History of the Perron family and the Harrisville Haunting (true story behind the movie The Conjuring)
// July 21st, 2013 // Violent Ghosts
Ed and Lorraine Warren
Ed and Lorraine Warren had been investigating paranormal activity since the early 1950’s. During their decades-long careers, they investigated over 4,000 hauntings, including the well-known Amityville Haunting where they were recognized as the first psychic investigators to step onto the scene. The 2013 film, The Conjuring, was based on their terrifying investigation of the Perron family and their haunted farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island. Known variously as the “Harrisville Haunting” or the “Perron Family Haunting”, the Warrens would say that their investigation of the Perron family’s haunting was their “most intense, compelling, disturbing and significant investigation” of their careers. Roger Perron, his wife Carolyn, and their five children Andrea (Annie), Nancy, Christine, Cindy, and April endured a decade of torture from the spirits that occupied their country home.
Note: The story behind the movie The Conjuring 2 was based on a different case, The Enfield Poltergeist haunting.
The Harrisville Haunting – the hauntings begin
Seeking to move the children to a quieter home life in the country, Roger and Carolyn Perron purchased their dream home in the winter of 1970. The Old Arnold Estate was 200 acres in size and one of the original plantations in the area surveyed by colonist John Smith in 1680 and deeded to Roger Williams for the formation of the state of Rhode Island. Located on Round Top Road in Harrisville, Rhode Island, the 10-room “lovely, charming” country home was built in 1736 on a beautiful plot of land with plenty of room for their five children, all girls, to roam about and play. Nancy and Christine Perron shared one room, Cindy and April another, and Andrea had a room all to herself – except on nights when, as Andrea put it, the sisters “came crawling into bed with her, trembling and crying in terror”.
The Perron family began to notice something was amiss from the first day they stepped into their lovely new home. Later it would be learned that eight generations of families had lived, and died, in the Old Arnold Estate including Mrs. John Arnold who at the age of 93, hung herself from the rafters of the barn. Other unfortunate losses of life on the estate included several suicides (hangings, poisonings), the rape and unsolved murder of eleven-year-old girl Prudence Arnold (later presumed to have been murdered by a farm hand), two sudden drownings in the creek located near the house, and four men who mysteriously froze to death on the land. It did not take long before the Perrons’ understood why the previous seller advised them on the day that they moved into the house, “leave the lights on at night.”
The many friendly ghosts
At first the ghosts, or demon spirits as the Warren investigators thought of them, were harmless. Described variously as opaque or somewhat solid in appearance, there were many spirits present in the old homestead. One ghost smelled of flowers while another would gently kiss the girls goodnight in their beds every night. Another appeared to be a small, young male that the girls would watch, mesmerized, push toy cars about the room propelled by an invisible hand.
One apparition, presumably a female ghost, was a welcome presence in the home. The Perron’s would often hear sweeping noises coming from the kitchen. When they entered the room, they would find the broom had been moved to a different spot in the room with a neat pile of newly swept dirt sitting in the middle of the floor, waiting to be deposited in the trashcan.
“Manny” was another spirit that the young Perron children loved. Manny was believed to be the spirit of Johnny Arnold, who had committed suicide by hanging himself in the attic of the house in the 1700’s. Manny would appear before the children, often standing nearby quietly watching the children going about their daily activities, a crooked smile on his face, amused at the children’s’ play. If eye contact was made with Manny, he would withdraw from sight just as suddenly as he had appeared.
In addition to ghostly entities, the Perrons’ witnessed many other odd and unexplained phenomena. Beds would levitate several inches off of the floor, telephone handsets would hover in the air and slam down onto the phone base when someone entered the room, and various household objects would glide about the house on their own. Often chairs would be pulled suddenly from beneath an unsuspecting guest and pictures would tumble from the walls. The Perrons’ once reported seeing an orange ooze blood and a wall dissolve into nothingness.
Some spirits, aka demons, were not so nice
Not all the ghosts at Harrisville were welcome visitors. Some would yank the girls’ legs and hair during the middle of the night. Others would loudly bang the front door of the home with such force that the entire house would shake. Doors would slam shut on their own while others would stay frozen in place, unable to be shut no matter how much force was applied to them. One entity in the home routinely kept the family awake as it continually cried out in the night, “Mama! Maaaama!” while another apparition tortured 8-year-old Cindy telling her over and over, “there are seven dead soldiers buried in the wall”. One of the Perron’s recalled a small, delicate spirit, appearing to be about 4 years old, roaming the house crying, calling for her mother.
One of the spirits was so evil, the Perron family to this day will not disclose what it did to them. Andrea Perron, who authored a book about their experiences in the home (House of Darkness House of Light), hinted that the unmentionable spirit may have molested some of the young girls. When asked about this spirit during an interview, she avoided the question, telling the reporter:
“Let’s just say there was a very bad male spirit in the home – with five little girls.”
