Millions of people have seen the films in The Conjuring franchise, but only a few know the backstory for the chilling tales.
The Perron family of Rhode Island claims to have been terrorized by an evil paranormal presence while living at Arnold Estate, the house that inspired The Conjuring. Originally built in 1693, the home has a long, storied history of hauntings and terror, even up to the present day. Perron and her family — five daughters in total, along with their mother and father — lived there from January 1971 until 1980.
Centuries before the Perrons lived there, local legends say a woman named Bathsheba Sherman did (this has not been proven). Rumoured to be a witch in the local legends, she allegedly haunted generations of families that had taken residence within her remote grounds. Ed and Lorraine Warren, the late paranormal investigator couple that anchors The Conjuring series, visited the home and looked into the hauntings in the 1970s.
Documentary special Bathsheba: Search for Evil attempts to set the record straight on the Perron family’s story. Anchored by first-hand accounts from the living Perron family members, the special sets out to separate fact from fiction, discovering the truth that lies beneath the blockbuster film.
Global News spoke with Andrea Perron, the eldest daughter, about Bathsheba, the Warrens and the spiritual world.
Global News: Would you say Bathsheba: Search For Evil is the most in-depth interview your family has ever done for a documentary?
Andrea Perron: Bathsheba: Search For Evil is literally the only documentary that’s ever been made about this subject. It not only gets right to the heart of the matter with this particular person, Bathsheba Sherman, but it tells our story with integrity, honesty and authenticity because it’s in our own words, our own voices. We were so integrated in the process of making this documentary, it became a true representation and characterization of our family memoir. I’m eternally grateful for the opportunity to tell the truth without interference, finagling or hyperbole. The truth of it is phenomenal enough, in my opinion, and certainly stranger than fiction.
The producers really did their homework and the research was exceptional. They read my books (House of Darkness House of Light) and they knew every element and aspect of our story. They were honest and that’s what matters most to me. This was all about bringing the truth to light because even though The Conjuring is an excellent film for what it is, it’s about 95 per cent fiction and about five per cent hard truth.
This isn’t that. Bathsheba: Search for Evil is a true, well-made, well-conceived documentary about a single entity named Bathsheba Sherman who got a really bad rap in life, afterlife and in the film because of Mrs. Lorraine Warren. Her case files were based on her own interpretation of events which transpired in the farmhouse. Essentially, Bathsheba copped the blame for everything evil, and it simply wasn’t the case.
WATCH BELOW: Clip of ‘Bathsheba: Search for Evil’
To her credit, when she first visited the house, Mrs. Warren intuited a presence named Bathsheba as a malevolent force to be reckoned with, but her attachment to the farm was not because she was a member of the Arnold family. She was a neighbour. She lived on the Sherman Farm, a large estate about a mile or so from the Arnold Estate. The entity haunting and taunting my mother had a broken neck and was likely Mrs. Arnold, found hanging in the barn in 1797 at the age of 93. Bathsheba wasn’t even born until 1812 and died in 1885 from paralysis due to a stroke.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and the documentary, for those who might not know a thing about The Conjuring or anything about your family’s story.
I am the eldest daughter of the Perron family. My parents, Roger and Carolyn, had five girls: myself, Nancy, Christine, Cindy and April. My mother found this magical place in the country in June of 1970. We didn’t move in until January of 1971, even though we all felt as if we already lived there, which was the strangest thing of all. We felt like it was precisely where we belonged from the moment we all stepped on the property. It felt like “home” even before it was our home. I believe it was our destiny.
What do you think people will get out of watching Bathsheba that they didn’t take away from watching the movie?
The documentary captures the essence of Bathsheba’s character to the best of its ability, and that, to me, is the most important thing because there has never been any documentary that I have worked on where anyone involved was even remotely interested in getting the facts right or the story straight according to what my family experienced in the farmhouse. I have always asserted that, in this case, the truth really is stranger than fiction.
James Wan (The Conjuring director) did read the books and everybody associated with The Conjuring read them, too. I remember when James finished, he said: “Oh, hell no! We can’t incorporate elements of this. It will run people right out of the theatre. What’s the point of making a movie that nobody stays to watch?”
Do you consider your paranormal experiences in the farmhouse a blessing, not a curse?
To be touched by spirit is not a curse, it’s a blessing, a gift. It is that rare and precious glimpse into a realm from which we come and will inevitably return. My mother has no fear of death because of what she experienced at the farm and neither do I. Of course, I don’t want to die in pain, but I certainly don’t have any fear of death because I know in some way, shape or form, we do go on. We transform. Everything is energy and consciousness.
