The most shocking and disturbing crimes of all are those of family annihilators. While all murders shake the communities that they're committed in, family massacres scar them deeply. The crimes themselves are so hard to make sense of. Sadly in a lot of these cases an unchecked mental illness is to blame. In the case of Ronnie "Butch" Defeo Jr. a perfect storm of a challenging childhood mixed with unchecked mental illness arising from that childhood brought about a crime so horrifying we're still talking about it today. To understand how the Amityville Horror came to transpire we must first go all the way back to the beginning.
Ronald DeFeo Sr., or Big Ronnie as he was known by friends and family, was born to parents Rocco and Antionette DeFeo. Big Ronnie's wife, Louise, was the youngest daughter of Michael and Angela Brigante. Big Ronnie and Louise got together at a young age and by the time he was twenty and she was nineteen they had already married and had their first child, Ronald DeFeo Jr., or Butch as he was known to go by. To keep from mixing Ronnie Sr. and Jr. up I will refer to the Sr. as Big Ronnie and the Jr. as Butch from here on out.
Butch was born in Brooklyn, New York on September 26, 1951. At the time of his birth Big Ronnie was employed as a textile worker and the small family lived in an apartment in the city. It was some time in the early '70s that Big Ronnie went to work for his father-in-law, Michael, at his Buick dealership in Brooklyn. The job paid well and the family reaped the benefits. After Louise became pregnant with the couple's fifth and final child in 1965, Big Ronnie decided that the large DeFeo brood needed more space.
They bought the beautiful and impressive house located at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville on Long Island on July 28, 1965. It was a gorgeous white house with high ceilings, plenty of bedrooms for the growing family, and of course, for the kids, spacious front and back yards. There was also a boat house right on the water that added to the allure of the home. After moving in Big Ronnie wasted no time filling the house with expensive, beautiful furniture. He also adorned the front yard with a lovely sign officially naming his property 'High Hopes.' Aside from what the family bought and moved in, the house also included a crystal chandelier and an alabaster fireplace. Big Ronnie was never one to shy away from flaunting the amount of money he made. As a matter of fact, he even had life-size oil paintings commissioned of the family. Undoubtedly a very pricey undertaking.
The first painting pictured Big Ronnie and Butch smiling towards the artist as Big Ronnie pours wine into the glass Butch is holding. The second painting features the two DeFeo sisters, Dawn and Allison, sitting side-by-side on a love seat, half smiles on their faces. Another pictures the two youngest DeFeo boys, Mark and John. Mark poses with his arm rested on his little brother's shoulder. While it has been said that there was no portrait done of Louise, I found one of her on Google Images, debunking that rumor. The painting pictures her sitting in a chair all by herself as she looks past the artist. Her face in this portrait speaks more to quiet despair than a happily married woman living her best life.
There is an explanation for the rumor that a painting was never commissioned of Louise. It may also explain the expression on her face in the painting I found online as well. Apparently Big Ronnie was convinced that Louise was having an affair with the artist. There was absolutely no evidence to support the accusation, but nevertheless, Louise was beaten because of her husband's suspicions. As it turns out Big Ronnie was a very jealous, paranoid, and violent man. He regularly accused his wife of having affairs all over town, but there was never a shred of evidence to support his suspicions. By all accounts Louise was an ever-faithful wife. My mother would've referred to this as a guilty conscious.
Even though Big Ronnie had not yet gone to work for his father-in-law at this point, he was still living a very comfortable life. He worked hard to cultivate a veneer of success, happiness, and stability in his home. Likely to cover up the abuse taking place behind those closed doors. The residents of the quiet suburban neighborhood in Amityville didn't much care for their new neighbors at 112 Ocean Avenue. They saw the DeFeo clan as loud, flashy, and over-the-top. It comes as no surprise with Big Ronnie's personality and penchant for big spending that rumors quickly started swirling that the family was tied up in organized crime.
All of the money and the nice things didn't make up for the fact that Big Ronnie was feared in his home. His abuse didn't just extend to his wife. His children were also targets of his notoriously explosive temper, especially Butch. Big Ronnie had high expectations for his eldest son and Butch always seemed to fall short of them. The fact that he was well known by everyone that ever knew him as lazy and troublesome probably didn't help him evade his father's anger either.