The baddest of them all – Bathsheba Sherman
The most horrid ghost in the home targeted Mrs. Perron specifically. Known as Bathsheba, the entity was thought to have been the ghost of Bathsheba Sherman, a practicing Satanist and witch who had lived in the home in the early 19th century and died there after hanging herself from a tree behind the barn. The Perrons’ were not a religious family. Weak in faith, it was theorized to be a primary factor for the particularly violent and active nature of Bathsheba’s treatment of the Perron family. Credence to this theory is strengthened when it was learned that the only previous resident not to report any odd occurrences was a local minister. Lorraine Warren explained was this was important:
“You only have your faith as your protection. I always had my faith. God protecting me allowed me to do this. At that particular time, the Perrons’ did not have religion – and it was very dangerous.”
Bathsheba was a vile, hideous creature described as having a face “similar to a desiccated bee hive” covered in cobwebs with no real human features other than vermin crawling from crevices etched into the wrinkled skin of her face. Her head, round and gray, sat “leaning off to one side” as if her neck had been broken and an evil stench permeated the room when she was present.
Bathsheba Thayer was born in 1812 in Rhode Island and married fellow Rhode Islander Judson Sherman on March 10, 1844. When alive Bathsheba had lived a life of solitude, an outcast of the community she lived in after being accused of killing her young baby as a sacrifice to Satan. The baby’s body was found to have been impaled in the head with a sharp object. Lacking evidence, the case was eventually dropped. Bathsheba was believed to have had three other children, none of whom survived past the age of four. Her children may not have been her only victims. Bathsheba was also known to have brutalized the staff often starving and beating them for minor infractions. When Bathsheba died on May 25, 1885, the coroner wrote that he had never seen anything like it – her emaciated body had eerily solidified, seemingly turned to stone.
It was easily recognized that Bathsheba had her favorites in the household. She tortured Carolyn Perron (one of the daughters, Cindy, was often a frequent target) while lusting after Mr. Perron. During their stay, equipment in the home frequently broke. Roger Perron would take the broken machinery down to the cellar to repair. While working, he often felt Bathsheba touching him, gently caressing his neck or running her hands down his back. But while longing for Mr. Perron, Bathsheba abhorred Carolyn. It was clear that Bathsheba wanted Carolyn out of the house.
“Mrs. Perron said she awoke before dawn one morning to find an apparition by her bed: the head of an old woman hanging off to one side over an old gray dress. There was a voice reverberating, ‘Get out. Get out. I’ll drive you out with death and gloom.’”
In the beginning, Bathsheba’s treatment of Carolyn was merely “cruel”. Carolyn would be pinched, slapped, or have objects thrown about her. Her greatest fear, fire, was soon discovered by the entity and used repeatedly to strike terror in her as Bathsheba banged torches against her bed while demanding that she leave the home immediately.
As time progressed, the attacks grew harsher. In one instance, Carolyn was lying on the couch when she felt a sharp pain in the calf of her leg. She examined her leg and found a large, bleeding puncture wound that looked “as if a large sewing needle had impaled her skin”. Later, after threats failed to motivate Carolyn to leave, Bathsheba took a different tack and attempted to invade Carolyn from within. Believing that Carolyn had been possessed, the Perrons’ called in psychic investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren to assist them.
Ed and Lorraine Warren offer to assist
Ed and Lorraine Warren are often thought of as “the original paranormal investigators”. For decades they had helped investigate hauntings and demonic possessions across the country. In many of their cases, they were able to convince the Vatican to provide exorcisms of the spirits that they found. The Perrons’ heard of the Warrens after one of their many public speaking engagements and pleaded with them to help save their mother. By this time, it was believed that Bathsheba has physically possessed Carolyn Perron, an assessment that Ed Warren could not disagree with.
Daughter Andrea Perron remembered the night the exorcism took plae:
“The night I thought I saw my mother die was the most terrifying night of all. She spoke in a voice we had never heard before and a power not of this world threw her twenty feet into another room.”
Unfortunately, the true story of the Perron family’s haunting ended differently than The Conjuring movie portrayed. In reality, the Warrens were not successful in ridding the Perron family of their hell-bent tormentors. Carolyn Perron recalled that “dreadful night” and explained that even though the Warrens’ intentions were good, they essentially found that things “got worse around them”. As the situation spun out of control, Roger Perron demanded that the Warrens leave the premises immediately.
The Perrons’ flee their haunted home
The Perrons’ soon learned that every occupant (with the exception of a local minister and his family) of the old Arnold Estate had reported supernatural phenomena on the homestead. In fact, the owner just prior to the Perrons’ had hired a contractor to renovate the house. The contractor had been busily renovating the home when he suddenly stopped work and fled. It was reported that he had left the home screaming leaving behind his tools and his car. The owners never moved in and the home sat vacant for several years before the Perrons’ discovered it was on the market.
Despite their unfortunate circumstances, financial constraints kept the Perrons’ rooted in place for 10 long years. Unable to flee, they endured the inconvenience of the “friendly” spirits and the torture the malevolent ghosts bestowed upon them. Finally, in 1980, at the insistence of Carolyn, the Perrons’ were financially able to vacate the home. They moved to Georgia.
Aftermath and additional notes
Ed Warren died in 2006, but Lorraine Warren is still actively investigating paranormal cases. She runs the private Occult Museum in the back of her house in Monroe, Connecticut, with the help of her son-in-law, Tony Spera. Admission is open to the public (with prior reservations) with a small charge for admittance.
