Some hauntings have managed to become something more over the years, propelling themselves into a realm that makes them almost a legend or piece of folklore more than anything else, their sheer popularity infusing them with a life of their own to become truly iconic. Perhaps no other supposed haunting on record has reached the pantheon of these great cases to such heights as the story of the Amytiville Horror, a harrowing story of ghosts and demons that has become one of the most legendary, and indeed controversial, hauntings the world has ever seen.
Like many of the spookiest hauntings on record, this tale starts with a brutal murder. The Defeo family were well respected members of their community in Amityville, Long Island, New York, in the United States, and their upscale home at 112 Ocean Avenue started out as what appeared to be a happy one, with the house shared by Ronald and Louise DeFeo and their five children, and with nothing seeming to be out of order. They were well-off, well-liked by their neighbors, and it seemed they were living the American dream. Yet appearances can be deceiving, and there were dark clouds hanging over this family and a whirling violence stirring beneath their peaceful veneer.
The evening of November 13, 1974 started out as a typically quiet one for this well-to-do suburban neighborhood, but at approximately 3 AM the quiet would be smashed by the sound of police sirens speeding through to stop at the DeFeo house. The scene awaiting them within this previously seemingly happy household was the stuff of nightmares. There, lying face down in their beds, were 6 members of the DeFeo family, all dead and with gunshot wounds to the head from a high powered rifle, ruthlessly shot in their sleep. The oldest son, Ronald DeFeo Jr., was arrested and convicted of the massacre, at first trying to pin the murders on a mafia hit man before coming clean when the evidence didn’t mesh and the murder weapon was found. He would later blame his father’s domestic abuse for his violent actions, not helped by the fact that he had had a history of drug use, antisocial personality disorder, and short-temperedness, and according to relatives he had constantly fought with his father. After a failed insanity plea, he was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison on 6 counts of second degree murder, leaving the normally quiet community in shock and awe.
There were a lot of mysteries surrounding the crime. Although the rifle used was extremely loud, no neighbors had reported hearing actual gunshots, just the barking of the DeFeo dog. Indeed, the only reason that anyone had known there had been a crime committed at all was because Ronald Jr. had been the one to call the police to tell them that his family had been killed. There was also the weird detail that all of the victims seem to have been killed in their sleep, even though they should have been woken by the sound of the rifle, and there was also the odd fact that they had been placed face down on their stomachs as if arranged that way. Considering that DeFeo was constantly changing his story and very uncooperative in interviews and interrogations, the crime itself remains rather mysterious, but this is only the beginning.
Despite the horrific massacre that had happened at 112 Ocean Avenue, the sinister house went on the market and in December of 1975 it was purchased by a George and Kathleen Lutz, who moved in with their three children. Although the house was a beautiful colonial Dutch style home at a very good price, the purchase wasn’t an easy one for the Lutz family, as they were well aware of its grim past. Indeed, far from hiding it, the real estate company was very forthcoming about the horrific murders, and despite this tragic history the family decided to go ahead and move in anyway after getting a priest to bless the property, as it was otherwise such a dream house at a price that was hard to refuse. However, the dream was about to turn very much into a nightmare.
By all accounts strange things began to happen immediately after moving in. It started, as these things often do, with innocuous strangeness such as anomalous noises heard around the house, which ranged from whistling sounds, to knocking, dragging, disembodied footsteps, and there were often scratching and fluttering sounds that sounded like pigeons, although there were no birds there. In more extreme cases there were violent bangs or a cacophony of noise that sounded like people stomping around upstairs even when no one was there. Guests who came to the house also heard these things, much to the relief of the Lutz family, who thought they were going nuts. George Lutz would say of this:
I just didn’t want to leave the house. We would invite people over instead of going to see them. There came a point when we would invite people over to see whether we were crazy or not. Because when our friends sat in the kitchen, they could hear the people walking around upstairs after the kids had been put to bed. We’d all go up and find the kids fast asleep. There was no way it was the kids — and when your friends confirm that for you, you almost want to break down and say out loud, ‘I’m not crazy. They hear it too!’ That is such an emotional moment when someone else confirms for you what you’re hearing and that it’s not just you hearing it — it’s not your imagination.
Other phenomena were numerous. There were often intense cold spots that would appear and disappear out of nowhere, sometimes allegedly bringing whole rooms to the point of freezing, with the fireplace seeming to have no effect. Conversely there would also be hot spots even in the middle of winter in unheated rooms, which would cause those present to break out into a sweat. Adding to all of this were flickering lights, moving objects, and inexplicable odors that would waft through with no discernible origin, ranging from the smell of perfume to that of rotting meat or worse. There was also a palpable feeling of dread that seemed to hang over the place, and this paranormal activity began to steadily escalate.
