In these pages we meet Maurice "Frenchy" Theriault, possessed by the devil. "Absolutely terrifying! Absolutely true!" says the blurb on the front cover. "The shocking case of demonic possession from the reporters who first covered it in the Boston Herald." The Herald is a member of the Murdoch family of newspapers, so you know that their journalistic standards will be of the very highest.
When our story opens, we see the chief of police of Warren, MA called to the farm of Maurice Theriault, a local tomato farmer, on an unknown domestic disturbance. When the chief plus a state trooper get there, they find "Frenchy" Theriault sitting in the kitchen, his shirt stained with blood, while he and his wife tell a weird tale of what had happened moments before the police arrived.
That kind of thing goes on all through this book—the weird stuff happens moments before the police arrive, or moments after the priest leaves, never while an outside observer is watching. But there is one weird thing that does happen while the cops are there: they see Frenchy bleeding from around his eyeballs. Do they throw him in the back of the cruiser and drive him straight to the nearest hospital? No! Because Frenchy and his wife (who unknown to the cops have already talked to a pair of "demonologists") tell the cops that what's going on is that Frenchy is possessed. The cops, Mensa candidates both, agree that Frenchy needs a priest. They leave.
Then we come to a long digression about Frenchy's childhood. Nasty stuff, if true, as the boy is physically and sexually abused by his father. (You don't have to be Siggy Freud to figure out that if half of this stuff is true that Frenchy has two strikes against him and a curve heading for the plate in the Mental Health All-Star game.) This segment ends up with ten straight pages (95-105 inclusive) of verbatim dialog between a couple of people involved in a murder/suicide—no survivors, no third person present, no tape recorder going in the room. During the course of this conversation, Frenchy's dad (the murderer and suicide) tells Frenchy's mom (the murder victim) that he, the dad, is possessed by Satan, and that Satan has control of Frenchy. If you can't believe Old Nick himself....
Then we get a short history of Satanism in New England, starting with the events at Salem Village.
Contrary to popular myth, the cases of devil worship and witchcraft that have made Massachusetts infamous in the annals of the occult did not proceed from mass hysteria.... (pg.111)Contrary to most serious histories as well.
Part of Lasalandra & Merenda's trouble comes from quoting Malachi Martin as an authority. Martin, an ex-Jesuit, left the Order under rather a cloud when he had an affair with a lady who had neglected to first obtain a divorce, and has a heavy ax to grind. He is the author of Hostage to the Devil, reputed to be the "true stories of the exorcisms of five living Americans." The book is heavily fictionalized and unverifiable.
We now meet Ed and Lorraine Warren of the New England School of Demonology (a school they operate out of their living room). Ed claims to be one of only seven "certified demonologists" in America. This invites the question of who certifies demonologists—the Federal Board of Demons? I suspect that what happened is that Ed kept going to Religious Conventions, and asking long, detailed questions from the audience at panels. And after listening to his questions, the professors of religious studies and theologians would look at Ed Warren and say, "You know, you're certifiable." Just a guess on my part, of course....
Ed and Lorraine are the founders of the New England Society for Psychic Research. They are perhaps best known for their part in the "Amityville Horror" case, a case now generally considered to have been a hoax. At the seance held for the benefit of the press, Lorraine claimed to feel "negative forces." (The Amityville Horror, Jay Anson, Bantam, 1978, pg 231). They also participated in the Brookfield, Connecticut case when Arne Johnson stabbed Alan Bono in 1979. Johnson pleaded Not Guilty by Reason of Demonic Possession, and Ed and Lorraine testified for the defense. The judge didn't buy it, and Johnson was convicted of manslaughter.
We join Ed and Lorraine at one of their classes one fateful night....
Ed stepped back to the lectern. "But there's another type of spirit we encounter in our work," he said. "It's the inhuman spirit. That's an entity totally unworthy of life. And because it is so unworthy it has been prevented from taking on a physical existence. This is the demon. The name comes from his eternal hate of both man and God." (page 154)
That theology is, well, bizarre, and Ed's totally out to lunch on the derivation of the name demon. The word actually comes from the Greek 'daemon,' a supernatural being of a nature intermediate between gods and men, an inferior divinity, spirit, or genius, including souls or ghosts of deceased persons, especially deified heroes. When Socrates spoke of his being possessed of a daemon, he was referring to his conscience.
"The sounds you will hear in the background could not have been made by a human voice" he [Ed] said. He restarted the tape as the students strained to hear. In the background a voice seemed to be laughing. But the voice sounded as if it were coming from the bottom of a well. And it was deep, guttural, and had a sinister tone. The disturbing laugh was repeated several times. Then the tape abruptly stopped. "If that isn't diabolical, I don't know what is," Ed said, turning off the machine. (page 158)
The possibility that Ed may not in fact know what's diabolical apparently never crosses his mind, or the keen, incisive minds of Lasalandra & Merenda.
