Jeff Belanger, paranormal expert, adventurer, speaker, podcaster, Emmy-nominated host, author, “Ghost Adventures researcher, and producer of the “New England Legends” series on PBS and Amazon Prime, is featured in the latest installment of Shock Docs, a documentary series that delves into the world of the paranormal, killers, and more.
Shock Docs: The Devil Made Me Do It explores the true story that inspired the most recent Conjuring movie, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. Speaking as an expert, Belanger enlightens viewers about some of the events involved with the case as does Lorraine Warren herself. We interviewed Belanger about the documentary as well as his books and other projects. This is what he had to say about the case.
Kelli McNeely: “I understand that you are a paranormal expert, you’ve written so many books and been on so many shows, and documentaries, but how did you become involved in that world?”
Jeff Belanger: “I grew up in an old New England town. When you grow up in an area like that, you’ve got a lot of old homes and I remember a friend of mine who lived a couple of houses over and one day he matter of a factly said, ‘My house is haunted.’ intrigued because it wasn’t like some Hollywood horror movie it was just this thing. This was back in the 80s when ghosts were very much still in the closet. Growing up in New Town, the next town over was where Ed and Lorraine Warren lived. We’d go see them every year around October and watch their programs where they would share their evidence. I’ve known them since I was about twelve years old. So I think it was just a combination of getting that influence early on and seeing the Warrens, and growing up around haunted houses and creepy stories. Then I went to school to be a writer and I was a “features guy” so around October I would go looking for ghost stories and hauntings, things like that for Halloween. That turned into a website which turned into books and a whole career that I could have never planned.”
Kelli McNeely: “That’s amazing, to have been exposed to things like that growing up and knowing the Warrens. Speaking of books, you have quite a few out.”
Jeff Belanger: “Yeah.”
Kelli McNeely: “How many is it now?”
Jeff Belanger: “Well, I ghostwrote a few, those don’t count, but sixteen.”
Kelli McNeely: “Wow. That’s quite an accomplishment. You also do quite a few documentaries, like with Shock Docs. I saw you in Shock Docs: The Devil Made Me Do It. It’s a very fascinating case.”
Jeff Belanger: “I knew the Warrens and I lived in the town, so I knew the case of “The Devil Made Me Do It,” the haunting in New Town, Connecticut. Growing up, I kind of knew about this stuff and this is the fourth Shock Doc I’ve been involved with. I guess they like me [laughter].”
Kelli McNeely: “It sounds that way [laughter].
Jeff Belanger: “It’s one of those things where I’ve written about all of these stories over these years. I’ve researched them. I think there is so much we can learn by studying them. When they make it into pop culture, like The Conjuring 3, we need good documentaries out there. I’ve been to the house from The Conjuring and I knew the Perron family and the Warrens, I know that whole case inside and out. The movie was just nothing at all like what happened. I know those movies take a lot of liberties so it’s important to have a documentary like this where you can find out what really happened from the people who were there and I think in life it is way more terrifying than what Hollywood could dream up.”
Kelli McNeely: “I agree. I’ve seen both The Conjuring 3 and Shoc Docs: The Devil Made Me Do It, and there were a lot of things changed for the movie. While most of the things in the movie were small, they were still different, for example in the movie, the lawyer plays a minor part and it was changed from a man to a woman. Of course, they added the occult aspect to the movie’s story.”
Jeff Belanger: “Sure. The lawyer is actually a very important part of the real story. Marty Minnella is a devout Catholic. He wasn’t picked by accident, they knew he had these beliefs. They thought they could put the Devil on trial, that was a significant part of it. What I love about this story is that it’s so much bigger. You can believe or disbelieve that there was a demonic presence in that house, but someone died, someone was murdered. That absolutely happened and someone went to trial for it. The Warrens did get involved and it turned into this international media circus because Ed Warren thought he could put the devil on trial. He wanted to bring up priests and bishops, people like that, and talk about exorcisms and things like that and that he didn’t have control of his body. Then it would get into even bigger issues like free will, evil, and good, some of the biggest subjects humans have ever asked. It was this close to getting its day in court.”