Windows and doors rattled and opened and closed on their own, things were knocked over, sometimes violently, and the family began to be physically accosted by unseen forces. This started off as a feeling of being poked or prodded, but this graduated to pushes, shoves, or strange incidents in which Kathleen said she felt as if something were lovingly embracing her. There were times when some of the family members were actually scratched, beaten, or bitten by these invisible entities, leaving marks, welts, and bruises behind. On one occasion George could hear his kids screaming in terror as something threw furniture around their room, yet he was unable to go to their aide since he was held down in his bed by an invisible force. There were also several incidents of something causing the children and Kathleen to levitate into the air, as if they were being held aloft, often accompanied by violence.
There were also apparitions seen in the house, a green slime that would exude from the walls, and swarms of flies that would appear out of nowhere no matter what the family did to keep them away. There were some very strange incidents during this time, such as one evening when both George and Kathleen saw the face of a demon in their fireplace and another when George woke up and saw his wife as an old hag, “the hair wild a shocking white, the face a mass of wrinkles and ugly lines, and saliva dripping from the toothless mouth.” Throughout all of this, George Lutz found himself waking up at 3 AM every morning for no reason, the exact time that the murders had happened there.
Of the many incidents of bizarre unexplained phenomena reported from the family, one of the strangest began when their children started to behave rather oddly. Their daughter Missy began to spend all of her time in her room talking to and even singing to an imaginary friend she called “Jodie,” who she described as a pig with glowing eyes who could change shapes and sizes, and was only visible “when she wanted to be.” This was at first thought to be the child’s overactive imagination, but one evening George went to check on Missy and claims to have seen a pair of glowing eyes at her bedroom window and the rocking chair in the room inexplicably moving. On another occasion Kathleen was startled when Missy told her that Jodie was just outside and wanted to come in, before seeing a pair of glowing eyes peering in that caused her to throw a chair through the window. There was reportedly a shriek from an animal, and when they went outside to investigate they allegedly found tracks that looked like they had been made by a pig.
Throughout all of this the strange phenomena were punctuated by some other oddities. George supposedly found a secret room in the basement of the house that was painted red, smelled of blood, and gave off a sense of despondent dread, which could not be found in the house blueprints and which the dog would not go near. All of the family members started to display odd behavior as well. The kids began to be confrontational and violent, Kathleen was prone to flying into panic attacks for no reason, and George himself began to be obsessed with the idea that he physically resembled the murderer Ronald DeFeo Jr., as well as having vivid dreams of murder and animal sacrifice. Kathleen was also often kept awake by visions of the DeFeo murders, even supposedly able to glean information about the crimes she had not known before. It seemed almost as if their minds were being invaded by whatever insidious forces were in that house with them, and they finally decided that it was time to call in a priest by the name of Father Ray Pecoraro, who would supposedly soon be just as terrified as the family.
When Pecararo tried to carry out a blessing he was purportedly admonished by a disembodied growling voice to “Get Out,” his hands developed strange blisters, and he was slapped across the face by an unseen entity to leave a red mark behind. When the family tried carrying crucifixes around the house while reciting prayers to stop the entities, there was purportedly a barrage of aggressive phantom voices that apparently told them “Will you stop?,” and objects were thrown at them with violent force. This went on for several days without much luck, and it was then that they decided the only way to get away from the evil in that house was to move. On January 14, 1976, just 28 days after having moved in, the Lutz family moved out, with their final night at the residence apparently an insane horror show of spectacular paranormal phenomena and a raucous cacophony of noise from the spirits, almost as if they were either very angry or celebrating.
Shortly after the Lutz family moved out, the case was picked up by famed paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, who launched an investigation along with news reporter Marvin Scott and a team of other investigators and psychics. George and Kathleen Lutz offered their assistance as well, although they absolutely refused to step foot on the property again. As soon as the Warrens arrived they were allegedly met with the strangeness of this place. Besides an overwhelming sense of sadness and depression sensed at the home, things got very weird when Ed went into the basement to investigate, where he claimed to be pushed down to the floor by a mysterious force and felt the presence of something inhuman. He would say:
It was if I were standing underneath a waterfall. And the pressure was driving me down to the floor. And I commanded, in the name of Jesus Christ, what was there to reveal its identity…I understood right at that point that what we were dealing with was no ghost. This was no ordinary haunted house.
