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When Haunted Dolls Attack, Is It Residual Energy, Possession, or Hoax?

When thinking of haunted or possessed dolls, no doubt, Child’s Play’s Chucky comes to mind. Chucky isn’t real. However, there have been reports of allegedly haunted, cursed, and possessed dolls for years before Child’s Play was released in 1988.

There’s Robert the Doll, who dates back to 1906 and lives at the Fort East Martello Museum in Key West, Florida. Anyone who offends him suffers a string of bad luck, including kitchen fires, job loss, and car accidents. There’s also a series of independent movies about a fictionalized version of Robert, including Robert (2015), The Curse of Robert the Doll (2016), Robert and the Toymaker (2017), The Revenge of Robert the Doll (2018), and Robert Reborn (2019).

One of many paranormal superstars in the Conjuring Universe, Annabelle, also has her own trilogy of movies: Annabelle (2014), Annabelle Creation (2017), and Annabelle Comes Home (2019). 

There are many other alleged real-life haunted dolls. Some can be found for sale on many different sites. Like most, I’m skeptical, but the idea of haunted dolls fascinates me. I wanted to explore more stories. What theories do paranormal investigators have?

A man stands near the real Annabelle.
“826 PARANORMAL JAMES MYERS LOOKING AT THE WARREN’S OCCULT MUSEUMb(ANNABELLE THE DEMON DOLL” by 826 PARANORMAL is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Annabelle

Since 1970, Annabelle has lived in Ed and Lorraine Warren’s Occult Museum in Monroe, Connecticut, which closed in 2019. The Warrens’ son-in-law, Tony Spera, maintains a website for the New England Society for Paranormal Research (NESPR), which was founded by the Warrens, with details of the Annabelle case

The real people involved in the Annabelle case haven’t been interviewed. The only information on Annabelle comes from paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. Both Warrens have passed away.

Along with the NESPR website, I also read a 2021 article on All That’s Interesting and an interview with Ed Warren conducted by a student of the Warrens and NESPR member Taffy Sealyham. She published the transcribed interview in an ebook, Annabelle: The Cursed Doll.

Donna, Angie, and Lou

A woman purchased a Raggedy Ann doll from an antique shop in 1970 as a present for her daughter, Donna, a nurse. After receiving the doll, Donna, her roommate and co-worker Angie, and Angie’s boyfriend Lou reported paranormal activity in their apartment. Donna noticed when she came home from work that the doll would be in a different position than she left her. Then, she noticed that the doll had changed rooms.

They found notes written in childlike handwriting on parchment paper that read, “Help Us,” and, “Help Lou.” They had no parchment paper in their apartment. After noticing what looked like blood on the doll’s clothes, the two women decided to contact a spirit medium.

The medium conducted a seance and told Donna and Angie that the spirit of a seven-year-old girl named Annabelle Higgins haunted their apartment. Annabelle lived in the area and was found dead in a field on the property. Annabelle wanted to stay with Donna and Angie, and they gave her permission to stay. Lou didn’t like the doll and felt that they should get rid of it.

A close up of a Raggedy Ann doll.
“Raggedy Ann” by Bernard Spragg is marked with CC0 1.0.

It Gets Worse

After the medium left, the paranormal activity escalated. Annabelle attacked Lou twice. As he was falling asleep, Lou felt as if he were paralyzed and saw Annabelle crawling up his legs. He felt as if he were being strangled. 

The second attack allegedly happened when Lou went to check out a noise in Donna’s bedroom.  As he approached Annabelle, he felt as if someone was behind him. He turned around, felt a pain in his chest, and looked down to see blood on his shirt. NESPR says that Lou had seven claw marks on his chest—“three vertically and four horizontally, all were hot like burns. These scratches healed almost immediately, half gone the next day, fully gone by day two.” The Warrens said that they never saw the scratches, and there is no documented proof of them.

Enter the Warrens

The three contacted an Episcopal priest, Father Hegan, who in turn contacted Father Cooke, who was experienced in paranormal matters. Father Cooke contacted Ed and Lorraine Warren. 

After allegedly speaking with the three, the Warrens told them that a non-human entity was manipulating the doll to get the trio’s attention. The Warrens said the entity intended to possess a human host. 

Father Cooke cleansed the apartment. Donna insisted that the Warrens take Annabelle with them. On the way home, the Warrens claimed that they almost had several car accidents. Ed described having trouble steering the car. He also said that he stopped to sprinkle Annabelle with holy water. Once they got home, there were more alleged incidents with the doll.

A vintage doll in a white dress sits on a shelf in a dark room.
The fictionalized Annabelle of the Conjuring Universe.

At Home with the Warrens

The Warrens claimed Annabelle allegedly levitated in Ed’s office and moved around the house. Two people, a detective and a priest, allegedly had frightening experiences with Annabelle. The priest mocked Annabelle and almost had a car accident after leaving the Warrens’ house. The detective refused to talk about what happened when he was alone with Annabelle.

