On the 13th of November, 1974 six members of the DeFeo family were shot to death in their home in Amityville, Long Island. The culprit was was believed to be the son and brother Ronald Defeo Jr. This atrocity would spark the beginning of a modern day bloody legend. A legend which has been adopted and adapted in the grotesquely fantastical creations of fifteen Amityville films.
Ronald initially claimed that the murders were conducted by a mob hitman, whom he named. However, this story was soon proved inconsistent, since the supposed hitman was out of state of New York at the time of the murders.
Ronald Defeo’s confession
Within a day, Ronald confessed to having committed the mass murder himself.
“It all started so fast. Once I started, I just couldn’t stop. It went so fast.” – Ronald DeFeo Jr. 1
That which he referred to as “it” began around three in the morning at 112 Ocean Avenue. Ronald took his 35 calibre rifle and meticulously shot his two brothers, two sisters, mother and father. A bullet each for his siblings; double for his parents. Afterwards, Ronald drew a bath and redressed, disposed of his gun, then went to work as usual. It wasn’t until later that day, around 6.30 in the evening, that Ronald announced the discovery of his slain family at the local bar. 2
Ronald’s story has altered many times since the cold-blooded happenings of that morning. The most well-known version of events was claims that he had killed his family due to demonic voices in his head. During his trial, Ronald’s lawyer mounted a defense of insanity, which was supported by a court psychiatrist. Regardless, the final judgement found Ronald both guilty and aware of his actions, resulting in him being sentenced to six consecutive life sentences.
In the years that have followed, Ronald has claimed that he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol when he performed the murders. In another version of the story, it was his sister, Dawn, who was the murderer. Ronald only killing her in a struggle which broke out upon the discovery of his dead family. His story has changed so many times that the only truth which we can now be certain of is that Ronald DeFeo Jr. is a notorious liar. Indeed, perhaps the most demonic aspect of the Amityville murders is the imagination of the murderer himself.
“Mystified”: He killed them one by one
However, regardless of Ronald’s testimonies, there are certain facts which make this case particularly strange.
All of the victims were found lying on their stomachs, with no signs of struggle. Toxicology reports have proved that no sedatives were used; and police found no evidence of Ronald having used a silencer on his very loud lever action rifle. How, then, did the DeFeo family remain asleep in their beds as Ronald killed them one by one? In the court transcripts, Dr. Howard Adelman, the medical examiner on the case, reveals that he was “mystified” as to how a single gunman could have ever committed the crime.
There have been several competitive theories as to how the events unfolded, from the earthly to the paranormal. However, none truly satisfies the question of how Ronald cocked and loaded and shot, cocked and loaded and shot, again and again and again, murdering his entire family whilst they stayed sound asleep.
The Lutz family and the Amityville haunting
A little over a year later, 112 Ocean Avenue, the scene of such ghastly murders, became home to a new family. The house with all its furnishings still in place was bought by George and Kathy Lutz and their three children. Whilst aware of the events that had taken place there, the Lutzes were optimistic, describing the house as their dream home.
However, they would only inhabit the house for twenty-eight days. They would end up being forced from its walls, running out in their nightwear, abandoning all of their possessions, never to return.
The events that allegedly occurred during those few weeks have since become legendary.
What did the Lutz family experience at Amityville?
It was on the very first day of moving into the house that the Lutzes began to feel as though something was not quite right.
A family friend, and local Catholic priest, Father Ralph Pecoraro visited the house to perform a blessing. This was nothing unusual for a family of faith moving into a new home.
George described what happened during one of his final interviews before his death in 2006. Whilst performing the blessing, the priest was left disturbed by a strange feeling that he got in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Pecoraro described the room to George, who told him that it would be the sewing room. The priest supposedly looked relieved, then said: “That’s good, as long as no one sleeps in there.” 3
Paranormal events began to unfold immediately.
“Within a week Kathy’s hand had been touched … by something unseen” – George Lutz 4
Kathy Lutz reported that she was lulled into a state of deep, contented, lethargy by the house. She would never want to leave. Even the simplest of chores was too much for her. Others have even stressed how the house seemed to age Kathy, both mentally and physically. On the night that the family fled the house, George claims to have witnessed his wife transform into an elderly woman before his very eyes. A visage which took several hours to wear off.
