Killed the six family members with a
.35 caliber rifle.
In court he testified to being possessed by Satan whom he blamed for
Ronnie DeFeo shot and killed the six
family members at 3:15 a.m. on the morning of November 13, 1974 with a
.35 caliber rifle.
In court he testified to being possessed by Satan
whom he blamed for the murders. The house itself, located in Amityville,
New York, was believed to be under demonic attack. When the new owners
of the house started seeing signs of demonic possession, they fled the
house in complete terror and fear, never to return to it again. Later,
it all turned out to be a publicity seeking hoax.
The house was rumored to have been torn
down, but it was just a remodelling project. The most recent owners, a
family of five, are very happy in the house and have not experienced any
paranormal activity. On a lighter note, the DeFeo murders and its
subsequent haunting became part of pop culture with the brilliant "Amityville
Horror" film series.
Ronald Joseph "Butch" DeFeo, Jr.
(born September 26, 1951) is an American murderer. He was tried and
convicted for the 1974 killings of his father, mother, two brothers and
two sisters. The case is notable for being the real life inspiration
behind the book and film versions of The Amityville Horror.
of the DeFeo family
At around 6:30 on the evening of November 13, 1974,
23-year-old Ronald DeFeo, Jr. burst into Henry's Bar in Amityville, Long
Island, New York and declared: "You got to help me! I think my mother
and father are shot!" DeFeo and a small group of people went to 112
Ocean Avenue, which was located not far from the bar, and found that
DeFeo's parents were indeed dead. One of the group, Joe Yeswit, made an
emergency call to the Suffolk County Police, who searched the house and
found that six members of the same family were dead in their beds.
The victims were car dealer Ronald DeFeo, Sr. (43),
Louise DeFeo (42), and four of their children: Dawn (18); Allison (13);
Marc (12); and John Matthew (9). All of the victims had been shot with a
.35 caliber lever action Marlin 336C rifle at around three o'clock in
the morning of that day. DeFeo's parents had both been shot twice, while
the children had all been killed with single shots. Louise DeFeo and her
daughter Allison were reportedly the only victims who were awakened by
the gunfire at the time of their deaths, but according to Suffolk County
Police the victims were all found lying on their stomachs in bed. The
DeFeo family had occupied 112 Ocean Avenue since purchasing it in 1965.
The murdered members of the DeFeo family are buried in nearby Saint
Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale.
Ronald DeFeo, Jr. was the eldest son of the family,
and was also known as "Butch". He was taken to the local police station
for his own protection after suggesting to police officers at the scene
of the crime that the killings had been carried out by a mob hit man
named Louis Falini. However, an interview with DeFeo at the station soon
exposed serious inconsistencies in his version of events, and the
following day he confessed to carrying out the killings himself. He told
detectives: "Once I started, I just couldn’t stop. It went so fast."
DeFeo admitted that he had taken a bath, redressed, and discarded
crucial evidence like blood-stained clothes, the Marlin rifle and
cartridges on his way to work as usual.
Trial and conviction
DeFeo's trial began on October 14,
1975. He and his defense lawyer William Weber mounted an affirmative
defense of insanity, with DeFeo claiming that voices in his head had
urged him to carry out the killings. The insanity plea was supported by
the psychiatrist for the defense, Dr. Daniel Schwartz. The psychiatrist
for the prosecution, Dr. Harold Zolan, maintained that although DeFeo
was an abuser of heroin and LSD, he had antisocial personality disorder
and was aware of his actions at the time of the crime.
On November 21, 1975, DeFeo was found guilty on six
counts of second-degree murder. On December 4, 1975, Judge Thomas Stark
sentenced Ronald DeFeo, Jr. to six consecutive sentences of 25 years to
DeFeo is currently held in Green Haven Correctional
Facility, Beekman, New York, and all of his appeals to the parole board
to date have been turned down.
Controversies surrounding the case
All six of the victims were found lying face down in
their beds with no signs of a struggle or sedatives having been
administered, leading to speculation that someone in the house should
have been awakened by the noise of the gunshots. Neighbors did not
report hearing any gunshots being fired. The police investigation
concluded that the victims had been asleep at the time of the murders,
and that the rifle had not been fitted with a suppressor. Police
officers and the medical examiner who attended the scene were initially
puzzled by the rapidity and scale of the killings, and considered the
possibility that more than one person had been responsible for the crime.
During his time in jail, Ronald DeFeo has given several accounts of how
the killings were carried out, all of them inconsistent. In a 1986
interview, he claimed that his mother was responsible for the shootings,
which was dismissed as "preposterous" by a former Suffolk County
On November 30, 2000, Ronald DeFeo met with Ric
Osuna, the author of The Night the DeFeos Died, which was
published in 2002. According to Osuna, DeFeo claimed that he had
committed the murders with his sister Dawn and two unnamed friends "out
of desperation". He claimed that after a furious row with his father, he
and his sister planned to kill their parents, and that Dawn murdered the
children in order to eliminate them as witnesses. He said that he was
enraged on discovering his sister's actions, knocked her unconscious on
to her bed and shot her in the head. It has been reported that during
the original police investigation, traces of gunpowder were found on
Dawn's nightgown, indicating that she may have discharged a firearm.
This line of inquiry was not pursued after Ronald DeFeo's confession.
Attempts to contact the two alleged accomplices have
failed, since one died in January 2001 and the other is said to have
entered a witness protection program. Ronald DeFeo, Jr. had a stormy
relationship with his father, but why he killed the entire family
remains unclear. The prosecution at his trial suggested that the motive
for the murders was to collect on the life insurance policies of his
Joe Nickell notes that given the frequency with which
Ronald DeFeo has changed his story over the years, any new claims from
him regarding the events that took place on the night of the murders
should be approached with caution. In a letter to the radio show host
Lou Gentile, DeFeo has denied giving Ric Osuna information that could be
used in his book.
