On February 16, 1981, Alan Bono was found stabbed to death on the floor of a dog kennel facility – a gruesome murder committed under the most vexing and terrifying of circumstances.
This was the first homicide to occur in Brookfield, Connecticut’s 193-year history. The perpetrator, 19-year-old Arne Cheyenne Johnson, was arrested by local police shortly following the murder. Although the crime appeared out-of-character for Johnson, who had no prior criminal record or history of violence, law enforcement viewed the attack as a cut-and-dry homicide case – a landlord and a tenant, arguing over rent, living conditions, or Johnson’s fiance, escalated into a violent altercation. Surely, even the most unsuspecting of people can crack under the right pressure. But Arne Cheyenne Johnson swore that another force, powerful and demonic, was at play.
Johnson’s case was the first instance in American history where a defendant claimed to be under the influence of a demonic force that possessed him to commit the crime. Although the judge dismissed the possession plea, this case has been a source of debate since its conception.
Before that fateful day, Arne Johnson was a normal teenager. He was engaged to his high school sweetheart, Debbie Glatzel, and recently moved into the Glatzel household. At the time, Johnson was blissfully unaware this move would catalyze a series of violent events; events that would permanently tarnish his record and lead to many years behind bars.
In the summer of 1980, Debbie’s younger brother, David, was plagued by night terrors. He claimed to have vivid hallucinations of an old man, with black eyes and jagged teeth, that would awaken, frighten, and harass him in his sleep. At first, Arne and the Glatzel family dismissed young David as nothing more than an imaginative child trying to get out of chores. However, the visions continued, growing in intensity, until the family could no longer ignore David’s laments. They called for the help of a priest as well as self-acclaimed paranormal experts, Ed and Lorraine Warrens. The Warrens believed that David was under the influence of demonic possession and conducted a few seances in an attempt to exorcise the boy. During these rituals, David acted in a variety of disturbing manners, such as levitation and contortion. Something was clearly happening to the boy, and it deeply affected the lives of the Glatzel’s and Johnson. Finally, an exhausted Arne decided to take matters into his own hands. In October 1980, Johnson approached an abandoned well where David claimed he first encountered the devil man. Alone in the woods, desperate to end his fiance’s family’s suffering, he attempted to contact the demon. He provoked the entity, asking it to leave his soon-to-be brother alone and take him instead. According to Johnson, the demon gladly obliged. By February 1981, Johnson was a violent wreck with the first Brookfield murder charge in history hanging over him.
Martin Minnella, Johnson’s attorney, attempted to base his defense on demon possession. He cited precedents from two prior British cases in which demon possession was used as a viable defense. Judge Robert Callahan, however, refused Minnella’s approach. He insisted that demon possession could not be founded by science or physical evidence and, therefore, could not be proven by fact within the courtroom. With the demon possession tactic cast aside, Minnella’s only other alternative was a self-defense approach. Unfortunately for Johnson, this argument would prove futile. On November 24, 1981, Johnson was found guilty of first-degree manslaughter and sentenced to 10 – 20 years in prison. He served only 5 years on account of good behavior.
The most compelling element of Arne Johnson’s case lies within his motive for the murder. Attorneys and psychological experts have debated for years with no universal conclusion – was Arne Johnson actually possessed? Is there truly a supernatural force that can overtake an average person and lead them down a dark and violent road? And, if said paranormal influence does exist, how do you fairly try a person for an action they committed under its spell?
Perhaps one day, we’ll know the true tale of what transpired that frigid, February morning in 1981. But for now, dear viewers, the answer remains unknown.