If you are a horror fan, you are certainly familiar with Ed, and Lorraine Warren portrayed in The Conjuring movie franchise as well as in the Amityville series. The pair are paranormal experts who investigate the real-life stories that the Conjuring movies are based on. The couple claims that their interest in spirits stems from their Catholic faith, which helps them fend off the forces of evil.
The horror movies featuring Ed and Lorraine have grossed over $1.2 billion, but the real-life demonologist couple may not be as religious or spiritual as they seem. Warner Bros.’ New Line division promoted the movies as “based on the true story of the Warrens.” However, there have been legal filings and leaked recordings that claim that even the simple depiction of the demonologists as a devoted and pious couple may be a stretch…
It appears that just a few weeks after the first film came out in 2013, the top studio executives found out that there were some unsettling allegations against Ed Warren. Reportedly, in the early 1960s, Ed initiated a relationship with an underage girl. To make things even more uncomfortable, Lorraine was completely aware.
The underaged girl, Judith Penney, is now in her 70s and stated in a sworn declaration that she lived in the Warren house for more than 40 years as Ed’s lover. It is unclear whether the studio responded to these disturbing accusations. But the sequels continued to portray the demonologists as a happy couple in a conventional marriage.
Warner declined to comment, but a lawyer who works for the studio stated in court documents that an angry author and a producer were suing the studio over profits from the franchise and were trying to spin the story of the Warren’s personal lives as part of a vendetta.
Ed Warren passed away in 2006 and Gary Barkin, Lorraine Warren’s attorney, stated that the family had no knowledge of the alleged misconduct. Lorraine is now 90 years old and her health is declining, so she is unable to respond to these allegations. It looks like we will never know the full truth about their eccentric marriage.
Movie marketers understand the value of claiming that films are based on true events. With that said, there are no clear rules that mark how far filmmakers can deviate from the truth when they use the phrase “based on a true story” in advertisements. In the past, when issues arose about the accuracy of “true stories,” the courts have given studios a lot of leeway.
Many times, when the accuracy of a movie is in question, there is a lot of backlash. That’s exactly what happened with Norman Jewison’s, The Hurricane, or Kathryn Bigelow’s, Zero Dark Thirty. Both of these films are obviously more “fact-based” than The Conjuring, so the viewers’ frustration is understandable.
With that said, considering the supernatural elements of the Conjuring films, there will always be skeptics. It’s fair to assume that not every fan believes in ghosts and doesn’t believe that everything they see on screen is real. Believers or not, audiences made their way to the movie theater as soon as the movies came out.
The Conjuring was so successful that the film and its spinoff have made Warner Brothers $1.2 billion. As you can imagine, these massive profits sparked litigation over who really owns the rights to these horror stories. Another spinoff is in postproduction, while a second sequel is currently in development.
Ed Warren was a self-taught ghost hunter, and Lorraine was a self-proclaimed medium who was able to communicate with spirits. Surprisingly, the couple didn’t take any pay for their work; they genuinely loved what they were doing, so making big bucks wasn’t their highest priority.
But that didn’t mean that they weren’t doing well financially. They made a ton of money with nine books, a filled lecture schedule, and consulting on movies based on their experiences – including the 1979 and 2005 versions of The Amityville Horror. Every horror fan out there loves the Amityville series! It’s one of my favorites!
The original Conjuring movie takes place in the early ‘70s and tells the story of the Warrens coming to the aid of a family living in a Rhode Island farmhouse, which they apparently shared with the spirit of a long-deceased witch. From the beginning, the Warrens’ loving relationship is central. Patrick Wilson played Ed, while Vera Farmiga portrayed Lorraine.
“Do you remember what you said to me on our wedding night?” Lorraine asked Ed in the film. “You said that God brought us together for a reason.” However, information obtained by THR suggests that their relationship wasn’t so perfect. Among the files is a sworn declaration from Penney, who claims that Ed initiated an “amorous” relationship with her, with his wife’s knowledge, when she was 15. Penney didn’t get involved in any of the lawsuits surrounding The Conjuring films and refused to comment.