As a young boy in school Butch was overweight and relentlessly bullied because of it. He was a brooding boy, but he had a spark of his father's temper. He also would practically seek out fights with the other students that tortured him. No doubt this was because of his father demanding that he stand up for himself. The family became accustomed to Butch coming home from school black and blue from the fights he would get into and lose. On one occasion he even came home with a superficial stab wound after being attacked by another student with a knife. What the hell was going on in schools in the '50s and '60s?
Along with adolescence came a growth spurt and an increased temper that rivaled even his father's. Big Ronnie had always been known by everyone as a hot-head. He would just snap at the drop of a dime at the slightest provocation. One second he could be the nicest, most easy going man in the world. Then the next second a darkness would overtake him just before an explosion of his rage. His co-workers were well aware of his temper and tried their best not to anger him. The family was also aware that when Big Ronnie flew off the handle there was no stopping him. Someone was most definitely going to get hurt.
It likely came as quite a surprise to him when his oldest son sprang up in size all of the sudden and started dishing all the abuse right back at him. Once Butch entered adolescence the gloves came off and he started pushing back hard. Shouting matches would erupt between the two and often devolve into boxing matches in the middle of the house. In the beginning it all probably seemed like a phase that he would grow out of as he got older. Though, as he got older it became apparent that this was no phase at all and their son needed help.
As time went on Butch became a ticking time bomb, ready to explode at any given moment. If Big Ronnie was easy to set off into a fit of rage then Butch was down-right impossible not to. When he finally flew into a fit that resulted in him beating up his younger sister, Dawn, Big Ronnie and Louise finally stepped in and tried to help. They took him to see a psychiatrist, which he was less than thrilled about. Instead of cooperating with the doctor and telling him about what he was really going through, Butch decided to stonewall him. He took a completely passive-aggressive stance throughout his appointments and absolutely refused to cooperate or answer questions.
His technique worked out perfectly for him. His parents decided that he no longer had to go to his appointments. In place of actual help they just placated him with money and expensive gifts to keep him from exploding into a ball of rage. This sounded just crazy enough to never work. By this point Butch was not only dealing with his anger issues, but grappling with a drug problem as well. It was around that time that Big Ronnie and Louise thought it a wonderful idea to buy Butch a $14,000 speedboat. Adjusted for inflation, today that speedboat would've cost $112,161.72. Not to talk down or cast blame, but buying a $14,000 speedboat for a teenager with a drug addiction and rage issues probably isn't the best idea.
By the age of seventeen Butch was heavily addicted to heroine and was also using LSD quite frequently. He was expelled from school for his violent outbursts, that were undoubtedly made all the worse by the combination of drugs he was using. There were no worries though. His family was right there to lend a hand. Butch was given a job at his grandfather's dealership in Brooklyn and was granted a high salary along with zero responsibility. Don't we all know someone or another like that?
On his eighteenth birthday he was gifted a brand new 1970 Buick Electra 225 right from the family dealership. He loved that car and reportedly put a lot of money into it. Aside from parts for his car, he also funneled his paychecks into drugs, alcohol, guns, and ammunition. His behavior didn't get any better in his adulthood. If anything he just grew stranger. During a hunting trip with a friend Butch threatened the man with his rifle. Later that day he behaved as though nothing had happened.
At the Buick dealership Butch was proving to be even more lazy than he had been in school. When he bothered to come in to work he normally didn't stay for the entirety of his shift. Regardless of how little he preformed, or even showed up, he was still paid for a full week's work every single week. Just months before the murders that would go down in infamy Butch decided that he was no longer happy with what he considered to be a meager salary. Never mind the fact that he literally did nothing for it and was making good money for the standards of the day. In his disdain for the pay he was receiving, Butch concocted a plan to get his hands on more.
Butch tried to plot ways to embezzle money from the dealership. Finally his winning plan struck, and by winning plan I mean absolutely stupid idea. Just weeks before he would make headlines Butch was entrusted with $20,000 in checks and $18,000 in cash and asked to deposit it all at the bank. Today that would be a combined worth of $214,898.09. He immediately planned a mock robbery with a friend of his. As one does when entrusted with large amounts of money. The plan was to split the money 50/50 and say it had been stolen.
When Butch returned to the dealership with no deposit slip, claiming to have been robbed, the police were called. Now, most people in Butch's position would likely calmly give the police a story about a rough looking guy robbing him at gunpoint or something, right? Well Butch went another route entirely. He decided to fly off the handle, as he was known for doing, and direct his anger squarely at the police officers trying to help him. The reason for him blowing up at the officers, you might ask. They simply asked that he go with them to the station to look at mugshots.
