House in Amityville, Long Island, New York, where a family experienced horrifying phenomena in the 1970s. The Amityville Horror® was deemed Demonic by Ed and Lorraine Warren. The case remains one of the most controversial on modern records and has been the subject of numerous investigations, claims and counterclaims, lawsuits, books and films, intense publicity, and attempts to debunk it. The haunting phenomena of the house at 112 Ocean Street are believed to be related to 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 rifle. Their estimated time of death was 3:00 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 house was empty until December 1975, when it was purchased by newlyweds, George and Kathy Lutz. They were informed of the murders but bought the house anyway. They moved in on December 18, with Kathy’s three children by a previous marriage: Daniel, nine; Christopher, seven; and Melissa, five. According to the Lutzes, they immediately experienced 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 could not 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 that happened on their last terror-filled night, but among the phenomena were bangings and a 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.
In late February, Ed and Lorraine Warren were contacted by a New York City television producer, who asked them to check the house and story. Parapsychologists and psychical researchers had gone to the house, but what happened there remained a mystery. The producer asked the Warrens to hold a Séance at the house. The Warrens visited the Lutzes where they were staying and obtained keys. The Lutzes refused to reenter the house but asked the Warrens to find and take the deed to them.
On their walk-through, the Warrens found a house evacuated in a hurry. A gingerbread house from Christmas still sat on the dining room table. Laundry was folded, and the freezer was stocked with food. Clothing, jewelry, family photos, and other personal belongings were left in place.
The Warrens conducted a Séance and then returned at a later time to conduct a nighttime Séance for television. In attendance were 17 people, including two trance mediums, Alberta Riley and Mary Pascarella. Prior to the start of the Séance, Ed used religious provocation to test for the presence of Demons. Approximately half the persons present were physically assaulted. Ed suffered from intense heart palpitations, which affected him for three weeks.
After returning home to Connecticut, the Warrens said they were assaulted by a Demonic force at about 3:00 a.m. Details of the attack were published in their autobiography, The Demonologist (1980).
The malevolent presence first assaulted Ed, who was working alone in his office in a cottage attached to the main house. He heard the door open and three footsteps sound. At first, he thought it was Lorraine giving him coffee. Then a howling wind started, building in intensity. The desk lamp dimmed and the temperature in the room plummeted. A smell of sulfur manifested.
Ed armed himself with a vial of holy water and a crucifix and found himself confronted by a triangular, swirling black mass, broad at the top and pointed at the bottom. The mass grew denser, transforming itself into a horrible, hooded figure that moved aggressively toward him. Ed threw the holy water at it and held up the crucifix, commanding it to leave in the name of Jesus Christ. The Demon backed off but transmitted an image to Ed of him and Lorraine involved in a deadly automobile accident. It departed.
The Demon then visited Lorraine, who was reading in bed with their two dogs present. A loud pounding sounded and the temperature in the room dropped. The sound of wind rose up the stairs. The Demon entered the room, and Lorraine was paralyzed, unable to react or scream. She felt herself being drawn into the black mass. She was able to break the paralysis and called out to God for protection. She made the sign of the cross in the air; that stopped the mass from advancing, but it did not depart the home. Ed ran in, and the mass left, going into the next room and up the chimney.
The Demonic encounter was not the first that the Warrens said they experienced while pursuing their investigations of places such as the Amityville house. The Warrens determined that the events at Amityville were Demonic phenomena, 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.
The Lutzes wondered whether something wrong about the house itself might have influenced DeFeo to commit the murders. They moved to San Diego, California, where they struck a deal with the author Jay Anson to write a book. The Amityville Horror was published in 1977 and was adapted to film in 1979. Anson never visited the house but wrote the book from taped interviews. It contained numerous errors and embellishments but became a media sensation.
