The swarming flies, the demonic pig, the ooze seeping through the walls and floorboards… the house once located at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, Long Island has been a staple of Hollywood for decades. But although you’re probably aware that the supernatural film series is allegedly based on true events, there are plenty of creepy facts about the “Amityville Horror” case you may not know. The movies never tell the full story — and it turns out that the whole thing is even more complicated than most people think.
When we talk about the Amityville Horror case, we’re really talking about two cases: The mass murders committed by Ronald DeFeo, Jr. in November of 1974, and the experiences Kathleen and George Lutz claimed to have had after they moved into the house where those murders took place in December of 1975. On Nov. 13, 1974, the entire DeFeo family — save Ronald Jr. — were found at home having been murdered in their beds. Ronald, often known by the nickname Butch, was later arrested and tried for the murders; he was found guilty on Nov. 21, 1975. Just a month after the conviction, the Lutzes moved into the house, and, well… as they tell it, things didn’t exactly go as planned.
The Lutzes’ story is probably what most people think of when they hear the phrase “The Amityville Horror” — the tale of a Long Island family who thought they were moving into their dream house, only to have it quickly turn into a nightmare. It first arrived on the scene in Jay Anson’s 1977 book The Amityville Horror: A True Story before being made into a Hollywood hit released in 1979 starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder (and spawning an entire franchise in the process). These days, the haunted house story is largely believed to be a hoax, although for their part, George and Kathleen stuck to their guns about it throughout their entire lives. (The couple divorced in 1988; Kathleen died of emphysema in 2004 and George of heart disease in 2006.)
Still, though — it’s impossible to talk about the alleged haunted house without talking about the murder, and vice versa. They’re inextricably intertwined, and each is chilling in its own way. Here are some of the weirder aspects of both of these cases. Sometimes, truth really is stranger than fiction.
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1. The DeFeos Were All Found In The Same Position
Husband and wife Ronald DeFeo, Sr. and Louise DeFeo had both been shot twice with a .35 caliber Marlin 336C rifle; the four children, meanwhile — Dawn, Allison, Marc, and John Matthew — were each shot once. All six victims were found by police in their beds, lying on their stomachs. It’s estimated that the whole thing took a mere 15 minutes from start to finish.
The identical positioning of the bodies is creepy enough in and of itself — it suggests that all of the victims were arranged that way —but there are more facts that make it all even creepier: The police determined that the rifle hadn’t been fitted with a silencer, so the gunshots should hypothetically have woken the DeFeos up; however, there was no sign of a struggle, but nor was there any evidence that sedatives had been used to knock the victims out or keep them quiet — all of which is incredibly weird. Additionally, the neighbors didn’t report any gunshot noises; all they heard was the family dog barking.
2. There Might Have Been A Second Killer Who Was Never Caught
But there also might not have been; the jury’s still out on this one. At the time, police and investigators considered the fact that more than one person may have been responsible for the murders; it was the only way they could make sense of some of the more puzzling aspects of the crime scene. The existence of a second culprit has never been proven, although a documentary filmmaker claimed in 2012 that he had found new evidence supporting the theory. In the meantime, many others still theorize about the possibility that a second killer was involved.
3. Ronald DeFeo, Jr.’s Story Has Changed Repeatedly In The Decades Since The Murders
DeFeo actually reported the murders himself, initially telling police that when he arrived home from work the evening of Nov. 13., he discovered that someone had broken into the house and killed every member of his family. When asked, he told detectives he thought the murders may have been carried out by Louis Falini, a mafia hit man.
The investigation, however, revealed that the murders had occurred in the morning — at which point DeFeo began saying that Falini and an accomplice had shown up at the house the morning of Nov. 13, put a gun to his head, and forced him to watch them kill his family. This story, however, also didn’t hold up to scrutiny, and eventually, DeFeo confessed, saying, “Once I started, I just couldn’t stop. It went so fast.”
During his trial in November of 1975, DeFeo claimed that “voices” told him to commit the murders; additionally, a psychiatrist testifying for the defense said that DeFeo had a dissociative disorder, which meant that he would have experienced the murders as if he was outside his body or "watching" it happen, rather than experiencing them as he committed them himself. However, the psychiatrist testifying for the prosecution successfully argued that DeFeo actually had antisocial personality disorder, which meant he would have been perfectly aware of what he was doing; he just had no regard for what was right or wrong. DeFeo was found guilty of six counts of second-degree murder and sentenced to six consecutive life sentences.
His story has changed a few more times since then, too. According to one interview he gave in 1986, his sister Dawn killed their father, after which their mother killed Dawn and the other children before turning the gun on herself; when DeFeo filed a 440 motion in 1990, however, he claimed that Dawn shot the majority of the DeFeos before he himself killed Dawn; and he maintains that his lawyer, William Weber, pressured him into the insanity defense they pushed at his trial. Regardless, his requests for parole have all been denied.
