So, what can we make of the Amityville Saga? If we are to take the claims at face value, it would be obvious that the house at 112 Ocean Avenue was seemingly cursed from its very beginnings. If that were the case, where do the DeFeo murders fall into the Amityville cannon? Was Butch, as the Warren’s and Holzer seem to insinuate, under the influence of something other than a copious amount of illegal drugs? With the gift of hindsight, we are able to step back from the carnival that The Amityville Horror created and pick apart the events in context.
So, with that being said, let’s discuss the closing chapter of this case and assess the evidence from a neutral standpoint.
Catch up one the story so far:
The Psychic’s Claims
Before we get into the Lutz’s themselves, I think we should first address the claims made by both the Warrens and Hans Holzer regarding the Native Sinnecock Tribe.
According to research by author, Ric Osuna – a big time player in the ongoing Amityville debate – the Sinnecock People did not occupy this part of Long Island, and certainly didn’t occupy the area that now consists of 112 Ocean Avenue. To quote Osuna:
According to Long Island Native American expert John Strong, author of “We Are Still Here”, many Indian groups lived along the tidal bays in the area, but as far as the claims about the Native Americans made in Jay Anson’s The Amityville Horror, he insists that it leads him to believe it was all an entertaining hoax. Representatives of the local Indian population personally took author Ric Osuna to several abandoned Indian cemeteries that are right outside of the Village of Amityville. Sadly, these grounds are now used as dumping areas. Regardless, these native peoples’ oral histories are quite amazing, so if a burial ground would have existed, then they would have known about it.
The Amityville haunting popularised the “Indian burial ground” trope, and was perhaps one of the first to carry it to Hollywood. I, having grown up in and around the hills and valleys of South Wales, am completely unqualified to speak of the harm tropes such as this inflicts on Native Peoples, but this article from column, Through a Native Lens, by film critic Shea Vassar, herself a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a brilliant explanation of the cause and damaging effects of such tropes.
Hanz Holzer claimed that during his investigation of the house, he contacted the Amityville Historical Society, where he was allegedly told of a Native American skeleton being unearthed at Ocean Avenue. I have found no proof to support this claim and am content in writing it off as one of the many unsubstantiated rumours in the Amityville story.
Additionally, there are no records to support the Warren’s claims regarding John Ketcham – who although was a real person, possibly living in the Long Island, there is nothing to support the fact that he was a “black magician”.
Examining The Lutz’s Claims
In last week’s case file, we detailed the Lutz’s claims, but could there be a more mundane explanation for some of them? As good paranormal investigators, it’s only right that we take a closer look, and discuss the contradictory evidence and theories. These are only my thoughts on the happenings, but as always, I encourage you to make up your own mind.
- Father ‘Ray’ Pecoraro – Accounts of Father Pecoraro’s role in the haunting are varied. Documentaries on the case have interviewed an anonymous priest who claims to have blessed the house. His identity as Fr Pecoraro only came to light following his death. Although these interviews reiterate the story presented in Anson’s book, documents from the Lutz vs Weber lawsuit show that Father Pecoraro denied the supernatural claims and was uncertain if any paranormal events took place at all. After questioning by author, Ric Osuna, the Diocese of Rockville Centre, which covers the Amityville area, states:
“The Diocese maintains that the story was a false report. In November of 1977, Diocesan attorneys prepared a substantial list, to be submitted to the publisher [of The Amityville Horror], of numerous inaccuracies, factually incorrect references and untrue statements regarding events, persons and occurrences that never happened.”
- Harry the Dog “tried to hang himself” – Despite how it sometimes appears, a dog does not have the level of sentence to intentionally harm themselves, so I’m happy to write this incident off as non-paranormal event.
- Slamming doors, footsteps and scratching in the walls – Reported hauntings often include this type of activity, however, there are also a plethora of natural causes, including draughts and normal “house noises”. We must also remember that 112 Ocean Avenue had been left empty for 13 months, and it is not beyond the realms of possibility for a few critters to have made themselves at home in the crevices of the house. Also, the house’s heating and water systems were likely inactive before the Lutz’s moved in, and those bad-boys can be loud when they get going again.
