‘Conjuring’ a paranormal family: ‘Haunted Collector’ Zaffis on ghost hunting with Ed and Lorraine Warren


Being a Haunted Collector is just part of John Zaffis’ family business. Long before he was the lead investigator on Syfy’s reality-TV show or the so-called “Godfather of the Paranormal,” Zaffis was the nephew of famous ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren.

The duo, previously best known for their involvement with “The Amityville Horror,” takes center stage in The Conjuring, the new movie that won the weekend box office based on a 1970 case of haunting and possession. The “clients” of the Warrens is the the Perron Family, who are tormented by entities in their newly acquired Rhode Island farmhouse. And John Zaffis remembers the case well.

Though not yet involved in the paranormal field, the Connecticut native said the case had a major effect on his aunt and uncle’s work and life. Zaffis said the Perron story sparked intensity within his Uncle Ed that spread to him during the beginning of his journey into the unexplained. And the office of haunted objects the Warrens removed from investigations, which eventually grew to become a museum, inevitably became the catalyst for Zaffis building his own well-documented collection of possessed possessions – and the basis for Syfy’s Haunted Collector, which recently wrapped its third season.

In the following interview, Zaffis joins us to discuss his family history of haunting before he became the “Godfather of the Paranormal,” and offers inside insight about Ed and Lorrain Warren – along with hints about the future of Haunted Collector and his own possible future within the movies.

Were you involved with The Conjuring behind-the-scenes?

I wasn’t involved with the movie, per se. I was up there at that piece of property several years ago, and it’s a pretty active piece of property. I found it intriguing and interesting because that was one of my uncle’s favorite cases to talk about. Over the years, as far back as I can remember, he would talk about that case. As everything started unfolding and they were pulling things together, listening to some of it, I was very intrigued. I know a tremendous amount of people in production, and I would talk to people once in a while and they’d tell me about parts that were in it, and I’d go, ‘yeah, that’s pretty much the way the case had gone.’

Where were you during the time your aunt and uncle were investigating this? Were you yet involved with the paranormal?

At that point in time, it was when I just in the beginning stages of getting involved with the paranormal – and trying to figure it out and whether it was real or not … but that was the beginning stages when I was involved. And as years went by, I would always hear him talk about this case. You would always see that intensity in his face. Today, I think he’d be very honored knowing one of earlier cases in their career is what the movie got based off of.

So you think he’d enjoy being a movie character?

I think so. He was working on this project … I remember he talking about different bits and pieces. He would stop by my house continually and chit-chat – he used to like to do that because there was no one around and the poor guy could just be himself. But I remember him talking about it, and going back and forth. But knowing him the way I did, it was a key factor his character be portrayed as what he did and how he did it.

And have you had contact with the Perron family?

I’ve never had the opportunity with any of the Perron daughters or parents as of yet … I had an opportunity to go into the home and investigate it. It was for Ghost Hunters, an episode I did on their show, and I was very happy to do it for the simple fact that it was a home I’d heard about for so many years and had the opportunity to go in. It is not even your classic haunted house today; it’s beautifully restored in a nice secluded area and occupied by a beautiful family that owns it today. I was very happy to have that opportunity to go into the home long before the movie. There is definitely energy and activity that remains on the property and in that home. There is no doubt in my mind about that. That is a piece of property I think will always have paranormal activity.

Did it feel like that Ghost Hunters episode connected your own individual work with Ed’s cases?

It is funny you say that because that’s how I viewed it. Going in there and hearing about it, and listening to him talk about it, and playing the original tapes on the investigation intrigued me more than anything else. I did feel connected. As I was driving up there, I kept thinking about it in my mind, the things I’d hear him talk about. The key factor was always the witch figure he’d always speak about, and how prominent it was with the investigation he had done in there. It was a personal connection for me to get into a house he spoke so much about.

Why do you think this case was so big for Ed and Lorraine?