Just as an example of other sources for "diabolical" laughter, I have here the sound effects record Spook Stuff for Halloween (MP-TV Services, Inc., LP-12-119). Track 6 on Side 1 ("Ghostly Goblin Laughter") consists of 16 seconds of a voice laughing. It sounds as if it is coming from the bottom of a well. It is deep, guttural, and has a sinister tone. The disturbing laugh is repeated several times.
Then the class is over and the students leave.
Ed stood by the door, attempting to accommodate the students as much as he could, but Lorraine was tugging at his jacket. "Remember, we've got a message on the machine, and I have the feeling it may be an important one," she whispered into her husband's ear. With her ESP abilities—proven in tests at UCLA—Lorraine was rarely wrong in a hunch or intuition. (page 159)
Nor was she wrong this time, though exactly when or by whom these "tests" were given or where the results were published is—surprise!—never specified.
The call was from Father Boyer, Frenchy's parish priest, who, for reasons that elude me, decided to call these two folks rather than a doctor or his bishop when one of his parishioners came to him with bleeding eyeballs.
Ed, Lorraine, and Linda Fedele (a young lady who lectures police departments on occult crime in the New England area) head up to see Frenchy, after going to Mass and fortifying themselves for the trip with several medals dedicated to the Virgin around their necks. They chat with Frenchy, then retire to a restaurant to discuss the case.
Linda had been shocked by several of the things she had heard. But she couldn't get over Maurice's bleeding eyes. "Do you think there's a medical explanation?" she asked.
Well, shucks. I'm not a doctor, but I'm always willing to help, so I walked over to my bookshelf and in just under five minutes found Thrombosis of the Sinuses in Anders' The Practice of Medicine. Anders was published in 1897, so the treatments aren't up to the minute, but he's hell on wheels for symptoms. A couple more minutes found three more diseases, ranging from Intercranial Growths through Syphilis to Adult Onset Hydrocephalus draining through the nasal fossa that could all result in blood in the tears. There're probably more. But what I like best about Thrombosis is the fact that the attacks are often accompanied by delirium, as were Frenchy's.
We never find out if there's an organic cause for the bloody tears, since Ed (convinced from the first that this is an attack by Satan Himself) never suggests that Frenchy see a medical doctor. It might not have been too difficult to get the bleeding to occur in front of a doctor, either, since Frenchy bleeds through his eyes pretty frequently. "It happens often enough, usually when he gets angry or upset," says wife Nancy on page 168, making me wonder about a link to Frenchy's blood pressure.
When the Boston archdiocese insists that a psychiatrist they assign talk to Frenchy, Ed whisks his client out of the room the instant it becomes clear that the shrink doesn't consider possession to be the most likely cause of the troubles. The (unnamed) psychiatrist never does talk to Frenchy alone.
He [Ed] rose to leave and Maurice, seeing his friend get up, followed suit. Beet-red, Ed stormed out and grabbed Lorraine's hand in front of the astonished eyes of Father Boyer. "Come on, honey, we're leaving," Ed said firmly. (page 184)
Ed's eyes narrowed. "Listen here, you," he said through clenched teeth [to the psychiatrist]. "I hope that when you're by yourself something comes up and smashes you right in the mouth as has happened to this poor man you refuse to help...." (page 185)Good thinking, Ed.
Ed had a sense that Maurice might have come under demonic possession, but that would have required an entry. Maybe there had been an incident that could provide an entry point. By delving back into Maurice's past, Ed hit on a couple of matters that might explain what was happening. The first was the incident with Maurice and his father in the barn, back when Maurice was just a youngster. That unholy act, Ed figured, definitely could have opened the door for evil to enter. There was also the time when, as an overworked youngster in the fields, Maurice asked for the help of an invisible force—and seemed to get it. That could have provided another point of entry. And then there was the curse put on Maurice by old Willy Dumont. If the door was already open, that might have opened the door even wider, Ed thought. (page 168)One might note that Ed doesn't really seem to believe this himself, e.g. when he curses the psychiatrist. He also seems to say "damn" and "hell," and use the name of the Lord his God in vain pretty frequently for someone who's trying to avoid providing Satan with an entry point. Although Ed makes a big deal of being a super-deluxe Catholic, even carrying relics of several saints around with him (the only saint mentioned by name is "Padre Pio," a saint that my copy of Coulson's exhaustive The Saints (Imprimatur, Nihil Obstat) somehow fails to mention) his theology and demonology as stated in Satan's Harvest are not orthodox Catholic, and possibly not even Christian. One of the more unorthodox ideas in Satan's Harvest is that one can "open the door" for demonic possession by certain acts, and that possession follows a certain course. I'll let Ed Warren speak for himself here:
Possession, he matter-of-factly explained, is the fourth stage of demonic activity. First comes encroachment, where a negative spirit is given an opening to a human being, either through voluntary means, such as a satanic ritual, or through involuntary means, such as a curse or the performance of an unholy act. The second stage is infestation, when the demons first haunt a person's house. The third stage is oppression, when the spirits begin trying to take over the person living in the house. The final stage, after possession, is death. (page 152)Amazing things continue to happen. One of the most amazing things is that some of the events are reported at all. For example, who was the witness who described the action in the following scene?
