Amityville case Controversial and sensational Haunting of a house in Amityville, Long Island, New York, in the 1970s. The case has been the subject of numerous investigations, intense publicity, claims and counterclaims, lawsuits, books, and films. It has been upheld and debunked, with no resolution. It is best known as “The Amityville Horror,” a term that is now a registered trademark.
The house at 112 Ocean Street was the scene of a grisly multiple murder on November 13, 1974. Six members of the DeFeo family—parents, two sons, and two daughters—were found shot to death with a 35-caliber rifl e. Their estimated time of death was three A.M. A third son, 23-year-old Ronald “Butch” DeFeo, was charged with the murders. DeFeo pled insanity, based on his history of drug abuse, but he was convicted of six counts of second degree murder and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. The DeFeo house sat empty until December 1975, when newlyweds George and Kathy Lutz decided to purchase it. They were informed of the murders by a real estate agent, but the house was a bargain. The couple and Kathy’s three children by a previous marriage—Daniel, nine, Christopher, seven, and Melissa, five—moved into the house on December 18. They were able to stay only 28 days. At the insistence of a friend, the Lutzes sought to have the housed blessed and were put in contact with Father Ralph J. Pecoraro (for a long time identified by the pseudonym Father Mancuso). When Pecoraro performed the blessing, he heard a deep male voice ordering him to “Get out.” He told the Lutzes to avoid a room on the second floor—the former bedroom of the murdered DeFeo sons. The Lutzes, according to their account, were immediately subjected to horrible phenomena. Voices told them to “get out”; there were swarms of flies in the cold of winter; Kathy had nightmares about the murders; the APPARITION of a “Demon boy” who could shape-shift into a Demonic pig was seen; green slime oozed from walls; a crucifix hanging on a wall was turned upside down; Kathy’s face transfigured before George into a horrid hag; mysterious noises sounded in the middle of the night; the apparition of a little girl became Melissa’s playmate; unseen presences embraced Kathy; cloven hoofprints appeared in the snow outside the house; locks and doors were damaged; and so on. Their behavior and mood deteriorated. The children couldn’t attend school, and George was unable to work.
The Lutzes tried to bless the house with prayer themselves, but their efforts had no effect. Finally, they were subjected to events that terrified them so badly, they knew they had to get out. The Lutzes never disclosed all the things that happened on their last terror-filled night, but among the phenomena were bangings and a menacing hooded apparition that appeared on the stairs and pointed at George. They left the house in a rush on January 14, 1976, and went to the home of Kathy’s mother in Deer Park, New York. They left most of their belongings behind and sent a mover to collect them later.
Demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren were contacted and met with the Lutzes and Father Pecoraro. They visited the house after it was vacated. On their first visit, they brought with them a television anchorman, a professor from Duke University, and the president of the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR). The Warrens determined that the phenomena fit the characteristics of a Demonic Possession, which the Lutzes, who knew nothing of Demonology, could not have fabricated. The Warrens took numerous photographs, including one purporting to show the face of the Demon boy peering out from a bedroom. HANS HOLZER was another investigator. Controversy The Lutzes soon wondered if something wrong about the house itself might have influenced DeFeo to commit the murders. They contacted William Weber, DeFeo’s attorney. Weber was already weighing book offers about the DeFeo murders, and he found the angle of a malevolent haunting to be appealing. For several hours, they discussed ideas for such a book. The Lutzes decided not to work with Weber however. They especially did not like Weber’s intention to give a share of profits to DeFeo. The Lutzes moved to San Diego, California, where they struck a deal with author Jay Anson. Anson’s nonfiction account, The Amityville Horror, was published in 1977. He never visited the house, but based the book on 45 hours of taped interviews that the Lutzes provided him. The book was adapted to film in 1979. The case became a media sensation. Anson’s