Repeatedly, noises would jolt the family from their sleep in the night. It was George in particular who reported the most disturbance. He described how he would hear the front door violently open and close, only to then investigate and see it locked with the dog asleep in front of it.
“I heard what I can only describe as a marching band tuning up, and at one time it had sounded like they had rolled up the carpet. There were so many footsteps down there — there was so much noise. And you go running downstairs to see what it is or what caused this, and you get to the landing halfway down and there’s nothing, and the dog would be asleep.” 5
Paranormal investigator, Ed Warren, who later became involved in the case, drew attention to how a lot of activity would happen at around three o’clock in the morning – the same time that Ronald DeFeo murdered his family.
“By the time we left we had lost a considerable amount of weight. Kathy was passing out quite regularly. I had lost over 26 pounds.” – George Lutz 6
The Lutzes move out
After twenty-eight days living in a perpetual state of terror, the Lutzes called Father Pecoraro, who advised that they leave the house and spend the night elsewhere. Thus, in their night clothes, they left.
“When we left, we didn’t know we weren’t coming back. We didn’t know that what we were leaving behind, we would never see again.” – George Lutz 7
Whilst away from the Amityville house, the realisation that they needed help to cleanse the house dawned on George and Kathy.
Daniel Lutz describes his version of the Amityville haunting
A documentary filmed in 2012, after the deaths of both Kathy and George, has added further evidence and intrigue to the Amityville case.
For the first time since the events of 1976, one of the Lutz children, Daniel Lutz, has come forward to discuss his childhood experiences. Daniel has corroborated his mother and stepfather’s testimonies, whilst adding to them with his own experiences.
One of the most traumatic events, which has haunted him since the day it occurred, was when he witnessed the door of the boat house open and slam shut repeatedly and with great violence. The family dog, Harry, was profoundly disturbed, his pen being beside the boat house. In an attempt to escape, he jumped over the fence of his pen, suspended above the ground by his lead, seemingly trying to hang himself. After rescuing the dog, it took Daniel and George great effort to close the door.
It was at this point Daniel recalls one of the most bizarre aspects of his experiences at Amityville. During the interview, his own disbelief at what he saw – even many years later – is plain to see. Just by watching you can see that Daniel knows what he is about to say sounds ridiculous – however, he says it all the same.
“[I saw] what looked like a cartoon character of an angry pig. With wolf-like teeth and red eyes, laser-beam red eyes.” – Daniel Lutz 8
When he and George went upstairs to investigate, they found a rocking chair moving back and forth by itself.
Daniel has claimed that he was possessed by a powerful entity in the house.
“I know that the spirit of some other thing passed right through me. […] My mother was standing right there, and she just broke down and cried. That was the most horrible thing she had ever seen […] I had just gotten in a fight with George about – I don’t even remember any more. So, by the time I got to the second landing […] I was projected up the stairs, into the wall. And my mother was, like, 15 feet behind me. Um, and I stand up and – and – my body starts, like… I no longer have control of myself. […] She jumps around in shock, like something just scrapped her, or touched her. And, it entered into me – through me. And if I have to describe what it felt like, it would be like the numbness after being shot. And from somewhere in the room, it said: ‘It is you.’ It was like sub-base. Like with a gargle and a crackle to it. And, that stuck with me for at least a decade, on a daily basis.” – Daniel Lutz 9
Even after leaving the Amityville house, Daniel was sent to a Catholic monastic school by his parents. There, the priests performed ritual exorcisms for a year to rid him of the demon which had possessed him in the house.
On the last night the Lutzes spent at Amityville, the two boys and Kathy were lifted up on their beds by some unseen force. Daniel has described how he was terrified as the headboard of his and his brother’s beds smashed against each other and the ceiling. They were trapped on the beds as they levitated. This was the final straw for the family. They could take no more.
Ed and Lorraine Warren investigate Amityville
So, it was in the March of 1976 that psychics, paranormal researchers and a Channel 5 news crew were allowed access to 112 Ocean Avenue. Amongst the investigators were husband and wife duo, Ed and Lorraine Warren.