I will always be grateful that we moved into that farmhouse, because it changed all our lives in significant ways and we are far more spiritually enlightened people because of our experiences there. Essentially, it was a revelation, a journey, one worthy of sharing with others who question their own existence.
How long after you moved into the farmhouse did you realize it was haunted?
We discovered very quickly … immediately, in fact, upon moving into the house that we were not there alone. We were sharing the space and we had to come to terms with that. It took a long time to happen and there was a lot of fear, anxiety, shock and secrecy. When you’re a little girl and you question your own sanity, when you can’t even believe you just saw what you saw, you are naturally afraid to tell anyone else about a supernatural event. You don’t want your family to think you’ve lost your mind, or worse yet, lying. It’s a lot of pressure to put on a child. I think Ed Warren was certainly justified in his concern about us, the children.
My father just wanted them to go away, to pretend none of it was real, just a figment of our imagination. But it started happening to him, too, and he really couldn’t deny it anymore.
Can you tell us about some of the spirits that lived with you in that house?
We all experienced encounters with spirits. Some were unpleasant, some were lovely, cordial and communicative. From benign to benevolent to oblivious to mean-spirited, the spirits were just like us, a wide variety of personalities.
Only one of the spirits ever self-identified, a little boy named Oliver Richardson, who my sister April befriended. He told her that was his name in life. When we moved out of the farmhouse, we wondered if the spirits would travel with us. My sister Cindy said, “No, they’re trapped there. If they could have gone with us when we left, they would have, because they loved us,” and the feeling was mutual for the most part. By the time we left the farm, it felt like we were leaving our extended family behind. For some of us, it was a relief. For others, a heartbreaking loss.
There was only one really malignant spirit in the house who was so mean-spirited toward my mother, but we do not believe it was Bathsheba. My mother feels exactly the same way about her as I do. She thinks Bathsheba got royally screwed in The Conjuring, given the role of the evil spirit by default. I’m Bathsheba’s greatest defender and though I can’t absolve her of guilt, I can and do give her the full benefit of the doubt. In life, she’d been accused of practising witchcraft, sacrificing an infant to Satan in exchange for eternal youth and beauty. There is absolutely no evidence to prove she did anything of the sort. Though it was all based on rumour and innuendo, the accusation stuck. She was involved in an inquest but wasn’t ever charged with the crime.
In the court of public opinion, Bathsheba was tried and convicted, living a long and miserable life beneath a shroud of suspicion. Buried along with her entire family in hallowed ground in the village of Harrisville, she outlived only one of her four children. I feel nothing but sympathy for her, nothing but remorse for the life she lived and the accusation, which has persisted after her death.
If it wasn’t Bathsheba, who was the malignant spirit in the house?
My father firmly believes that the entity that haunted and taunted my mother was most likely Mrs. Arnold. She had apparently decided after the death of her husband to take her own life by hanging. That occurred in the barn, according to the town historian. At the time, he told my mother that a farmhand cut her down and carried her into the farmhouse because suicide was so frowned upon.
I think she was probably an angry spirit, or bereft. I also think spirits who remain earthbound do so for a number of reasons. Again, pure speculation on my part, but I really do think they either died so suddenly or tragically, they’re not yet aware they are dead, or they are lingering in some kind of limbo.
What are your thoughts on The Conjuring?
I will always be grateful for The Conjuring because even though the film was a predominantly fictionalized version of events, it really is its own third story. It does get some things exactly right, leaving viewers with very distinct impressions such as: good conquers evil, love conquers fear and the Perron family endured an extreme haunting, which they all survived. All of these are true so, in this respect, the film is an accurate depiction of events.
Yes, there was a bit of hyperbole, but basically they toned it down compared to what my books bring to light, which chronicle the decade we lived at the house. The Conjuring is based on the case files of the Warrens and it’s meant to highlight their careers as paranormal investigators. Ours just happened to be the first story told because Ed made sure on his deathbed to tell Lorraine that he wanted the Perron family saga told while she was still alive. He always considered our story to be “the most intense, most compelling, most disturbing and most significant” of all the investigations they had ever conducted as a couple.
Can you describe your parents’ relationship with the Warrens during the time you lived there?
Tumultuous with my father and comforting to my mother. They only came six times in total over a year to conduct their investigation, and only when my father wasn’t around for the most part. They must have picked up on his vibe — not too difficult to do. It was obvious he didn’t welcome their intervention or want them on the premises. My mother grew to trust them and believed they were being ardent in their desire to help release our family from such a predicament and sincerely concerned about our experiences, especially regarding us, impressionable children.