account was immediately controversial, and skeptics began claiming the entire haunting was a hoax. Discrepancies in Anson’s story—which may have been embellished for the purposes of dramatization—were highlighted. For example, there was no snow in Amityville on the day that the cloven hoofprints were supposed to have been seen. The assertion that part of the problem was due to the house’s location on a place where Shinnecock Indians had once abandoned mentally ill and dying people was refuted by Native Americans. Father Pecoraro said he did not go to the house to bless it; the Lutzes always asserted that he did. Many more points of controversy surfaced. Even the Warrens and George Lutz acknowledged that Anson’s book was not entirely accurate, but attributed it to Anson’s lack of familiarity with Demonology and not due to any deliberate acts on the part of George Lutz. Among the skeptics were Jerry Solfvin of the Psychical Research Foundation, Karlis Osis and Alex Tanous of the ASPR, all of whom visited the house but conducted no investigations, opining that the phenomena were subjective, not paranormal. For years, the case was repeatedly debunked, validated, debunked, and validated. One later skeptic was Stephen Kaplan, a self-styled vampirologist of Long Island, who wrote a book, The Amityville Conspiracy (1995), basing his claims of hoax on inaccuracies in Anson’s book. He declined to produce evidence that he stated he had in his possession. He later apologized publicly to the Warrens, admitting that he had fabricated his hoax story. Kaplan died of a heart attack shortly after publication of his book.
In 1977, the Lutzes filed a lawsuit against Weber and Paul Hoffman, a writer working on the story; Bernard Burton and Frederick Mars, two clairvoyants who had been to the house; and Good Housekeeping, The New York Sunday News, and the Hearst Corporation, which had published articles on the haunting. The Lutzes sought $5.4 million in damages for invasion of privacy, misappropriation of names for trade purposes, and mental distress. Weber, Hoffman, and Burton countersued for $2 million, alleging fraud and breach of contract. The Lutzes’ claims against the news organizations were dropped. The Lutzes’ case went to trial in district court in Brooklyn, New York, in 1979. The judge dismissed their suit, saying that from testimony, “It appears to me that to a large extent the book is a work of fiction, relying in a large part upon the suggestions of Mr. Weber.” The couple who purchased the house from the Lutzes said nothing unusual happened to them. However, they were so annoyed by the publicity and steady stream of curiosity seekers that they sued Anson, the Lutzes, and publisher Prentice Hall for $1.1 million. They received a settlement for an unspecifi ed smaller amount. Father Pecoraro sued the Lutzes and Prentice Hall for invasion of privacy and distortion of his involvement in the case. He received an out-of-court settlement.
The Lutzes stuck to their story for the rest of their lives. Their supporters have pointed out that Anson’s discrepancies do not discredit what happened at the house. The Lutzes divorced in the 1980s. Kathy died of emphysema on August 17, 2004. George, who had moved to Las Vegas, died on May 8, 2006, of heart disease. Anson died of a heart attack in 1980. He had shared copyright for the book with the Lutzes, but retained sole rights to the film. Father Pecoraro is no longer living.
The Amityville case has gone on to become a miniindustry, spawning books, films, articles, and Web sites, as well as endless debate. Books by John G. Jones, Amityville 12 Amityville case II and Amityville: The Final Chapter, changed the names of the principals and added other details. Additional films are Amityville II: The Possession (1982); Amityville 3D (1983); Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (1989, made for television); The Amityville Curse (1990); Amityville 1992: It’s About Time (1992); Amityville: A New Generation (1993); Amityville Dollhouse: Evil Never Dies (1996); and a remake of the original The Amityville Horror (2005).
Anson, Jay. The Amityville Horror. New York: Prentice Hall, 1977. Auerbach, Loyd. ESP, Hauntings and Poltergeists. New York: Warner Books, 1986. “The Warrens Investigate: The Amityville Horror.” Available online. URL: https://www.warrens.net/amityville.htm. Downloaded November 1, 2006. Yancey, Tim. “The Amityville Horror: Interview with George Lutz.” Available online. URL: https://www.amityville horrortruth.com/articles/lutzinterview1.html. Downloaded November 1, 2006.