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The Amityville Horror: Who Killed the Family and Why?

Decades later, the Amityville Horror still fascinates people across the world
Decades later, the Amityville Horror still fascinates people across the world

The Amityville Horror has many versions of the story. However, everyone unequivocally agrees on one thing. On November 13, 1974, at 3.15 am, 23-year-old Ronald DeFeo, Jr. (better known as Butch) woke up and murdered his whole family, including his parents, two sisters, and two brothers, with a rifle. They were killed face down in their beds, and it looked as though none of them were awakened by the sound of gunshots. It was as though a supernatural power had managed to mute the weapon while it was discharged repeatedly, throughout the house, in the dead of night.

The majority of the more than 30 horror films that were influenced by the homicide in the Long Island, New York neighborhood of Amityville begin in this manner, beginning with the first and most well-known of them all, The Amityville Horror (1979), before continuing to tell the tale of how a subsequent family that moved into the house later encountered paranormal activity.

The Amityville house today.

These films often employ the phrase “based on a true story” because, surprisingly, they have some foundation. The 1975 original court decision in the case did not specifically reference evil spirits, but it did find the plot convincing.

What is the story behind the Amityville Horror House?

Ric Osuna details all the irregularities surrounding the case, the challenges the defense team faced in accessing evidence that had not been submitted, and the haste with which the authorities sought to apprehend a suspect even before a convincing account of what happened was recorded, in his 2002 book The Night, the DeFeos Died: Reinvestigating the Amityville Murders.

Osuna has pushed for the case to be reopened for years. His objective was to determine Butch DeFeo’s fundamental role in the murder of his family, not to get him cleared of the crime (he confessed and passed away in detention in March 2021 at 69).

Given that the police 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. According to Osuna’s findings, DeFeo killed his parents, Ronald and Louise DeFeo, with a friend’s assistance. Still, his younger siblings were murdered by his 18-year-old sister Dawn, whom DeFeo subsequently shot after he observed the horror.

The DeFeo siblings. Dawn and Ronald is in the front

The DeFeo siblings. Dawn and Ronald is in the front

Osuna writes in an email, “I believe Dawn was involved, and just admitting that makes me sad since we are talking about a girl willing to do anything to leave home and flee from her parents.” The affidavit Dawn’s lover signed in 1974, which she intended to relocate to Florida despite her parents’ opposition, is one of the author’s justifications.

He also uses Dawn’s purportedly humorous song, The Night the DeFeos Died, as proof. In fact, it is the name of his book, and in the song, she allegedly dreamed and used to fantasize about killing her family.

The DeFeo family’s life is recaptured in the second half of Osuna’s novel, beginning with their move to the Amityville home they bought in 1965 at 112 Ocean Avenue. Despite the “High Hopes” sign Ronaldo DeFeo had put at the front of the house to represent the success he desired, according to the neighbors and friends Osuna spoke with, 112 Ocean Avenue was everything from a picture-perfect residence.

Ronald DeFeo, a violent man who mistreated his wife and kids, was at the core of the home nightmare. Furthermore, Louise DeFeo’s father, Michael Brigante, Sr., a friend of Gambino crime family leader Carlo Gambino, provided the family with a direct connection to organized crime.

Butch DeFeo and his fiancée said they were already more than accustomed to death, having had to dispose of corpses on behalf of the mafia. Butch DeFeo worked at Brigante’s business with his father.

Osuna excludes Ronald DeFeo from the Amityville massacre since the murdering of children is against the Italian mafia’s code of conduct, even though his unpredictable and careless actions had drawn the mobsters’ attention to him.

The bodies of the parents in their bedroom

After a heated dispute on November 12, according to the account in his book, Ronald DeFeo struck his wife and many of his children, leaving his youngest kid, a nine-year-old, with a bloodied face. On the other hand, Dawn used a knife to protect herself.

Dawn convinced her elder brother, Butch, to murder Ronald at night because she believed their father would kill them if they did not take action first. She also advocated the murder of her mother Louise, who, although being a victim of Ronald’s violence as well, was considered to be “beyond hope” since she has always stood behind Ronald.

Their disagreements concern their younger siblings. According to Osuna’s account of the events, Butch DeFeo tells Dawn to monitor Ronald and Louise’s bedrooms while he and his buddy Bobby Kelske dispose of Ronald and Louise DeFeo. Dawn, however, choose to murder them as well so that they won’t leave any witnesses.

Furthermore, she said it’d be wrong for the younger kids to experience such anguish. Butch, shocked by what had transpired, decides to handle Dawn’s situation alone and becomes the only DeFeo still alive.

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History versus Hollywood

The majority of Osuna’s book offers a lot of material and data that, at the very least, raises questions about the trial’s integrity and the way the evidence was handled. For instance, Osuna’s account of events is supported by the fact that the crime scene photographs, which are included in the book, show blood stains in locations inconsistent with the claim that the DeFeo family was murdered all in their beds.