Skeptics used the errors as a way to try to debunk the case. There was no snow in Amityville on the day that the cloven hoofprints were supposed to have been seen. Native Americans refuted Anson’s 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. Father Pecoraro said he did not go to the house to bless it (Lutz 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 any deliberate acts by George Lutz. For years, the case was repeatedly debunked, validated, debunked, and validated. In 1977, the Lutzes filed a lawsuit against William Weber, DeFeo’s attorney, 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 the publisher Prentice Hall for $1.1 million. They received a settlement for an unspecified lesser amount. Father Pecoraro, who was consulted by the Lutzes for help, 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. They 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. Father Pecoraro is no longer living. The Amityville case has gone on to become a miniindustry, spawning books, films, articles, and Web sites, and endless debates. Books by John G. Jones, Amityville II and Amityville: The Final Chapter, changed the names of the principles 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.
- Brittle, Gerald Daniel. The Demonologist: The Extraordinary Career of Ed and Lorraine Warren. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1980.
- “The Warrens Investigate: The Amityville Horror.” Available online. URL: https://www.warrens.net/amityvill.htm. Downloaded November 1, 2006.
- Yancey, Tim. “The Amityville Horror: Interview with George Lutz.” Available online. URL: https://www.amityvillehorror truth.com/articles/lutzinterview1.html. Downloaded November 1, 2006.
The Amityville haunting is a particularly famous haunted-house story, thanks to its depiction in popular books and movies. However, there is much doubt regarding whether this haunting took place as depicted or even at all. If accounts are true, the haunting occurred in 1975 in Amityville, New York, in a three-story house where a gruesome murder had been committed the previous year.
The haunting supposedly began shortly after Kathy and George Lutz and their three children moved into this home. At first they experienced poltergeist activity that included banging doors and windows and mysterious noises. Then the activity apparently escalated to include physical contact; some members of the Lutz family claimed to have been pushed, pinched, and beaten, and Kathy Lutz reported that on one occasion she was levitated off a bed. In addition, the family said that green slime had dripped from a ceiling and that insects would gather in certain areas of the house for no discernable reason. Just twenty-eight days after moving into the house, the Lutzes abandoned it. They then called Ed and Lorraine Warren from Connecticut, who claimed to be able to contact the spirits of the dead. The Warrens conducted a séance and later said that the house was indeed possessed by some kind of evil spirit.
This was exactly the claim that Ronald DeFeo Jr., who had murdered his parents and four siblings inside the house, had made at his trial. DeFeo had pleaded insanity, insisting that a ghost had forced him to commit the murders. A jury, however, believed the motivation suggested by the prosecutor: that DeFeo simply wanted his parents’ life insurance money. As a result, DeFeo was convicted on six counts of second-degree murder.
Those who question whether the house was actually haunted point out that George and Kathy Lutz not only knew DeFeo’s story, but they had also discussed it with DeFeo’s attorney, William Weber. In 1979 Weber, believing this discussion had inspired the Lutzes to fake the haunting in order to profit from it, sued for a portion of the money they earned from media appearances, a book deal, and a movie deal. The Warrens were also accused of being involved in the scam since the couple had profited by working as consultants to the producers of one of the many films about the incident and by making numerous public appearances to promote the film.
The next residents of the Amityville house also sued the Lutzes and both the publisher and author of the book about the haunting, saying that the Lutzes had damaged their quality of life by turning their new home into a tourist attraction.
These new residents had experienced no poltergeist activity at all, so they believed that the Amityville haunting had been a hoax. Other people came forward to support this view, pointing out inconsistencies in the Lutzes’ story. For example, the Lutzes had said that after fleeing the house on a particular date, they never went back, but a neighbor revealed that the Lutzes had held a garage sale at the house the day after they “left.” In addition, several psychic researchers who had investigated the haunting could find no proof that any poltergeist activity had actually taken place there. Eventually William Weber won his lawsuit, and the new owners received a settlement in exchange for dropping their legal action.
- haunted houses and other structures;
- hoaxes and frauds;
The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning