The house still stands on Ocean Avenue in the town of Amityville, on the south shore of Long Island. A suburb of New York City, it’s still a quaint place whose name means “friendship.” Yet thanks to the events in this house, the town has acquired a very different reputation.
In November 1974, six members of the DeFeo family were shot to death in their beds as they slept. The oldest son, Ronnie, was convicted of the murders and is currently serving consecutive life sentences – one for each family member who died that night.
Thirteen months later, a young family with three small children moved into the house just before Christmas 1975. George and Kathy Lutz had recently married, and needed room for themselves and the children (Kathy’s, from a previous marriage.) After only twenty-eight days the Lutzes fled, never to return. They claimed to have had terrifying experiences in the house and to have feared for their safety. Cold spots, disembodied screams, sounds of footsteps in empty rooms, and slamming doors (later found to be securely locked) were common. None of the Lutzes would ever comment on the final events that caused them to leave the house, claiming it was simply too upsetting to relive.
George and Kathy tried to keep all of this away from the children as much as possible while contacting paranormal investigators. Some did not seem very professional. One notified the local newspaper that he intended to investigate the haunting at the DeFeo murder house, despite George’s wish to keep the situation private. Incensed, George held a press conference for damage control and later informed that investigator that his services were no longer required.
Through inquiries at Duke University, the Lutzes were put in touch with Ed and Lorraine Warren. The Warrens had investigated many haunted houses over the years, often finding mundane explanations for the disturbances but sometimes identifying and dealing with earthbound spirits. In addition to ghosts, the spirits of deceased humans, they were also familiar with demons, powerful evil entities that have never walked the earth in human form. While Lorraine is gifted with the ability to sense spirit presences, until his death in 2006 Ed specialized in demonology and collecting evidence required for a Roman Catholic exorcism to take place.
When asked whether she believed the Lutzes’ claims of a haunting, Lorraine Warren said she believed George was frightened. He agreed to meet with them at another location in order to give them the keys to the house, and asked them to bring out the deed because he would not go there again. The Warrens visited the house in February 1976, two months after the Lutzes had fled. They found it still decorated for Christmas, with personal possessions and photo albums lying out in plain view as though the family had just stepped out – or left hurriedly, without stopping to pick up anything on the way. She believed they had, as they said, fled in terror and refused to return.
George and Kathy made tape recordings of their memories of their time in that house. Since the neighbors heard distorted rumors of the haunting and most thought the Lutzes were telling a tall tale, George and Kathy decided to tell their side of the story. They gave the tapes to author Jay Anson and he used them as a basis for the first book on the subject, titled "The Amityville Horror: A True Story." The title was ironic, as Anson took great liberties with the accounts given to him. He unabashedly admitted that he had changed events in order to make a better story, as he wanted to write a bestseller and retire. Though he achieved his goal to write a bestseller, he did not live long enough to retire or to enjoy his fame. Jay Anson died suddenly of a heart attack in the spring of 1980, only two years after his book was published.
NEXT: The investigations