Take yourself back to 1975, a time when there was no internet, no cable tv with 24-hour channels, no smart phones, and life moved at a much slower pace.  Two years before the movie The Exorcist had hit it big in movie theaters and presented America, and the world, with a terrifying portrayal of evil that could possess a little girl. America was still predominantly Christian in religious belief and people were more likely to attend church and believe in evil as portrayed by The Church. This is the year that the Lutz family moved into the house on 112 Ocean Avenue in the town of Amityville, located on the south shore of Long Island, New York.

The house had been on the market at quite a reduced cost, due to the Defeo murders that had happened the year previous. The house fits the Lutz’s needs as the newlyweds, George and Kathy, were combining their new stepfamily under one roof. They were able to get many pieces of furniture from the Defeo estate included in a great price with the purchase of the house. Even though they were aware of the murders, the family discussed it together and couldn’t see how the horrendous crime could affect their plans for a future in the house.

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112 Ocean Avenue circa 1974-1975

The 5 bedroom Dutch Colonial house had everything they could possibly want, including a boat house and outdoor pool, and at $80,000 they thought they couldn’t go wrong. However, after 28 days the family would flee the house, refusing to go onto the property, declaring that a succession of hauntingly evil events took place that escalated in a final night of terror. In short, they would eventually have American author Jay Anson write a novel “The Amityville Horror” on their experience and that novel would go on to be a box office smash hit movie.

Was the Lutzes story true? Well in order to come to any conclusion we are going to have to re-examine some of the events between evacuating the house and the release of the book.  There are undoubtedly huge discrepancies between the novel, movie and what the Lutzes say actually happened. Even events in the novel were changed with different editions because they were inaccurate. That’s not my concern in this article. The writing of the book and the making of the film are actions the Lutzes had very little control over and as George Lutz said, it was very “Hollywood” (Interview with Art Bell 2002).

According to George and Kathy, during the 28 days they stayed in the house they experienced a milieu of paranormal events. Their actual declarations were as follows:

  • George waking up at the same time in the morning that the murders happened (3:15)
  • Swarms of flies in the winter
  • Kathy having nightmares of the murders
  • Kathy sensed being embraced by a loving presence
  • George discovering a small hidden room
  • Cold spots
  • The smell of perfume
  • George seeing the image of a demon that had his head blown half off while stoking the fire
  • Melissa developed an imaginary friend Jodi whilst in the house
  • George had a realization he resembled Defeo Jr. and began drinking at the local bar Defeo had frequented.
  • Kathy saw glowing eyes outside Melissa’s bedroom window
  • Kathy received welts on her chest while in bed
  • Unseen force damaging locks, doors, and windows.
  • Cloven hoofprints they thought were an enormous pig they had seen outside in the snow.
  • Crucifix revolved until it was hung upside down in the living room and had a sour smell.
  • Green like gelatin oozed from walls in the hall and out of keyhole in attic door.
  • George tripped over China Lion ornament in living room only to find bite marks on his ankles and so he moved the lion, only to have it reappear.
  • George saw Kathy transform into a 90-year-old woman
  • Melissa would sing in her room only and would stop when she left and then sing when entering again.
  • Kathy would hear windows being opening and closed in the sewing room. 

(wikipedia.org)

 Kathy and George had then decided to do a blessing of their own and upon citing the lord’s prayer they heard an echoing of voices commanding them “will you stop”. They attempted in mid-January to bless the house once more and that would be their final night in the house. They also insisted that upon fleeing, the energy had followed them to Kathy’s mother’s house in Deer Park. However, when the Lutzes sent the moving company to remove their items the day after they left, the movers went in and reported no paranormal phenomena and went about their jobs.

The chronology of what happened after this point can become confusing and changes according to whom you talk to. There were several people involved in the investigation of the house that wasn’t contacted by George Lutz, but by channel 5’s producer Marvin Scott. These people include Laura Didio, a journalist who got exclusive rights to cover the story,  Lorraine & Ed Warren, self-proclaimed demonologists, and several other psychic investigators that were less known.

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Laura Didio, a then 19-year-old journalist who became involved in documenting The Amityville Horror

Investigations began with the Warrens, Didio and a multitude of people holding a vigil at the house on Ocean Avenue. All involved declared that the house was intensely haunted and in the words of Lorraine Warren, Amityville was “one of the most haunted houses” she’d ever been in. She has insisted until this day that the experience was extremely negative and affected her life in a terrible way. During the teams time investigating the house, many events were proclaimed to have happened. Lorraine claims to have levitated, another psychic saw a young girl with long hair in one of the rooms and a photograph was taken in a hallway that shows a boy poking his head out of a doorway when there were no children present in the house.

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One frame from a sequence of multiple images taken at the Amityville house. It shows a little boy suddenly in one frame when no child was present in the house. Could it be a ghost?

Some of the psychic’s explanations for the inconsistencies in the Lutzes stories with what reality showed, (ie: storms that never happened according to weather reports and doors being ripped off hinges that simply didn’t show evidence in reality) was that they were experiencing these events as psychic phenomena and apports. Apports are telepathic projections that go to the viewer, it bypasses physical reality so that the viewer ends up seeing it the same way a medium would see it.  However, being unaware of the concept, the viewer mistakes it for reality.