When Ed Warren met 15-year-old Penney, he was allegedly 30 years old. In the early 1960s, before he gained fame as a demonologist, Ed worked as a bus driver in Monroe, Connecticut. Penney was a student at Central High School in Bridgeport who rode on his bus. In a legal declaration from 2014, Penney said the two got involved in an “amorous relationship.”
According to Penney’s recollection, she moved into the Warren’s home in 1963. She said that for the next four decades, she was involved in a sexual relationship with Ed, and Lorraine was fully aware and onboard. At first, she stayed in the bedroom right across Ed and Lorraine’s but then moved into an apartment built above their house. “One night he’d sleep downstairs… one night he’d sleep upstairs,” she explained.
Even back in the ‘60s, a teenager didn’t just move in with a married man without attracting attention. Penney was arrested in 1963 after her relationship with Ed was reported to the local police. She stated in her 2014 declaration that she had spent the night in the North End Prison in Bridgeport while the police tried to convince her to sign papers admitting to the affair.
But when she refused to cooperate with police, the court ordered her to report to a delinquent youth office for the next month. According to Penney’s statements, every week, Ed picked her up from school and drove her to those mandated meetings.
Penney said that Ed told her that she was the “love of his life” on numerous occasions. The Warren’s would often introduce her as their niece or a poor girl whom they had taken in out of charity. When Penney was in her 30s, in 1978, she became pregnant with Ed’s child. She revealed that Lorraine convinced her to have an abortion because the scandalous news of a child could have destroyed the Warrens’ business.
Lorraine claimed to be a devout Catholic, but Penney revealed that her “real god is money.” In a tearful and emotional recording, Penney recalled: “They wanted to tell everyone that someone had come into my apartment and raped me, and I wouldn’t do that. I was so scared. I didn’t know what to do, but I had an abortion. The night they picked me up from the hospital after having it, they went out and lectured and left me alone.”
Penney also stated that at times Ed was abusive towards his wife. Apparently, she witnessed him backhand Lorraine so hard that she ended up unconscious: “Sometimes, Ed would actually have to slap her across the face to shut her up. Some nights I thought they were going to kill each other.”
Penney also said she helped Ed maintain his status as a ghost hunter. He once claimed that he had captured the “white lady” – a spirit haunting the Union Cemetery in Easton, Connecticut. He supposedly caught it on tape while he was camping in the graveyard in the summer of 1990. Penney said that he wanted to make a video of what the white lady would look like if anyone spotted her. Penney donned a white sheet while he filmed her.
Lorraine’s attorney, Barkin, said that Judy and Tony Spera, the Warren’s daughter and her husband, had never witnessed any of the alleged conduct throughout the years they had spent with Ed, Lorraine, and Penney. Barkin wrote in an email, “The Warrens opened their home to Ms. Penney when she was 18 and had nowhere else to live following a childhood of neglect.”
He went on to say, “During much of their career, Ed and Lorraine were on the road, working on cases and giving lectures – and Ms. Penney lived and watched their house.” It’s also been reported that Penney had a long-term boyfriend during that time, whom she later married, and the two spent time with their family. The Speras believe that Penney is being manipulated.
But Lorraine has been making sure to prevent any disreputable aspects of her story from being shown on screen. Her deal with New Line for serving as a consultant for The Conjuring includes some strange restrictions: the films aren’t allowed to show her or Ed engaging in crimes like sex with minors, child pornography, prostitution, or sexual assault. Neither of them could be shown participating in an extramarital sexual relationship.
Talent attorney Jill Smith said that even though people selling rights to their stories often have limitations on how they are portrayed, she has never seen such specific restrictions. “I have done deals which prevented depictions of certain specific types of odious behavior which are not relevant to the underlying story and [in] which, typically, the person is not known to have participated.”
Not long after the original Conjuring movie came out, producer Tony DeRosa-Grund emailed top Warner Bros. and New Line executives to inform them that the movie wasn’t exactly the “true story of the Warrens” as it was advertised. DeRosa-Grund is now in a legal battle over profits from the movies, claiming that he was left out of the sequels as well as spin-offs.
