Long before Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George graced the screen in the glossy big budget 2005 remake of “The Amityville Horror”, James Brolin and Margot Kidder starred as real-life husband and wife George and Kathleen Lutz who after moving into their dream home find themselves terrorized by unseen forces resulting in the family fleeing the house after only 28 days.
The original film from 1979 was based on the novel of the same name by Jay Anson and covers some of the more spectacular encounters with a supernatural entity/entities seemingly stemming from the tragic murders of the DeFeo family at the hands of the eldest son Ronald DeFeo, Jr.
But, is truth stranger than fiction?
This “Historical Haunts” piece takes a look at the true events surrounding “The Amityville Horror”.
The fascinating tale of a house possessed starts with a troubled young man named Ronald “Butch” DeFeo, Jr. who at the age of 23 years old took a rifle and opened fire on his unsuspecting family as they slept in their beds on a stormy night around three in the morning.
Ronald Jr. burst into a local bar on the following evening of the shootings and announced “You gotta help me, I think my mother and father are shot!” A small group of patrons accompanied DeFeo to the family home to discover the horrifying scene. The entire DeFeo family consisting of Ronald Sr (43), Louise (42), Dawn (18), Allison (13), Marc (12), and Matthew (9) had all been shot in their beds. The parents were shot twice while the four children were shot once.
Ronald DeFeo, Jr. was taken into custody by the Suffolk County police for his own protection after DeFeo lied and said he believed the family was killed as a result of a mob hit carried out by a local gangster. The following evening, after several inconsistencies in Ronald’s statements led police to suspect Ronald himself was implicit in the slayings, DeFeo confessed.
DeFeo stood trial on October 14th, 1975 and with the help of his lawyer, he entered a plea of insanity because the voices in his head urged him to kill his family.
DeFeo was convicted on six counts of 2nd degree murder and Judge Thomas Stark sentenced DeFeo to six consecutive sentences of twenty-five years to life ensuring that Ronald DeFeo, Jr. would never see the world outside of the confines of Green Haven correctional facility in Beekman, New York.
A little over a year after the horrible murders of the DeFeo family, a young newlywed couple along with their children from a previous marriage purchased the 6 bedroom home at 112 Ocean Avenue.
George Lutz and his wife Kathleen along with their three children took possession of the home in December of 1975 and fled in fear for their life 28 days later leaving behind their belongings and never returned.
The account of what transpired during those unrelenting 28 days was documented in the Jay Anson novel “The Amityville Horror”.
Some of the experiences of the Lutz family at the house have been described as follows:
- George would wake up around 3:15 every morning and would go out to check the boathouse. Later he would learn that this was the estimated time of the DeFeo killings.
- The house was plagued by swarms of flies despite the winter weather.
- Kathy had vivid nightmares about the murders and discovered the order in which they occurred, and the rooms where they took place. The Lutzes’ children also began sleeping on their stomachs, in the same way that the dead bodies in the DeFeo murders had been found.
- Kathy would feel a sensation as if “being embraced” in a loving manner, by an unseen force.
- Kathy discovered a small hidden room (around four feet by five feet) behind shelving in the basement. The walls were painted red and the room did not appear in the blueprints of the house. The room came to be known as “The Red Room.” This room had a profound effect on their dog Harry, who refused to go near it and cowered as if sensing something negative.
- There were cold spots and odors of perfume and excrement in areas of the house where no wind drafts or piping would explain the source.
- While tending to the fire, George and Kathy saw the image of a demon with half his head blown out. It was burned into the soot in the back of the fireplace.
- The Lutzes’ five-year old daughter, Missy, developed an imaginary friend named “Jodie,” a demonic pig-like creature with glowing red eyes.
- George would be woken up by the sound of the front door slamming. He would race downstairs to find the dog sleeping soundly at the front door. Nobody else heard the sound although it was loud enough to wake the house.
- George would hear what was described as a “German marching band tuning up” or what sounded like a clock radio playing not quite on frequency. When he went downstairs the noise would cease.
- George realized that he bore a strong resemblance to Ronald DeFeo, Jr., and began drinking at The Witches’ Brew, the bar where DeFeo was once a regular customer.
- While checking the boathouse one night, George saw a pair of red eyes looking at him from Missy’s bedroom window. When he went upstairs to her room, there was nothing to be found. Later it was suggested that it could have been “Jodie”.
- While in bed, Kathy received red welts on her chest caused by an unseen force and was levitated two feet off the bed.
- Locks, doors and windows in the house were damaged by an unseen force.
- Cloven hoofprints attributed to an enormous pig appeared in the snow outside the house on January 1, 1976.
- Green slime oozed from walls in the hall, and also from the keyhole of the playroom door in the attic.
- A 12-inch (30 cm) crucifix, hung in a closet by Kathy, revolved until it was upside down and gave off a sour smell.
- George tripped over a four-foot high china lion which was an ornament in the living room, and was left with bite marks on one of his ankles.
- George saw Kathy transform into an old woman of ninety, “the hair wild, a shocking white, the face a mass of wrinkles and ugly lines, and saliva dripping from the toothless mouth.” (Source: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Amityville_Horror)
After the family fled on the 28th night, backlash and skepticism against their claims began almost immediately.
The Lutz family was accused of cashing in on the murders of the DeFeo family and there were many inconsistencies in the revelation of events as described by George and Kathleen individually.
The book deals, the films, interviews and documentaries brought the family, who was struggling financially, a much-needed cash windfall and only served to incite skeptics all the while fascinating a public who were unfamiliar with the goings on behind the scenes.
Ultimately, both George and Kathleen took a polygraph test and both passed. Their claims, by way of lie detector testing, proved to be true. The list of questions asked was not released to the public, only the results leading many skeptics to cry foul.
Only one family knows for certain what transpired during those 28 nights at 112 Ocean Drive. Kathleen Lutz died in 2005 around the release of the remake of the original film leading people to believe that a curse continued to plague the family. The fact that Kathleen succumbed to cancer and had been in poor health for over a year prior to her passing did little to allay the public fascination with the case.
The Lutz children, now adults, have refused to speak publicly about the events letting the books and films speak on their behalf.
The house at 112 Ocean Drive still stands to this day and is happily occupied by an anonymous family who is pleased to report that nothing of a paranormal nature has ever transpired and they would be thrilled if gawkers and onlookers would simply, like the Lutz family that once occupied the home before them, go away.