Needless to say his behavior was quickly seen as guilty not just by the authorities, but his family as well. He was refusing to answer questions or cooperate in any way when he was supposedly just robbed. He reverted back to old behavior from his short lived days visiting with his psychiatrist. He must have figured if he just didn't answer their questions his parents would get him out of this situation, too. That did not happen. Big Ronnie was incensed that Butch was trusted with any amount of money to take to the bank. Apparently he already knew better than to trust his own son. Big Ronnie berated the employee that allowed Butch to take the deposits in that day.
After Butch's flat out refusal to assist police a fight ensued between father and son. Big Ronnie yelled, "You've got the devil on your back!" To which Butch responded, "You fat prick. I'll kill you!" Just weeks later he and his entire family would be found shot to death in their beds. It hadn't even been the first death threat recently lodged at Big Ronnie, either.
This wasn't the only foreshadowing event to come shortly before the massacre. Just months before Butch killed his entire family he had already attempted to kill his father. He found Big Ronnie beating up Louise once again and decided he'd had enough of his father's abuse towards his mother. He rushed to Louise's aid with a .12 gauge shotgun and yelled, "Leave that woman alone. I'm going to kill you, you fat fuck! This is it!" Big Ronnie stared down the barrel of a shotgun as his own son pulled the trigger. The gun malfunctioned and did not fire.
After a quick change of underwear Big Ronnie quickly found Jesus. No joke, he actually became very religious after this experience. He became a devout Catholic and erected several religious statues in the front yard. Neighbors reported seeing him praying his rosary before a statue of St. John with the baby Jesus. St. John is the patron saint of hospitals and the sick. It's very likely that Big Ronnie expected his son to kill him after this. He probably didn't think that everyone else would end up a casualty of his son's anger towards him though.
In the early morning hours of November 14, 1974, Butch sat in his bedroom alone, stewing. No one can know for sure what was going through his head at this point, but we know what it led him to do next. With the family's sheepdog, Shaggy, tied up outside near the boathouse, Butch got out his .35 caliber Marlin martini-action rifle and loaded it. He walked directly into his parent's bedroom, took aim, and fired four shots. This time the gun did not malfunction. He shot his both of his parents twice in the back as they slept. Louise was just forty-two, and Big Ronnie forty-three at the time of their deaths.
As Shaggy barked urgently outside the house, Butch headed straight for his four younger siblings. The two youngest DeFeo brothers were targeted next, twelve-year-old Mark and seven-year-old John. The boys shared a bedroom in which Butch walked into and fired on them from less than two feet away. Mark and John had each been shot once. With four victims already killed in a matter of minutes, Butch wasn't done yet.
His sister, thirteen-year-old Allison, was the fifth victim in the house that night. Like her brothers, she had only been shot one time. The final victim was eighteen-year-old Dawn, in the attic bedroom on the third floor of the house. She had also been shot only once. It was just after 3AM and the entire DeFeo family was lying dead in their beds as their faithful family dog continued to bark, trying to signal to their distress.
Butch went into damage control mode, quickly jumping into the shower. Once he had scrubbed himself clean, he trimmed his beard and gathered up all the evidence of his crime and shoved it into a pillowcase. He dressed in jeans and leather boots and left to dispose of the pillowcase of evidence before going into work. He dropped the pillowcase into a sewer in Brooklyn before arriving at work at 6AM. His early arrival to work probably should've tipped someone off that something wasn't right.
Immediately after showing up to the dealership he began working on his alibi. He claimed to co-workers that he had no idea why his father was late to work because he hadn't seen him that morning. Claiming to be clueless as to where Big Ronnie could possibly be, he repeatedly called his own house to check in with the family. Butch stayed at work until noon that day, continuing to call home all the while. Finally he decided that he was bored and just left. As one does. He called his nineteen-year-old girlfriend, Mindy Weiss, a popular waitress at Longfellow's Bar, before he left to see her.
On his way to Mindy's house he ran into a friend of his, Robert Kelske, or Bobby as his friends called him. Butch later recounted this encounter with Bobby in a prison interview, saying, "In my drugged stupor, I was driving down the road in Amityville and Robert Kelske, a junkie strung out on heroine, pulled up alongside my car and started asking off-the-wall questions. This didn't register then because Kelske was a junkie and a thief who had previously burglarized both of my neighbors' homes, so I paid his questions no mind."
