A House of Infamy
This six-bedroom house lies in Amityville, New York and has been the subject of countless books, films, and documentaries. It was the scene of a mass murder, but it is what allegedly happened after the murders that made it a household name. Depending on whom you talk to, it is either one of the most recognized haunted private residences in the world, or the subject of one of the greatest hoaxes ever pulled off on the general public. Its notoriety has even transformed the village name of Amityville so that its mere mention now invokes images of demons, ghosts, and all sorts of sinister doings.
The Dutch Colonial-style house located at 112 Ocean Avenue was built in the 1920s and its most distinctive, and now famous, feature were the quarter circle-shaped windows that adorned the third-story attic and looked out over the street. It has since been alleged that the house was built on an ancient Shinnecock Native American burial ground or abandoned cemetery, but the local tribes in the area today all dispute the allegation and there is no evidence that a cemetery ever resided on the property. It remained in relative anonymity until some 50 years later when it would become the scene of a grisly crime.
The DeFeo Family
Ronald Sr. and Louise DeFeo purchased the house in June 1965 to raise their five children: Ronald Jr. (also known as Butch), Dawn, Allison, Marc, and John Matthew. The family even went so far as to place a sign that read "High Hopes" in the property's front yard - a name that the house is still known as locally to this day. It appears it was a relatively normal life for the family until the night of November 13, 1974 when Ronald Jr. showed up at nearby Henry's Bar and pleaded for assistance, believing his parents had been shot.
A subsequent search of the property revealed that the remaining six family murders were dead of gunshot wounds; Ronald Sr. and Louise had been shot twice, while the children all died of a single gunshot wound to the head. Ronald Jr. was initially taken into protective custody when he suggested the murders had been the result of a Mafia hit, but he would later break down during interrogation and ultimately confess to the crimes. What exactly happened in the house that night is still relatively unknown, given that DeFeo's story of events has changed numerous times over the years.
A couple aspects of the case have continued to baffle experts and researchers since. The family was all found lying face down in their beds showing no sign of struggle and toxicology reports suggest that there were no sedatives used to subdue the victims. Additionally, none of the neighbors reported hearing gunshots that night, though the weapon used was a .38 caliber rifle. These aspects have helped to fuel the fire since and are often cited as proof that something paranormal occurred. Meanwhile, the bodies of the six DeFeo family members were laid to rest at a nearby cemetery (see Saint Charles Cemetery, Farmingdale, NY).
The Trial and Conviction
Defense lawyer William Weber represented Ronald DeFeo Jr. during his trial and put forth the defense of insanity. DeFeo would claim that he was driven to murder his family by voices that spoke to him in his head. The jury was unconvinced and on November 21, 1975, a guilty verdict was handed down for six counts of second-degree murder. He would be sentenced to six consecutive terms of 25 years to life. However, rather than bring a sense of closure to the small village of Amityville, the local residents would soon find out that the story had only just begun.
The Lutz Family
112 Ocean Avenue would sit vacant for 13 months following the DeFeo murders. In late 1975, it was being offered on the market for the great deal of $80,000. The deal was too good for George and Kathleen (Kathy) Lutz who, despite being reportedly told about the recent crime that had taken place, quickly took the house off the market. On December 18, 1975, a little over three weeks after DeFeo's sentencing, George and Kathy purchased the home and moved in. The family included George, Kathy and three children from her previous marriage: Daniel (age 9), Christopher (age 7), and Missy (age 5). Twenty-eight days later, the family would flee the home claiming that paranormal forces drove them out and sparking one of the most controversial hauntings of all time.
Much has been written, filmed, and documented about the events that led the Lutz family to flee the home that it would be pointless to recount them all here in great detail. The reported events included such things as green slime oozing from the walls, a demonic presence, a pig-like creature with glowing red eyes that Missy called "Jodie," a voice telling the Lutz's priest to "Get out" while he was performing a blessing on the home, a mass infestation of flies in the dead of winter, behavioral changes in George who awoke at 3:15 every morning (reportedly the time of the DeFeo murders), strange cloven hoof-like footprints in the snow outside, windows and doors that moved on their own accord, upside-down crucifixes, apparitions, Kathy levitating and even appearing to transform into a 90-year old woman in front of George's eyes, and more. These events would prove to be too much for the family and on January 14, 1976, the family quickly departed the house, leaving most of their belongings behind.
According to the Lutz's story, they were confused and frightened by what happened during their stay in the house, so they turned to the defense attorney who represented Ronald DeFeo Jr. during his trial, William Weber, to learn more about what had happened in their home. Weber was reportedly in the process of writing a book on the DeFeo murders and wanted to include the Lutz's story as proof that there were other forces at work. As such, Weber convinced the family that they needed to make the story public knowledge and arranged a press conference for them. On February 16, 1976, the family spoke to the press about their experiences from the offices of Weber and the public became aware of the strange goings-on at 112 Ocean Avenue.