In an email in 2013, he expressed that a woman close to the Warren family who had seen the film and the couple’s depiction in it was “mortified as to the inaccurate portrait of the relationship between Ed and Lorraine Warren.”
The individuals copied on the email included Warner Brother’s chairman Kevin Tsujihara, marketing chief Sue Kroll, and then president of New Line (now president of Warner’s film studio) Toby Emmerich. In addition, outside counsel Michael O’Connor and in-house attorney Craig Alexander received the email as well. All the higher-ups knew about these allegations.
It is unclear whether Warner Bros. responded to the email. A JAMS arbitrator took DeRosa-Grund’s statement about Penney to New Line as a threat, which weakened its credibility. New Line is currently pushing sanctions against the producer… in yet another pending litigation.
Not only was their happy, on-screen relationship a far cry from the toxic relationship that they were actually in, but there are even more inconsistencies about the Warren family depicted on screen. DeRosa-Grund also brought up their daughter in the email.
Ed and Lorraine’s daughter, Judy, is played by Sterling Jerins in the original Conjuring movie. However, she didn’t grow up living in the house with her parents. She lived with Lorraine’s mother. Penney claimed that she was the only young girl living in the Warren house. De-Rosa wrote, “Ed was a pedophile, a sexual predator, and an [sic] physically abusive husband.”
The email went on to say: “Lorraine enabled Ed to do this, she knowingly allowed this illegal relationship to continue for 40 years. They lied to the public.” This email was sent after the first movie, but The Conjuring 2 emphasized the Warren’s “loving” relationship even more. At a certain point, Ed’s character goes as far as to sing “Can’t Help Falling in Love” to Lorraine, and at the end of the movie, there is a flashback to that moment as the couple slow dance in the living room.
“The Warren’s straightforward earnestness fuels the film, more so than their Catholicism,” Sheri Linden wrote in THR’s review of The Conjuring 2. “Amid the chills and thrills, the childhood anxieties and vulnerability, [director James] Wan has made a celebration of the demonologist duo’s marriage.”
In DeRosa-Grund’s email, he wrote that he assured Penney that he could “temper” the romance and marriage between Ed and Lorraine in The Conjuring sequels. He also warned executives that Penney might reveal her story to the media and how detrimental that could be for the franchise.
“Once this comes out, do you think Patrick Wilson or Vera Farmiga would knowingly play Ed and Lorraine ever again?” he wrote. “The answer is no one would… no amount of spin from any crisis PR firm can ever ‘fix’ this once the truth comes out.” Neither one of the actors has commented, and Penney never told her story to the media.
Even though Penney never told her story publicly, it almost came to light during the ongoing legal fight over the movies. Author Gerald Brittle alleged in a pending lawsuit that The Conjuring franchise is a rip off of his 1980 book, The Demonologist. The writer is suing Warner and New Line for an astonishing $900 million.
The studio stated that the movies are protected from copyright claims because “no one has a monopoly to tell stories or make movies about true-life figures and events.” But Brittle’s argument is that the studio was well-aware that the Warren’s depiction in his book ended up being far from the truth. Brittle claims that he believed the stories that Ed and Lorraine told him but later found out that they were a stretch.
More explosive allegations about the Warrens’ relationship were revealed by attorney Stanford Dow in a 2015 letter to New Line outside counsel O’Connor. It isn’t clear which party Dow was representing regarding the matter, and he didn’t respond to repeated questions from THS.
“Mr. Warren has been accused of being cut from the exact same cloth as convicted Penn State football child molester Jerry Sandusky and the accused sexual predator Bill Cosby,” Dow wrote. “Mrs. Warren, in both condoning and covering up these heinous acts, is as complicit as her husband.”
Dow wasn’t messing around. He threatened to add these allegations to the lawsuit against New Line if the studio didn’t agree to a settlement. The proposed deal included terms to resolve Brittle’s and DeRosa-Grund’s disputes with the studio, as well as Penney’s (though she wasn’t involved in settlement discussions).
