That famously haunted house in Amityville, Long Island has spawned one of the most successful horror franchises of all time. The classic The Amityville Horror was released in 1979. Since then, no fewer than 17 Amityville movies have been released, the most recent, Amityville: The Awakening, in 2017.
But it’s important to remember that it all began with a real house, a real family, and a real tragedy: the Amityville shooting.
Ronald DeFeo Sr., his wife Louise, and their five children moved into 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville in 1965. A decade later, the image of that handsome Dutch Colonial home would forever be associated with horror.
DeFeo was a car salesman. From the outside, the DeFeos seemed a happy, affluent suburban family. But DeFeo was reportedly a domineering father, and the chief target of his temper was his oldest son and namesake, Ronald DeFeo, Jr, who went by Butch. Butch DeFeo became withdrawn as he grew. At school, he was bullied. By the time he was 17, he was using LSD and heroin.
As he got bigger, he became physically aggressive. His parents tried psychiatrists, then resorted to bribes, offering him expensive gifts. When he was 18 he went to work for his father at the car dealership.
On November 13, 1974, Butch DeFeo, then 23, ran into Henry’s Bar in Amityville shouting that his parents had been shot. It was not just his parents. The entire family was dead. Ronald DeFeo Sr, 44, and Louise DeFeo, 42, had been killed with two shots each from a rifle. Butch’s four siblings — Dawn, 18, Allison, 13, Marc, 12, John, 9 — had been killed with single shots from the same gun. All were found face down in their beds.
Butch’s uncle was a member of the Genovese crime family, and, at first, Butch claimed it was a Mafia hit. But Butch’s story quickly unraveled. Finally, he confessed, saying “Once I started, I couldn’t stop. It went so fast.” He is currently serving six concurrent sentences of 25 years to life.
Despite his confession, Butch’s stated motive has changed frequently. Sometimes, his drug use has been blamed. Others have suggested that Butch heard the voices of his family in his head, plotting to kill him. Less charitable interpretations have suggested that Butch was after the life insurance policies on his parents.
A year after the murders, George and Kathy Lutz moved into the house at 112 Ocean Avenue with their three children. It is the supposedly true story of the supernatural horrors they experienced in the house that became the subject of the book by Jay Anson that was the basis of the first movie.
The real house appears on the cover of Anson’s book. The movie was shot in another house nearby in Tom’s River, New Jersey. But a superstructure was added to the house to give it the same appearance as the DeFeos home with those two now iconic quarter-round windows at the top.
Watch the 2005 remake of The Amityville Horror on HBO.
Featured photo: Bettmann / Getty Images; Additional photo: Alchetron