An Amityville Primer

112 Ocean Avenue. Check out Halloween pictures
Photo courtesy Ric Osuna, The Amityville Murders

It is said that every home houses secrets. None holds more than a certain residence in Amityville, N.Y., which once claimed the address of 112 Ocean Avenue. The real tragedy and the alleged events that occurred in this home have spawned countless books, movies, radio and television shows, and news reports.

A Grisly Scene

Ronald DeFeo, at the time of his arraignment
Ronald DeFeo, at the time of his arraignment
Photo courtesy Ric Osuna, The Amityville Murders

On the night of Nov. 13, 1974, 24-year-old Ronald "Butch" DeFeo frantically burst through the door of Henry's Bar in the quiet town of Amityville. Upon Butch's arrival at the small bar, he exclaimed that someone had shot his parents. He persuaded the regulars of the establishment to accompany him back to his residence. ­­On arrival at 112 Ocean Avenue, the bar patrons discovered a grisly scene -- six people, each shot to death,placed stomach-down on their beds with their heads resting on their arms. ­The six people were identified as Ronald DeFeo's:

  • mother and father - Ronald and Louise DeFeo
  • brothers - nine-year-old John and 12-year-old Mark
  • sisters - 13-year-old Allison and 18-year-old Dawn

After hours of interrogation by the Amityville police, Ronald DeFeo dropped his initial story that disgruntled members of the Mafia were responsible for the murders, and admitted to killing his family. While on trial for the slayings, DeFeo claimed that on the night the murders occurred, he heard voices which commanded him to kill. At one point in the trial, DeFeo stated, "Whenever I looked around, there was no one there, so it must have been God talking to me." Eventually, DeFeo was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences in Greenhaven Penitentiary, New York, which he continues to serve.

Recreated diagrams of the DeFeo crime-scene by Rip Holly
Photo courtesy Ric Osuna, The Amityville Murders


The Horror...the horror...

The front of 112 Ocean Avenue, prior to the murders (from Geraldine DeFeo's personal photo collection)
The front of 112 Ocean Avenue, prior to the murders (from Geraldine DeFeo's personal photo collection)
Photo courtesy Ric Osuna, The Amityville Murders

On Dec. 18, 1975, more than a year after the DeFeo murders, a young married couple named George and Kathy Lutz moved into the house on 112 Ocean Avenue with their young children -- nine-year-old Daniel, 7-year-old Christopher and 5-year-old Missy. Within 28 days, the Lutz family had abandoned the house, claiming that it was haunted.

Their first odd "encounter" occurred when they asked priest and friend of the family, Father Ralph Pecoraro, to bless the house while they were moving in. As the priest explored the home, he heard a strong, masculine voice shouting, "Get out!" Following the visit, he found that his car began acting strangely -- the hood flew open and smashed his windshield, the right door opened unexpectedly, the wipers moved without being turned on, and, finally, the car stalled out.

Later, similar paranormal events supposedly occurred in the home, including windows and doors unexpectedly opening and slamming on their hinges, toilet bowls turning pitch black, crucifixes spinning upside down, swarms of flies appearing in the sewing room for no apparent reason, and the oozing and dripping of green slime from the ceiling and door openings. Mr. Lutz also found a secret room in the basement that did not appear on any blueprints. The room was painted red and gave off a smell of blood or rotten eggs.

Lutz claimed to see a face in the wall, which he later recognized as Ronald "Butch" DeFeo's. While in the house, Mrs. Lutz claimed that she could feel invisible hands groping at her and said that she awoke one morning to find herself covered in welts, as if she had been burned with a hot poker. Both Mr. and Mrs. Lutz claimed to see drastic personality changes in each other and their children after having been in the house. Additionally, the Lutz family reported seeing many different apparitions throughout the house including a white hooded figure with a gunshot wound who haunted the living room, and a giant pig with glowing red eyes who would appear at the windows and peer inside. (Missy Lutz would tell her family that this was her friend, "Jodie.")

What you keep in yo' house?

What supernatural forces could influence a man to murder his family and persuade a young family to leave their "dream house"? And better yet, why would they do this?

One legend is that an Indian tribe once resided on the land that eventually became the town of Amityville. It is said the land where the house on 112 Ocean was built was originally used as a sick bay where ill and insane members of the tribe were left to die at the mercy of the elements. In accordance with this belief, the haunting was a result of restless Indian spirits roaming the land. Another legend points to a man named John Ketchum, who escaped from Salem during the witch trials and built his house on the land where the Amityville house was later built. The tale suggests that Ketchum used the home to continue his practice of "devil-worship" and performed numerous sacrifices of pigs and dogs on the property. According to this story, Ketchum opened a "doorway to hell" which was never closed and the ensuing "horror" is the result of demons who have crossed over to our world. Of course, many other legends exist, ranging from stories that the house was built over an abandoned cemetery to rumors of a curse placed by an unjustly hung settler of early Amityville.