During the initial investigation, Lorraine was repulsed by one of the rooms, later discovered to have been the bedroom of Ronald DeFeo. Lorraine believed that whilst several spirits roamed the house, there was one particular entity which was both of greater power, and greater malevolence than the others.
“[The house was] diabolically infested […] This case had everything. It had the monstrosities of the night which roamed that house which infested it. Which caused a young man to murder his whole family.” – Ed Warren 10
It was the Warren’s photographer who captured the infamous image of a spectral child in a doorway.
Some have speculated that this is the ghostly presence of the youngest member of the family to be murdered in 1974, John Matthew DeFeo. However, lots of criticism surround the paranormal investigations that took place in the aftermath of the Lutzes’ twenty-eight days of Hell. Certainly, it is worth mentioning that the Channel 5 news crew did not pick up anything strange on film.
“The Amityville case affected our personal lives more than any case we worked on.” – Lorraine Warren 11
RELATED: THE HAUNTING OF THE PERRON FAMILY
Did the Lutz family fabricate the Amityville haunting?
Many have claimed that the Lutzes fabricated the fantastical tale to make money. However, to stake all of one’s possessions, reputation and livelihoods on the unlikelihood that someone will find your story interesting enough to write a successful book and produce a successful movie seems too ludicrous a gamble for even the most ambitious of risk-takers. In addition, multiple sources have suggested that the Lutzes would have enjoyed only marginal profits from the Amityville Horror franchise. In a 2002 interview, George Lutz named this figure as close to 300,000 dollars after taxes and legal fees. By way of contrast, the 1979 Amityville Horror film alone is reported to have grossed over $86,000,000 in theatres.
Sceptics have also argued that the Lutzes got into financial difficulties and needed a sensational story to rid themselves of the house. However, after just 28 days it is unlikely that the Lutzes had the time to reach such a dismal point. Indeed, by the time they fled, they had not even made their first mortgage payment.
The Lutzes had no reasonable motive to concoct this tale. It was only in their eventual endeavour to exorcise their home that reporters were able to gain access to the Amityville house and make its story famous. Not only that, both George and Kathy consistently maintained their story throughout their lives. Therein lies the true horror of Amytiville: when you listen to any of the Lutzes’ testimonies, there is an inescapable sense that they believe what they are saying is the truth.
Since the Lutzes, there have been no reports of any further paranormal activity at the Amityville house. The lack of subsequent hauntings, combined with the heavy reliance on eyewitness testimony, has given much credence to the belief that the Amityville Horror was an elaborate hoax.
However, Daniel Lutz, now an adult, tells another tale, one that he was denied a chance to tell when the event occurred. He states that all the hauntings happened and were triggered by George Lutz. Despite denials during his lifetime, Daniel asserts that George was a man who enjoyed to dabble in the occult.
“I think somewhere along the line that George’s beliefs and practises, and things that he was directly involved with triggered and was a catalyst to what was going on in the house.” 12
Daniel also states that George was an abusive stepfather, and the catalyst that led him to leave home at the age of fifteen. It is interesting that Daniel would corroborate the story of a man who both personally repulsed him and abused him as a child.
Could this, then, be the explanation? Certainly, that the haunting seemed to stop after the Lutzes left Amityville can be explained by George’s personal connection to the activity. What is more, one has to wonder why he would keep all of the material possessions of those who had died in the house before him. Could it be that, as a dabbler in the occult, George knew something of the alleged power of death and blood? Perhaps George Lutz had attempted to tap into this energy. However, rather than harness the residue that had been left behind by the murdered souls of the DeFeos, George disturbed something darker. He unleashed demonic forces which he could not control upon himself and his family.
Such an explanation is a concurrent theme in poltergeist cases. There is always someone involved in occult practices who acts as a trigger. In the case of the Enfield Poltergeist, it was young Janet Hodgson who played with Ouija boards. Could something similar have happened at Amityville? Furthermore, if this was the case, was this malevolent entity a new energy? Or, had it been there all along, and part of the explanation behind the mystifying nighttime mass murder of the sleeping DeFeos?
Unfortunately, all we can do is question. With the death of George Lutz, we shall never know the secret behind his alleged covert interest in the occult. And so, with the lack of any physical evidence and the over-dependence on testimony, it is probable that we will never know for certain the truth behind the Amityville Horror.
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