The Amityville horror house is arguably the most famous haunted home in the United States. The Ocean Avenue site has inspired countless books and a dozen films, with the latest, Amityville: The Awakening, slated to hit theaters early next year. However, are the stories about the house true or nothing more than an elaborate hoax turned legend?
The DeFeo Murders
On November 13, 1974, Ronald DeFeo, Jr., shot and killed his parents and four siblings as they slept in their beds at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, NY. DeFeo confessed to the crime and was sentenced to six concurrent sentences of 25 years to life. Now 63, Ronald is imprisoned at Green Haven Correctional Facility. The murders are well documented and perhaps the only indisputable horror associated with the Amityville home.
The Amityville Legend
Thirteen months after the DeFeo murders, the Lutz family– George and Kathy and children Danny, Chris, and Missy– moved into the Ocean Avenue home. What followed was 28 days of unimaginable horror, or so the legend goes.
According to Jay Anson’s best-selling book, The Amityville Horror (1977), terrifying events at the home included doors flinging open and closed, slime oozing from walls, cloven hoof prints in the snow, physical assaults from unseen entities, and hordes of flies, among other things. When a priest came to bless the home, a demonic voice reportedly told him to get out. Several members of the family also spotted a menacing, pig-like being with sharp teeth and glowing red eyes. According to the book, the Lutzes eventually fled the home, leaving all of their belongings behind.
Famed paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren investigated the property and proclaimed it haunted. Their investigation also yielded the famous photo below which reportedly shows the ghost of murdered child John DeFeo. Skeptics, however, believe the ‘ghost’ is actually Paul Bartz, an investigator working with the Warrens the night the photo was taken. Others argue that the Warrens’ nephew, John Zaffis, is the boy in the pic. Zaffis was also present at the investigation.
An Admitted Hoax?
In 1979, lawyer William Weber told People magazine the Amityville case was a hoax that he and the Lutzes had created over many bottles of wine. However, it’s worth noting that Weber made the statement after George and Kathy Lutz sued him and several others for invasion of privacy, misappropriation of names for trade purposes, and mental distress. Weber filed a countersuit for fraud and breach of contract.
Why the lawsuits? It seems Weber, who had served as Ronald DeFeo, Jr.’s defense attorney, had been working on a book about the slayings when the Lutzes contacted him about their paranormal experiences. Weber tried to get the Lutzes to sign on to his project, but they declined and eventually enlisted the services of Jay Anson. Weber was angry and accused the Lutzes of stealing his material and preventing his book from getting published. For this reason, some suggest Weber lied about creating a hoax to discredit the Lutzes and their tale.
Anson’s book inspired the film The Amityville Horror which hit theaters in 1979 and was a huge success. As the Amityville story grew, so did the number of critics who found numerous holes in the Lutzes’ story, or at least in the book and movie versions.
For example, Anson’s book claims that cloven hoof prints appeared outside the Amityville home on January 1, 1976. However, local weather records show no snowfall that day. The Lutzes also claimed that an evil spirit broke the home’s locks, doors, and windows. Yet the couple that bought the home from the Lutz family insisted the original fixtures were intact when they moved in and that there had been no evidence of repairs. The book and films also suggest that the Amityville home was built atop an Indian burial ground, but there’s no evidence such a site existed.
Though many called them frauds, George and Kathy Lutz stuck by their story and even passed a lie detector test. George admitted that some of the Amityville story had been exaggerated, but insisted it was “mostly true” and denied making the whole thing up. George and Kathy died in the early 2000s, and their three children were mostly silent about their time in the home. However, last year filmmaker Eric Walter released the documentary My Amityville Horror. In it, Danny Lutz, who was 10 when he lived in the Amityville home, claims the haunting was real and that his stepfather George practiced witchcraft and attracted evil spirits.
The Amityville House Today
Both the original Ocean Avenue home and the house used in the Amityville films still exist. However, each has undergone significant renovations, and the house the Lutzes called home now has a different address. No family after the Lutzes has reported any strange activity.
At best, the Amityville books and films are wild exaggerations of a real haunting. At worst, the Amityville tales are completely made up. Could the truth be somewhere in between? Share your thoughts in the comments below!