Andrea Perron wrote a book of their experiences in the home, House of Darkness House of Light. She tours the country giving lectures and recollections of her time in the haunted home.
According to Andrea Perron, the current owner, Norma Sutcliffe, who purchased the home in 1983, stated that she, her husband Gerry, and various visitors to the home have had paranormal experiences in the farmhouse, including the door banging in the front hall, sounds of people talking in another room, the sounds of footsteps scurrying around the house, and one odd instance when her husband’s chair began vibrating in the study room. They claim to have also witnessed a glowing blue light “shoot across the bedroom”, “fog” floating through the rooms of the home, and vibrations in the walls so intense they felt the house was going to come apart. Several visitors to their home have independently reported seeing an elderly woman, hair in a bun, moving silently throughout the house.
James Wan’s movie, The Conjuring (and later, The Conjuring 2) was based on the facts surrounding the Harrisville Haunting. The Conjuring screenplay was based on personal case files from the Warrens as well as information that Carolyn Perron provided to the producers. Lorraine Warren acted as a consultant during the filming and appeared on set to offer guidance as the movie was being filmed.
The Conjuring Doll (featured in the movie)
The doll shown in The Conjuring movie was based on a separate case from 1970 that paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren handled, the case of the Annabelle doll. Similar to the earlier Robert the Doll and other creepy doll cases, it was believed that a demonic entity dwelt inside Annabelle the doll. Warrens.net explains the case:
“A nursing student named Donna received the Raggedy Ann Doll from her mother as a birthday present. Shortly thereafter, Donna and her roommate Angie began to notice that the doll would switch positions and move around their apartment on its own. Donna and Angie then began to notice childlike messages that had been scribbled onto parchment paper, which they concluded must have come from the doll. Things escalated when their friend Lou, who had been staying with them, claimed that the doll tried to strangle him during the night. On another occasion, Lou believed that the possessed Annabelle doll was responsible for bloody claw-like scratches that mysteriously appeared across his chest when he went to investigate a noise coming from Donna’s room.
In an attempt to rectify the situation, a séance was held. The medium informed them that the doll was possessed by a young girl named Annabelle, who had resided on the property before the apartments were built. When she was just seven-years-old, Annabelle’s lifeless body was found in a field where the apartments now stood.
Ed and Lorraine Warren eventually came to investigate after being informed of the doll through a priest that Donna had contacted. At the recommendation of the Warrens, an exorcism of the apartment was performed, and at Donna’s request, the Warrens took the Annabelle doll into their possession where it still remains today.”
The center of paranormal activity in the home
It has been noted that the paranormal activity in the Perron home centered on Carolyn’s bedroom and the study room located directly below it. Interestingly, below the study, located in the cellar of the home, is an old well. Water was often used by the spirits to torment the family (toilets flushing, washers turning on, faucets running, etc.) and they began to wonder if any violent history had been associated with the old well. To date this question remains unanswered.
The graveside of Bathsheba Sherman is located in a historic cemetery in downtown Harrisville, Rhode Island. Although the headstone has been broken, it is clearly marked and easily visited by sightseers.
Additional note on current owner Norma Sutcliffe (8/16/2013)
Altered Dimensions had an ongoing conversation going on with the current owners of the home and sadly, they are having a tough time with trespassers and sight-seers after the release, and popularity, of the The Conjuring movie. As such, please to respect the privacy and property rights of the current owners and remember that the home is a historic treasure that should also be respected as such. According to the current owner, Norma Sutcliffe, in an email to Altered Dimensions:
“[The] story has caused us torment, harassment, and trespassers daily. We were not involved [with the movie], no money at all from anywhere, and not our story. We are saddened by the lies told about us especially.”
Update: Reports that current owners will sue Warner Bros. after unwanted publicity surrounding the case (10/29/2015)
Even though “The Conjuring” was filmed in North Carolina, it’s based on the reported haunting of a family living in Harrisville, Rhode Island, during the 1970s. Norma Sutcliff bought the Rhode Island house in 1987 and lived there in peace until two years ago when The Conjuring was released. News outlets are reporting that the owners are now seeking to sue Warner Bros. (shortly before the release of The Conjuring 2 movie) for the reported “harassment” they have experienced due to the landmark status of their home.
Ed Warren –born as Warren Edward Miney on 9/7/1926 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Died 8/23/2006
Carolyn Perron – born on 8/1939
Roger Perron – born on 8/27/1935 in Providence, Rhode Island
Andrea Perron – born on 10/10/1958 in Rhode Island
Nancy Perron – born on 2/8/1960 in Willimantic, Connecticut
Christine Perron – born on 1/30/1961 in Willimantic, Connecticut
Cindy Perron – born in Willimantic, Connecticut
April Perron – born in Willimantic, Connecticut
Sources: Andrea Perron YouTube, Chasing the Frog, Yahoo Movies, Examiner, Tallapoosa Journal, Rhine News, Following the Nerd, Ghost Village, Wikipedia, Warren website, New England Society for Psychic Research, Warner Brothers Entertainment, Andrea Perron personal interviews
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