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Meet The Real Haunted Doll Behind ‘Annabelle’

Published October 1, 2023
Updated March 7, 2024

The real Annabelle doll reportedly committed a series of attacks in the early 1970s before it was confined in the Occult Museum of Ed and Lorraine Warren in Connecticut.

She sits in a glass case bearing a hand-carved inscription of the Lord’s Prayer while a pleasant smile rests on her happy face sitting under a mop of red hair. But beneath the case is a sign that reads: “Warning, positively do not open.”

To the uninformed visitors of the Warrens’ Occult Museum in Monroe, Connecticut, she looks like any other Raggedy Ann doll produced in the mid-20th century. But the original Annabelle doll is actually anything but ordinary.

Since her first supposed haunting in 1970, this allegedly evil doll has been blamed for demonic possession, a slew of violent attacks, and at least two near-death experiences. In recent years, the true stories of Annabelle have even inspired a series of horror films.

But just how much of Annabelle’s story is real? Is the real Annabelle doll truly a vessel for a demonic spirit in search of a human host or is she simply a child’s toy used as a prop for wildly profitable ghost stories? These are the real stories of Annabelle.

The True Story Of The Real Annabelle Doll

Ed and Lorraine Warren With The Real Annabelle Doll

Warrens’ Occult MuseumEd and Lorraine Warren look upon the original Annabelle doll in her glass case.

Though she doesn’t share the same porcelain skin and lifelike features as her cinematic counterpart, the Annabelle doll that lives in the Occult Museum of famed paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, the pair that worked on the case, is made all the more creepy by how ordinary she appears.

Annabelle’s stitched features, including her half-smile and bright orange triangular nose, evoke memories of childhood toys and simpler times.

If you could ask Ed and Lorraine Warren (though Ed died in 2006 and Lorraine died in early 2019), they would tell you that the stark warnings scrawled across Annabelle’s glass case are more than necessary.

According to the well-known paranormal investigators, the doll is responsible for two near-death experiences, one fatal accident, and a string of demonic activities that lasted some 30 years.

The first of these infamous hauntings can allegedly be traced back to 1970, when Annabelle was brand new. The story was told to the Warrens by two young women and was retold for years after by the Warrens themselves.

As the story goes, the Annabelle doll had been a gift to a young nurse named Donna (or Deirdre, depending on the source) from her mother for her 28th birthday. Donna, apparently thrilled with the gift, brought it back to her apartment that she shared with another young nurse named Angie.

At first, the doll was an adorable accessory, sitting on a sofa in the living room and greeting visitors with her colorful visage. But before long, the two women began to notice that Annabelle seemed to move about the room of her own accord.

Donna would sit her on the living room sofa before leaving for work only to come home in the afternoon and find her in the bedroom, with the door shut.

Donna and Angie then started finding notes left throughout the apartment reading “Help Me.” According to the women, the notes were written on parchment paper, which they did not even keep in their home.

Occult Museum

Warrens’ Occult MuseumThe actual Annabelle doll’s location at the Warrens’ Occult Museum.

Furthermore, Angie’s boyfriend, known only as Lou, was in the apartment one afternoon while Donna was out and heard rustling in her room as if someone had broken in. Upon inspection, he found no sign of forced entry but found the Annabelle doll lying face down on the ground (other versions of the story say he was attacked upon waking up from a nap).

Suddenly, he felt a searing pain on his chest and looked down to find bloody claw marks running across it. Two days later, they had vanished without a trace.

Following Lou’s traumatic experience, the women invited a medium over to help solve their seemingly paranormal problem. The medium held a seance and told the women that the doll was inhabited by the spirit of a deceased seven-year-old named Annabelle Higgins, whose body had been found years earlier on the site where their apartment building had been built.

The medium claimed that the spirit was benevolent and simply wanted to be loved and cared for. The two young nurses reportedly felt bad for the spirit and consented to allow her to take up permanent residence in the doll.