Their investigation was also plagued by visions that the psychic Lorraine had of murder and dead bodies, as well as what she called a “demonic presence,” and she too felt something pushing her at times. The other psychics were tormented by visions as well. Other members of the team experienced unexplainable phenomena too, such as a cameraman who was plagued by heart palpitations and shortness of breath on the stairway, and others had a similar terrifying sensation, especially on the second floor of the home. Lorraine Warren would say that these entities were demonic in nature rather than the ghosts of human beings, and would say of the forces in the home:
Whatever is here is, in my estimation, most definitely of a negative nature. It has nothing to do with anyone who had once walked the Earth in human form. It is right from the bowels of the Earth. Whatever is here, is able to move around at will. It doesn’t have to stay here, but I think it’s a resting place.
Apparitions were seen by the team as well, and on one occasion they were even able to take a photograph of the ghostly form of what they claim was one of the murdered DeFeo children on the second floor. After researching the land itself they claim that it was found to have once belonged to a black magician named John Ketchum, and that the Native Shinicock tribe had also once used the area as a place to keep the sick and the insane. Despite all of this investigation and the sheer number of supposed witnesses, the story really launched itself into the public consciousness with book on the case written by author Jay Anson in 1977, entitled The Amityville Horror: A True Story, which went on to become a bestselling sensation, spawning countless other books, articles, and the hit horror film The Amityville Horror in 1979, as well as its numerous sequels. It is supposedly one of the most well documented, intense hauntings on record, but there has of course been much skepticism aimed at it.
One of the biggest problems with the whole spectacular tale is that, like the Snedeker haunting I recently covered here no one involved can seem to keep their stories straight. Details are changed, timelines warped, there are many discrepancies, factual errors, and holes in the story, and people give different descriptions of events on a regular basis, none of which is helped by the various editions of the original book and the flourishes that have evolved over time. Much of it cannot be fully confirmed or corroborated, such as the involvement of the priest Father Pecoraro, who was depending on the report you read an actual witness to the events or merely a contact by phone. Father Pecoraro himself has been very evasive on the matter, giving little information of any help, and has mostly remained quiet, vague, and elusive on the matter. There is also the matter that very little believable physical evidence was left behind, and some of the elements were rejected by those mentioned in the tale, such as the Native tribes denying that it had ever been used to lock away the insane or dying. Then there is the involvement of the Warrens, who have been under scrutiny as potential frauds for quite some time, as well as the fact that no one who has lived in the house since has reported any sort of paranormal phenomena.
Perhaps the most damning evidence of all is what the writer Anson has suggested that it might have been at least partly made up, although he has always been coy about this, saying in one quote to People Magazine, “I’m a professional writer. I don’t believe and I don’t disbelieve. I leave that to the reader.” He never would flat out admit to fabricating it nor deny it. Ronald DeFeo’s Jr.’s lawyer also came forward to claim that the whole story had been fabricated with his help along with the Lutzes, although they have denied this and even filed a lawsuit over these claims. Indeed, just about the only ones who have ardently stood by the whole bizarre tale are the Lutzes themselves, who have always adamantly claimed it was all true to this day. Kathleen Lutz would say of the controversy:
Some people have called our testimony about Amityville a hoax. There is nothing that I could say to them…there is nothing I could show them that would be new evidence that this is the truth. It is the truth. It is my testimony. It is where I came from. And to judge another’s testimony, not having experienced it, not having gone through it, or been touched by it…you don’t have the right to. Yours’ is just an opinion…and the opinion doesn’t hold water.
George Lutz would also defend the events as depicted in the book and his testimony, denying that there was any trickery going on and seemingly baffled that so many would doubt it all. He made his own statement on the matter, saying:
I believe this has stayed alive for 25 years because it’s a true story. It doesn’t mean that everything that has ever been said about it is true. It’s certainly not a hoax. It’s real easy to call something a hoax. I wish it was. It’s not. It’s my prayer that everyone in this room never go through such a thing. But if you know someone that does, the hardest thing for those people is the loss of being able to communicate with anyone else about it. Not being able to find anyone that can intelligently help them. It’s not talked about. It’s not understood…and when it happens to you, you become an alien to everyone else.
Although the case of the “Amityville Horror” is mostly accused of as being a hoax or a fabrication, it is still debated and discussed to this day, and in the meantime has taken on a life of its own that has transcended whatever was real or not. It has become a true piece of American folklore that has lodged itself into the public consciousness and established itself as one of the all time great hauntings, regardless of how much of it really happened as described. It seems that no matter how much criticism is aimed at the case it is now beyond such things, already legendary and beyond such things, and for better or worse the Amityville haunting remains one of the most spectacular and well-known hauntings ever seen in the world of the paranormal.