It was 1:30PM when Butch arrived at his girlfriend's house. He made it clear to her from the moment he walked in the door that he hadn't been able to reach anyone at his house all that day. She allowed him to try again from her telephone, thinking nothing of the situation at the time. Of course, he didn't get through, and seemed very confused, but not at all concerned about it. As a matter of fact, he took Mindy out shopping at the mall in Massapequa after calling home. After their shopping trip they stopped off to see friends of Butch's, Robert and Patricia Geiger. There he bought five $10 bags of heroine and shot up all five bags.
Butch recounted in the same prison interview, "I was out of it and actually forgot about what had happened at my house...I sort of blacked out." He must have blacked out because no more is known about his timeline until just after 6PM. It was then that Butch entered Henry's Bar feigning concern over his family. He ran into his friend, Bobby Kelske, again and began lamenting about not being able to reach his family or enter his house. He also made sure to mention that his parent's cars were still sitting in the driveway. He complained, "I'm going to have to go home and break a window to get in." Bobby simply replied, "Well, do what you have to do."
Knowing what we know was sitting at that house waiting to be discovered it seems as though Butch was really trying to get someone else to go find the bodies with him. It didn't work out in his favor if that is what he was trying to do. Bobby didn't seem to think anything of it and probably wasn't trying to abandon his drink to help a guy that would later refer to him as a "junkie and a thief."
With no one willing to get up from their bar stool, Butch was forced to go home discover the scene himself. I say that with the biggest air quotations ever made. Within minutes of leaving he returned to the bar clearly agitated and practically hysterical. He shouted to Bobby, "Bob, you gotta help me! Someone shot my mother and father!" Bobby and some of the other patrons leaped into action. Along with Bobby and Butch, Joey Yeswit, John Altier, Al Saxon, and William Scordmaglia all piled into Butch's Buick Electra 225 and sped away from the bar.
The front door was found to be unlocked, strange since Butch had been bitching about having to break in not a half-hour before. The group of men walked inside, finding the house dark, still, and silent as a crypt. As they crept further in they were greeted by Shaggy barking at them. The dog was tied up just inside of the kitchen's back door. Bobby quietly led the men up the stairs to the master bedroom where they found Louise and Big Ronnie lying in a pool of their coagulated blood. Big Ronnie was found sprawled out on his stomach, and Louise was buried underneath her blanket. A bullet hole with a stream of dried blood could plainly be seen from their position in the doorway.
The children were discovered immediately after and the police were quickly called. Joey Yeswit made the call directly from the house. Clearly shaken and traumatized by what he'd just seen, he had a hard time trying to direct authorities to their location. Within ten minutes of the call Officer Kenneth Greguski of the Amityville Village Police Dept. arrived on scene first. He found the group of men gathered around Butch on the front lawn, attempting to console him as he sobbed uncontrollably. As the men tried their best to calm him, he just pounded his fists into his car as he screamed, "I'm not going back into that house! My mother and father are dead!"
Eventually he was convinced to go back inside and sit at the kitchen table while Officer Greguski inspected the house. Greguski's account of that initial inspection is as follows: "I went into the house and climbed the stairs. In the master bedroom, I found a white male lying on his stomach, and he had been shot dead. Next to him was a white female in the same position, and she had been shot to death. I proceeded to a second bedroom where I found two young boys in separate beds. They were lying on their stomachs and they had been shot dead. I came downstairs and used the telephone to call my headquarters and informed them that there were four bodies in the house, and they should notify the First Squad Detectives."
"Almost immediately, Ronald DeFeo told me that he had two sisters. Evidently he heard me talking over the telephone, and with that, I ran back upstairs and checked a bedroom door that had been closed. I found a young girl's body there. She was lying like the others, spread-eagle on her stomach. She was shot dead, too. And I seen a staircase, that I thought led to an attic, which actually led to another bedroom upstairs on the third floor, and I found another female body there."
"I immediately came back downstairs, re-called my headquarters and advised them I had two more bodies. After that call I went into the kitchen. I stood there with Ronald DeFeo and his friend Robert Kelske, and I put my hand on his shoulder and just told him to take it easy. I stood there and waited until Detective Sergeant Cammaroto and Lt. Edward Lowe turned up. They checked the scene and they came back downstairs, too, and it was shortly thereafter that the homicide detectives arrived. It was a scene that I'll never forget, and it haunts me to this day."
