When Alan Bono was stabbed to death on February 16, 1981, police investigating the case had no problem finding the person responsible. What they likely didn't expect was the bizarre media spectacle that followed, completed with demonologists, allegations of demonic possession, and enough speculations about the supernatural to fill a dozen remakes of The Exorcist
The stabbing apparently occurred after Bono, a 40-year-old kennel manager living in Danbury, Connecticut, got into an argument with 19-year-old Arne Cheyenne Johnson. Johnson, a tree-surgeon's assistant, had been living with his 26-year-old girlfriend, Deborah Glatzel, in an apartment next door to the Bono's kennel. After a folding knife belonging to Johnson was found at the scene of Alan Bono's murder, Johnson was indicted on March 19 on a charge of first-degree murder.
Which was when things started getting bizarre.
Not only did Arne Johnson have no criminal record, but acquaintances described the victim and his accused murderer as "the best of friends." But many of those same witnesses, including Deborah Glatzel, also claimed that Johnson's personality and behaviour had changed due to the role he played in the exorcism of Deborah Glatzel's brother, David.
In an ordeal which apparently began a year before the stabbing, 11-year-old David Glatzel began claiming that a little old man appeared before him with "burnt-looking skin and a plaid shirt torn at the elbow." The apparition then pointed a finger at him and shouted "Beware". Following other mysterious phenomena, including footsteps in the house, slamming doors, and disembodied voices, David then reported seeing "a man with big black eyes, a thin face with animal features and jagged teeth, pointed ears, horns, and hoofs."
And things grew even worse with David's mother later relating that, "he would kick, bite, spit, swear, terrible words." David also experienced episodes where invisible hands would apparently try to strangle him as well as causing him to flop around "like a rag doll. Believing that they were dealing with a a full-fledged case of possession, the Glatzzels then called in Ed and Lorraine Warren on the advice of their pastor. While their most famous cases still lay ahead of them, the Warrens had already made a name for themselves as "demonologists" and as authorities on demonic possession cases.
Desperate to help their son, the Glatzels arranged for the Warrens to investigate what was happening, as well as to record the case for their own files. It was the Warrens who concluded that David Glatzel was possessed by as many as 42 demons and also arranged for a series of exorcisms to be carried out. Under Church law of the time, the Glatzels needed the permission of Bishop Walter Curtis of the Diocese of Bridgeport to hold the exorcisms in their home. It was Bishop Curtis who assigned Reverend Francis E. Virgulak to investigate the case. Though none of the priest who took part in the exorcisms gave public statements, Church sources confirmed that Father Virgulak and three other priests were involved in the case though there was some disagreement over whether any exorcisms had been performed. While the Warrens insisted that they had, the Church representative not only denied this but also stated that no request for an exorcism had even been made.
In any event, what followed was a bizarre ordeal for the entire family, all recorded on audiotape by the Warrens. Not surprisingly, the purported possession case drew the attention of dozens of news media organizations, including tabloids and television stations, all providing lurid details of David Glatzel's possession. While there is still some question of the outcome, he was later placed in a school for emotionally disturbed children as the public focus switched to Arne Cheyene Johnson and his trial for the murder of Alan Bono.
According to later testimony, Johnson had been actively involved in David Glatzel's case, both as a friend of the family and as his sister's boyfriend. Not only was he present during many of David's episodes but his voice can be heard on the Warrens' tape telling the Devil to "take me on. Control me, leave this boy alone." As his defense attorney and Deborah Glatzel would later claim, the Devil apparently took him at his word and possessed him instead.
While prosecutors insisted that the killing was due to an argument between the two men, Deborah Glatzel would testify that Arne had experienced at least four episodes of possession prior to Alan Bono's stabbing. She also stated that her brother had a vision of "the beast" (their name for the demon that had possessed him) going into Arne's body and committing the stabbing for which he had been arrested.
Held in a Bridgeport jail since his arrest, Arne Johnson left his defense up to his girlfriend, Ed and Lorraine Warren, and his attorney Marvin Minella. It was Minella who laid out the details surrounding his client's purported possession and insisted that it was the possessing demon that was actually responsible for the killing. "The courts have dealt with the existence of God," he told reporters. "Now they're going to have to deal with the existence of the devil." Though he recognized that his defense was unprecedented in U.S. case law, he also challenge prosecutors to prove that Arne Johnson had intended to kill Alan Bono, intent being necessary for a first-degree murder conviction. State Attorney Walter Flanagan, for his part, insisted that the killing was a "routine murder, insofar as any homicide can be considered routine."
Unfortunately for Johnson and Minella, Superior Court Justice Robert Callahan showed little sympathy for the "demon defense" which he dismissed as "unscientific" and "irrelevant." Even the testimony of Ed and Lorraine Warren as well as members of the Glatzel family did nothing to make him reconsider. It likely didn't help that the Catholic Church remained neutral on the whole matter. After three days of deliberation, a jury brought in a verdict of guilty and Arne Cheyenne Johnson received a sentence of up to twenty years on a reduced charge of manslaughter. In explaining why he had given Johnson the maximum sentence, Judge Callahan based his decision on Johnson's lack of apparent remorse.
In the years since Arne Johnson's conviction, the case continues to attract media publicity, largely due to the efforts of Lorraine Warren (Ed died in 2006). A TV movie titled The Demon Murder Case came out in 1983 and a book based on the alleged possession titled The Devil in Connecticut (which was co-written by Lorraine Warren) came out that same year. The book's republication in 2006 sparked a lawsuit by David Glatzel and his brother Carl over how they were represented and the impact of the publicity over the case on their lives.
As for Arne Cheyenne Johnson, he was a model prisoner and was released after serving only five years. He and Debbie Glatzel are now married and living privately. They continue to maintain that Arne had been possessed when he killed Alan Bono.