As he [the local chief of police] pulled out of the driveway Maurice peered out his living room window and watched the cruiser leave. His eyes began to tear blood and his mouth began to drool yellow phlegm. His face contorted into a hideous shape and he started breathing heavily. "Heh, heh, heh," he muttered, more a growl than a laugh. "That bastard will never catch me. If he tries, I'll kill him." Then he passed out, falling to the floor with a thud. He stayed there, sleeping, until Nancy [his wife] came home about half an hour later with some groceries. "What happened honey?" she said, dropping her bags to run to his side. Maurice came out of his deep sleep slowly. He shook himself awake. "I dunno," he said. "I must have passed out. I was just going to answer the door for the chief. He was supposed to spend the night here tonight." (pages 193-194)
The chief of police never does wind up spending the night, but not to worry. Ed sends investigators to Frenchy's place to observe events overnight. The lead "investigator" is Paul Walukiewicz, whose qualifications for investigating psychic (or any other) phenomena are that he "had taken a course with the Warrens at a local high school and had responded eagerly to their request for volunteer observers." Lorraine selects him, saying that he has "the brightest aura in the class." (page 242) That aura is the brightest thing about the poor guy.
The investigation at this stage looks like a sort of psychic pajama party, with a cast of a half-dozen young adults from the Warrens' "School of Demonology" and their friends participating. Weird noises start... but when the tape is played the next morning, nothing but normal conversations can be heard! The observers are oppressed by demons, who manifest themselves through attacks that only a trained specialist could tell from the classic symptoms of hysteria. What more proof of the powers of darkness do you need?
I suppose that I should mention the one example of preternatural strength that Frenchy exhibits in front of witnesses, thus proving possession. He lifts a concrete statue of the Virgin Mary, which one of Ed's investigators, a weightlifter who is "capable of bench-pressing one hundred fifty pounds" (page 236) is unable to budge. A photo of Frenchy lifting the statue is included. The volume of the statue, from the photo, appears to be on the order of two cubic feet. Frenchy, a farmer who has been performing hard physical labor all his life, has it in a dead hang, arms straight, legs braced. He's got it about four inches off the ground.
The Archdiocese of Boston refuses to touch this "possession." In the end, Ed has to get his own exorcist—"Bishop" Robert McKenna of the Dominican Order of Preachers. McKenna is one of those priests who broke with Rome in the early sixties rather than say the Mass in English. Expelled from the priesthood, he calls himself a bishop and continues on at Our Lady of the Rosary Chapel in Monroe, Connecticut. Needless to say, the exorcism is a complete success. Exorcisms always are, whether performed by priests or witchdoctors or anyone in between.
Later, the local cops arrest Frenchy for sexually abusing his stepdaughter over a period of years. The girl and her natural father want to press charges, but the DA doesn't try it because he's afraid of an insanity defense. Frenchy's eyeballs only bleed occasionally, and eventually the attacks fade away. He moves to another town. He never does see a doctor.
According to Ed Warren, it was not Maurice who repeatedly had sexual relations with his stepdaughter, but an incubus, a diabolical spirit that had taken the image of Maurice. An incubus is a spirit of lust that sexually oppresses women. Maurice abhorred the very thought of his stepdaughter being molested, according to Ed. "If you knew him, you'd know he could never do anything like that," Ed said. Maurice himself has no memory of any sexual encounters with the young girl. (page 290)There you go, guys. If you ever get accused of rape, claim that it wasn't you, it was really a demon who looks just like you, and call Ed and Lorraine to testify on your behalf. Justice'll triumph for sure.
For that matter, Ed's buddy Linda Fedele trains the cops in how to recognize occult crime. Maybe the police won't even bother to book you if you explain what really happened. ("Honest, officer, it wasn't me, it was an incubus! I abhor the thought of child abuse! Shucks, if it'd been me who molested that little girl I'd remember it, wouldn't I?")
There's nothing in this account that couldn't be adequately explained by a combination of mental and organic illness in Frenchy and hysteria in everyone else. There's no need to introduce the devil at all, unless one believes that insanity is caused by demons. "We warn you that what is portrayed in these pages is more than just frightening. It will chill your blood as no other book ever has," says the blurb on the back cover. Well, who ever believed cover blurbs? In this case, though, it's nothing but the truth. The thought that Ed Warren is still on the streets chills me to the bone.
People who are interested in learning more about the Warrens can read The Demonologist by Gerald Brittle (Berkley Books, 1980) and The Devil in Connecticut, also by Brittle (Bantam Books, 1983).
If you liked this review, please consider making a donation.