The scene was jarring to everyone that had to see it. Even seasoned homicide detectives were shaken to their cores by the brutality of this crime. To massacre an entire family as they slept in their beds was just unimaginable. Everyone feels the safest and the most secure when they're in their bed. This feeling originates in childhood and sticks with us whether we realize it or not. The Amityville Horror shattered that sense of security for many that were now seeing the pictures of the DeFeo family being wheeled out of their home in the papers.
The family's autopsies were performed by medical examiner, Dr. Howard Aldeman. His examination found that Big Ronnie had been shot twice in the lower back, with the bullets passing through his kidney and spine. One bullet became lodged in his neck while the other went straight through his body and landed on the mattress. The report stated that his death was instantaneous. Louise was also found to have been shot twice. Although it would appear that the first two shots that killed her husband had woke her, and she turned over to face the doorway. When she did poor Louise faced her killer and her first-born son all at once.
The first bullet fired at her went in through her back and exited through her chest before re-entering her left breast and wrist, and landing on the mattress. The second bullet destroyed her liver, lung, and diaphragm. Never even having the chance to put up a struggle, Louise likely died within seconds of being shot.
The two boys, Mark and John, were found to have each been shot once from less than two feet away. The single bullet that each boy endured penetrated their hearts, lungs, diaphragms, and livers. John's spinal cord had been severed by the shot fired on him, causing involuntary movements from the lower half of his body.
Allison was found to have been awake and staring down the barrel of the shotgun when she was shot in the face. Before the girl even had time to react and attempt to flee or defend herself, Butch pulled the trigger and the single gunshot wound she suffered smashed upwards from her right cheek, into her right ear. From there the bullet entered her brain and exited through the skull before hitting the wall and landing on the floor. Death was instant. Powder burns in her eyes indicated to the medical examiner that she was wide awake and staring directly down the barrel when fired upon.
The single gunshot that killed Dawn was fired from less than three feet away at the back of her neck. The bullet entered through her left ear and collapsed the left side of her face. Her pillow was spattered with brain particles while her bed sheets were covered in menstrual blood.
Dr. Adleman's initial opinion was that this was a gangland style execution, involving three to four people to control the entire family. I guess he never stopped to think that since they were all asleep at the time of the attack no crowd control would've been necessary. To be fair, Dr. Adleman also had no knowledge of the relationship between Butch DeFeo and his father. In the beginning this really did point in the direction of a mafia hit, given the long standing rumors about the DeFeo family being involved in organized crime. Butch's redirection of the investigation also helped to force this early narrative, but not for long.
Detective Gasper Randazzo with the First Squad Detectives took Butch's initial statement after the discovery. Butch told him, "I went to work and, upon coming home I found the door locked. I figured there might have been something wrong because the doors were locked and I saw my parents' cars outside the house. I went back to the bar and spoke to Robert Kelske. I went back to house, forced a window, and found the bodies of my family. I was scared, so I ran out and drove back to the bar for help. Then we all drove back and Joe called the police."
As detectives, police officials, and press descended on the house in Amityville, Butch pointed his finger at mafia hit man, Louis Falini. He informed detectives that Louis had recently lived with the family for a brief period. According to Butch, Louis would've known the layout of the house and whose bedrooms were located where. He even told police about Louis helping he and his father carve out a hiding place to stash money and gems in the basement. From the statement Butch made it seemed as though the neighborhood rumors about the DeFeos being involved with organized crime were well founded.
Butch also disclosed that tensions had been high between Falini and the family recently. This was apparently due to an argument had between Butch and Louis over some work Butch had done at the dealership. Maybe Falini was mistaken. Work doesn't sound like anything Butch DeFeo was capable of. Butch recalled of this encounter, "I had an argument with Falini. I called him a cocksucker and that caused problems between him and my father." The amount of homophobia in that statement in truly shocking and infuriating.
As Butch was further questioned he tried his best to feign cooperation. I guess he learned his lesson from his previous encounter with police just weeks earlier. He was honest about being on probation for stealing an outboard motor and he even started confessing to other crimes. You know, because if he's admitting to smaller crimes he couldn't possibly be guilty of murder. He was honest about his regular heroine use and even fessed up to lighting one of his father's boats on fire. Apparently it was easier to file an insurance claim than it was to replace the motor that he'd blown up.
