On February 16, 1981, 19-year-old Arne Cheyenne Johnson stabbed her landlord to death, Alan Bono, and later said that he was commanded by the devil.
At first, the 1981 murder of Alan Bono in Brookfield, Connecticut, USA seemed like a simple murder. To the police, it is clear that the 40-year-old landlord was killed by tenant Arne Cheyenne Johnson in a fierce brawl.
Arne Cheyenne Johnson (center) arrives in court in Danbury in March 1981. Photo: Bettman.
But after his arrest, Johnson made a statement that surprised investigators: The Devil made him do it. With the help of two paranormal investigators, the young man’s lawyer pleaded in court that he was “possessed by a demon”.
This was the first time in American history that such an excuse has been made in the courtroom. Almost 40 years later, the Johnson case is still the subject of controversy and speculation.
Before the crime, Johnson was an ordinary young man, with no criminal record. Johnson says the source of all guilt begins with his fiancé’s 11-year-old brother, Debbie Glatzel.
In the summer of 1980, Debbie’s younger brother, David, said that he repeatedly saw a mysterious old man and was bothered by him. At first, Johnson and Glatzel thought that David was just using excuses not to do housework. However, David said the encounters continued, more and more frequent and more violent.
David sobbed several times after waking up, saying that he saw “a man with big black eyes, a sunken face with many animal-like features, jagged teeth, pointed ears, horns and hooves” . Not long after, the family asked a priest from a neighboring church to bless the house but to no avail.
So they hope that the couple Ed and Lorraine Warren, who call themselves paranormal investigators, can lend a hand. “David kicked, bit, spit and swore with horrible words,” family members told of the boy’s actions. “David was strangled by invisible hands, he tried to pull that hand out. Out of nowhere strong force shook David like he was a cloth doll.”
Johnson stayed with his family to help out whenever he could. But the horrors David experienced every night began to appear during the day. David said he saw “an old man with a white beard, wearing a shirt and jeans”. Suspicious noises started coming from the attic.
David also has many more strange actions. He hissed, had convulsions and spoke in strange voices, reading a few verses from the Bible and English poet John Milton’s epic of the Lost Heaven.
Warren and his wife concluded that David was possessed by a demon. However, the psychiatrist later investigated the incident and confirmed that David had only a learning disability (a disorder in understanding and applying what he learned, having difficulty in daily activities).
Ed and Lorraine Warren at court in Danbury in March 1981. Photo: Bettmann.
The Warren and his wife claimed that during the three “exorcisms” under the supervision of priests, David was hovering in the air, cursing and at times even stopping his breath. They also confirmed that David predicted the murder that Arne Cheyenne Johnson would commit.
In October 1980, Johnson decided to talk to the “devil”, asking him to stop tormenting his fiancée’s brother. “Heal me here, leave your little friend alone,” he exclaimed.
Johnson works for a tree caretaker. Meanwhile, Bono runs a dog ranch. The two were quite close and often met near the dog ranch, sometimes when Johnson even took time off from work to chat with Bono.
But on February 16, 1981, a fierce argument broke out between them. At around 6:30 a.m., Johnson pulled out a pocket knife and stabbed Bono’s chest and stomach several times.
Police arrested Johnson an hour later, assuming the two men were simply arguing over Johnson’s fiancée. But the Warren and the others, who call themselves psychic experts, claim there are many mysteries behind the story.
Before the murder, Johnson was said to have explored a well where David said he first met “demons”. Warren and his wife warned Johnson not to go near the well, but he still did. Johnson told investigators that he saw a demon hidden in the well that haunted him until after the murder.
Although authorities investigated the Warren couple’s accounts, they maintained the argument that Bono was simply killed in an argument with Johnson.
Johnson’s attorney Martin Minnella has sought to defend that he is “not guilty of being possessed by a demon”. He also wanted to ask priests who were believed to have attended the exorcism to testify, but that went against the priests’ tradition of keeping silent on this matter.
During the course of the case, many psychiatrists criticized the lawyer Minnella and the Warren family, saying they were profiteers in the tragedy.
“They have a great variety show, a great touring show,” the psychiatrist George Kresge quipped. “It’s just that this case requires psychologists more than them.”