Whenever I think of an American poltergeist or paranormal phenomenon one case always stands in my mind, and that is The Amityville Horror, or at least that is the concocted title authors Jay Anson and his publishing house came up with to appeal to the masses; and that’s exactly what it did. With The Amityville Horror and its tagline “A True Story”, the case of the Lutz family became an international media frenzy, even before the movie was made.
People flocked to the house with the “evil eyes” for windows on Ocean Avenue in the previously quiet town of Amityville. They flocked to see the home that had to terrorize George & Kathy Lutz to the point of vacating after only 28 days of occupation. But the truth and reality of this paranormal event aren’t always straight forward or easy to find. It has been almost 42 years since the Lutz family’s experience and during that span of time many different claims, accusations, movies, documentaries, narratives, books, new evidence, and online forums have been created.
You could almost, no not almost, you can say that Amityville has become its own niche market in which people can sell their latest theory on the event. It reminds me of all the “Who’s Dunnit’s” on Jack The Ripper. Ol’ Jack has also become a money making topic in which authors and filmmakers profit off of. In fact, when I was researching the Ripper murders long ago I came across a great book called The Complete History Of Jack The Ripper. In the book, author Philip Sugden, instead of making outrageous claims and relying on third and fourth party evidence (which is usually based on gossip or other books that got the facts wrong) goes back to the prime evidence of The Jack The Ripper Case. He went through Scotland Yards archives and dealt with actual testimonies, inquests and police reports at the time. So let’s take his cue and at least start there, shall we?
THE DEFEO MURDERS:
The real tragedy of the house on Ocean avenue actually occurred a year before the Lutzes moved in. On November 13th, 1974, 6 members of the Defeo family were shot and murdered with no signs of struggle whilst sleeping in their beds. The only surviving member was the eldest son, Ronnie Defeo Junior. The actual evidence in police records has all family members lying on their stomachs, receiving gunshot wounds to the body and or head areas. The rifle used was a .35 caliber lever action Marlin 336C rifle and evidence points to the mother and one of the daughters being awake at the time of death.
Immediately many theories ensued about who could be responsible for the deaths and the surrounding community thought perhaps it had been a hit by the mob, as was suggested by Defeo Jr. However, it didn’t take long for Ronald Junior to become the main suspect. Upon being interviewed his story started to have many inconsistencies, plus the alleged hitman had a solid alibi. Police also had found empty rifle boxes for the same rifle used in the killings inside Defeo Jr.’s room and it didn’t take long for Defeo to admit to the crime, stating “Once I started, I just couldn’t stop. It went so fast.” Defeo was an avid drug user and was likely high at the time of the killings.
The trial against Ronald Defeo Junior ensued and it became clear that Defeo’s stories would switch according to what he thought would serve him best. He clearly never took full responsibility for his actions and tried to escape conviction by declaring insanity at the time of the killings. However, the prosecution’s psychiatrist Dr. Harold Zolan declared that even though Defeo was a heroin and LSD user, he had an antisocial personality disorder and was well aware of his actions. There was also a strong indication with Defeo’s interview with police that he stood to receive a large financial gain with the death of his family. Defeo received 6 consecutive life sentences on November 21, 1975.
There were very odd aspects about the actual Defeo crime scene, such as why Jr. was able to murder all 6 members of his family on different levels of the house without waking any of them; This fact has caused many “alternative theories” to be created. Defeo Jr. himself has created so many different versions of the murder since incarceration, including one where his eldest sister Dawn along with another assailant had committed the murders and out of anguish he knocked her out and shot and killed her.
Author Ric Osana covers this theory in his book “The Night The Defeo’s Died”, declaring to have interviewed Jr.’s ex-wife Geraldine Defeo. She’s such an inconsistent character and the dates of their meeting and marriage also change according to whom she is talking with. Osana also declares that unburned gun powder on Dawn at the crime scene points to her having shot the rifle. Unfortunately for Osana and his theory, ballistics expert Alfred Della Penna testified during the murder trial that the unburned gun powder will discharge from a rifle, so Dawn having some traces on her only indicates how close the gun was to her when she was shot, not that she was the shooter.
Defeo has even appeared in an A&E documentary, where a medium called Jackie Barrett, who is contacted by Defeo, goes on to keep contact with him and use her psychic powers to prove that he was not responsible for the murders. The entire “mockumentary” gets extremely bizarre, as Barrett develops a disturbing relationship with Defeo. Defeo seems to be using this opportunity to manipulate her, using strange voices on the phone to sound as if he is possessed by the same demon that he declares was active and caused him to commit the murder of his family.
Barrett makes outrageous psychic claims, saying she feels the demonic entity trying to come “into” her, and I’m not sure if she’s just in this for the money, or she actually believes that she is legitimately helping Defeo and that he was truly possessed. Naturally, at the end of the documentary, Barrett claims that she has put the demon to rest and released the spirit (how convenient for her) and that the Defeo family can now rest. One can’t help but believe this is a sad attempt at both parties to use a tragic and evil circumstance for their own profit. What it displays to me is that Defeo Jr. is still in denial of his guilt in the murders and if you go back to the prime evidence from the case, it logically says, Ronnie Defeo murdered his 6 family members.
A year after the Defeo murders the Lutz family would move into the house on Ocean Avenue and begin a phenomenon of the entirely different stratosphere. Part 2 will go into the cultural phenomenon that became known as The Amityville Horror.
You will find documentaries and crime scene photos in our links below.
Resources & Further Reading: