If you thought the Amityville story begins and ends with a family massacre, I’m afraid you’re mistaken. Fast forward through the trial that found Ronald DeFeo Jr. guilty of six counts of second degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, and we’re in December 1975.
112 Ocean Avenue had been sitting empty for 13 months, unable to attract a buyer due to it’s recent history, until a newly wed couple jumped at the chance to purchase the riverside house, complete with swimming pool and boathouse at a knockdown price.
Little did they know, how the house would change them forever.
Enter the Lutz’s
The family that moved into the house in December of 1975 consisted of 29 year old George and Kathy Lutz, and Kathy’s three children from a previous marriage, ten year old Danny, 7 year old Christopher and 5 year old Melissa.
They were fully aware of the house’s bloody history, and are said to have discussed it as a family before deciding to proceed with the sale. According to a 2003 radio interview, George Lutz stated that the family were sceptical about the paranormal, and had given no thought to the supernatural upon moving in.
The Lutz’s were so unfazed by the thought of any lingering spirits, that they even agreed to purchase most of the DeFeo furniture along with the house. Obviously the soiled mattresses had already been taken by police, but the purchase was said to have included Dawn DeFeo’s bed frame, which they inexplicably thought was the perfect addition to their five year old daughter’s room.
The house did not host the family for long, however, and 28 days after they moved in, they fled the house in fear of their lives.
28 Day’s of Hell and the Birth Of The Amityville Horror
What happened in the month the Lutz’s lived in the house that so traumatised them? It is arguably the most controversial aspect of the case, with even firm believers noting that the subsequent franchise was filled with artistic licence, despite presenting itself as a “True Story”.
During the Lutz’s time in the house, they alleged the following activity:
- George and Kathy asked a priest to bless the house on the day they moved in. This priest was allegedly a friend of the family, known as Father ‘Ray’ Pecoraro (Or Father Mancuso in the book). During the blessing, Father Ray entered what would become the family’s “sewing room” – the bedroom in which the two DeFeo boy’s were killed – and found it exceptionally cold and eerie. As he sprinkled his Holy Water, a deep voice growled at him to “get out” and an unseen hand slapped his face. He chose to keep this from the Lutz’s until they fled the house, and only advised them not to use the room as a bedroom. This wasn’t the end of Father Ray’s trouble with the house, as he is said to have experienced blistering on the palms of his hands.
- The same day, the family’s dog, Harry, attempted to jump a fence on the property while tethered by his leash, resulting in him hanging over the fence by his neck. Luckily, Harry was found and suffered no permanent damage. When speaking of these events in later interviews, the Lutz’s referred to it as Harry “attempting to hang himself”.
- Across the 28 days, the family were troubled with “strange sounds”, ranging from slamming doors, footsteps, scratching in the walls, and – apparently – a “marching band” that only George could hear. George later described the sound as a cacophony of individual musical sounds, rather than a traditional “marching band”.
- Each family member is said to have experienced personality changes, but George is thought to have suffered the most. The Lutz’s claim he became “obsessed” with keeping the fire going inside the house due to an inability to keep warm and becoming quick to anger. Both he and Kathy supposedly struggled to leave the house for work or errands, wanting to stay there forever.
- The family were plagued with swarms of flies, despite it being winter
- Kathy was occasionally embraced by what she thought was a “female spirit”.
- The Amityville Haunting is notorious for reports of “green slime” or “blood” dripping down the walls. In reality, the Lutz’s claim an unknown, green substance with the consistency of oil was found on the carpets. They initially attributed this to the children, before wondering if it was connected to the activity in the house.
- One night, while Kathy Lutz was in a deep sleep, her face supposedly took the appearance of an “old hag”. George, horrified by this, woke Kathy who was shocked when she looked in the mirror. She later recalled feeling “confused and “ill” during the event.