I think, like most of us with the paranormal, when you start researching and digging into a haunting, and you’re able to find documentation for some of the stories you hear, that gives it credibility. He found that people had died in the property, hung themselves in the barn; there was documentation a witch did live in the house. You start adding all these things up, and you go, ‘Wow.’ It was a very prominent piece of property back in the 16 and 1700s; I believe it was over a thousand acres, and it was a huge farm. That is something established for hundreds of years, and they found people who lived there or were tied into it and always had problems but never really brought it to the forefront.

Ed’s “museum” of haunted objects is mentioned heavily in the movie, and I know you have your own, which is the basis for Haunted Collector. Are all of Ed’s objects now yours?

No, Lorraine still has the building up on their property with a lot of items from their prominent investigations. She still operates it and does tours, and that’s a great thing. Not many people at 86 years-old have the opportunity to still do the thing they’re passionate about. And she still does some lecturing and ghost tours.

Then how did their collection inspire your own?

What ended up happening, many years ago, I would go out investigating with them. It started with a tiny knick-knack. A woman had picked it up, added it to her collection and it started moving around and everything. The poor woman was hysterical over this. We removed it, and as we were driving back home, Ed said, “Kid, you want it? Take it.” He would do this periodically with items from different investigations. As I started investigating on my own, what intrigued me was we had haunted houses, people, land … why not items? That’s when I started researching and discovering for thousands of years we’ve had ritual items and haunted items, it’s just not that talked about. That’s basically what started it. I’d bring them home, do binding ceremonies on them and different things – holy water, blessed salt to seal energies. I did that in a little tiny barn on my property behind the big barn that’s up there today. It reached a point I decided they needed to be talked about, and be brought out in the forefront. This is something else we can credit Ed and Lorraine Warren for in the paranormal field.

Aside from the Perron family, the Annabelle doll from another case is featured prominently in the movie; what memories do you have of that?

Oh gosh, that doll! I still remember, to this day, going up there to have dinner. My grandmother was still alive at this time and all of us were arriving – my sisters, parents, gram, everything – and I had gone into the front living room looking for a place to sit down. Over in the corner, on one of the chairs, was the Annabelle doll and a couple other things. They had just removed it [from the case]. It looked to be a very innocent doll. A very ordinary ragdoll that didn’t look unusual, just another toy … I picked it up and went to put it on the floor and Lorraine literally screamed. She goes, ‘Don’t touch that!’ At the time, I was just startled and didn’t know anything about the story. Over the course of the years, that always stuck in my mind, that whole scenario. As Ed had built up the museum and more items went into it, one time he was away and Lorraine had a case built to put the Annabelle doll in there. Years ago, when I used to work with my uncle, we used to have classes up there and do meetings in there. There was always activity and something crazy happening within that area around that crazy doll. Is there something negative attached to that doll? There’s no doubt in my mind.

As a paranormal investigator, do you think real paranormal activity could be kicked up while filming a movie revolving around hauntings, exorcisms or possessions?

Absolutely. I witnessed when we were filming the original [2002 TV movie] A Haunting in Connecticut. They were filming different parts and re-enacting it … power crashed, we couldn’t get anything to work, we had bangings and rappings, and several of the people in that room just walked out of the room and didn’t want to deal with it. And yet, there was power in other parts of the set. These things occur. Even filming the TV series, things happen that, unfortunately, don’t make it into the show where we go in to investigate and there’s situations recreated and a certain amount of activity is kicked up.

Will Haunted Collector return for a fourth season?

As of right now, as we’re speaking, I’m really not sure what is happening as far as anything pertaining to a Season Four moving forward. But that’s ok by me. I had the three seasons to do it, I enjoyed working with everybody and I don’t know what the future holds as far as the Haunted Collector TV series.

Because you have been involved in so many well-known paranormal cases, will we ever see a John Zaffis character or movie based around your adventures?

So would I like to see my journey about what I’ve been involved in over the course of the years on the big screen? Let’s just say you never know what the future holds!