Happy Halloween! This month’s blog post is coming a little earlier in order to celebrate this unholy holiday.
Last year I read Jay Anson’s Amityville Horror: A True Story around Halloween. I listened to the audiobook during my commute, because I thought it would be the perfect story to get me in the holiday season. At the time, I wasn’t crazy about it. I thought the writing was a little stilted, and the plot was far too outlandish to be within the realm of possibility. However, I’d had no idea of the context in which this book was published. I’d had no idea that this book was originally marketed as a literally “true” story…
There has been intense debate over the last 30 years as to whether or not the Amityville horror is a hoax or the most prolific and notorious haunting that the world has ever seen. Most of the information I have about the case comes from a riveting documentary called “The Real Amityville Horror”. It’s a 2005 documentary by Nobles Gate Production. They interview many of the people involved, which adds an authentic personal touch. I highly recommend watching it. It’s spooky and informative and not a bad way to spend a cool autumn evening.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the case, I’ll jump right into it. On November 13, 1974, 23-year-old Ronnie DeFeo took a shotgun and murdered all six members of his family. He was arrested for the murder and subsequently charged and convicted, despite his insanity plea. He’d claimed that he’d heard a voice tell him to kill his family, and that a black-handed demon had given him the shotgun.
It had seemed like a pretty clear-cut case to the police. He’d been on drugs. He’d killed his family in cold blood. However, there are a few inconsistencies I’d like to point out. Every single member of his family had been found lying on their stomachs in bed, with their arms outstretched. This wouldn’t be so strange if they’d been positioned that way, post-mortem. However, forensics indicated that they had died in that position. Shotguns are loud. How come none of them woke up and tried to run away? Do you have chills yet?
It was revealed in the documentary that the house had been under surveillance by a drug enforcement agent, who had seen Dawn, one of the daughters, leave the house with a large gun. There’s a new theory Ronnie and Dawn had conspired with each other to kill the family. If they’d worked together, that would explain why nobody had tried to run away. The documentary postulates that Dawn had killed the family, and Ronnie had been mortified and taken his revenge on her. This doesn’t quite make sense to me. Why would Dawn have gotten into bed and let Ronnie kill her? Unless they had worked together and then he’d turned on her? Or they’d had some sort of suicide pact, which he’d chickened out on? This wasn’t suggested in the film, but it seems likely to me that Ronnie wasn’t entirely innocent of evil doing (unless, of course, a black-handed demon truly was involved).
A year after these horrific events took place, George and Kathy Lutz moved into the Amityville house with their three children. They’d already known about the house’s sordid past, and had bought the three-story Colonial for a whopping $80,000. Twenty-eight days later, they abandoned the house, leaving all their belongings inside it.
George Lutz claims that everything written in Jay Anson’s best-selling novel is true. The house always felt cold, despite the fact that they’d kept the fireplace burning all hours of the day and night. While they lived there, George fell ill and lost all interest in personal hygiene. He’d also undergone insidious personality changes. The daughter made friends with an invisible demon pig named Jody. Kathy was “embraced” by an unseen entity and beds levitated in the middle of the night.
As I mentioned before, I’d thought that Jay Anson’s book was highly unrealistic, but apparently everything in it is what George and Kathy Lutz claim to be true. More importantly, when the book was released, the general public believed it to be true as well. However, there’s a lot of evidence to support the theory that the Lutzes bought this house with the sole purpose of pretending it was haunted. They told paranormal investigators that they didn’t want them talking to the news about anything they discovered in the house, because they wanted everything to remain “private”, but that same day they gave a press conference to a major news outlet. They also met with William Weber, Ronnie DeFeo’s lawyer, who wanted to prove Ronnie’s innocence by blaming an evil spirit in the house. During their conversation, Weber revealed details about the DeFeo case, and let slip about the potential to sell the story for a book and a movie. Shortly afterward George and Kathy Lutz changed their story to incorporate things that Weber had told them about the house and case.
All this suggests that George and Kathy Lutz are charlatans. But then a local news reporter invited a group of psychics to investigate the house. Almost all of them experienced some kind of strange phenomenon, whether it was a dark sensation or a vision of bodies lined up and covered in white sheets. (Again, I highly recommend watching the documentary. Chilling!)
Among the psychics were Ed and Lorraine Warren, infamous paranormal investigators. Their real-life stories have inspired movies such as The Conjuring and its spin-off Annabelle. They remained convinced that the Amityville house was one of the most haunted places they’d ever visited.
There was no concrete evidence derived from this “Psychic slumber party”. No evidence other than a single photograph (see below). There were no children in the house, yet this photograph clearly depicts a young boy. It looks remarkably like one of the DeFeo’s sons, who was once photographed wearing a similar plaid shirt. But remember, it was the 70s. Everyone and their grandmother owned a plaid shirt like this one.
It has also been speculated that the picture could be of Paul Bartz (not the mall cop), a photographer who was also wearing a plaid shirt that day. However, an argument has been made that there were so many people in the house that day interacting with Bartz that at least one of them should have recognized him in the picture. It wasn’t pointed out in the documentary, but Bartz was of average height. This photograph depicts someone at a child’s height. Unless Bartz was deliberately attempting to deceive the camera, I find it unlikely that he would have been kneeling in the doorway of a haunted house. That said, the photograph sort of looks like him. I’m torn. I’ve linked to an interesting YouTube video here that analyzes this creepy photograph.
The Amityville story came out shortly after William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist. The world was ready to believe in dark entities and haunted houses, and the Lutzes delivered. Some say that they took advantage of this and have profited off it ever since. I would like to know just how much money they have made. When Anson’s book was released, Anson made the majority of the profit, while the Lutzes earned only $250,000. I’m not sure how much they made for each morning show or interview they attended, or how much they made off each movie and sequel. They have also filed multiple lawsuits against many magazines, including Good Housekeeping magazine for publishing or making statements against the Amityville hauntings, believing them to be a hoax. George Lutz also initiated a lawsuit against MGM for the 2005 remake of the Amityville Horror, which he believed to have distorted the truth too much for his liking. I couldn’t uncover what he or Kathy’s professions were. I also couldn’t find anything about them that wasn’t related to the Amityville incidents. I believe it would stand to reason that if they were truly charlatans, they would have come up with some other gimmicks over the thirty years following Amityville. However, maybe they were too busy with all their lawsuits.
A journalist named Rick Moran compared Anson’s book with the original newspaper articles that were released after the initial “haunting”. The Lutzes had earlier claimed that there were no visions, no slime, but all these elements appeared in later interviews, after they spoke with Weber. Moran identified at least 116 major inconsistencies in Anson’s book, which the Lutzes may have made up after learning details about the DeFeo case. One interesting tidbit that I’ll share is that in the movie and the book, there’s a pig named Jody. Ronnie DeFeo had called the neighbour’s cat a pig, because it was fat and peeked in the window at night. The same window that the Lutzes claimed their daughter Missy saw Jody the pig peeking in. Was all of this just one big misunderstanding? Just kidding, there’s more to it than this, I’m sure.
So what do you think? Do you think that the Amityville horror is a hoax or a true story? Do you think that Anson truly embellished on some of what happened, but that in essence it’s a true story? Do you think that the Lutzes saw an opportunity and took advantage of a The Exorcist social climate? Or do you think that the Lutzes made some kind of agreement with whatever entity lives in the house, some kind of pact that they would ensure that the world believed in the Amityville horror if they were allowed to escape with their lives?
Header photo from Wikimedia Commons