The Amityville Horror And The Amityville Ghost
When it comes to Amityville, we have many assertions, a few checked facts and a lot of opinions.
But where does the truth lie behind all this noise? Let’s try to find out.
The Amityville story broke to the wider public in 1977 via Jay Anson’s book “The Amityville Horror”. I read that book, and it scared me witless.
Since then, there have been movies in 1979 and 2005 and a series of further books on the subject. There was a 2012 film called “My Amityville Horror” which featured paranormal investigator, Lorraine Warren, telling what happened to her at the house.
The Amityville story has certain distinct elements. Think of them as maybe like a five-act structure in a play. Here they are:
- Act 1: The murders that took place at the house in November 1974 committed by Ronald DeFeo Jr, or “Butch”.
- Act 2: The claims of poltergeist activity made by the Lutz family after they moved in and stayed for one month only in December 1975, one year after the DeFeo murders.
- Act 3: The frenzy over the Amityville Horror book that came out in September 1977. This book supported the claims that the Lutzes had suffered from real paranormal terrorization.
- Act 4: The aftermath, including ‘investigations’ into the demonic activity carried out by such people as the Warrens and then the upsurges in the frenzy as each new book and film got released, and finally,
- Act 5: the attempts to debunk the claims of supernatural happenings in countless articles, sub-Reddits, and TV documentaries
All good stories have themes. The theme of the Amityville Horror story is lies. Each part of the story as set out above concern themselves with what is true and what is a lie.
If the Amityville demons are real, then that is pretty scary. I thought it was true when I read the Amityville Horror as a young teen in the 1970s, and I was pretty scared. But, in my opinion, apart from the scare factor, the second major draw of the Amityville Story is a human attempt to find out who is lying and what is true.
Looking at each:
- DeFeo’s account of the murder of his family is filled with claims that seem obvious lies.
- The Lutzes account of the demonic activity in the house has been attacked as lies.
- The paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, are championed as heroes of the light, or condemned as despicable frauds.
Because of the sheer amount of claims about what went on, many of them contradictory, it is an enormous job to sift and disentangle truth from lie. But let’s try.
The Amityville Horror House
Even the house isn’t what it has been claimed to be. The real-life Amityville Horror residence can be found in Amityville, New York, at 112 Ocean Avenue, on Long Island. It used to be 112, and is now 108. One of the house’s later owners altered the address to 108 Ocean Avenue to deter rubber-neckers from stopping by.
Likewise, the house’s distinctive eye windows were replaced. Contrary to what they imply in the film, the house was constructed in 1927, not 1692.
The 1979 movie claimed that there was a secret ‘red room’ at the bottom of the house, which was the focus of poltergeist manifestation. The film claims that the Lutzes knew nothing about this room.
But Patty Commarato, who was a childhood friend with the murdered Allison DeFeo, used to play in the house. She says there was a room in the basement, and that — rather than being evil — the ‘red room’ seems to have been a small storage space under the stairs where the DeFeos stored kids’ toys.
The Dutch Colonial residence is now a valuable asset. The house has five bedrooms, three and a half baths, and boathouse on a canal off the Long Island Sound. The Lutzes bought the house in 1975 for $80,000. This was a knockdown price. Remember, the house had been the scene of a terrible mass murder only thirteen months before.
It was sold in February 2017 for $605,000, $200,000 less than the original asking price
The Ronald DeFeo Murders
Ronald “Butch” DeFeo, Jr., the eldest son, used a.35 calibre Marlin rifle to murder his parents, two brothers, and two sisters in the early hours of November 13, 1974. He was 23 years old. Evidence reveals that his mother and his 13-year-old sister Allison were awake when he turned his gun on them.
After shooting them while they were sleeping, he took a shower and left the house. Before reporting to work as usual that day, he admitted he had taken a bath and changed his clothes. He threw away his rifle, bloody clothes, and pillow case down a storm drain in a Brooklyn suburb.
When Ronald DeFeo Jr. finally admitted his crimes to police, describing what he’d done, he said,
“Once I started, I just couldn’t stop.”
He went to work as normal, and after he left work, Ronald DeFeo went then to Henry’s Bar in Amityville. He claimed he’d tried to contact his home repeatedly, but to no avail. He made sure that customers in the bar knew he was worried about his parents.
He left the bar, but came back at 6:30 pm and yelled, “You gotta help me! I think my mother and father have been shot!” A group of customers from the bar went back with him to the house, and sure enough, they found his murdered family.