As the night went on his version of events changed dramatically each time. Butch's story would change many times over the years before his death behind bars. Initially his first story was believed enough for Detective Gerard Gozaloff to suggest that Butch be put into protective custody just in case the mafia was involved.
His first detailed version stated that he fell asleep around 2AM while watching a movie called Castle Keep. Some time around 4AM he awoke with stomach pains so he got up from his bed and left his room. He said he remembered walking past the bathroom and seeing his brother, Mark's, wheelchair sitting outside the closed door. He further explained that Mark had only been able to walk on crutches since a recent injury playing football. As he walked past the bathroom he heard the toilet flush, but never reported seeing Mark leave the room.
Unable to sleep for the pain in his stomach, he did what anyone would do. Butch got ready and went to work early. From there he laid out the rest of his day as we know it. Leaving work at noon, taking his girlfriend shopping, visiting his heroine dealer and getting high. All the while, he said, he had tried to reach his family at home over the telephone with no luck. Finally he arrived at the bar raising alarm at the fact that his doors were locked, his parents' cars were there, and no one was answering the phone. He said it was after leaving the bar that he first discovered his parents and rushed back to the bar for help.
The two detectives that had brought Butch in, George Harrison and Joseph Napolitano, questioned Butch for some time. After talking with him at the Fourth Precinct Headquarters for awhile, the detectives set Butch up with a small cot in a file room so he could get some rest. While Butch slept like a baby the detectives set to work combing over the house. The evidence they found wouldn't point to Louis Falini's involvement, but to Butch's instead.
A full search of Butch's bedroom revealed plenty of damning evidence. An entire stash of guns was recovered with the boxes they had been sold in also still present in the room. Boxes of ammunition were also found, but it was the .35 caliber bullets in near full supply that intrigued police the most. Interviews with Butch's friends revealed that he was a "gun fanatic." Hours of combing through the DeFeo home and not a single piece of evidence tied Louis Falini to the crime. Everything present told investigators that Butch had killed his own family. Now they just had to figure out why.
As Butch DeFeo slept soundly in his cot in the Fourth Precinct's file room, detectives Harrison, Napolitano, and Gozaloff were on their way to arrest him. He was awakened by the three informing him of his rights. All the while Butch just yelled in protest, "You don't have to do that...Get Falini. He's the guy you want. Not me." Several more hours of questioning from the three detectives picked his original story clean to the bones. Finally after the three men that had started the interrogation had been been relieved by Detective Dennis Rafferty and Lt. Robert Dunn, the story changed.
In his updated version, Louis Falini had come into his room and woke him up on the night of the murders. Falini supposedly forced Butch to accompany him as he massacred the entire family, sparing Butch. Makes perfect sense. Falini had a problem with Butch, but killed everyone except him. Butch claimed that Falini had ditched the rifle in a sewer in Brooklyn.
Needless to say the investigators weren't buying it. After some more pushing and aggravation Rafferty just flat out asked, probably expecting nothing, "Did it really happen that way?" He was likely stunned when Butch replied, "No. It all started so fast. Once I started, I just couldn't stop. It went so fast."
Butch's trial began on October 14, 1975, close to a year after the massacre. His attorney, William Weber, attempted an insanity plea. They tried to claim that Butch had heard voices in his head telling him to commit the atrocities that night. The defense brought forth a psychiatrist that supported the claim, saying that Butch was neurotic and suffered from dissociative disorder. The psychiatrist batting for the prosecution tore their defense apart. He refuted the diagnoses, saying that Butch instead suffered from antisocial personality disorder. Though his actions were selfishly motivated, he knew what he was doing was wrong and he went to great lengths to cover it up. It could also be argued that an added motive was the $20,000 life insurance policy he would've inherited had he gotten away with it.
Now, you can't talk about the DeFeo murders without mentioning the haunting at Amityville. George and Kathy Lutz got married on July 4, 1975. Both had previously been married, but Kathy was the only one with children from her previous marriage. She had three kids and would have two more with George before their divorce in 1980. By December of 1975 the couple was house hunting, looking to buy their first home together as a family. They were absolutely stunned to find the beautiful, spacious 4000 square foot house at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville within their price range at $80,000. Today that would be equivalent to the purchasing power of $414,575.46.