Kelli McNeely: “Right. That would have unleashed all kinds of things. Could you imagine what the ramifications would be? Think of all of the criminals that would claim that stuff.”
Jeff Belanger: “Right, it would be terrible. Anyone ever convicted of murder could claim that ‘The Devil made me do it.’ Everyone would try to use it as a defense. I understand why the judge wouldn’t allow it. But at the same time, look at the emotion on Debbie’s face during the trial. She saw something that was punishing this child, punishing Arne, something that she couldn’t defend against. You can only imagine how that must feel while watching her family be attacked by something you can’t do anything about.”
Kelli McNeely: “I really love that we get the chance to learn so much about the real truth behind the case with Shock Docs’ documentary. I think that’s extremely important.”
Jeff Belanger: “The real haunting isn’t 24/7 like the movie which makes it so much more frightening. People calm down, they get quiet. You start to let your guard down and then when something does happen it puts you on edge, that’s so much worse. It had nothing to do with the house, you couldn’t just walk out, it had everything to do with David, the boy, and then with Arne.
That was a big thing for the Warrens, for sure. It’s a case we all knew about in town. That was before the internet and people would talk about things, about houses being haunted. ‘Hey, you know about that blue house on Main Street? They say it is haunted,’ We’d say whatever and they’d say that the Warrens investigated it and we knew then it was really haunted. Back then, their phone number was listed. You could call Directory Assistance and they would connect you to Ed and Lorraine Warren. They were very much regional celebrities back then. You just knew about them if you were interested in ghosts or the paranormal. They’d do these programs in the Fall where you would go to hear them speak and they would share their evidence and audio. In fact, I remember hearing the audio of that kid, which a little of it was played in the documentary. You heard his voice, you heard the demonic voice. I remember hearing that years ago. They would play it for you on a cassette recorder in front of a room of people. It would give you chills. They talked about this case, it was a big case for them. This was huge. Ed Warren had never seen a case of diabolic possession move that quickly. He’s said that sometimes the process would take years to get to the stage where David was after just a couple of weeks.”
Kelli McNeely: “That’s so scary. The thought of taking over your body is just terrifying.”
Jeff Belanger: “I agree. You know, these folks, Ed and Lorraine Warren came at this from a very Roman Catholic perspective. They used the tools in their toolbox, holy water, priests, blessings, and the right of exorcism.”
Jeff Belanger: “To me, the most powerful part of the documentary is just watching Debbie get emotional about remembering what her little brother went through. To me, that just brought it all home. Imagine how you would feel if you had a young sibling, or a child of your own being attacked and you can’t stop it. I’m a dad and that just kills me.”
Kelli McNeely: ‘I couldn’t imagine. It’s a very different thing to watch something like that happen in a movie and hearing about it from real people. With Debbie and Arne, and even with the lawyer in the doc, you could see them really react. I hate that the lawyers part of the story is so small in The Conjuring 3.”
Jeff Belanger: “I really think he saw this as a way to put himself on the map, to put his belief system on the map, and to really put the Devil on trial like he couldn’t in life and to really talk about this stuff. That was his sincere hope. When the judge told him no, he had to go with something else. I think that it’s interesting that Arne was only convicted of manslaughter. That alone tells you that there must have been some influence, at least from the story going around, This is a very small area in Connecticut. It was in all of the papers so I’m sure the jurors saw that.”
Kelli McNeely: “It is very surprising that he did just get manslaughter. I don’t think that would have happened today.”
Jeff Belanger: “Someone did die. There was a drunken argument. We have Debbie saying she watched Arne change. She saw something overtake him. The next thing she knew, her boss and landlord was dead.”
Kelli McNeely: “The doc really turns the story from entertainment to oh shit, this may actually be real and it puts almost an educational spin on things.”
Jeff Belanger: “I would hope that this documentary makes people think a little deeper than the movie would. The movie you get to leave, you get to walk out of the theater and think well, that was fun. I hope that with this documentary, you continue to think and talk and ask questions about what does this means, what would we do. Is there evil in the world? Could this happen again? That’s what I hope people question.”