Forensics revealed the DeFeos were murdered about 3 a.m. in the early hours of that day. There were no local reports of gunshots, simply the barking of the DeFeo dog.
Ronald DeFeo Jr. repeatedly changed his alibi, saying he was at the bar when the murders took place and then that he was forced to watch mob hitman Louis Falini kill his family. The rumour was that the DeFeo family was connected to the mob, or the father owed them money, and this was a hit. This story was quickly shown to be false because the alleged hitman was not present in New York at the time of the killings.
Ronald DeFeo Jr. then. claimed to have heard voices telling him to kill his family in an effort to prove his insanity.
He didn’t stick with this story, but it has stuck in public imagination, because it links them to the Lutz’s later comments about demonic forces in the house.
Later Defeo excused his crime by saying he murdered his parents because they were violent to him. This version of the story emphasizes the boy’s traumatic background, which included an aggressive father and a passive mother, resulted in substance misuse as an adult.
But Roland Defeo had a history of not only aggressively confronting his father, but also brandished a gun at him. In contradiction to reports of his parents’ apparent wickedness towards him, we hear they gave him money every week and allowed him to live with them, when others would have expected their adult son to be fending for himself.
Roland DeFeo Jr. rarely had any work. He also admitted that he had been intoxicated and high on heroin. He sounds like a deadbeat. Despite the blizzard of excuses and alibis, within a day, Ronald admitted to being the one who carried out the mass killing.
On November 25, 1975 — only twelve days after the murders — Ronald DeFeo Jr. was found guilty on all six counts of second-degree murder and given a sentence of 25 years to life in prison.
Given that the authorities at the time of his arrest believed more than one person had to have committed the crime, there have been doubts about DeFeo’s culpability ever since.
Roland DeFeo died at the Albany Medical Center on March 12, 2021, at 69. There is no public record of the deceased’s official cause of death.
In conclusion, DeFeo was a bitter young man, who was a failure at life and who turned his resentment and anger on his parents, who appear to have done what they could to support him and help him turn his life around.
Like many criminals, DeFeo struggled to accept culpability and blamed mafia hit men and voices in his head, and finally the victims themselves. He didn’t mention supernatural forces, though. That came later, apparently with the connivance of his attorney.
The Lutz Family Enter The Amityville House
There had been some appalling murders at the house, but the Amityville Horror house’s reported haunting didn’t begin until the Lutz family moved in there in December 1975.
George and Kathy Lutz thought their $80,000 purchase of the 4,000 square foot home was a great deal.
There may be various motivations to buy such a house — the knock-down price, but also it is said that George Lutz was interested in black magic. So was it this morbid fascination with the dark side that drew George to buy the house?
Kathy had children to a previous husband, Sebastian Quaratino, who continued to see his kids through this period. One of his children, Christopher Quaratino, described his stepfather, George Lutz as “a professional showman.”
Quarantino clashed with Lutz many times before leaving home at 16. Quaratino has said, “I just feel as though we’re being exploited.”
Quaratino says that he remembers some weird things at the Amityville House, such as windows banging open and shut on their own and a menacing shadow figure appearing in his bedroom.
But he doesn’t remember any of the other, more theatrical stuff that George Lutz spoke about. Quarantino feels it was grossly exaggerated. His stepfather later sued him for going public with denial of the weird goings on at the Amityville House.
We therefore know that George Lutz was interested in black magic, and had tried to summon spirits in the past; he was a showman, and he had money worries. Remember all of this and read on.
Apparently, the Lutzes had a priest bless the home on the day they moved in. George said that when the priest was in the sewing room, the holy man felt an invisible hand hit him and overheard a voice commanding him to “Get Out!”
But most of this is disputed. For example, did the priest visit at all? Was it on the first day, or a while later? D id he hear a voice and was he slapped? Each one of these things is argued over. It struck me as odd that you should have a priest come and exorcise your house as soon as you move in.
Was it because Lutz was deeply religious, or superstitious by nature, or was he laying the groundwork for a future claim that the Amityville House was going to be a place of demonic horror?
Pretty soon, the Lutz family described seeing lots of weird stuff:
- When the house was supposed to be vacant, they saw figures moving around,
- Slime oozing out of the walls,
- Cutlery flying off kitchen surfaces,
- Doors being pulled off of their hinges,
- Cabinets slamming shut,
- Demonic red eyes belonging to a pig-like creature peered round corners. (That’s a bad one),
- More slime pouring from the ceilings. (There was lots of slime),
- George claimed his wife would levitate above the bed,
- Sometimes his wife changed into an elderly woman,
- Evil forces began rearranging the furniture (much of which was leftover from the DeFeos),
- Odd welts appeared on Kathy’s body,
- Cloven hoofprints in the snow.