- George began sleeping poorly and woke between 3am and 3.30am every night – the approximate time of the DeFeo murders – with a sudden urge to check on either the children or the family’s boat.
- A closet space in the basement, previously unknown to the family, became known as“the red room”. Although the book and films on the haunting labeled it as some sort of gateway to Hell, the Lutz’s only noticed the dog would avoid the space and it held a strange oder.
- Kathy Lutz was plagued with nightmares while living in the house. According to the family, these nightmares showed Kathy the exact order of the DeFeo family murders, as well as the location of the bullet wounds, which had not made public at the time.
- Kathy and the Lutz children began sleeping on their stomachs after moving to the house. This was the position that the DeFeo family where found in.
- 5 year old Melissa claimed to have an imaginary friend named Jodie. She initially described Jodie as “an angel” who could change size and shape – typical imaginary friend stuff, until Jodie began to take the shape of “a demonic pig”, who’s red eyes were seen by George. They wondered if Jodie was also responsible for a set of cloven-hoofed prints found in the snow one morning in January.
- During their stay at the house, the family were prevented from calling Father Ray due to telephone disturbances that only happened in the house. George was allegedly able to call Father Ray from his office with no issues.
- The Lutz’s attempted to bless the house themselves, but were challenged by “a chorus of voices” demanding they stopped.
- One day, 10 year old Danny was closing a window, when it slammed shut, crushing his fingers until they were “flat”.
- The Lutz’s refused to discuss the final night in the house, which forced them to flee, but it is said to have included the children’s bed’s crashing and sliding across the floor, the “marching band” causing an intolerable ruckus and, most concerning, Kathy levitating while in a deep sleep. George claimed a hooded figure watched them as they fled the house.
In short, the Lutz’s account of the 28 days spent in Ocean Avenue sounds like a carousel of terror, and it’s no wonder they wanted to get off when they did.
They were, allegedly, so affected by these events that, rather than sell the house on, they “gave it back to the bank”, as the could not live with the “responsibility of anything happening to another family”.
Such was the Lutz’s -alleged- altruism that they decided to contact our old friend, William Weber, in the hopes that their story may afford Ronnie DeFeo Jr. some sort of “psychiatric care”, because, of course, the haunting they suffered from must have been affecting the DeFeo’s too.
As coincidence would have it, old Willy Weber had already decided to write a book on the DeFeo case, and the Lutz’s story would make a great addition to it – after all, what sane person would massacre their entire family?
Maybe Butch – who’s insanity defence was thrown out by the jury, making him legally “sane” at the time of the murders – was possessed by the same force that seemed to cause George Lutz’s personality to change so drastically?
So, on February 16th, 1976 (around a month after the Lutz’s fled), they held a press conference in Weber’s office, raising publicity for the book of the century.
With the press conference introducing the Lutz’s to the world, the Amityville story was out in the open, and journalists, writers, and publicists were having the time of their lives.
After all, it was only three years since pop culture was changed forever by The Exorcist, and the public wanted more. Cinema classics such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Jaws and Carrie were taking to the screen, and audiences were realising just how fun it was to be scared. Amityville was a story filled with murder, ghosts and possessions unfolding before the public’s very eyes, blurring the lines between horror fiction and horror fact.
If Amityville was going to thrive in any of the 20th century’s decades, it was going to be the 70s.
The Lutz’s were in the eye of a media frenzy, and we’re joining them for the ride.
Eager to make the most of the opportunity presented, journalists and paranormal investigators came together to help – and document – the story any way they could. This is how the Lutz’s were introduced to the paranormal power couple that was Ed and Lorraine Warren.
The Warren’s, husband-and-wife-demonologists-and-mediums, first inserted themselves into the Amityville case in February 1976, a few weeks after the press conference. They’d been introduced to the Lutz’s by journalists and visited the house on two occasions.
Accompanied by reporters, the Warren’s entered the house to find an “overwhelming sense of sadness”.