Annabelle was locked away in a case made with wood blessed with holy water. There were also three or more binding spells put on the doll, which were supposed to keep her from moving around. However, she would be blamed for the death of a young man who mocked her. He and his girlfriend got into a motorcycle accident shortly after leaving the museum. He died and his girlfriend survived. There isn’t anything to confirm this story other than the Warrens’ account of it. 

Peggy the Doll 

Annabelle attacked, but Peggy can affect the mind and the heart—literally. 

 A 2015 Redbook article “Haunted Doll Peggy Causes People Who Look At Her To Get Sickreports that Peggy’s former owner sent the doll to paranormal investigator Jayne Harris. The woman suffered from nightmares, fever, and hallucinations, which she blamed on Peggy. 

Redbook quotes Harris as saying, “She’d wake feeling hot and shaken […] No matter where she moved the doll to in her home, the nightmares persisted. She sought the help of a local priest but two visits later, there was no change.” 

However, bad dreams aren’t the only thing a person risks having contact with Peggy. It gets much worse. Peggy reportedly causes dizziness, nausea, headaches, and heart attacks—only from looking at her photo. If you encounter her in person, you may even lose your mind. Harris claims that 80 people experienced the aforementioned symptoms after looking at pictures of Peggy. Some felt anxiety and had visions of a mental institution, and one woman claimed that Peggy gave her a heart attack.

A vintage doll smiles.
“Vintage Doll” by Sherry’s Rose Cottage is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Who is Peggy?

Harris’ team determined that Peggy is inhabited by the spirit of a woman from London who died in 1946 from a chest-related illness. The woman is also said to hate clowns. Redbook reports that four mediums examined Peggy and said that the spirit is “restless, frustrated, and previously persecuted, possibly with ties to the Holocaust.”

However, a 2019 Den of Geek article reports that Peggy doesn’t want people to know much about her. The doll is blamed for Harris’ notebook disappearing after a seance, which was later found on the beams of the ceiling.

Harris claims that she’s had many reports from people saying that looking at Peggy’s picture froze their computers (not mine as I watched a video of Peggy on YouTube while working on this article). Other reports include lights flickering out and the temperature in the room dropping. Back in 2015, Harris told Redbook that when she receives these reports, she’ll usually speak to Peggy alone and politely ask her to stop. According to Harris, Peggy does as she asks.

Redbook quotes Harris: “We have been told she can affect people’s dreams,” Harris said. “She recently visited a lady in her dreams, warning her about one of her cats. The next morning, the lady found her cat very ill, and he sadly died that day.”

Den of Geek reported in 2019 that Peggy changed owners. Paranormal investigator Zak Bagans of the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures currently displays Peggy at his Haunted Museum in Las Vegas. According to Den of Geek, Bagans claims that, during a seance with Peggy, a typewriter began to type on its own. She also allegedly causes poltergeist activity and can manifest flies. Visitors to Bagan’s museum are required to sign a waiver.

Haunted Harold

A young filmmaker named Greg created a stir in the paranormal community after listing Harold as a haunted doll on an auction site in 2003. According to Harold the Haunted Doll’s website, the doll was named Harold after a video was shown where the doll’s arm and mouth allegedly moved in response to the word, “Here,” or “Harold.” Greg admitted to his neighbor, Kathy, that the doll was a hoax. 

After Greg failed to sell the doll, Kathy, a family friend, agreed to take it. She intended to create a hoax with the doll, also. However, Kathy claims that she got a doll that was actually cursed. Kathy claims that “crazy stuff” happened in her Dublin home and that two friends died under mysterious circumstances within six months of each other.

Chucky points two guns at a doomed individual.
Chucky means business in a scene from Bride of Chucky (1998).

Harold Kills?

A roommate, Ronnie, asked to see the doll before going on a trip to Amsterdam. Shortly after, she fell down a flight of stairs and died. Then, a man named Steve moved in who is described as a healthy, athletic guy. He was diagnosed with lung cancer three months after moving in and died. She said that she heard a scream in the background while on the phone with her fiance, Rick. It turned out that there was a large brown wolf spider crawling up his back. At the same time, Kathy claims that she saw a large, hairy spider run across her living room into the bathroom. Kathy said that Rick later showed her an area on his back where the spider was killed.

Kathy eventually sold Harold to paranormal investigator Anthony Quinata. On Harold’s site, Quinata writes about bringing Harold to a psychic named April for a reading. Quintana sprinkled Harold with holy water and April took the doll in her hands. She told Quinata that she couldn’t continue because the doll threatened to kill her. “I have a heart murmur, and it feels as though the spirit in the doll is squeezing my heart,” she said.