According to the letter, Penny would hand over her life rights to New Line, as well as sign a confidentiality agreement in exchange for $150,000 – the amount Lorraine initially earned for The Conjuring. If you ask me, that’s not nearly enough money for basically signing your life away. And as it turned out, the settlement never happened.
Not only did the settlement not happen, but the explicit allegations weren’t included in any legal action against the studio. However, somewhere in the 355-page lawsuit filed by Brittle was a claim that Penney was ready to testify about the “epic falsity” of the Warren family in the movies.
The lawsuit stated that Penney would disclose “the absolute charade of this family dynamic as told by the Warrens, and as depicted as ‘fact’ in all of the Defendant’s movies. The true family dynamic was known at the highest executive levels of both New Line and Time Warner.” It went on to accuse the studio of ignoring the truth in order “to protect [its] billion-dollar franchise.”
Brittle refused to comment or share details about Penney, whom he has known for years. He even referenced Penney in his book while discussing a 1974 haunting in the family home of Peter Beckford in Vermont. As the story goes, Peter’s 19-year-old daughter, Vicky, invited a demonic spirit into the family’s life through an Ouija board, so he turned to the local ghost hunters.
“Pete telephoned the Warrens and spoke with Judy Penney, a young woman who works as a liaison when Ed and Lorraine are out of town,” Brittle expressed in his book. “Judy has heard some hair-raising tales over the phone, but this one particularly scared her. ‘The Warrens are out West,’ she told Pete Beckford, ‘but I’ll relay the message to them.’”
In a countersuit against Brittle, New Line attorney Benjamin Rottenborn wrote off Brittle’s allegations as part of a plot to sabotage the Conjuring franchise, claiming that he was in league with DeRosa-Grund, who has been cautioned for his conduct in at least two judicial proceedings.
So, they were basically accused of making up all these stories to ruin the success of The Conjuring. “For years, Brittle and his cohort, Tony DeRosa-Grund, have conspired to strip New Line of [its] rights, constantly changing positions and concocting new theories with complete disregard for the truth,” he said in court documents.
Legal experts think that Warner and New Line didn’t do anything wrong by portraying a strongly fictionalized depiction of the Warren’s relationship. At the end of each movie, there’s a standard disclaimer that says, “Dialogue and certain events and characters contained in the film were created for the purposes of dramatization.”
Attorney Lincoln Bandlow said: “I do think the public understand that ‘based on’ means that some liberties with storytelling have been taken. It’s a less enjoyable film if the ghost hunters are a bunch of assholes no one likes. You have to have your protagonists be likable.” He explains that since this isn’t a historical film but a ghost story, audiences will expect fictionalization: “There’s a giant sense of ‘Take some of this with a big grain of salt’ to this whole project.”
Still, if the lawyer were representing the studio, he would advise caution when it comes to misleading fans. That said, he’s not convinced that a false foundation would spark any viable legal action. Attorney Lisa Callif agrees that this is more of a public relations issue than a legal matter.
Filmmakers can easily argue that the Warrens’ relationship doesn’t matter when it comes to the story, which justifies the happy Hollywood version. “So, what if people believe they have a good relationship?” Callif said. “If I were in the mix and the filmmakers knew all about this other woman, I don’t think I’d tell them that it was necessary to make any changes or to adjust the story.”
If you are wondering about Penney, she is now in her 70s, and it looks like she hasn’t seen a cent from the Conjuring movies. It’s clear that she has no love for Lorraine, but she still seems to have fond feelings towards Ed. Despite their split in 2003, Penney remained friends with Ed until 2006, when he died.
She seems to still be thinking about her past and wondering about Lorraine’s role in her life. “As I’m older now, I can’t even fathom why Lorraine let me stay there,” she expressed in a recording. “Lots of times I think about, ‘why did I do this? Why did I screw up my life like this?’ sometimes, I get angry thinking about it, how so much was taken away from me.”