In 1980, a seemingly ordinary family, the Glatzels, found themselves thrust into a harrowing ordeal that would leave them grappling with questions about faith, fear, and the supernatural. At the heart of their story was a young boy named David Glatzel, whose life took a sinister turn, sparking a national debate about the existence of demonic possession. The recently released documentary, The Devil on Trial, delves deep into this chilling true story that inspired the third instalment of The Conjuring.
The tale begins with David’s sister, Debbie Glatzel, leaving home and moving in with her boyfriend, Arne Cheyenne Johnson. The family helped with the move, but as young David swept the floor of the new house, he claimed to have felt an ominous presence. What unfolded in the days following was a series of inexplicable events, leading some family members to believe that David was possessed by some otherworldly entity.
The Glatzel family’s quest for answers took them down a convoluted path toward an exorcism. The director of the documentary, Chris Holt, explained on an episode of the podcast You Can’t Make This Up that the process of obtaining an exorcism is intricate, involving rigorous scrutiny. David underwent a psychiatric evaluation, which yielded no signs of abnormality. Ed and Lorraine Warren, self-proclaimed demonologists who inspired The Conjuring series, also played a significant role in promoting the belief that David was indeed possessed.
The documentary presents audio from David’s exorcism, depicting a disturbing scene with the boy thrashing wildly and screaming profanities. Arne Johnson, overcome by the situation, eventually stepped in. Months later, tragedy struck when Arne killed the couple’s landlord, Alan Bono, following an altercation. The media sensationalised the case as “The devil made me do it” trial because Arne’s lawyer, Martin Minella, made history by attempting to use demonic possession as an alibi defence, although it was ultimately rejected by the trial judge.
But was David or Arne really possessed, according to The Devil on Trial?
David’s brother, Carl Glatzel, raised doubts about the authenticity of the possessions narrative, suggesting that the Warrens were con artists who did nothing but fuel a false story.
Carl claimed that their mother, Judy Glatzel, drugged the family with sleeping pills to keep them under control, which might have induced David’s hallucinations.
This revelation convinced Holt that David was telling the truth, at least his version of the truth based on what he experienced, “For me, it sort of proved in a way that David wasn’t lying. If that was the case, and Judy Glatzel was drugging her family, then these hallucinations David was experiencing were real. The motivations of the mother, and who should have known better, and who should have really stopped what she was doing is questionable. It throws a real magnifying glass on her motivations, and why she was doing this.”
The Devil on Trial is currently at the fifth spot on the Netflix US top ten list and second spot on the global top ten chart.