They jumped on the house and bought it before anyone else could. Within twenty-eight days they would flee the property with only three changes of clothes each, leaving everything else behind. According to the Lutzs, things got strange right away when Kathy had a priest come bless the house. She asked that the priest come the very day they moved in, like many devout Catholic women of the time would. George reported that the priest was slapped by an invisible hand before hearing a gruff voice shout at him, "Get out!" There were no flies swarming the room or the priest, though. That was just one of many exaggerations in the movie according to Kathy's son, Christopher Quaratino. He claims that there were flies, but not nearly to the extent that the movie portrayed.
George and Kathy claim that things just got scarier from there. Not long after the unsuccessful blessing of the house cabinet doors began slamming shut, doors around the house were being ripped from their hinges, and nickolodean green slime was oozing from the walls and ceilings. Maybe if this had taken place in the '90s the slime would've seemed more fun than terrifying to the kids.
In a 2006 interview with ABC News, George recounted his experiences in the house. "There were...odors in the house that came and went. There were sounds. The front door would slam shut in the middle of the night...I couldn't get warm in the house for many days." Among other claims, George said that he would wake up every morning at 3:15AM, the presumed time of death of the DeFeo family.
George also reported an occasion when he could plainly hear the children's beds slamming repeatedly into the floor. He tried to get up and run to them, but he was paralyzed by an invisible force. Completely unable to move, he was forced to just lay there and listen until the slamming stopped. Moving furniture seemed to be a recurring problem along with icy cold drafts through the house.
One night Kathy was said to have transformed before George's very eyes into an old woman, and then back into her original form. They even reported her levitating on one occasion. Kathy told of nightmares she had regularly while staying in the house. She had vivid recurring dreams of the massacre that occurred just a year before they moved in. She also reported seeing red, glowing eyes peering at her through the windows.
It was actually the Lutzs to originally posit the theory that Butch DeFeo had been possessed by a demon. Of course, Butch heard this theory and grabbed onto it for awhile. To be clear, there is no evidence whatsoever that Butch was possessed or even involved in anything remotely spiritualistic or satanic at any point in his life. The story above speaks for itself. Butch struggled with an unchecked mental illness during a time when much less was known about it, and instead of receiving help he was spoiled asshole rotten.
Christopher Quaratino would later reveal that his ex-stepfather held a deep fascination with the paranormal. He said that George was actively trying to summon spirits in the house. It's probably safe to say that if that Lutzs truly were being haunted by something, George was the one to bring it there.
Another one of the Lutzs truly offensive and stunning theories was that the house had been built on top of an ancient Native American burial ground. I can assure you that had that been the case the builders would've faced off with living descendants in court, not spirits from the afterlife. Had this theory been posited later on I would've assumed that they just watched Poltergeist and stole it from the movie.
The Lutzs began appearing on television telling their outrageous story to anyone that would listen. It raised plenty of controversy around the entire country, with opinions split across the board. Plenty of people thought that if something hadn't already been in the house before, that the DeFeo family had to still be there after. Many thought that something evil had lurked within the house's walls all along. Many more saw it for what it likely was, a hoax created by a family in debt. While the stories the Lutzs told of the house made for a popular book and movie franchise, no other owners of the house have reported anything paranormal at all.
The story became an overnight sensation. Whether people believed it or not, it was still outrageous enough to grab their attention. It didn't take long for an investigative team to gather at the house after the Lutzs departure. On the night of March 6, 1976, reporter Laura Didio led a team of paranoral experts, religious figures, and media into the house to check things out for themselves. The night became known as the Amityville Horror Psychic Sleepover. Sensitives, as they were called, were said to become so overwhelmed at times that they would have to leave the room entirely. Crew members experienced terrible visions that they couldn't explain and would become violently ill out of nowhere. One famous picture taken that night clearly features a little boy peering around a corner, but no children were there that night.
The Psychic Sleepover did little to sway the skeptics. Ed and Lorraine Warren were called in to do their own investigation of the house. According to their findings the house was supposedly very haunted. Although, Jay Anson, author of The Amityville Horror, made it known that Ed Warren told him to exaggerate and embellish where he needed to make the story scarier. It's been said that this was not the only occasion that the Warrens purposefully embellished a story for their personal gain.