Harold’s Threats

Quinata claims that later when he played back the recording of the session after he sprinkled the holy water, he heard “agonized screams.” Then, April chuckled and asked, “You’re sprinkling it with holy water?” A male voice answered, “Shut up, b**ch!” He also heard the male voice threaten, “I’m going to kill you, b**ch!” as she was attempting to do the reading.

Quinata writes, “A year later, I was convinced that there really was something going on, and it was dangerous. I saw people injured, literally in front of my own eyes, in the presence of the doll. I myself had terrifying visions and an injury that required surgery to correct. In 2005, I decided to put it away in a storage unit.”

A trio of vintage baby dolls.
“Vintage Dolls” by Sherry’s Rose Cottage is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Harold’s Story

After Quinata saw a YouTube video that included Harold, Annabelle, and Robert, he took Harold out of storage. He went to a psychic who didn’t know anything about Harold. She told him that Harold was happy to be out of storage. However, Quinata claims that bad things started happening to people again. Quinata writes, “‘Harold is pissed,’ a friend of mine told me. ‘He told me that he’s angry that you’ve had him for so long and haven’t helped him.’”

Den of Geek reports that Greg, the first seller, got Harold from a man in Florida who kept Harold in a shed for 60 years. The doll belonged to the man’s son who died during childhood in the 1940s. After he died, his parents heard crying and singing in his bedroom. They consulted a priest who told them that they should burn the doll. However, the doll wouldn’t burn. 

Harold was featured on a Ghost Adventures episode which claims that a friend of Quinata allegedly developed a brain tumor after visiting Harold. 

Norman

Paranormal investigator Stephen Lancaster and his girlfriend Christina purchased a vintage Matty Mattel doll from an antique shop in North Carolina in 2016. Lancaster documented the experiences that he, Christina, and Christina’s daughter, Hannah, experienced in his book Norman: The Doll That Needed to be Locked Away

Matty Mattel was Mattel Toy Co.’s mascot from the ’50s to the ’70s. The doll was sold during the ’60s. Lancaster stumbled upon the doll in an odd wooden box with a fleur-de-lis design and scratch marks on the outside. [1]

He noticed that it had a lock that was broken off. He pried it open in the store and found the doll. The shop’s owners were reluctant to sell the doll and told them the story behind it. [2]

The doll was brought into the shop in 2014. The Matty doll was purchased during the ’60s for a pregnant woman who was due to have twins. However, one twin didn’t survive. The woman went home with the Matty doll and her newborn daughter. The twin who didn’t survive was a son. Eventually, the woman died in a fire. Her daughter and Matty were the only survivors. Lancaster thinks that the spirit of the unborn twin took possession of the Matty doll and has “grown-up” inside of it [3]

A copy of a book about Norman the Doll..
A copy of Stephen Lancaster’s book about Norman.

Becoming Norman

Lancaster used scientific methods in this approach to Matty, who he renamed Norman after Psycho’s Norman Bates. After experiencing unusual activity, he and Christina purchased surveillance equipment to capture the bizarre phenomenon.  [4]

He recorded Norman’s temperature rapidly dropping ten degrees and exhibited abnormal electrical activity. He and Christina’s dogs also avoided the doll. Their house had an inexplicable infestation of bugs and rodents then abruptly stopped. Norman was also captured moving on film. Lancaster also claims that Christina’s grandson seemed to be obsessed with Norman. [5]

The Ghost of the Unborn Twin?

In an odd twist, Lancaster writes that Christina revealed Hannah was supposed to have a twin brother. She got into a car accident while pregnant and the male twin died. So, she had been in the same situation as Matty’s previous owner. [6]

Paranormal investigator Rosemary Guiley wrote in the foreword to the book that dolls become haunted because they become deposits for residual energy from being handled. When a doll is owned by someone who is experiencing traumatic events, the doll can become “charged.” As in some previous cases of haunted dolls, it’s natural to question why only certain people seem to experience the phenomena. According to Guiley and Lancaster, a haunted or “charged” doll can become dormant. Being in an environment where the people are in or have experienced similar circumstances as the original owner can “reactivate” the doll. [7]

Could Norman have been reactivated because of Christina’s situation? 

Norman’s Activities

Other phenomena that they experienced include Norman moving around by himself, mysterious knocking on the door in the middle of the night, six phantom 911 calls which brought police and eventually the sheriff (thankfully, a very open-minded sheriff) to their house, mysterious gunshots (for which he did find spent shell .22 caliber bullet casings), and the words “I know” appearing on a fogged-up mirror. A shadow figure also manifested and appeared in a mirror. [8]

Lancaster claims that when he tried to sell Norman on an auction site, the buyer never received him. The post office was unable to track the package and couldn’t explain why. Norman eventually appeared back at the post office, marked “return to sender.” [9]

Eventually, Lancaster and Christina gave Norman a room of his own which remains locked from the outside with a sign that reads “Authorized Personnel Only.” They filled the room with toys, games, and a TV always tuned into animated shows. Sometimes they hear knocks on the walls and a child laughing. [10]

Lancaster currently has a website and a YouTube channel that features videos of Norman. He’s also published a sequel to his book, Norman 2: The True Story of a Possessed Doll’s Revenge published in 2020.

