The Real Amityville Horror
In the early hours of November 13, 1974, 23-year-old Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr. methodically shot six members of his family, including four of his younger siblings, while they were sleeping in their home on in the Amityville, NY. The family had moved into the sprawling Dutch colonial on 112 Ocean Avenue a few years ago, and though their home life was rife with abuse and drama, the house had been a symbol for a fresh start. The dad, Ron Sr., even named the house High Hopes, a chillingly ironic moniker for an estate that would be rife with such pain, horror, and a haunted legacy.
After the murders, Butch DeFeo had a busy day. He stopped by his family-run job in Brooklyn and visited a few friends. By 3:30 in the afternoon, Butch was hanging out at Henry’s Bar, which was just down the road from his house. He was in an out of the bar all afternoon, but returned at 6:30 P.M. visibly shaken. He shouted to his friends “You got to help me! I think my mother and father are shot.”
The commotion caused a crowd to form around Butch and soon a fairly large group of barflies hopped into cars to go to Butch’s house to see what happened. After a lot of confusion, police were called and it was confirmed that all of Butch’s family members were dead: Ronald DeFeo, Sr. (44) Louise DeFeo (42), Dawn (18), Allison (13), Marc (12), and John Matthew (9). Butch had a story about a mafia hit man named Falini, but broke down and confessed to the crime after hours of interrogation.
“Butch, they were never there, were they? Falini and the other guy were never there,” the cops asked him.
“No,” Butch says “It all started so fast. Once I started, I just couldn’t stop. It went so fast.”
At the trial, Butch claimed he murdered his family in self-defense. “If I didn’t kill my family, they were going to kill me. And as far as I’m concerned, what I did was self-defense and there was nothing wrong with it. When I got a gun in my hand, there’s no doubt in my mind who I am. I am God.” He went on to say that after murdering his family, he felt very good, and postured that he if he were smart, he would murder his lawyer William Weber right then and there.
Butch had had a life full of crisis and upheaval. Earlier that year he’d tried and failed a fake robbery attempt at the family business. He’d seen pyschiatrists and got other treatment, but remained volatile and troubled. He worked with his family, but often got in spats about money. The day he murdered them he told his friends at Henry’s that he and his family were in yet another fight and he’d been kicked out of the house.
His story has changed constantly over the years. He first blamed the mafia and then confessed to the murders himself, adding in the self-defense theory. In recent years, Butch DeFeo has blamed the entire crime on his sister Dawn, who he claimed committed suicide. One particular version he gave, however, was the seed that launched one of the most popular horror series of all time. “The voices in the house made me do it,” Ron “Butch” DeFeo Jr. said.
The Horror Continues
The next family that moved into 112 Ocean Ave, the Lutzes, claim to have experienced strange and scary things happening in the house, and famously moved out after only 28 days. News reports swirled after their swift departure from what the media dubbed “The Amityville Horror House,” and soon they were working with a number of people to produce a book about their experience. What everyone involved in what turned out to be an extremely lucrative and popular horror narrative seems to agree on is that there were huge embellishments added to story as it morphed into a book, and then a movie. Many skeptics claim that the entirity of the story is made up, meant to draw on the same otherworldly fear and fascination that The Exorcist commanded. One of the marketing lines for the book played on this comparison, claiming that unlike The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror was true.
The massacre that occurred at 112 Ocean Ave. is a horror in itself that happens far too often. It’s legacy is now a part of pop culture thanks to its ties to a supposedly supernatural story. Why do we want stories of haunting and demons to be true when we have enough horror in the observed world already?
The true Amityville Horror story Part 2 , (coming soon!) will explore the complicated bundle of narratives about the Lutz family’s experience and explore why we want horror stories to be true.