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Dispelling Demons: Detective Work at The Conjuring House

Joe Nickell, PhD, is a skeptical demonologist. His many books include The Science of Miracles and The Science of Ghosts.

The horror movie The Conjuring (2013) focused on the “demons” that allegedly plagued the Perron family—Roger, Carolyn, and their five daughters—at their Rhode Island farmhouse. The movie was a major box-office success.

In an article in the Skeptical Inquirer (Nickell 2014) and in the book American Hauntings (Bartholomew and Nickell 2015, 57–77), I analyzed the Perrons’ claims of demonic activity and showed that they were consistent with the effects of strong winds, misperceptions, schoolgirl pranks, vivid dreams, simple suggestion, role-playing, and other factors—including one child’s having had an imaginary playmate— and the effects of memory after some thirty to forty years. Then there was the influence of Ed and Lorraine Warren—“demonologist” and “clairvoyant,” respectively—who made a dubious career of convincing such troubled people that they were plagued by demons while seeking book deals and encouraging their coauthors, some admit, to fabricate elements to make the books “scary” (Nickell 2014, 23).

There have even been Internet discussions about destroying the eighteenth-century residence because “it’s so full of evil”—among other outrage.

Norma Sutcliffe, who with her husband, Gerry, acquired the property in 1987 and has lived there until the present (Figure 1), reports no demonic activity. Yet the two have been plagued by a “Conjuring-instigated siege of their property,” according to legal papers filed in their lawsuit against Warner Bros. Studios. Uninvited people suddenly appear on their property, while others make harassing phone calls at night. There have even been Internet discussions about destroying the eighteenth-century residence because “it’s so full of evil”—among other outrages (Sutcliffe 2015–2016).

Norma invited me to visit her eighteenth-century property in mid-June 2016 to see for myself much of the rest of the evidence behind the fictionalized and fantasized story. Guided by her, I toured the historic Arnold-Richardson house and property, visited old cemeteries in the area, and searched archival records in the Harrisville town hall and library—all helping to further dispel the falsehoods and exaggerations that have been used to promote this utterly bogus case of demonic activity and demon possession.

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