- George and the “marching band” – phantom noises such as this have been reported in other haunted locations, sometimes heard by one person or more. Maybe this was the case, or was something more going on with George – paranormal or psychological?
- Changes in mood, sleep and nightmares – Families living in haunted locations often experience a change in mood while in their homes, including a feeling of oppression. Some, including the Warren’s, believe that this can be among the early signs of demonic possession. Alternatively, changes in mood are perfectly normal, particularly when moving into a new home, with a new family dynamic, as the Lutz’s were. Whether or not the supernatural was involved, it would be normal enough to dream of the murders that would probably be on your mind when you moved into a house with such a history. As for Kathy claiming to know certain details that weren’t public knowledge at the time? Well, if you believe Weber’s hoax claim, I’m sure details would have been shared over the wine they were drinking. Dreams are pretty natural, but dreams with hidden meaning? Given the context, I’d take those with a pinch of salt.
- Swarms of flies – Kind of icky, but if a house has been sealed up for 13 months after having six dead bodies inside it, I wouldn’t be surprised by a fly or two. Flies are attracted to corpses from the moment of death, and we know at least 15 hours passed between the murders and the discovery of the bodies, not long enough for a mountain of eggs to hatch, but long enough to attract some insect interest. I’d also be interested to know how the kitchen was left in the house before the Lutz’s moved in. We know some of the DeFeo furniture was included in the sale, but when were the family’s personal belongings emptied? Although we don’t know for certain, perishable food could have been left in cupboards or fridges during the murder investigation, only being emptied when the house went up for sale.
- Reports of “blood” and “green slime” – Although I’m inclined to throw this one straight on the “fiction” pile, as good investigators, we should first address it as we are the others. I think it’s safe to leave reports of physical ectoplasm in the dark seance rooms of early spiritualist con artists. Rusty water leaks and other natural occurrences in an old(ish) house that’s been vacant for over a year should be ruled out before jumping to any paranormal explanations. Giving the circumstances of the case, I know where I’d place it.
- Kathy’s “phantom embrace by a female presence” – Given we’re discussing the events in the context of a haunted houses, I’d be inclined to believe this as a paranormal or psychically related occurrence. If this was one of my own investigations, I’d want more information regarding the where’s, when’s and how’s of these occurrences before ruling one way or the other.
- Kathy’s “old hag” face – another claim that sounds rather outlandish on the face of it (pun intended), if this were to happen to my loved one, I would be inclined to rule out a medical issue, such as a mini stroke or Bell’s Palsy before jumping to the supernatural.
- “Jodie” who may or may have not been a pig – Kids have imaginary friends. Whether or not these are paranormal in nature is a debate that rages across the internet, and one I would look at on a case by case basis. In paranormal circles, children are often thought to have a more open connection to the immaterial world, before the crushing weight of an adult reality squeezes it out of them like a grape in an ever tightening vice. Do I think 5 year old Missy had an imaginary friend called Jodie? Yeah. Do I think she may have been aware of the presence of one of the young DeFeo boys, with whom she supposedly played with? Sure, I’d jive with that. Do I think the adult Lutz’s ever saw “Jodie” as a demonic pig with red eyes looking through the window? I’m not buyin’ it. Especially when, according to the parapsychologist, Peter Jordan in the2005 documentary, The Real Amityville Horror, we hear a neighbour, who upon seeing a drawing Missy had done of “Jodie”, exclaimed that it looked just like a rather large neighbourhood cat – one that Butch DeFeo dubbed “the pig”.
- Danny’s window encounter – Despite the window’s complete “flattening” of 10 year old Danny’s fingers, there are no records reflecting any type of medical intervention, although George Lutz initially claimed they rushed him to the hospital. Later, George recanted the hospital visit, claiming that when they were about to leave, Danny’s hand appeared normal again.
Views of The Lutz Children
With all the focus one George and Kathy, it’s easy to forget that there were also three children at the centre of this story. Although then 5 year old Melissa has remained very much private about what happened in the house, both Daniel and Christopher have come forward separately to speak about the 28 days they shared in the house, and it’s truly fascinating.
In 2012, Daniel’s side of the story was released as the documentary My Amityville Horror, and it is truly a fascinating watch, one I highly suggest you view for yourself. To summarise, Daniel maintains that the events happened, and were similar to the description in Anson’s The Amityville Horror, although it paints an interesting phycological portrait that transcends any potential ghost story.