Can you tell us about the seance the Warrens conducted in your house?
During that fateful night, I was certain I had seen my mother die. What everyone present in the house witnessed left a permanent impression. The night of the seance was a gruesome event, shocking and horrific, the definition of childhood trauma. My mother’s body was rolled into a ball. It was absolutely heart-stopping hearing her scream, watching her writhing in pain. I thank God every day she has no memory of it, although she remembers everything else perfectly well. There was no blood and gore involved, nothing like how the film portrayed this incident, but it was still haunting. It wasn’t Bathsheba that attacked my mother that night, but whatever it was, it was incredibly powerful, certainly powerful enough to claim her life if it wanted to. My father thinks she was possessed for a few minutes because she spoke in a language that does not exist on this planet.
The spirit that attacked her levitated the chair in which she sat and threw her from the middle of our dining room to the centre of our parlour. Every single person in that house heard her head strike the floor. The medium collapsed on the table, unconscious. She was begging for disaster and we got it. My mother was knocked unconscious. The priest was quivering in the corner of the room, white as a sheet. Everyone else who witnessed it, myself included, was dumbstruck by a horror show, stunned into silence. We’ll never forget it. Those who observed it were scared to death and scarred for life. The film portrayed a Hollywood scene of Ed and Lorraine casting out a so-called demon that “possessed” my mother and everybody lived happily ever. That’s not what happened, not at all. Sometimes there is no happy ending. Sometimes survival is a success story all its own.
How did your relationship with the Warrens end?
My father threw the Warrens out of the house after the seance. They only came back one more time to make sure my mother had survived the aftermath of the incident. When they returned to check and see if my mother survived, she refused them entry into the farmhouse.
That was how our relationship ended at the time and that was in 1974. We lived there for six more years. Numerous events happened in the house over time — incidents they knew nothing about. To say that The Conjuring, in terms of context and content, was “incomplete” based on their case files is an understatement. I’m working diligently now to bring the true story to light in other ways.
Bathsheba: Search For Evil is an enormous step forward in the right direction.
Your family lived at this farmhouse for 10 years and you experienced so many scary things. Why did you not move?
Or as some people put it: “Why the hell did you people stay there?”
There are many answers to that question. Yes, all hell was breaking loose at the farmhouse but the same held true for the country, politically, socio-economically and in every other way. As we reflect back on that tumultuous time, the singular answer is clear to me: I believe we were supposed to live there. My father was not having paranormal encounters because he was so busy out on the road, trying to keep that roof over our heads. He wasn’t having the same experiences we were having and when he did come home exhausted, the last thing he wanted to hear was my mother saying, “Roger, I think we have ghosts.”
No, he didn’t want to believe in ghosts. He refused to even acknowledge the concept and was unwilling to sell the farm he’d just moved heaven and earth to buy. Sadly, he questioned my mother’s veracity and we never told him anything because if he didn’t believe her, he certainly wouldn’t believe us. The truth of it took decades to emerge. Many years later he admitted to me that he was terrified he’d moved his family into an environment where he had no control.
What’s the deal with Annabelle? Does the doll have anything to do with your family and experiences living in the farmhouse?
They knew they were going to make a series of films based on the case files of the Warrens, and they knew they were going to start with our family story. Because the second story was going to be about the Annabelle doll, they wove that element into our story to set up the second film — a rather cynical approach, in my opinion, but typical of Hollyweird! We never saw the doll or even knew of its existence. We had no inkling of it or the nurses or the story behind it, nothing at all.
What do you want the audience to take away from watching this documentary special?
That Bathsheba Sherman has been unfairly misrepresented, mischaracterized and maligned. Even though we don’t have all the answers about her life and her behaviour, I want people to give her the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think she’s a villain, I think she was a mortal soul who struggled just like everyone else did and I think people should take a lesson from Bathsheba’s life. A heinous accusation can linger in the ether forever and that’s precisely what happened to Bathsheba.
I’ve never been more proud to participate in any project, including The Conjuring. Though I remain grateful for The Conjuring, this is the truth. Had it not been for the feature film, our true story would be languishing in obscurity, just like a million other books nobody would know about. Someday my voice will go silent. In the interim, I will work myself into an early grave to tell this story with honesty and integrity because it is bigger than all of us combined. It has the power to change perceptions and can conceivably change the world.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
The world broadcast premiere of ‘Bathsheba: Search For Evil’ airs Monday, Oct. 11 at 9 p.m. ET/PT during T+E’s annual Creep Week event, running from Saturday, Oct. 9 to Sunday, Oct. 17.