According to The New England Society for Psychic Research, which the Warren’s founded, Ed was “pushed to the floor by a demonic spirit”, Lorraine was “overwhelmed by the demonic presence” which showed her “impressions of the DeFeo family laid along the floor covered in white sheets”.
The two also made claims that the land the house was built on was once owned by John Ketchum “a practicing black magician” with alleged links to the Salem Witch Trials, who “had a cottage on the land” and “requested that his remains be buried on that property and they remain there ‘till this day”.
The Warren’s also alleged that the “Shinicock Indians also had an enclosure on the land that was used to house the sick, and the mad” who were “left in the enclosure to die”.
A similar view was also held by another paranormal investigator, Hans Holzer, who along with deep-trance medium, Ethel Myers, claimed the house had been built on an “Native American burial ground” and the angry spirit of a “Shinnecock Indian Chief” was responsible for the DeFeo massacre by means of possession.
You may have noticed I’ve used rather a lot of “quotations” in this section, and that’s because I’ve quoted directly from The New England Society for Psychic Research’s official website and Holzer’s own words, as interviewed in History’s Mysteries documentary on Amityville.
We’re going to come back to these claims in the next part of this case and examine their validity.
The Amityville Horror
Although the Lutz’s refused to return to the house during the Warren’s and other’s investigations, they hadn’t washed their hands of 112 Ocean Avenue just yet.
They’d been busy culminating between 35-45 hours of taped statements, detailing the events of their time in the house. According to the Lutz’s, this was done as a type of “self therepy”, never intending for them to become public. However, at some point, these tapes were handed over to author, Jay Anson, who published the now infamous book, “The Amityville Horror” in September, 1977.
“But Doctor,” I hear you ask, “I thought the Lutz’s were working on a book with that Weber guy?”
Well, yes they were supposed to be. The thing is, when contracts get involved, things don’t always go to plan.
Weber’s contract included the creation of a “company”, restricting the Lutz’s shares of the book project to one sixth. It also included clauses regarding ownership of “artefacts pertaining to the haunting” and the requirement to submission to interviews and polygraph tests where failure to do so would result in loss of equity to the “company”. Oh and one of the six company “shareholders” would have included Ronald DeFeo Jr. himself.
The Lutz’s ultimately refused to do a book with Weber, and handed their prerecorded “self therapy” tapes to author Jay Anson and his publisher.
The book was a best seller, spawned a major motion picture (and a 2005 remake), and the Lutz’s went on to do promotional and interviews across America.
Although the Lutz’s recognised the liberties taken with their story, they claimed the book was “mostly truthful” in its account, however, the tale is not without its criticism.
How much of the “True Story” was actually true?
Well, some of the most vocal contributors to the “hoax” theory are actually Butch DeFeo and Weber themselves.
Weber, eventually went to People magazine in September ‘79, and proclaimed, “I know this book’s a hoax. We created this horror story over many bottles of wine.” Additionally, Butch himself stated in a letter, “Amityville was a hoax that Weber and the Lutz’s started. Yes, to make money. It started as my trial was in progress.” A rather scathing claim, but also one of his most believable.
Although self sabotaging, it would be wrong for us to take either of these claims at face value, despite how realistic they feel because we know Weber had his unscrupulous little fingers burnt by the Lutz’s when they put the kibosh on their collaboration.
Would it be beyond Weber to cry hoax to damage the Lutz’s credibility in revenge? I wouldn’t put it past him. If his and Butch’s were the lone voices trying to damage the Lutz’s image, it may be easy to brush them off, but can we really take the tales of green slime and that awful “built on a Native American burial ground” trope at face value?
I, among others, call bullshit, but we can’t write off the entire ordeal just like that, can we?
Join me next week in the third and final part of our Amityville Saga where – like a demonic pig hunting for the truffles of truth – we examine the Lutz’s claims and find out why a certain photograph should cause us to look beyond the simple categories of Hoax or Haunting.
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