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Ed & Lorraine Warren (second and third pictured from the left) were involved as demonologists on the case. They’ve been highly criticized as being fraudulent and dishonest in many cases, including their involvement in The Enfield Poltergeist in 1978.

One person, George Lutz did directly contact was Defeo Juniors lawyer, William Weber, and both men have a different story behind that collusion.  According to Lutz, he told Weber that he thought he could help Defeo and lend testimony to his insanity plea and get him help because Lutz believed that there was an evil force in the house. George declared he parted ways when Weber wanted to do a book deal and cut a 5% deal to DeFeo and wasn’t interested in helping Defeo. Weber tells a different story, one where Jay Anson, Lutz and himself sat around drinking wine and discussed how to concoct a hoax in order to make money.

What is obvious is that Jay Anson would go on to write the novel that became The Amityville Horror and it would be made into a film that would launch the Lutz family into an infamy that would continue for decades after. There are so many angles to this and we could believe Weber that it was all an illicit hoax. However, we could also consider that his position would cause him anger because he never got the book deal that he wanted.  In fact, Weber went on to try to conduct his own investigation for a book and profit off the story by hiring Hans Holzer to go into the house and prove it wasn’t haunted. Except unfortunately for Weber, Holzer’s experience was that it was indeed very haunted.

Defeo Jr. Attorney William Weber (left) & Hans Holzer (right)

Another very odd character surfaces as a critic of the Lutzes in that of Stephen Kaplan, who questioned the details that were changed in different book editions. Kaplan wasn’t just any individual being rationally skeptical, he too had attempted to get involved with The Amityville Horror from the begining.  Kaplan was a paranormal investigator and vampirologist who founded The Vampire Research Center. According to George Lutz he had contacted Kaplan about investigating, but had decided to cancel because Kaplan’s credentials didn’t check out and his proclamation of himself as a vampirologist made Lutz feel uneasy (remember it was the 70’s still and Kathy Lutz was Catholic). Kaplan said he was dismissed because the Lutzes were frauds and they knew he would find them out.

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Stephen Kaplan appearing on his own book on the topic. It’s all looking very “vampiric” and I wonder why he appears on the cover?

The common declarations that the Lutzes created this hoax because they had taken on a mortgage that was too much for them to afford is also something that just doesn’t add up. Both Kathy and George had come into this with money, as both had sold houses they had prior to the marriage. George had a thriving business and they had the family support that would have gladly helped them out if need be.  Remember 28 days is not enough time to get into mortgage trouble with the bank, they wouldn’t have even made one payment yet towards their dream house. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Lutzes didn’t wish to profit from this book, in fact, they did profit. After lawsuit settlements, they came away with over $300,000 US. However, that is paltry compared to the multiple millions that Jay Anson and American International Pictures would make off the story.

Are all the critics right about the Lutzes being a scam? Perhaps they are, or just perhaps there is a core element of truth to the Lutz family experiences. Perhaps the calamity that ensued was due to everyone else’s’ dig to get in on the money.  Often, when you put something out to the public, whether it be a popular book or a creative art piece, it then takes on a life of its own that is beyond the creator’s control.  At the time of the movie release the Lutzes took a polygraph test, that could have possibly been a publicity stunt, but alas it was done by a highly credible and experienced polygrapher and they passed it on every account. 

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News article from The Star, July 1979. The Lutzes pass a polygraph test.

To their dying days both Kathy and George Lutz maintained their story to be true and never faltered from their narrative, even through a divorce they did stick to their claims. Currently, the oldest son Christopher has been featured in a documentary called My Amityville Horror, where even he declares that the house was haunted, however, his spin is that George Lutz was into the occult and had created the terrifying circumstances. Lutz himself never spoke of being into the occult so I cannot confirm whether this is publicity hype or an element of truth from a different perspective.

One thing I can conclude is that everyone involved in this franchise stood to make money out of it, whether they adamantly supported the paranormal experience or were out to prove it a fraud.  George Lutz made no secret that the book and movie were exaggerated. If the Lutz experience hadn’t existed, none of these individuals would have made a name for themselves or money writing their own material. If they are pointing the finger towards the Lutzes wanting to make money, then they had better take a look at their own motives as well. If anything it became quite a nightmare for the family in years to come and they certainly didn’t profit greatly in the bigger picture. 

The Amityville Horror is based on the very real horror of the murder of 6 innocent people, but after 42 years we cannot deny that the paranormal case of the Lutzes still holds a fascination for the public. Perhaps truly only George and Kathy will ever know that truth the public so craves. I recommend you listen to Art Bell’s interview with George Lutz, it’s one of the best I’ve heard yet and you get a fuller representation of George Lutz as a person. 

Resources & Further Reading:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Amityville_Horror

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lie_detection

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VjWg5WJoI4&t=6507s

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0bGgwUhYME

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OaXTR1DMB4s

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31MP2EKSsoY

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