Christopher, who changed his name back to Quaratino, has gone on record claiming that things did indeed happen in the house, but was completely unlike the events in Anson’s book.
What is interesting is that despite the brother’s differences in recalled events, they agree on the same thing – something that is often overlooked in the “Amityville Canon” – and that is the nature of their step-father, George Lutz.
Daniel describes Lutz in the documentary as abusive. Both he and Chris left home around age 16, having “clashed” with Lutz several times. Daniel in My Amityville Horror goes on to tell a phycologist that he spent this time as a drifter “sleeping in the desert”.
I for one totally believe the two boys when they label Lutz an authoritarian – his need for control can be seen in the amount of lawsuits he filed around references to Amityville, but the brother’s seem to agree on another part of this untold story – that George Lutz was interested in the occult.
Now, you and I both know that despite what some people say, a passing interest in meditation is not enough to conjure demonic spirits into a home. The Lutz’s are on record saying they practiced Transcendental Meditation for a time (and honestly, it was the 70’s, who didn’t?), but the brothers allege George was fascinated with the darker side of things.
In an article for the Seattle Times, Christopher alleges that George attempted to “summon supernatural beings by chanting.” He goes on to state that Lutz was “perpetrator and an instigator” in the happenings. This is seemingly backed up by Daniel’s claims that Lutz “dabbled in Satanism”.
What can we make of all of this? When we pick apart the claims and counter claims and push ego’s aside, it’s my belief that something did probably go on in 112 Ocean Avenue during the winter of 1975, but it was likely low level psychic phenomenon of a residual nature, blown out of all proportion by people with their own agendas.
As paranormal investigators, we’re inclined to believe that a residual energy is left behind after a traumatic or emotional event, and what is more traumatic than a family massacre? I would bet my hat on the fact that the DeFeo’s tragic deaths left behind such an energy which would have faded as a new family moved in and filled the space with their own happy memories and feelings.
I think the dynamics of the subsequent family would be the catalyst for any further paranormal events. If we are to believe the heads of the household passed from one bullying patriarch to another, it may have been their own oppressive dynamic that played off the house’s energy. Whether or not you believe the Lutz’s were in cahoots with Weber before they moved in, the house was a powder keg, waiting for a spark.
Throw in the belief that George Lutz meant to specifically instigate a haunting, as the brothers suggest, and it would have been a perfect storm.
With that being said, I don’t believe a word of Anson’s book, where much of the Lutz’s claims stem from. Although we can debunk much of the unexplained noises, temperature sensitivities and extreme emotions, I think given the context of the DeFeo tragedy, we could say the house may have experienced some typical paranormal activity, if we are inclined to believe such things exist.
As for the reports of green slime, demon pigs and levitation? Nah, mate.
Since the Lutz’s left Ocean Avenue, no paranormal activity has been reported by its subsequent owners and that doesn’t surprise me in the least. With the house under private ownership, we’re unable to explore it first hand, and honestly, I think that’s for the best.
The whirlwind that took America, and indeed, the world, by storm could not have happened had any piece of the puzzle be out of place. The Amityville Horror would not be what it is without the cultural timing, its key players and the tragedy itself.
And it’s that tragedy, that’s so often forgotten and exploited. A tragedy that left a family of six dead at the hands of one of their own. The real Amityville horror began and ended in November 1974.
With that said, there’s only one thing that troubles me about this case. A single photograph that intrigued me enough to dig into the story, instead of writing the whole thing off as a hoax. It’s the closest thing to a piece of paranormal “evidence” we have here, besides the exaggerated first or second hand accounts.
The image below was taken by a static camera timed to snap a picture at random during the investigation of the house in March 1976. Photos before and after show an empty landing, occasionally littered with investigators going up or down the stairs. No children were present, but that doesn’t rule out the possibility of the subject being a stray reporter, as some believe.
Alongside it, I’ve included one of the family portraits Big Ronny DeFeo had commissioned before the family’s death. It is of Marc and his little brother, John-Matthew.
Like everything here, I encourage you to come to your own conclusions.
Dr LJ Hawthorn
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