
While the raggedy-doll is a far cry from the porcelain version in new movie Annabelle: Creation, many of its details are scarily similar.
“Looks are deceiving,” Lorraine Warren once said. “It’s not what the doll looks like that makes it scary; it is what has been infused within the doll: evil.”
The Warrens may be the most famous part of the tale, thanks to The Conjuring movies, but they aren’t where it all began. Far from it.
Annabelle’s reign of terror began in 1970 when a mum bought the doll from a hobby shop for her daughter, student nurse Donna, as a birthday gift.
Donna was living with her friend Angie at the time and was over the moon at her mother’s gift, at least to start with.
The doll swiftly made its true nature known and became a real-life nightmare for the girls.
Annabelle started small – a hand movement here and there. Things that could easily be explained away.
Donna and Angie didn’t really question why Annabelle moved from the chair to the floor – perhaps she fell? – but the movements increased and soon their explanations for them dried up.
They’d move the doll to Donna’s room and it would appear immediately outside Angie’s room. Before long things got out of hand. The pair claim Annabelle levitated and began attacking them – even attempting to strangle a friend.
The girls’ close friend, Lou, became very nervous around the doll, believing it to be possessed, but they shrugged it off. It was just a doll. But the story took a more sinister turn spurring them into action.
Notes started to appear around the apartment, which on the face of it didn’t seem that strange, except the weird thing was that they were written on parchment paper and the girls had no idea where they’d come from.
Each note had a different message, ‘Help Lou’ and ‘Help Us’ were just two of the terrifying scrawls seemingly in a child’s handwriting.
Things came to a head when Donna came home from work only to find the doll had ‘blood’ on her hands.
Annabelle was on her usual spot on the bed, but the red marks on her hands caught the nurse’s eye – it seemed to be blood. The red liquid appeared to be coming from the doll itself.
It was the final straw, it was time for the girls to ask for help. A medium was called in.
Seance and the spirit of a dead girl
The first medium came up with their theory fairly quickly during a seance, telling the girls a story about a seven-year-old who had died years before.
According to the medium, the apartment complex was built on a field where the girl was found. When the doll was brought to the apartment Annabelle’s spirit was apparently in the area and she became fond of the doll, opting to possess it. The real girl – Annabelle Higgins – became Annabelle the doll.
In a surprising act of compassion the girls decided to keep the doll, saying they felt sorry for the spirit, but their empathy wasn’t to last.
A series of bad dreams and visions of the young girl weren’t enough to make them change their mind, but when the girls’ friend Lou was attacked they begged for help.
The doll’s brutal attack
It appeared as if the doll particularly disliked Lou.
One night he awoke from a deep sleep and instantly felt panicked. He’d had a recurring bad dream, but this time it felt different.
It was as if Lou was awake, but he said he was unable to move. He looked around the room, but saw nothing. Then it started. He glanced down and saw Annabelle at his feet, the doll slowly began gliding up his leg, moved over his chest and stopped there. The little doll’s hands were around his neck in seconds, according to the distressed man, and she was strangling him. Lou says he blacked out and awoke the next morning, unsure whether it was a dream or reality.
The next day he got his answer.
Lou was hanging out in Angie’s room looking over maps and preparing for a road trip when they heard a noise in Donna’s room, but Donna wasn’t actually home.
Thinking it was an intruder, they were frozen in fear and their mood didn’t improve when they ‘realised’ it was Annabelle.
Lou peeked into Donna’s room, but he saw no one inside. Annabelle sat demurely on the chair instead of the bed where she was normally placed, but nothing else was amiss. He moved towards the doll, but soon felt a terrible crippling feeling wash over him. He felt as if someone was behind him.
The crippling feeling surged through his chest. Looking down he saw claw marks appear, as if someone had leapt up and roughly scratched him. There were seven marks in total: three vertically, four horizontally, all searing hot.
In a panic, Lou looked around the room – there was still no one in there with him. There was no other explanation in his mind – it had to be Annabelle.
The scratches were visible to other people, but they mysteriously disappeared or ‘healed’ within two days. There was no trace of them at all.
Donna called in an Episcopal priest named Father Hegan, but he argued it was a spiritual matter and he needed a higher power. Ed and Lorraine Warren were contacted.
The pair, like the Ghostbusters for occult matters, soon diagnosed the doll as having an “inhuman demonic spirit”.
The Warrens said the doll wasn’t possessed but it was being manipulated by a spirit. Inanimate objects aren’t possessed, the pair said, but spirits can become ‘attached’.
The Warrens had been called just in time as they felt the occurrences would have escalated and ended with a death in the house.
The apartment was ‘cleansed’, a process Ed described: “The Episcopal blessing of the home is a wordy, seven page document that is distinctly positive in nature. Rather than specifically expelling evil entities from the dwelling, the emphasis is instead directed toward filling the home with the power of the positive and of God.”
Donna wanted the doll gone.
The Warrens agreed to take it away and Ed drove Annabelle to their museum for safekeeping. He claimed the doll willed the car’s brakes and steering to fail – repeatedly.
He threw Holy Water on Annabelle as she sat on the backseat in a bid to stop the ‘attack’. It seemed to pause the weird behaviour.
Arriving home, Ed sat the doll in a chair near his desk – he claims it began to levitate, but then swiftly fall inert. Over the next few weeks it would move, cropping up around the house.
One day a priest came to visit. Seeing the doll in the chair, he picked it up and addressed it, saying: “You’re just a ragdoll Annabelle, you can’t hurt anyone,” tossing her aside.
Ed was appalled, shouting “That’s the one thing you better not say!”
An hour later the couple saw the priest off, asking him to call them when he got home. A few hours later he rang, his brakes had cut as he turned on to a busy intersection. He’d been in an accident, his car was destroyed and he had barely survived.
The Warrens decided there was only one thing for it. Annabelle was moved to a glass box at their museum, secured with a special set of prayers. It’s where she resides today.
“We have a priest come in and bless the museum, including Annabelle,” said Lorraine when asked about the demonic doll.
“These are prayers that bind the evil — much like an electric fence for a dog.”
It seemed it was over, but it turned out Annabelle wasn’t to be restrained.
Lorraine Warren has since warned what happens when Annabelle is mocked.
A defiant man visiting the museum had heard the tales and began bashing on Annabelle’s case, calling on her to scratch him if she was real. “Son, you need to leave,” Ed warned, trying to protect him. He was too late.
“[The girlfriend] told us that they were both laughing and joking about the doll when the young man lost control of the bike and crashed head-on into a tree,” Lorraine recalled years later.
The man was instantly killed. His girlfriend survived but was in hospital for a year.
Annabelle remains locked in the safe, sealed away. Lorraine has been back since her husband’s death, but can’t even look at the doll saying it’s the ‘worst thing in the whole Museum’.
The Conjuring doll may strike fear in your heart, but at least it’s not real. The simple raggedy-doll, however, shows reality is sometimes more terrifying than fiction.
Did you know?
Why the creators used a different doll…
While the raggedy-doll’s simplicity is enough to strike fear in any horror fan’s heart, director James Wan and producer Peter Safran who worked on The Conjuring knew they couldn’t use it.
“For starters, you’d be hard-pressed to find a manufacturer to allow their doll to serve as a conduit to evil in a movie,” said Safran.
The idea was to find a good replacement that was a perfect balance of innocence and creepiness – with a large emphasis on the creepy.
The unsettling elements were toned down a tad in the Creation story by director David F. Sandberg to make it believable as a child’s toy.
Her features were softened, the overbite gone and her cheeks filled out.