A plush doll dressed in a sailor suit holds a plush lion.
My mini Robert replica with his friend, Leo the Lion.

Haunted Doll Theories

A 2019 article on Den of Geek, “Dolls to Disturb Your Dreams reports that dolls were used for various purposes in cultures around the world. In ancient Egypt, dolls were placed in the pharaoh’s tomb. In some cultures, dolls were used in fertility rituals. Currently, they have become a way to socialize children through play. Dolls also served as art or simple decoration or for magical purposes. Magically speaking, poppets, or “voodoo dolls” are used in sympathetic magicand not only to harm but also to heal. The idea behind sympathetic magic is that a poppet is made to represent someone and has a connection to that person. Therefore, manipulating the poppet will affect whoever it represents.

Guiley points out that dolls traditionally have served as a connection to the spirit world and the afterlife and as conduits of magic throughout history. “Throughout history, dolls have been made to attract and house spirits that can be summoned forth in a ritual,” Guiley told Den of Geek.

She also noted the emotional connection that people have to dolls. “Another reason is that dolls replicate people. […] Dolls, even funny dolls, are representative of human beings; in a child’s play, they substitute for a living person and even take on a persona of their own.”

Guiley also says that dolls are the perfect receptacles for residual energy which she explained as “a ghostly energy imprint that plays over and over like a scratched record.” She points out that dolls are natural conduits for this energy because of how popular they’ve always been. Guiley goes on to say that dolls can build up a “haunting residue” from being handled so often. When receiving a doll, the new owner may experience a residual haunting.

In the forward of Lancaster’s book, Guiley wrote, “Dolls are ideal vessels for residual energy and spirits. […] If something tragic happens to the owner, or if the owner suffers intense, unhappy, and negative feelings, the bad energy can be transferred to the doll. This energy is residual, but if it is strong enough, it can take on a thought-form presence as a ‘bad’ personality of the doll.” [11] Just to clarify, a thought form is defined as “a manifestation of the thoughts, ideas or emotions of someone. It is believed to be able to be sensed by people and take physical form within the spirit world.”

Guiley goes on to say that the energy can be dormant for many years and can be activated if put with a person who has the “right” energy. This sounds like Norman’s situation where Christina went through the same situation as Norman’s original owner. [12]

A close up of a baby doll wearing a white lace bonnet.
“Vintage Doll” by Sherry’s Rose Cottage is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Norman and Harold were in an environment that experienced the tragic death of a child. In the case of Annabelle, no one is sure what occurred before she was placed for sale in the antique shop. The Warrens always insisted that the doll was possessed by a negative entity or that the doll may have been used in some type of ritual.

Guiley told Den of Geek, “Spirits that lodge in dolls may not be deliberately attached; spirits who are attracted to the living can, in certain cases, latch on to possessions a person has,” says Guiley. “Dolls are the most likely candidates […] people who acquire haunted dolls often find the poltergeist phenomena around them unpleasant and unsettling, such as disembodied voices, dolls that seem to change position or location on their own, and outbreaks of other phenomena in a household.”

In Lancaster’s book, she wrote that in turn, a doll’s energy can attract any type of entity or an entity may be attracted to the owner for some reason. [13]

To sum up, each doll in this article had a different origin and history, and in Annabelle’s case, the doll’s history was unknown. Each one was a vintage doll allegedly owned by someone who experienced some sort of tragedy. Most of their stories are related to us by paranormal investigators who own them, so we can’t be sure. Whether fact or fiction, the stories are interesting to explore.

Works Cited

[1] Lancaster, Stephen. Norman: The Doll That Needed to Be Locked Away. Llewellyn Publications: 2018. p. 20, p. 23

[2] Lancaster, p. 20, p. 30

[3] Lancaster, pp. 31-32

[4] Lancaster, p. 38, p. 51

[5] Lancaster, p. 38, p. 46,  p. 55

[6] Lancaster, pp. 78-79

[7] Lancaster, Guiley, p. xv

[8] Lancaster pp. 49-51, pp. 99-108, pp. 135-135, pp. 154-155

[9] Lancaster, pp. 126-127

[10] Lancaster, pp. 206-210

[11] Lancaster, Guiley, p. xv

[12] Lancaster, Guiley, p. xv

[13] Lancaster, Guiley, p. xv

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Written by MD Bastek

I'm just a being who writes about unusual things.

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