The Dutch colonial revival-style house on what was 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, Long Island, NY, was the scene of a real horror – Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr. shot and killed his parents and four siblings on November 13, 1974.
Later, George and Kathy Lutz and William Weber, DeFeo’s defense attorney, created a huge scam that they foisted on an innocent public – which in turn spawned more scams and lawsuits. After all this, we should be calling the case “Scamityville.”
The Genuine Amityville Horror
According to Douglas B. Lynott’s The Real Life Amityville Horror, on November 13, 1974, 6:35 PM, Joey Yeswit called the Suffolk County Police to report that a man ran into a bar and said someone killed his parents. When he and others investigated, they discovered a ghastly scene and more bodies. Responding Amityville police officers discovered the bodies of Butch’s parents and his four siblings. It became evident that Butch was the killer.
William Weber was Butch’s defense lawyer during the trial. The key issue was whether or not Butch was insane at the time of the murders. Finally, the jury found him guilty of six counts of second-degree murder and the judge sentenced Butch to twenty-five years to life in prison for each count. He’s still incarcerated.
The Alleged Phenomena
In her book, The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, Rosemary Ellen Guiley wrote that Kathy and George Lutz (now both deceased) and their three children, Daniel, Christopher and Melissa, bought and moved into the DeFeo house on December 18, 1975, knowing it was the scene of a grisly mass murder. They then, allegedly, experienced supernatural phenomena which included:
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- Mysterious voices
- An unseen brass band
- Windows and doors opening and closing on their own
- Plagues of flies
- Phantoms of hooded forms
- Green slime seeping from ceiling and walls
- Offensive stenches
- Cold and hot spots
- Objects moving by themselves
- Mysterious cloven hoof prints in the snow
- George possessed by an evil spirit
- Telephone service affected
- The priest who tried to help being attacked
- Kathy beaten and scratched
- Personality changes
- An incubus
- Encounters with Jody, a demonic ghostly pig
The family left the house on January 14, 1976. Jay Anson, who never spent time in the house, wrote the book, The Amityville Horror. Prentice-Hall first published the book in 1977 and touted it as non-fiction.
Amityville Horror Debunked
According to Loyd Auerbach’s book titled ESP, Hauntings and Poltergeists, after the Lutzes moved out, the American Society for Psychical Research’s Dr. Karlis Osis and Alex Tanous and the Psychical Research Foundation’s Jerry Solfvin and Keith Harary investigated. Ultimately, they found the stories were fake. One clue came from seeing a sample of Butch’s handwriting – on a contract for profits from a book and a film.
Reporters from The National Enquirer, CBS and self-proclaimed “parapsychologists” Lorraine and the late Ed Warren were also present. The Warrens would later base their claim to fame on their “investigation” of Amityville.
According to Lynott, after the Lutzes fled from the house, George called a respected parapsychologist, the late Dr. Stephen Kaplan, to ask him to investigate the house. Kaplan doubted George’s veracity during the initial conversation, and his reading of The Amityville Horror confirmed his doubts. This led to his writing The Amityville Horror Conspiracy, co-authored by his wife, Roxanne.
The Catholic Diocese of Rockville Center and the Amityville Police Department also debunked the scam. Even the Lutzes repudiated some parts of their fantastic story. The best piece of evidence? George Weber admitted in a radio interview, and to the press, that the Amityville haunting was a hoax concocted to make money.
Amityville Horror Spawned Lawsuits
Jim and Barbara Cromarty, subsequent owners of the house, experienced nothing paranormal, but curiosity seekers invaded their privacy because of the book’s notoriety. The new owners changed the house’s façade and address in an attempt to protect their privacy, and sued Prentice-Hall and Jay Anson – they received an out-of-court settlement.
Father Ralph Pecararo, “Mancuso,” in the book, sued Prentice-Hall and the Lutzes for distorting his involvement in the “haunting” and invasion of privacy, eventually settling out of court. Parapsychologist Anita Gregory sued for libel and won.
Weber sued for his share of the profits from the book and original movie. Presiding U.S. District Court Judge Jack Weinstein said evidence showed that the Lutzes were acting in a way consistent with having a book published. This was another out of court settlement. The Lutzes sued Weber on the basis that this was not a hoax, but was reality. They lost.
The Controversy Rages On
The original book initiated more books and movies, courtesy of the Warrens and others, including author Hans Holzer, who purported The Amityville Horror was real, perpuating the scam.
According to William Grimes’ article, “Hans Holzer, Ghost Hunter, Dies at 89,” Holzer and “medium” Ethel Johnson-Meyers investigated the house in 1977 and alleged that she channeled a Shinnecock American Indian chief’s spirit, who said the house stood on an ancient Indian burial ground.
Holzer, in his book, Ghosts True Encounters with the World Beyond, adds that a “white” person “dug up a skeleton” and there was fighting. According to Holzer, there’s still anger and when a white man is there, he’s a “vehicle for possession,” like Butch. Guiley’s Encyclopedia entry refutes this, however, saying that the tribe didn’t bury people there because they believed demons infested the site.
While experts debunked the Amityville scam beyond any reasonable doubt; unfortunately, due to those who perpetuate it to make money, there are some people who continue to believe it was a genuine case of haunting and possession.