The case drew the interest of such renowned personalities as parapsychologist Hans Holzer and demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, all of whom investigated the house themselves. All three were convinced and have stated since that the house was indeed occupied by demonic or malevolent forces. The Warren's investigation was documented by a crew from New York's Channel 5 and would produce a photo of a young boy staring back at the camera from the bottom of the staircase with glowing eyes. However, it was the work of Jay Anson that would propel the case into the worldwide spotlight.
Shortly after leaving the home, the family has said that they wanted to piece together their experiences in the house as a form of self-therapy and began to assemble around an estimated 45 hours of tape recorded recollections of the events. Shortly thereafter, they had a falling-out of sorts with William Weber over contractual disputes of his proposed book. They were then put in touch with the editor of the publishing company Prentice Hall, Tam Mossman, who in turn put them in touch with author Jay Anson. The family has said that they were reluctant to have to relive their nightmares in the form of an interview, so they came up with another idea. Though the tapes they had recorded were initially supposed to be for their own use, they turned the tapes over to Anson to use as a source for a book on their experiences.
The Amityville Horror
Anson would use the estimated 45-hours of tape as the source for his novel, The Amityville Horror. To highlight the non-fiction aspect of the book, the subtitle of "A True Story" was added. The book was released in August 1977 and quickly became a bestseller. Estimates on the total number of copies sold range from three to ten million, depending on the source. A film adaptation of the same name would follow in 1979, which would ultimately gross an estimated $86 million at the box office alone and spawn seven sequels and even be remade in 2005. Though the filmmakers did attempt to film the movie in Amityville, the town officials turned down their requests and they were forced to move the production to Toms River, New Jersey (see Amityville Horror Movie House (2005)).
The Amityville Hoax
Given the popularity of the novel and film adaptation, it is no surprise that many people started looking into the claims of the novel and attempted to debunk what the book alleged. In fact, the process was already well under way before the book even hit the stores.
In May of 1977, the Lutzes filed a lawsuit against William Weber, writer Paul Hoffman, and various newspapers and publishing firms and other individuals that had printed articles of the haunting before the novel had been released. They claimed mental distress, invasion of privacy, and misappropriation of names for trade purposes. Several of the defendants, including Weber, immediately countersued claiming breach of contract and fraud. The suit against the news organizations was quickly tossed, but the other charges were allowed to proceed, though ultimately dismissed in September 1979. The judge over the proceedings stated in his ruling, "Based on what I have heard, it appears to me that to a large extent the book is a work of fiction, relying in a large part upon the suggestions of Mr. Weber." At the same time, Weber would tell People Magazine that he and the Lutzes had "...created this horror story over many bottles of wine." Reportedly the Lutz's goal was to get out of the mortgage payments they could not afford, while Weber was hoping to secure Ronald DeFeo Jr. a retrial; using the Lutz's experiences as evidence that DeFeo was driven by otherwordly forces.
One of the first critics of the story was Stephen Kaplan, a self-professed vampirologist and ghost hunter from New York. The Lutzes approached Kaplan while they were still living in the home, looking for help in getting rid of the spirits there. According to Kaplan, the family turned down his help after he told them he would expose them if he detected any signs of a hoax. According to the family, they were disappointed that Kaplan went to the press without their knowledge and told them he was involved in the case, as well as were concerned about his credentials. After the two parties split, Kaplan immediately went to a local paper and went on record as saying he believed the story to be a hoax. He would also start work on his own book, titled The Amityville Horror Conspiracy, with his wife Roxanne Salch Kaplan that would ultimately be published in 1995.
Other critics have pointed to a variety of apparent discrepancies in the accounts described in the novel. In fact, the amount of books dedicated to proving the story to be a hoax probably numbers fairly close to the amount of books that purport the story to be real. As for the house itself, none of the subsequent owners have reported anything unusual happening.
Despite these claims of discrepancies in the Lutz's version of events, the story behind The Amityville Horror still resonates to this day. The aforementioned film remake in 2005 earned $23.5 million its opening weekend and went on to gross over $100 million worldwide. For their part, the parties directly involved in the case maintained that their accounts of the story were completely true. Kathy Lutz passed away on August 17, 2004 and George on May 8, 2006. Ed Warren followed on August 23, 2006. Both Loraine Warren and Hans Holzer still adamantly believe that there were demonic or malevolent forces at work in the home, even though it may strain their credibility in the eyes of some of their fellow investigators.
The House Today
As stated earlier, subsequent owners have reported no paranormal activity since. It is generally reported that the entire village of Amityville regard the story as nothing more than a hoax and are fairly impatient and uncooperative to those that come to the town because of it. The owners of the house have since remodeled and removed the well-known quarter circle-shaped windows and have even legally had the address changed to discourage gawkers. This had done little to discourage visitors from driving by and taking a look at the house that was the subject of so many books, movies, documentaries, lawsuits, and plenty of speculation. The Amityville Record even reports that "...sometimes a deranged individual may even try to break into the home." In short, the house is a private residence and no longer resembles the infamous house displayed in films and marketing campaigns. Please respect the owner's privacy.