Ed And Lorraine Warren Enter The Annabelle Story

The Story Of The Real Annabelle Doll

Warrens’ Occult MuseumLorraine Warren with the real-life Annabelle doll shortly after taking possession of her.

Eventually, in an attempt to rid their home of the Annabelle doll’s spirit, Donna and Angie called on an Episcopal priest known as Father Hegan. Hegan contacted his superior, Father Cooke, who alerted Ed and Lorraine Warren.

As far as Ed and Lorraine Warren were concerned, the two young ladies’ trouble truly started when they began believing that the doll deserved their sympathy. The Warrens believed that there was actually a demonic force in search of a human host within Annabelle, and not a benevolent soul. The Warrens’ account of the case states:

“Spirits do not Possess inanimate objects like houses or toys, they possess people. An inhuman spirit can attach itself to a place or object and this is what occurred in the Annabelle case. This spirit manipulated the doll and created the illusion of it being alive in order to get recognition. Truly, the spirit was not looking to stay attached to the doll, it was looking to posses a human host.”

Ed And Lorraine Warren

Getty ImagesEd and Lorraine Warren, the paranormal investigators involved in the true story of the Annabelle doll.

Immediately, the Warrens noted what they believed were signs of demonic possession, including teleportation (the doll moving on its own), materialization (the parchment paper notes), and the “mark of the beast” (Lou’s clawed chest).

The Warrens subsequently ordered an exorcism of the apartment to be performed by Father Cooke. Then, they took Annabelle out of the apartment and to her final resting place in their Occult Museum in the hopes that her demonic reign would finally end.

Other Hauntings Attributed To The Demonic Doll

The Real Annabelle In A Museum

FlickrThe original Raggedy Ann Annabelle doll looks perfectly normal at first to the untrained eye.

Following Annabelle’s removal from Donna and Angie’s apartment, the Warrens documented several other paranormal experiences involving the doll – the first just minutes after they took possession of her.

After the exorcism of the nurses’ apartment, the Warrens buckled Annabelle into the backseat of their car and vowed not to take the highway in case she had some kind of accident-causing power over them and their vehicle. However, even the safer back roads proved too risky for the couple.

On their way home, Lorraine claimed that the brakes either stalled or failed several times, resulting in near-disastrous crashes. Lorraine claimed that as soon as Ed pulled Holy Water from his bag and doused the doll with it, the problem with the brakes disappeared.

Upon arriving home, Ed and Lorraine placed the doll in Ed’s study. There, they reported that the doll levitated and moved about the house. Even when placed in the locked office in an outer building, the Warrens claimed that she would turn up later inside the house.

Finally, the Warrens decided to lock Annabelle up for good.

The Warrens had a specially-made glass and wood case constructed, upon which they inscribed the Lord’s Prayer and Saint Michael’s Prayer. For the rest of his life, Ed would periodically say a binding prayer over the case, ensuring that the sinister spirit — and the doll — remained good and trapped.

Since being locked up, Annabelle the doll hasn’t moved again though it is alleged that her spirit has found ways to reach out to the earthly plane.

Once, a priest who was visiting the Warrens museum picked up Annabelle and discounted her demonic abilities. Ed warned the priest about mocking Annabelle’s demonic power, but the young priest laughed him off. On his way home, the priest was involved in a near-fatal crash that totaled his new car.

He claimed to have seen Annabelle in his rearview mirror just before the accident.

Years later, another visitor rapped on the glass of the Annabelle doll’s case and laughed at how silly people were to believe in her. On his way home, he reportedly lost control of his motorcycle and crashed headlong into a tree. He was killed instantly and his girlfriend just barely survived.

She claimed that at the time of the accident, the couple had been laughing about the Annabelle doll.

Over the years, the Warrens continued to recount these tales as proof of Annabelle the doll’s horrific powers, though none of these stories could be corroborated.

The names of the young priest and the motorcyclists were never divulged. Neither Donna nor Angie, the two nurses who were Annabelle’s first victims, ever came forward with their story. Neither Father Cooke nor Father Hegan appeared to have mentioned their exorcisms of her ever again.