- George claims he was awakened every morning at 3:15 a.m., the precise time that DeFeo murdered his entire family,
- Even though he heard his children’s mattresses “smashing up and down on the floor” one night, he couldn’t get up to save them, because an invisible force held him paralyzed.
It was a fairly unsettling month, with Kathy apparently levitating in bed, green slime allegedly pouring from the walls, and eyes staring into the house from the outside. After 28 days, the family left, leaving behind their belongings, including the food in the refrigerator and clothing in the closets.
During all the myths that grew up about the Amityville Horror, there was the story that George Lutz killed his dog, Harry. The dog, which was kept in a pen behind the house, went berserk once and attempted to scale the fence. Daniel Lutz, the family’s son, said this in the 2012 documentary My Amityville Horror.
Daniel Lutz said that because the dog’s chain was too short, it was left hanging over the fence by its neck, preventing its paws from touching the ground. The dog was about to hang itself when Daniel arrived and saved it. Going along with the supernatural narrative, Daniel thought the poltergeist that frequented their boathouse had startled the dog.
But, despite Daniel Lutz’s testimony, even the contentious book The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson did not assert that George Lutz ever injured or attempted to murder their half-breed malamute.
Two months after the Lutzes fled the house, a local TV crew conducted a piece on the home and invited supposed “ghost hunters” and supernatural investigators to assess the couple’s allegations. George had made it.
In conclusion, I think that George Lutz was theatrical, that he was interested in the paranormal, that he had money worries, and he was not committed to the truth when a buck was to be made.
But as well as this, we know how stories go. Consider the Salem Witch trials where the claims were pure baloney. One histrionic person makes a claim and then it grows like a fever and people are making more and more outrageous claims about weird stuff going on. They may even know it’s false, but at the same time, they feel it’s true. This is called Cognitive Dissonance, or Doublethink.
I suspect George Lutz was deep in the doublethink. He knew he was a con man, but he also believed what he was saying was true.
I think this might explain why the family abandoned their house only twenty-eight days after they moved in. Lutz knew it was fake, but he also believed it was real, and his own imagination scared him to death. He wouldn’t be the first one that happened to.
The Priest in The Amityville Horror
There are contradictory claims about the priest. He is said to have been chased from the house either when they first moved in, or a little while after the demonic things started happening.
The investigative television programme In “Search Of” aired an episode on October 4, 1979, following the premiere of the popular 1979 film, during which they claimed to have spoken with the real Amityville Horror priest
According to the programme, the priest said the Lutzes invited him to the house to bless it after informing him that the DeFeo killings occurred there. According to the story, he visited the family on the day they moved in (just like in the original 1979 film), and in another version, he didn’t arrive until they had already been living there for some weeks.
In a 1979 interview, the actual priest from Amityville hid his identity. During the recording, he never claimed that flies mobbed him like happened to the actor Philip Baker Hall in the film. But that’s an impressive effect and you can’t blame the Director for making that up. After all, from beginning to end, everyone made stuff up about Amityville.
In the documentary, the priest explains, “I was blessing the sewing room. It was freezing. It was a beautiful day outside, and granted, it was winter, but that level of coldness made little sense, given the other circumstances.”
He thought that was pretty strange, when he says he heard “a really powerful voice shouting, ‘Get out!’” At the time, he was dousing the place with holy water and then this invisible thing came from behind him and slapped him in the face.
Later, it was established that the priest was Father Ralph Pecoraro (now deceased). His story became clouded in controversy during the Lutz v. Weber trial when he contradicted himself over his relationship with the Lutz family. Father Pecoraro, or Father “Mancuso”, said in an affidavit that he had only spoken to the Lutzes on the subject via phone. According to other sources, Father Pecoraro did visit the home but had no odd experiences there.
The Amityville Investigations
Many investigations were held to get to the bottom of the Amityville Horror. They fall into two distinct types:
- The first ‘paranormal’ investigations and appearances by George Lutz, where he produces photographs to shore up his claims of demonic activity
- Countless secondary documentaries, films, YouTubes, Reddit discussions, where people don’t produce additional evidence but pick apart the existing evidence and conclude it was all true or all a massive hoax, depending on what they believed before they started their investigation.