Kelli McNeely: ‘There are so many things in the documentary that gets under your skin, like those recordings. I won’t lie, I fast-forwarded through most of those, they really freak me out, give me nightmares kind of freaking me out. And it takes a lot to freak me out.”
Jeff Belanger: “I imagine it would be hard to freak you out with your job. I get it. Most of us don’t go through what they went through. When you hear from the people that were there when you see the emotions, you know they went through something. Having worked in this area for 20 years, I’ve heard of other cases and interviewed people who have gone through similar things. It changes you, they’ll be different for the rest of their lives. The entity may go away, but you’re scarred, you’re damaged for the rest of your life.”
Kelli McNeely: “I imagine they are. Speaking of your career, you’re involved with the Ghost Adventures series. What’s that like? It has to take a toll.”
Jeff Belanger: “That’s been going since 2008. I’ve been there since the first episode of Ghost Adventures. I do the same for them that I do with books and magazine articles, I research. I will tell you this, there are a lot of really dark stories on Ghost Adventures. Some days, all day long you are talking to people that were victimized. You’re researching truly horrible things that happened at these locations. You spend your whole day in a really dark place. I know for me, I’ve got to find some balance, I’ve got to go outside in the sunshine, I’ve got to color with my daughter, something to find some balance. You can really get yourself down. There’s evil and everything else in the world. I’m basically researching them and chronicling those stories and I don’t want to get sucked into them myself. I want to leave it behind me. That’s the challenge for all of us who do this work.”
Kelli McNeely: “I’m sure. That’s a lot of death and pain you have to witness day in and day out. It has to be a tough day, emotionally.”
Jeff Belanger: “It can be for sure. But I also think there’s something to learn from all of it. These places are haunted, these stories stick around because there’s some inherent sermon from the past that we are still grappling with. Like you said, this stuff can happen again. If we hear these stories and take heed a little bit, maybe we will be a little better prepared the next time these things come around. The past does haunt us, as you know.”
Kelli McNeely: “What was your first experience with the paranormal like?”
Jeff Belanger: “I was in the catacombs in Paris, France in 2003. I was down there alone surrounded by millions of human skeletons. I was already creeped out and I’m walking through this long tunnel alone and I see this figure, this man, step out into this hallway and go from one side to the other. I thought I’m down here alone, in that moment it just starts to sink in that if that’s not a ghost, well, I don’t have another word for what I saw. I’ve interviewed hundreds of people about their experiences, but when you have your own, it changes your DNA. You’re different now, forever. It took weeks or months for it to really sink in.”
Kelli McNeely: “If somewhere was going to be haunted, I would think it would be the catacombs. There’s such a legacy of death and pain there.”
Jeff Belanger: “It calls to us, doesn’t it? Look at who you work for. Sometimes with these places you just have to go check them out yourself.”
Kelli McNeely: “I would love to see the catacombs. And I’m a firm believer in the paranormal.
I explored your website, which is great. Is there a place where people can find where you will be speaking?”
Jeff Belanger: “Yeah, it’s under “gigs.” I have a lot of live programs coming up. I do between eighty and a hundred a year. A lot of them are on zoom right now. A lot are free because they are sponsored by VPN. I love not only finding these stories but sharing them. That’s the important part. I’m so glad about this documentary. People need to know the difference between the real story and Hollywood. Did you know that the interview room they recorded it in was the library from Knives Out?”
Kelli McNeely: “That’s fantastic. It’s great that you are able to share all of those experiences. I did not know the room was from Knives Out. That’s awesome.
Jeff Belanger has made his career by delving into the past and uprooting the things that haunt us, but he’s got many more tales that are still to come, so make sure that you follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube to stay up to date on his appearances, to watch videos, get a book, and to learn more about the world of the paranormal.
If you watch The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It, please check out Shock Docs: The Devil Made Me Do It and learn about the true story behind the movie. It’s now streaming on discovery+.