When a child grows up with famous parents, it means dealing with overly eager fans, and invasive reporters. But for Judy Spera, the daughter of Ed and Lorraine Warren, arguably the most well-known paranormal investigators ever, growing up with famous parents also meant dealing with dark forces, and one notoriously haunted doll.
Spera was an adult in her twenties by the time her parents gained mainstream attention for their work with the paranormal in the mid-70s. But before the Lindley Street Poltergeist case in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1974, or the Amityville Horror, and long before The Conjuring film franchise, Spera’s parents sold Ed’s artwork, and carved out a decent life for their daughter. Ed grew up in a haunted house, and Lorraine was a clairvoyant, and though they had explored unexplained phenomena for years, theirs was a normal existence compared to the talk show appearances, lectures across the globe, and attention that was to come.
In the new Travel Channel documentary, Devil’s Road: The True Story of Ed and Lorraine Warren, Judy Spera opens up about life with her paranormal investigator parents. Airing Sept 7, at 9 p.m., the special is the first installment of the network’s “Shock Docs” series, and includes rare audio and video from Warren cases. But Spera’s involvement is likewise rare due to her reluctance to be involved with most projects about her parents.
Ed died in 2006, and Lorraine in 2019, so Judy, along with her husband Tony Spera, are the caretakers of the Warren legacy—although it is a legacy she is hesitant to continue. In the following interview, Spera discusses what it’s like to grow up haunted. Along with responding to critics of her parents, she opens up about “that doll” Annabelle (safely contained in the since-closed occult museum her parents left her), her own potential psychic abilities, and what might be next for the Warren name.
What was it about this documentary that made you want to get involved in a bigger way than perhaps you had been previously?
Well, because it involved my mother, and I felt I owed it to her to get on there and speak because I never do this. In the beginning, I was told that it was about my mother. And I don’t know if it evolved to being about my mommy and dad. They were interviewing people that I didn’t know or I hadn’t met. I thought, “Well, who knew her better than I did?”
Were you ever a skeptic about your parents’ pursuit?
Not at all. I was so afraid of it. As I got older, I could see proof of it or proof enough for me.
Did you ever want more of a normal, traditional life with a typical mom and dad?
No, I never wanted them to stop. And when I was quite small, they were artists and that’s what they did. They traveled and sold their paintings, and they did art classes. It wasn’t until I was getting older when this ghost thing happened. As a little child, I didn’t know they were doing that. I knew they were always interested. My father always talked about ghost stories in my family, so we had fantastic Halloween parties, and my father would make these witches and things, and paint them. It was fun. And we spent a lot of time walking around in cemeteries, which I still enjoy doing.
Did your parents ever want you to follow in their path or follow with the family business?
No, they never mentioned that. I guess they knew that I would never do it. They spent most of their time telling me not to give any recognition to these things that would upset me. There are certain things that upset me. Some statues they had at one time — and then that doll.
You mean Annabelle. I always found the Raggedy Ann doll version of Annabelle way scarier than the porcelain doll that they used in the movie.
Me too. The eyes, the eyes are just dead. It’s not like the eyes on the movie doll at all. I had heard in the beginning they felt that the Raggedy Ann people would be upset or something, but I don’t think there’s many little girls that want Raggedy Ann dolls anymore.
What were the cases they talked about around the dinner table?
Well, first of all, I lived with my grandparents. Because they traveled so much, and I had to go to school. I lived with them briefly. I was terrified there, in their house, so I just didn’t sleep there. I couldn’t sleep in a room by myself. And I was young, I was very young. The one case that I was older that they were talking about the most was The Devil in Connecticut case.
Was that case, the Arne Cheyenne Johnson trial, the scariest one for you personally?
And the Raggedy Ann doll, and these other artifacts that are in the museum, necklace that strangled somebody and all that.
Your mom was known as a gifted clairvoyant and your father had the role of the demonologist. But did your father have his own psychic or sensitive abilities that people don’t know about?
Not that I ever knew of. Things happened to him. I mean really. But he went at things in a more logical way. My mother was the one that would go in and discern what was going on. He could tell from all the facts what the people were talking about in the house.
How about you? Do you think that you have any abilities that perhaps you inherited from your mom?
Well, I had incidents happen, but I don’t pursue it. I back away from it. I had things happen that I’ll say, “Oh, my gosh. How did that happen?” I don’t know if you want to attribute it to being anything to do with my mother’s gifts, but I have had some things happen. It’s a lot of dreams that are very strange, and warnings—from my father. I’m not going into those houses to look for anything. I’m concerned when my husband goes. He has crosses and holy water, rosary beads, and my father’s cross because I make him take them all with him. I don’t want anything coming back here.
Are there any details about those premonitions?
The one that I can’t talk about because it was about a family member that died, so that would cause a lot of pain for the other relatives, so I won’t talk about that. But I did know at the beginning of the week that someone was going to pass.
Your mom sadly passed away last year and your father died in 2006, but what do you think they would think about the current genre of paranormal investigators?
He’d think it was a lot of baloney. He’d say, “They’re going off on tangents.” He really wouldn’t have tolerated these people that are doing these shows that they go in, they don’t have an outcome. They don’t get rid of what’s there. It’s almost more like just for the TV, like you have to have a ghost a minute. And you have to have something happening and, “ooh, what’s that, and what’s that?” They would be in a house for days. They’d stay up all night and sometimes nothing happened at all.
Your father unfortunately never saw their work depicted on the movie screen, but your mom did…
He would have been thrilled about the movies, and my mom, she knew about the first movie. Unfortunately, she had dementia. She went to the first premiere, and we took her to the second premiere. She wasn’t too good then, and she was having trouble walking, but she was still there for it. They all loved her. She wasn’t intimidated by actors, or wealthy people, or anything like that.
Is there a special memory of your mom being recognized as “Lorraine Warren” where you saw her interactions with fans?
One time we were coming from England or going to England, I don’t remember. An entire soccer team was in the middle of the airplane, all these men. My mother was standing there with her arm on the back of the seats and talking to all these guys, and they loved it.
What would you like to dispel about your parents? Something that people get wrong about them?
That they were in it for fame, or money, or anything like that. I think that was one that came up probably a lot, and I had a hard time with that criticism. They were really, really trying, and they always tried. After my dad collapsed, he was a full-care patient for five years, so he wasn’t even “there.” He was in the house, but you know. My mom, she would take these calls in the middle of the night and sit and talk to people. We wanted to change the house number so many times, but she wouldn’t let us. She’d sit and talk to people until they were comfortable enough to go to bed and go to sleep, or if they felt, “Okay, this will work,” or “We’ll talk to you in the morning.” Then she’d get back to them.
Because you don’t want to be involved with the paranormal, where does the Warren legacy go from here?
As far as where it’s going after this, I would like to see it carried on, of course. We’ll see where it goes. I don’t foresee anybody in our family. I just thought my grandson would be interested, but I guess he’s had his problems with it too. He spent a lot of time sleeping in a closet, but he’s a grown man now. I know my husband will take it from here, and he inherited the museum because I certainly didn’t want it. He’d better stay around longer than me, and take care of that place!