The Amityville Horror Book and Movies
The family’s 45 hours of taped interviews served as the foundation for Anson’s book 1977 book. Prentice-Hall publishers released The Amityville Horror in hardcover in September 1977. The book has sold 155,000 copies thus far. This amount is increased by book clubs and other sales to around 400,000.
Anson said, “I have no idea whether the book is true or not. But I’m sure that the Lutzes believe what they told me to be true.”
Anson admitted the Lutzes got a cut of the book sales. He wasn’t allowed to disclose how much. People say the book and its successful spin-off earned the family $300,000. They claim they never entered into a contract with Anson.
However, George Lutz acknowledged receiving $100,000 from the book and an additional $100,000 from the movie when he testified in a case in a federal court in Brooklyn.
The Lutzes did not have jobs after bolting from the house in January 1976, leaving behind all of their belongings. However, they rented a $100,000 home close to San Diego. They claimed that the majority of their 50% portion of the proceeds went to pay attorneys and past-due bills.
Author Jay Anson said, “My doing The Amityville Horror was a fluke. George Lutz has a friend who lives in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, the town where Prentice-Hall is located. The friend walked into the publishing house and asked how one goes about getting a book published. What kind of book, they asked. When he said it was a ghost story, he was sent to Tam Mossman, who specialized in the occult. Tam listened to the story, called me on the phone (we’ve been friends for several years) and said he wanted me to meet the Lutzes. I listened to their story. I thought it was a hell of a ghost story.”
“George on his own had told his story on 35 hours of tape. He gave me those tapes. I interviewed him for an additional five hours to get the chronology of what he told me straight into my head. I spent another several hours interviewing some cops in Amityville, the priest who blessed the house (whose name I falsified at his request, by the way), some of the Amityville Historical Society people. Then, on a couple of sheets of yellow paper, I wrote down a few words to remind me what they had done and said and experienced on each of the days they lived in the house.”
The 1979 movie of The Amityville Horror made $7,843,467, in 1979, the first weekend it opened. It was the most successful independent movie there had ever been. Stuart Rosenberg directed it. He also directed Cool Hand Luke and was noted for his work with Paul Newman, so he knew success.
Samuel Z. Arkoff, a producer, bought the rights to Jay Anson’s book. Anson attempted to adapt his own work into a screenplay, but Arkoff rejected it. As a result, screenwriter Sandor Stern was tasked with creating a completely new story.
Unfortunately, the author of the book, Jay Anson, died in 1980, aged 58 a year after the movie’s outstanding success.
There are 21 films on the Amityville Horror. The movies cover the years 1979 through the present. Only four of the movies saw widespread exposure in theatres: The Amityville Horror (1979), Amityville II: The Possession, Amityville 3-D, and The Amityville Horror (2005). Most of the movies were straight-to-video releases.
Ed and Lorraine Warren were probably the two most renowned paranormal researchers of the previous century. . They were a husband and wife team. The Warrens were involved in some of the most well-known purported hauntings in historical times, such as the Amityville Horror and the Enfield Poltergeist. Their fame and reputation in this area, leant support to George Lutz’s claims of weird goings on at Amityville.
Ed Warren, a self-taught demonologist, and Lorraine Warren, a light trance medium, (there are some impressive job titles) formed the New England Society for Psychic Research (NESPR), the first paranormal investigation organization in New England. Numerous movies, TV shows, and documentaries, including the “Conjuring” and “Annabelle” franchises, were inspired by the Warrens who were among the first investigators in the Amityville haunting.
In the house, the Warrens held a séance during which they captured a photograph of a “demonic boy,” who remarkably resembled one of their photographer’s own children. Professional photographer Gene Campbell set up an autonomous camera to capture infrared black and white images at night.
Believers said that the ghost resembles John DeFeo, the younger of the two DeFeo boys who were killed in the house.
Some people think Paul Bartz, an investigator working with the Warrens that night, is the person depicted in the Amity ghost photo. The infrared film might have been to blame for his white eyes.
Three years later, in 1979 — the same year the original film was released — George Lutz unveiled an image on The Merv Griffin Show. It is said to have been taken in 1976 while Ed and Lorraine Warren and their team were examining the house.
Many people have questioned why the photograph of the Amityville ghost child wasn’t made public sooner, which has led to rumours that the photograph was fabricated to promote the book that George Lutz was writing and which also contained the photograph.