4. Ronald DeFeo, Jr. Is Not A Serial Killer
He’s a mass murderer. The FBI definition of a serial murder is “the unlawful killing of two or more victims by the same offender(s), in separate events” — but the DeFeo murders occurred during the same event, not separate ones. A mass murder, meanwhile, is typically described as “a number of murders (four or more) occurring during the same incident, with no distinctive time period between the murders.” That’s what happened on Nov. 13, 1974.
5. The DeFeos’ Furniture Was Reportedly Still In The House When The Lutzes Moved In
According to the first chapter of Anson’s book, the furniture that had been in the house when Ronald DeFeo, Jr. committed the murders reportedly came with the house when the Lutzes bought it. It wasn’t included in the $80,000 offer they made; an additional $400 was a comparatively small price to pay for it, though, so the Lutzes sprang for it. According to some sources, it was still in the exact same places it had been the night of the murders.
People who are interested in the case like to talk about the furniture a lot; head here to check out some of the conversations.
6. The Lutzes Lived In The House For Less Than A Month
They only lasted 28 days. On Jan. 14, 1976, George, Kathleen (often called "Kathy"), their three kids (Kathy’s from a previous marriage), and the family dog, Harry, left the house, never to return. According to an interview George Lutz gave to Ghost Village in 2005 — one of his last major interviews before his death in 2006 — they didn’t realize at the time that when they headed out the door, they would never come back; “We didn’t get up to leave that morning, you need to understand that,” Lutz said. “This was our house, we lived there.”
After a night that particularly frightened two of the children, the Lutzes said they had called a priest they had been in contact with throughout the ordeal, who encouraged them to go somewhere else the following night, just to get some rest (since obviously none of them had been sleeping very well). They went to Kathy’s mother’s — but, said Lutz to Ghost Village, “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.” Instead, they ended up packing their bags from Kathy’s mother’s house, leaving the rest of their belongings in the house (“to be auctioned later,” wrote the Washington Post at the time) and boarding a plane for San Diego.
7. The Famous “Demonic Boy” Photograph Is From The Amityville Investigation
Google “demonic boy photograph,” and this is the image that pops up. It’s iconic, even if you don’t know what it’s from and regardless as to whether you believe in ghosts or demons — if you’re at all curious about this kind of stuff, odds are you’ll have seen the photo before. It was taken during an investigation by paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (yes, that Ed and Lorraine Warren) several weeks after the Lutzes left the house. It seems to show a small boy with glowing eyes in the doorway to the left of the frame, even though there were no children in the house at the time.
Now, it’s worth noting that “ghost photos” are easily faked; indeed, spirit photography has been within the purview of con artists since its beginnings in early 1860s, when it was discovered that a ghostly effect could be achieved with a simple in-camera technique called double exposure. You don’t need Photoshop to convincingly fake a ghost photo.
But for folks who believe it’s a ghost photo, it’s thought to show the spirit of John Matthew DeFeo, who was 9 years old at the time of his death. Other, less paranormal explanations include it being an accidentally captured image of a member of the investigation team, or just someone speedy enough to play a good trick.
On that note…
8. The Whole Haunted House Story Might Have Been Fabricated
Ronald DeFeo, Jr.’s lawyer, William Weber, has said that he met the Lutzes, who were interested in “developing the demonism aspect of the case,” reported the New York Times in 1992. Indeed, in 1979, Weber had written in People Magazine that he and the Lutzes “created this horror story over many bottles of wine”; he had also gone on a television program called A Current Affair in 1988 and claimed that he and the Lutzes “took real-life incidents and transposed them” to create a spooky tale sure to make a splash — for example, turning a cat that lived in the neighborhood who had a habit of hanging out in the windows of the Lutzes’ house into the face of a green-eyed pig that menaced the family through a window. “In other words,” Weber said, “it was a hoax.”
The Lutzes repeatedly denied that their story was a hoax; additionally, Daniel Lutz, who was 9 when his mother and stepfather moved their family into the house, maintained in a 2013 documentary that what the Lutzes said they experienced while living there absolutely happened — possibly because George dabbled in the occult. Christopher Quarantino, Daniel's brother, said to the Seattle Times in 2005 when the remake of the original film was released that the haunting wasn't a hoax, but had been greatly exaggerated by George.
9. 112 Ocean AvenueIsn’t 112 Ocean Avenue Anymore
It’s 108 Ocean Avenue now. The last time the house went up for sale (the summer of 2016, for the curious), Jerry O’Neill, owner of realty firm Coldwell Banker Harbor Light, told the Washington Post that it has been owned by four different families in the decades since the murders, one of which asked that the address be changed. To be fair, I can’t really blame them; for one thing, it probably makes it feel a little less spooky to live there, and for another, it likely makes it more difficult for dark tourists to hunt down the house and hound the occupants.
According to Zillow, the house sold for $605,000 in February of 2017. None of the other owners have reported experiencing anything paranormal while in residence.