It would appear that all we have is the Warrens’ word that any of this even took place.

How The Annabelle Doll’s Real-Life Stories Became A Movie Franchise

Whether or not any of these hauntings took place, the tales left behind were all director/producer James Wan needed to pull together a long-lasting and lucrative horror universe.

Beginning in 2014, Wan wrote the story of Annabelle, a child-sized haunted porcelain doll with lifelike features and a penchant for violence, using the real-life Annabelle doll as his inspiration.

Of course, there are several differences between the Warrens’ doll and its cinematic counterpart.

The most obvious difference is the doll itself. While the real Annabelle is clearly a child’s toy with its exaggerated features and plush body parts, the movie version of Annabelle is inspired by vintage handmade dolls made of porcelain with real braided hair and glistening glass eyes.

The Annabelle Doll From The Movies

Rich Fury/FilmMagic/Getty ImagesThe Annabelle doll that The Conjuring and Annabelle franchises used.

Along with her physical features, Annabelle’s antics were also amped up for shock value in the movies. Rather than terrorizing a pair of roommates and one boyfriend, movie Annabelle moves from home to home, attacking families, possessing members of Satanic cults, killing children, posing as a nun, and causing chaos in the Warrens’ own home.

Despite the fact that the real Annabelle only has one alleged murder under her belt, Wan has invented enough destruction for three successful movies and counting.

Inside The Museum Where The Real-Life Annabelle Lives Now

Though Ed and Lorraine Warren have both died, their legacy has been carried on by their daughter Judy and her husband Tony Spera. Until his death in 2006, Ed Warren considered Spera his demonology protege and entrusted him with continuing his work which included caring for his occult artifacts.

Those artifacts include the Annabelle doll and her protective case. Echoing the warnings of his predecessors, Spera cautions visitors of the Warrens’ Occult Museum about Annabelle’s powers.

“Is it dangerous?” Spera has said of the doll. “Yes. Is it the most dangerous object in this museum? Yes.”

But despite such claims, the Warrens have a complicated relationship with the truth.

Though they became practically household names for their involvement in the “Amityville Horror” case and those that inspired The Conjuring, their work has been almost entirely debunked.

The True Story Of Annabelle

Warrens’ Occult MuseumThe Annabelle doll’s location at the Occult Museum today.

An investigation by the New England Skeptical Society proved that the artifacts in the Warrens’ Occult Museum were mostly fraudulent, citing doctored photos and exaggerated storytelling.

But for those who still doubt the Annabelle doll’s powers, Spera likens disturbing her to playing Russian Roulette: There might be just one bullet in the gun, but would you still pull the trigger or would you just put the gun down and not take the risk?

The real-life fears surrounding the original Annabelle doll only flared up even more in August 2020, when reports surfaced that she had escaped from the Warrens’ Occult Museum (which closed down, at least temporarily, due to zoning issues in 2019).

Though the rumors quickly spread on social media, the reports were quickly outed as inaccurate. Spera himself soon posted a video of himself alongside the real-life Annabelle doll in the museum.

“Annabelle’s alive,” Spera assured everyone. “Well, I shouldn’t say alive. Annabelle is here in all of her infamous glory. She never left the museum.”

But Spera was also sure to stoke the fears that have kept the real Annabelle doll terrifying for 50 years, saying “I’d be concerned if Annabelle really did leave because she’s nothing to play with.”

After this look at the true story of the real Annabelle doll, read about the true story of The Conjuring. Then, read about the new owners of the haunted house that inspired The Conjuring.

Katie Serena
A former staff writer at All That's Interesting, Katie Serena has also published work in Salon.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Cite This Article
Serena, Katie. "Meet The Real Haunted Doll Behind ‘Annabelle’." AllThatsInteresting.com, October 1, 2023, https://allthatsinteresting.com/annabelle-doll. Accessed June 21, 2024.