The 2012 documentary film My Amityville Horror, which centres on Daniel Lutz’s account regarding the Lutz family’s stay at 112 Ocean Avenue, features Lorraine Warren herself. Ed Warren was dead by this time. Anyone who has seen the scenario will not soon forget it, in which Warren prays with Lutz and exhibits a piece of the cross she claims Jesus Christ actually died on as well as a box holding hairs from Saint Pius of Pietrelcina.
Lorraine Warren said, “Amityville was horrible, honey. It was absolutely horrible. It followed us right across the country. I don’t even like to talk about it. I will never go into the Amityville house ever again. You don’t know how long my career is; that’s the only one.”
“The very first night that Ed and I went into that home I was fearful, but I didn’t know what I was fearful of.”
“As I was going up the stairs, I reached the point where it felt as if a force of water [was] coming against my chest, almost like a waterfall,” she said, explaining her initial feeling inside the haunted home. “It was the worst feeling. I stopped on the landing and held tight to the relic that was in my hand and asked for strength and direction in going forward. It felt ominous to me.”
Another Contentious Addition to the Amityville Mess
William Weber was the lawyer for Ronald DeFeo, convicted of murdering his family at the house, as you will recall.
Weber, DeFeo Jr.’s lawyer, apparently admitted that the whole haunting was a scam that he allegedly concocted with Anson while intoxicated. He said the story was made up to help Roland DeFeo’s appeal against his sentence.
It’s difficult to know how this would work as it only took twelve days to get from the crime to the conviction, and, after spewing out a bunch of alternatives, he admitted the murder. I guess the plan might have arisen because after Defeo had admitted he’d done it, and admitted he wasn’t insane and there were no voices, the only reasonable defence was that the pig-demon made him do it. But it’s a stretch.
But apparently, in order to carry out the plan to free DeFeo, Weber teamed up with the Lutz family, who were the next residents of 112 Ocean Avenue. According to William Weber: “I am aware that this book is a fraud. We came up with this horror story after several glasses of wine.”
This is regarding a meeting Weber allegedly held with George and Kathy Lutz where they talked about what would eventually form the plot of Anson’s book.
Again, Weber must have been pretty confident that this totally new family would go along with this criminal and extremely implausible plan. He also has to rope in an author, Anson, and the Lutzes, Anson and Weber have to keep quiet about their dastardly and complicated plan to free a murderer who never previously showed any good side to anyone.
And what was Weber going to get out of this? DeFeo wasn’t a millionaire; he was a down-at-heel broke delinquent. Maybe Weber did it purely for the lulz. Or his story is another lie, maybe to give publicity to the book he inevitably wrote about the case.
Lots of details in the official Amityville horror story were challenged:
- Researchers Rick Moran and Peter Jordan disproved the notion that there were cloven hoof impressions in the snow on January 1, 1976, as their examination showed there hadn’t been any snowfall at the time.
- Local Native American officials denied the statement stated in Chapter 11 of the book that the house was constructed on the spot where the Shinnecock Indians of the area formerly abandoned the insane and the dying.
- In the book and 1979 movie, they showed police officers stopping by the house, however records revealed that the Lutzes never called the police while they were living on Ocean Avenue.
- Neighbours denied any knowledge of any remarkable occurrences when the Lutzes were living there.
The Amityville House after the Lutzes
After the Lutz family left the home in 1976, the different owners have publicly stated that there have been no issues. The home’s next owner, James Cromarty, who purchased it in 1977 and spent ten years living there with his wife Barbara, remarked that “nothing strange ever happened, except for people coming by because of the book and the movie.”
Jim and Barbara Cromarty, who purchased the house in March 1977 for $55,000 (which would be $246,000 in 2021), denied the claims of physical damage to the locks, doors, and windows. Barbara Cromarty said that it wasn’t as if they’d been replaced. They appeared to be the original fittings.
The Lutzes would have been aware of the “Red Room” because it was not camouflaged in any manner, according to the Cromartys, who also revealed that it was a small closet in the basement.
I think that George Lutz half convinced himself that the hauntings of Amityville House were real, and he ignored the part of his mind that reminded him he’d made it up. He did that, because he liked the theatre of it all, he liked the fame and he liked the $100, 000 it eventually earned him.
It suited everyone not to ask Lutz too many tough questions, from Jay Anson, the author, to the director and producer of the movie and everyone else who ever made a cent out of the Amityville Horror. That’s one version.
On the other hand, George and Kathy Lutz completed a lie detector test to back up their claims, and they were successful. Daniel Lutz, who today lives in Queens, claims that the 28 days he spent in the Amityville home are still haunting him.
So maybe they’re telling the truth.