Even after a number of lawsuits over a number of years, the story never died. In fact, Kathy's son, Daniel Lutz, gave an interview in the 2013 documentary, My Amityville Horror. He got candid about his years-long struggle with substance abuse following his experiences in the house. He echoed George's stories of moving furniture and even claimed to have heard voices whispering to him while staying there. Apparently he also experienced a "bodily possession," as he called it.
As the story grew to epic proportions Butch's attorney, William Weber became quite vocal about the whole thing being a hoax. How would he have known this? He said that he helped concoct the story with George and Kathy Lutz at the house over a bottle of wine. He claimed to have fed them details of the crime to make the haunting seem more authentic. The green slime was supposed to be representative of the amount of blood found at the scene. A lot of flies were present at the scene as well, much like the swarm that attacked the priest in the movie.
Weber admitted to being approached by a publisher with an offer of a large advance for the story on the DeFeo case. He said that since the Lutzs had moved into the house so soon after the conviction he thought he could get them involved as well. The entire plan had been for Weber to split the royalties from the book with Butch in prison. George and Kathy claimed to have found out about his plan and stopped working with him or talking to him afterward. George later commented that they would've been "effectively paying him for the murder." Even though George and Kathy admitted to being approached by Weber about a book he was trying to write, they held firm that their experiences were real.
It's also worth noting that the author of the book, Anson, really didn't seem to believe the Lutzs claims, either. He published his novel, The Amityville Horror: A Devil of a True Story, in September 1977. The book quickly hit the best sellers list and stayed there for forty-two weeks before being made into a feature film that debuted on July 27, 1979. From there the franchise was born and the story continues to live on today. In a 1978 interview with People Magazine Anson commented, "I'm a professional writer. I don't believe and I don't disbelieve. I leave that to the reader." That same year he told the New York Times, "I believe these people believe that they went through all those things they saw and heard." Anson died of a heart attack in 1980 at the age of fifty-eight, never disclosing whether or not he truly believed the Lutzs story.
Kathy Lutz passed away in 2004 from emphysema. George succumbed to his battle with heart disease in 2006. Since then Kathy's children have mainly stayed out of the spotlight. Daniel appeared in the 2013 documentary mentioned above and has not come back out since. Christopher only came out once to say that the house was indeed haunted by something. He also disclosed that it was not nearly to the extent that it was made out in his mother and stepfather's stories.
Among those crying hoax were the next couple to buy the house, Jim and Barbra Cromarty. They moved in on April 1, 1977, after buying the home even cheaper than the Lutzs had due to all the bad publicity. The Cromartys had managed to buy the house for $55,000 compared to the $80,000 George and Kathy had paid after the murders. Today $55,000 would equivalent to the purchasing power of $253,038.12. The couple had only been at the house a week before Goodhousekeeping released an article on it. After the article released the new owners began receiving a number of odd visitors, just trying to see the house.
It was five months after the couple moved in that Anson released his book. Jim and Barbra started dealing with visitors calling themselves witches knocking on the door at all hours of the day and night. Among all the law suits that flew back and forth between the Lutzs and a number of others, the Cromartys filed their own against Jay Anson, the Lutzs, and Prentice-Hall Publishing for $1.1 million in assorted damages for fraud. The goal of their suit was not money, but to get everyone involved to admit to the hoax so they could live in peace. They settled for an undisclosed six figure amount in 1982, with no one ever admitting to faking anything or making any of it up. The Cromartys lived in the house for ten years, never reporting anything strange or paranormal happening. The only strange disturbances they had to deal with were people stopping in front of their house to take pictures, or scream and cuss that them, some telling them they were going to die.
Only once did the couple ever give an interview while they lived at 112 Ocean Avenue. In 1978 they told Newsday of the experiences they'd had with paranormal tourists. Jim recalled one humorous encounter when a drunk man with a bulging beer belly woke them at 3AM playing Taps on their front lawn. Jim simply opened his window, applauded the man, and said, "Kid, you've got a real good sense of humor."
The hoax was never admitted to, but it's safe to say that nothing really happened in that house besides the gruesome massacre of entire family. The saddest part of all is that in the midst of the paranormal narrative the Lutzs were trying to push, the DeFeo family was almost forgotten. Instead of being memorialized as a family taken too soon after struggling with their patriarch's demon's, they're forever remembered as the family slain by the literal Devil. The true story of the DeFeo massacre is truly a cautionary tale. If only it had been spun that way.