The body of DeFeo's sister in her room

The body of DeFeo’s sister in her room

Osuna also draws attention to the finding of a bullet from the Marlin rifle Butch threw away after the carnage in the marital bedroom.

The staggering confession rate during interrogation—95%, as opposed to 35% in the Bronx or 20% in Kings County, Brooklyn—is a helpful indicator of the police violence used in Suffolk County back in the 70s.

Osuna claims that Butch DeFeo’s confession, in which he claimed to be the only guilty party and was an alcoholic and heroin addict, was gained by torture. All of the evidence to that effect was rejected by the judges participating in the trial.

Body of Allison DeFeo

The crime would have needed three persons, as both the police and the prosecutor acknowledged several times. Retired police investigator Herman Race also came to the same conclusion after conducting his independent inquiry. However, the media’s interest in the case and the legal camp’s political goals demanded prompt justice, even if that meant giving conflicting official accounts of what happened.

Butch DeFeo, whom the author calls a “liar,” is not intended to be represented as a “good guy” in any manner by The Night the DeFeos Died: Reinvestigating the Amityville Murders. However, when there is no supporting proof, any straight statements from DeFeo are taken for granted, though they are always checked (and often refuted) by other sources. The most recent information to surface concerns Geraldine DeFeo, who was his wife at the time of the crime and with whom he had a daughter.

Body of Mark or John DeFeo

Body of Mark or John DeFeo

After the book was published, DeFeo sued Osuna and his ex-wife for defamation. He claimed the author had never interviewed him but lost the case. Furthermore, he demanded cash and royalties. “Sincerely, I didn’t believe he should ever benefit from his involvement in the deaths,” says Osuna.

However, Geraldine was not involved in the extortion and declined payment; as a result, Butch also denied that Geraldine was ever his wife. Except for the abuse, Butch ultimately ended up being more like his father regarding how he treated others around him.

So, Who Added the Ghosts to the Tale?

Butch DeFeo was not the first nor the last to see a commercial opportunity in the horrible loss of six lives. In a narrative reminiscent of Better Call Saul, his attorney William Weber organized the famed demonic haunting conspiracy at the Amityville home out of desperation after being continuously refused access to the evidence.

Geraldine said that Weber intended to exploit it to Butch DeFeo’s advantage at trial. Weber teamed up with the Lutz family, the following residents of 112 Ocean Avenue, to carry out the plan. In Jay Anson’s blockbuster book The Amityville Horror from 1977, the Lutz family detailed the paranormal encounters they had during the 28 days they said they spent in the home.

Along with the well-known demonologist husband and wife team of Ed and Lorraine Warren, who held a séance during which they captured a photograph of a “demonic boy,” who remarkably resembled one of their photographer’s children, a priest was added to share his views too. His diocese later expelled him.

Bodies of the victims being removed from the house

Bodies of the victims being removed from the house

In the 2012 film My Amityville Horror, Lorraine Warren makes an appearance. The film centers on Daniel Lutz’s testimony on the Lutz family’s stay at 112 Ocean Avenue. Anyone who has watched the movie will remember the scene in which Warren prays with Lutz while holding up a piece of what she claims to be the actual cross on which Jesus Christ died and a box containing hairs from Saint Pius of Pietrelcina.

Osuna, whose initial interest in Amityville led him, before his inquiry, to have a business contact with the father of the family, George Lutz, says, “In my view, the Lutz children were disgracefully exploited as part of a fraud, and that must have damaged them in a significant manner.”

In his book, Osuna describes that he lost all trust in Lutz when Lutz said, “making more money with sequels is more essential than clearing up what occurred.” As with Butch DeFeo, Lutz sued the author for his account of the haunting scam in the book and was unsuccessful.

Mr and Mrs Lutz

Mr and Mrs Lutz

Osuna, a former enthusiast of the Amityville mystery, admits that he has not been able to watch any of the plethora of films about the alleged haunted house after his extensive investigation, during which he claims he was the target of several anonymous threats, which only ceased after the release of The Night the DeFeos Died.

The killings of the DeFeo family served as the basis for both The Amityville Horror book and movie, which sadly exploited the plight of a family to an audience that didn’t care.

Who Lives in The Amityville House Now?

Even though Butch DeFeo and George Lutz are now deceased, people who are interested in the infamous case still make the pilgrimage to 112 Ocean Avenue, much to the annoyance of the various families who have lived there since the events of 1974. They claim they have never encountered anything supernatural or demonic.

Amityville Uprising, Amityville Bigfoot, and Amityville Karen are three straight-to-DVD films based on the Amityville case that will be released in 2022 alone.

Rest in peace, victims.

The horrors of this world is something, but do you fancy knowing about supernatural horrors and how you can protect yourself? Read about What are Wendigos and How to Kill Them, and also about Why The CIA Killed JFK!

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Written By

Abin Tom Sebastian, also known as Mr. Morbid in the community, is an avid fan of the paranormal and the dark history of the world. He believes that sharing these stories and histories are essential for the future generations. For god forbid, we have seen that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

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