The Book that Launched a Thousand Screams

After leaving the house in Amityville, the Lutz family made contact with an author named Jay Anson, who took up the difficult task of documenting and relaying, in written text, what happened during the Lutz's residency. In 1977, Prentice Hall released a book entitled, "The Amityville Horror" and billed it as both "A true story" and "The non-fictional Exorcist." The copyright page of the novel claimed:

The names of several individuals mentioned in this book have been changed to protect their privacy. However, all facts and events, as far as we have been able to verify them, are strictly accurate.

The book chronicled the many unusual happenings that the Lutz family claimed to experience while in Amityville. Their story became a national bestseller that sold more than 3 million copies. As they toured the country and appeared in newspapers and television and radio talk-shows to promote the book, the Lutz family became a household name.

I'll wait for the movie...

Amityville 1979
Amityville 1979
Photo courtesy

With the success of the book, it didn't take long for Hollywood to take an interest in Amityville. In 1979, James Brolin and Margot Kidder starred as George and Kathy Lutz in the big-screen-production of The Amityville Horror. In spite of rumors that the production team was too scared to work in the real house on 112 Ocean Avenue (in reality, the city refused to issue a permit), the movie piggybacked on the success of the book and went on to make $80 million in its first domestic release. For those keeping score, the flick also spawned three official sequels -- Amityville II: The Possession, Amityville 3-D, and the made-for-TV Amityville IV: The Curse.

More recently, Michael Bay (Armageddon and the Transformers franchise) and his partners at Platinum Dunes (responsible for 2003's Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake) announced their plans to film a remake of the original Amityville Horror for the partnered MGM and Dimension studios. The film stars Ryan Reynolds (Van Wilder) and Melissa George (Dark City, Alias) as George and Kathy Lutz and was directed by Andrew Douglas. Released on April 15th, 2005, it followed Jay Anson's novel more closely and also took account the new facts that have arisen about the famous house in the last 30 years.

Amityville 2005
Photo courtesy MGM

The Skeptics -- Is the jig up?

Photo courtesy Ric Osuna, The Amityville Murders

While many have come to regard the supposed supernatural events at 112 Ocean Avenue as fact, many insist that the "haunting" was little more than a clever hoax. There are discrepancies concerning how long the Lutz family remained in the house (the book claims 28 days and neighbors have claimed less than 10 days). And, skeptics claim that the Lutz family abandoned the house due to a failing business and the desire to get out from under a steep mortgage.

As for the claims that supernatural forces led Butch DeFeo to murder his family, it has been brought to light that DeFeo's lawyer, William Weber, persuaded Butch to claim that he heard "voices" in an attempt to plead insanity. At the outset, DeFeo refused to partake in any measure which would put his sanity in question, but apparently agreed after Weber promised him that a lucrative book deal would follow. It was, in fact, a group assembled by William Weber who first approached the Lutz family to discuss writing a book. When the Lutz family, seeking a bigger cut of the profits, ceased dealing with Weber's group and opted to go with author Jay Anson, Weber proclaimed, "I know this book is a hoax. We created this horror story over many bottles of wine."

While this could be taken as the ravings of a bitter ex-partner, perhaps the biggest weapon in the arsenal of the nay-sayers is the true level of involvement and the believability of Father Ralph Pecoraro (known in the novel as Father Mancuso). Many discrepancies exist between what is stated in Anson's book and what George Lutz stated in a civil case against William Weber. (The Lutz family attempted to sue Weber for invasion of privacy after he published articles regarding their experiences.)

In recorded court documents, Father Pecoraro admits that he did not know the Lutz family until after they moved to Amityville and that he, in fact, had not traveled to their home, but instead had only conversed through phone calls. In a letter to author Ric Osuna (The Night the DeFeos Died) in 2002, the Catholic Diocese stated:

"The Diocese maintains that the story was a false report. In November of 1977, Diocesan attorneys prepared a substantial list, to be submitted to the publisher [of The Amityville Horror], of numerous inaccuracies, factually incorrect references and untrue statements regarding events, persons and occurrences that never happened."

Whether or not Father Pecoraro was involved in one of the largest "supernatural" hoaxes of all time or if this is all just a vast cover-up by the Catholic Church, George Lutz maintains to this day that the ghostly events took place. And, as is apparent by the continuing success of anything related to "The Amityville Horror," there are many out there who are ready to believe him.