Dark Realms Magazine - Issue 16
Amityville Horror: The True Tale of Terror
November 14, 2004 marks the 30th anniversary of the heinous and brutal massacre that transpired at the sprawling Dutch Colonial in Amityville, New York, a house that would become infamous a year later as one of the most haunted houses in America. Beyond the houseÕs sinister, eye-like windows, six people were gunned down in cold blood and another family fled in the dead of night, supposedly driven out by demonic forces. While the saga of 112 Ocean Avenue has been inaccurately depicted in a slew of horror movies, the real story of the house is largely unknown... but infinitely more intriguing.
In June 1965, Ronald DeFeo purchased the immense Dutch Colonial in Amityville as a home for himself, his wife Louise and their five children. The house was a symbol of the Brooklyn-born car dealer's lifetime of hard work, which had finally made him modestly wealthy. The DeFeo family, it seemed, was moving up in the world, and this optimism was evident in the sign Ronald put in the front yard, a sign that read 'High Hopes,' his nickname for the house.
Unfortunately, the family's hopes for a peaceful and prosperous life in the affluent Long Island community began to unravel in the ensuing years. Ronald, a foul- tempered man, often bullied his wife and children, and he frequently singled out his eldest son, Ronald Jr. also known as Butch, for the harshest abuse.
Butch, who was unpopular at school and at home, grew into an angry young man as filled with rage as his father. The two often fought, verbally and physically, and Butch's behavior degenerated even further as he began using drugs like heroin and LSD. Even working with his father at the Buick dealership did nothing to straighten out Butch's wild ways. In early November of 1974, Butch and an accomplice stole thousands of dollars from the dealership, staging a fake robbery to cover their tracks. When the police poked holes in their story and it became clear to Ronald Sr. who the real thief was, relations between father and son reached the breaking point. Ronald Sr. confronted his son, and Butch, tired of being pushed around by his tyrannical father, screamed at him that he was going to kill him. It was not the first time Butch had made the threat. It would, however, be the last.
In the early morning of November 14, 1974, while the rest of the DeFeo family slept, Butch loaded his .35-caliber Marlin rifle and stalked into his parents' bedroom. With icy determination, he put two bullets into his father's back, then shot his mother twice as she tried to get out of bed. Butch moved off to his younger brothers' bedroom, where he put one bullet each into John and Mark DeFeo. A few minutes later, Butch entered his sisters' bedroom and shot both Dawn and Allison in the head. It was just past 3am.
The gunshots had inexplicably failed to alert anyone in the sleeping neighborhood. Butch cleaned himself up, disposed of the gun and his bloody clothing and reported for work at the Buick dealership that morning as if nothing had happened. When his father failed to show up for work, Butch feigned concern and, in the presence of some friends, called home but got no answer. When he went home and saw the carnage, he played the role of a shocked and bewildered son almost to perfection. The police asked him who he thought could have killed his family and Butch gave them the name of Louis Falini, a local mobster who supposedly had a grudge against Ronald Sr.
The cover story, however, caved in over the course of the next several hours. While Butch had disposed of the gun, he had not thrown out the box the rifle had come in, and a forensics team found the box in Butch's room. Forensics also quickly ascertained that a .35-caliber rifle had been the murder weapon. Confronted with this evidence, Butch eventually confessed. More than a year later, on November 21, 1975, Ronald DeFeo Jr. was convicted on six counts of second-degree murder, despite an attempt by his defense attorney William Weber to show that Butch was not guilty by reason of insanity. DeFeo is currently imprisoned in Greenhaven Penitentiary in Stormville, New York, serving out six consecutive life sentences.
THE AMITYVILLE HORROR
After the tragic massacre of the DeFeo family, High Hopes quietly went on the market again. In November 1975, George and Kathy Lutz purchased the house at a modest price. Twenty-eight days after moving in, they and their children fled the house in terror and never returned, claiming that the house was besieged by diabolical spirits.
Their harrowing story has become familiar thanks to Jay Anson's bestselling book, The Amityville Horror, and its blockbuster 1979 film adaptation starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder. The horror the Lutz family experienced ranged from the subtle to the overwhelming. George frequently complained of being cold in the house, and he occasionally awakened to the sound of a marching band in the living room. Kathy felt the presence of a benign spirit in the kitchen, while her young daughter often spoke to a ghostly pig-like entity named Jodie. A strange red room was discovered in the basement, a room that emanated an aura of evil from the allegedly Satanic rites that took place there. A priest who was summoned to bless the house when the family moved in was driven from the home by a threatening supernatural voice that screamed, "Get out!" As the days wore on, the paranormal events only escalated in intensity, culminating in walls 'bleeding' a sticky black substance and George witnessing a hooded demon in white stalking into the bedroom of his two stepsons. The house, already the scene of unthinkable evil, seemed to have blossomed into horrific, supernatural madness.
However, while the allegedly 'non-fiction' account of the Lutz family's ordeal captivated the nation (and made a small fortune for the Lutzes, as well), the credibility of their story was called into question by many people, most prominently Dr. Stephen Kaplan, a paranormal researcher. Kaplan uncovered numerous inconsistencies in the Lutzes' account. For example, the notorious 'red room' in the basement was nothing more than a pipe well to give plumbers access to a water pipe. In Jay Anson's book, the house's front door exploded off its hinges after a demonic attack; Kaplan found that the home's original front door was very much in place and still functioning. While the Lutzes claimed that they were too frightened to ever return to 112 Ocean Avenue, they in fact returned a day after supposedly 'fleeing' the evil abode in order to hold a yard sale.
While other parapsychologists such as Ed and Lorraine Warren maintained that the house was haunted, the Lutzes' tale was dealt a nearly fatal blow in 1979 when Joel Martin, host of a radio show devoted to all things supernatural, interviewed William Weber, Butch DeFeo's attorney. Weber confessed that he and George Lutz had fabricated the haunted house story for two reasons. First, Weber wanted a new trial for DeFeo, and the claims of a demonically infested house might bolster a jury's willingness to believe that Butch was under the influence of some alien force at the time of the murders and thus not accountable for the crimes. Second, the engrossingly lurid story of a possessed house would make a lot of money for Lutz, whose architecture business was floundering and who wanted to rid himself of an unwieldy mortgage. Over the years, George and Kathy Lutz eventually recanted some—but not all—parts of their account.
The current residents of 112 Ocean Avenue claim that no ghosts or demons lurk within the house. The only unwelcome visitations come from the many tourists and curiosity-seekers who drive by the house on a regular basis. In order to discourage this attention, the present owners have considerably altered the house's facade, even removing the famous eye-like quarter-round windows and replacing them with square windows. No amount of exterior reconstruction, however, can fully erase the terrible tragedy and sordid supernatural controversy that occurred within the walls of High Hopes, and with talk of yet another Amityville Horror movie to hit theaters, the dark legend will undoubtedly haunt the Long Island community for generations to come.