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The true story of the haunted doll that inspired Annabelle

The Conjuring is well known for its terrifying antagonists, but here's the true story behind the Annabelle doll from the horror movie franchise

Is Annabelle based on a true story? When it comes to creepy dolls in the horror movie world, there’s a surprisingly fierce competition to be the most terrifying toy, with the likes of Chucky, and Billy from the Saw movies right up there. The winner though, surely has to be Annabelle, the sinister little doll from The Conjuring franchise.

Annabelle has so far featured in pretty much every instalment of the ghost movie series to date, and even has two solo movies of her own. She is basically the horror version of MCU character Nick Fury at this point, tying the whole supernatural universe together.

But where the hell did the creators of the Conjuring movies get the idea for this cursed plaything? Well, we wish we could tell you it’s all entirely made up, but that’s simply not the case. So, here is the true story of Annabelle.

OK, so first of all, let’s take a look at the physical doll. While the appearance has been exaggerated by James Wan for the incarnation in the Conjuring franchise, there is indeed a doll upon which Annabelle is based. The Annabelle doll is inspired by a Raggedy Ann doll, a popular child’s toy which looks a lot sweeter than the movie version.

The real Raggedy Ann doll is made out of fabric, rather than porcelain, and looks far more child-friendly. For the big screen depiction of the doll, Wan decided to sharpen all of Annabelle’s features, thus making her simultaneously more realistic, but also spine-chillingly uncanny and unsettling.

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The real doll did indeed find itself in the possession of Lorraine and Ed Warren, too. The manner in which the doll becomes a vessel for a demonic presence however, is a different story in the movies as it is to real life events.

In Annabelle: Creation, we go back to 1943, where a toy maker named Samuel Mullins makes a doll for his daughter, Annabelle. When their car breaks down, Samuel and his wife Esther tragically witness their daughter get hit by a car, and in their grief, they pray for her to be brought back to life.

The Annabelle doll and Jessie Giacomazzi in Annabelle Creation

Unfortunately, those prayers are answered by a demon, who takes on the spirit of Annabelle and possesses the porcelain doll. When they realise the spirit is malevolent, Samuel and Esther lock the doll away. She stays dormant for 12 years, but you can never keep a bad spirit down for long.

When the Mullins couple offer shelter to Sister Charlotte and the St. Eustace orphans, a young girl called Janice stumbles upon Annabelle and unwittingly releases her. Chaos ensues, of course, but Janice is eventually adopted by the Higgins family and goes by the name of Annabelle, after being possessed by the spirit.

Talitha Bateman as Janice in Annabelle Creation

This reincarnation of Annabelle ultimately grows up to create a dangerous cult called The Disciples of The Ram, and orchestrates the murder of her adoptive parents. Their neighbours, John and Mia Form, investigate the disturbance, thus sparking the events of the first Conjuring movie.

John and Mia Form however, are fictional characters, and never had any involvement with the real life Annabelle doll that caused all the commotion back in the ’70s. In actual fact, the doll was given as a present from a mother to her daughter, Donna, on her 28th birthday.

The Annabelle doll from The Conjuring

Donna, a student nurse, reported the doll had been behaving strangely. A psychic medium corroborated this, claiming the doll was inhabited by the spirit of a deceased girl named Annabelle. When the Warrens learned of the situation, they took the doll and locked it away in their museum of supernatural artefacts.

If you know anything of the Warrens though, you’ll know that their stories have come under intense scrutiny over the years, and many of their accounts of ghosts and demons have been discredited.

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine Warren in The Conjuring 3

Investigations into the existence of the satanic cult proved that no such organisation had ever carried out any of the violent acts as detailed by the paranormal folklore of the Annabelle doll. This part of the movie is entirely fictional.

Indeed, the owners of the doll never even tried to dispose of the doll, and insisted that none of the unusual behaviour surrounding it was ever bad enough to warrant any drastic measures. They willingly passed the doll along to the Warrens, but not necessarily because they were fearful of it remaining in their home.

Annabelle doll in The Conjuring movie Annabelle Comes Home

The doll did however, according to Donna and her roommate Angie, often appear in different positions and areas of their small apartment. Though subtle at first, the doll eventually began to show up in different rooms to where it was previously left, and was often discovered with its arms or legs crossed, something the doll wasn’t designed to do.

So, while there was indeed a freaky doll, which may well have been guilty of some unusual behaviour, the story you see in the Conjuring movies is wildly exaggerated and embellished for entertainment purposes and we can’t exactly call them movies based on a true story.

The Annabelle Doll in Annabelle Comes Home poster

Between the slightly unsettling report from the doll’s owners, the controversial account of the Warrens, and the Hollywood treatment twisting the truth, it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s not in the story of Annabelle. Either way, we think it’s best to just never buy a creepy looking doll to minimise the risk of manifesting a demonic spirit.

If you want more chilling true stories like this, check out our breakdown of the true story of the Conjuring witch Bathsheba. Or, move away from ghosts and read the grim true story of Eli Roth’s Hostel.