Ric Osuna's book, as of summer 2010, is being adapted
into a docudrama entitled Shattered Hopes: The True Story of the
Amityville Murders. The film, written, directed and produced by Ryan
Katzenbach and featuring narration by veteran actor Ed Asner, examines
all aspects of the Amityville case with a strong focus on the DeFeo
family and the events surrounding their murders.
In an interview for Newsday, Ronald DeFeo, Jr., after
claiming that his sister killed their father, then their distraught
mother killed the sister before DeFeo, Jr., killed his mother, he stated
that he was in fear of his mother's father, Michael Brigante, Sr., and
his father's uncle. His father's uncle was Pete DeFeo, a caporegime
in the Genovese crime family.
The book and film versions linked to the murders
Jay Anson's novel The Amityville Horror was
published in September 1977. The book is based on the 28-day period
during December 1975 and January 1976 when George and Kathy Lutz and
their three children lived at 112 Ocean Avenue. The Lutz family left the
house, claiming that they had been terrorized by paranormal phenomena
while living there.
The 1982 film Amityville II: The Possession is
based on the book Murder in Amityville by parapsychologist Hans
Holzer. It is a prequel set at 112 Ocean Avenue, featuring the fictional
Montelli family who are said to be based on the DeFeo family. The story
introduces speculative and controversial themes, including an incestuous
relationship between Sonny Montelli and his teenaged sister, who are
based loosely on Ronald DeFeo, Jr. and his sister Dawn.
The Hollywood film versions of the DeFeo murders
contain several inaccuracies. The 2005 remake of The Amityville
Horror contains a fictional child character called Jodie DeFeo, who
was not a victim of the shootings in November 1974. The claim that
Ronald DeFeo, Jr. was influenced to commit the murders by spirits from a
Native American burial ground on the site of 112 Ocean Avenue has been
rejected by local historians and Native American leaders, who argue that
there is insufficient evidence to support the claim that the burial
Ronald DeFeo Jr.
Well, this story begins on November 13,
1974, with a crazy guy running into a bar, screaming that his entire
family has just been killed. So the when police where called they went
out to the bar to check it out. When they arrived they asked the young
man in question what was going on, he replied that "they had got
his mum and dad."
When the cops did a quick walk through of
the house, it seems the guy had underestimated "them". There
were six bodies. When identified they were found to be Ronald DeFeo Sr.,
his wife, Louise, their daughters Dawn, 18, and Allison, 13, and their
sons Mark, 12, and John, 7. And the guy who had lead to this find was
Ronald jr, 23, the sole survivor of the family.
Once police began questioning Ronald jr.,
who preferred to be called 'Butch' (as he repeatedly pointed out) he
told them a pretty amusing story. It seems that two weeks earlier Butch
was taking the family's business's money to the bank when he was robbed
by a known mobster, Louis Falini.
Butch said that his father was in deep
with the mob. Anyway, when he broke the news of his run in with the
mobster, his father called him a liar, and accused Butch of stealing the
money himself. One would think this caused a little friction in the
So onto the day of the murders. Butch
spend most of the day drinking. He had some friends around to the house
earlier in the day for a bit of a piss-up, and then later that night
turned up at a bar, continuing his drinking. As he left the bar to go
home he made a point of saying that he'd left his keys at home, and
would have to brake in. Well an hour or so later Butch came bursting
back into the bar, and you know the rest.
So while Butch was giving this version of
events Police were checking out the guy with his friends. It didn't take
long to work out who was the main suspect in the case. They were told he
was a bit of a nutter, and his main passion were guns. In fact, when
police checked out his room, they found an empty cardboard box for a
Marlin .35 rifle. Butch was held a little longer until it was confirmed
how the family members were killed. I'm sure you can figure this one out
from here. Yep, all were killed by a bullet in the head from nothing
other than a Marlin .35 rifle.
From about this point on Butch started
inventing some crazy fuckin stories about how the family were killed,
and following his actual arrest he begun to act very crazy. So it's no
surprise that around one year later when his trial started, he decided
to plead insanity. It nearly worked too, but unfortunately the judge and
jury seen through it and he was found guilty.
He was sentenced to 25 to life six times,
but because of a bizarre law all the murders were counted as one, so he
is serving all six sentences concurrently, meaning he should already be
up for parole now. You just gotta love the U.S. justice system.
So this is where DeFeo became known. The
house, known as 'High Hopes', was bought by a stupid family who thought
it was haunted and were finally scared off less than a year after moving
in. They then sold the story of the 'haunted house' and it became
probably the most famous of our era. The book written on the place was
called The Amityville Horror. It was later turned into a film that
scared the fuck out of a lot of people and spawned a couple of shitty
The Wacky World of Murder
Six in family found slain in bedroom
The New York Times
November 14, 1974
A Well-to-do car
dealer, his wife and four of his five children were found murdered in
their beds tonight here on Long Island's South Shore.
The police said that their bodies
were discovered in their home at 112 Ocean Avenue by the oldest son,
Ronald Jr. 23, at about 6:15 P.M. He had just returned home from
business, the police said.
Surviving son held in slayings of 6
The New York Times
November 15, 1974
The Suffolk County
police announced tonight that they had arrested 23-year-old Ronald DeFeo
and charged him with murdering his parents and four brothers and sisters
Tuesday night at the family home in Amityville.
Robert C. Rapp, the Suffolk Deputy
Police Commissioner, declined to comment when asked to whether Mr. DeFeo
had given a statement to the police.
L. I. slayings suspect had used drugs
The New York Times
November 16, 1974
Ronald DeFeo Jr. was
under a special narcotics probation when he allegedly murdered all six
members of his family Tuesday night in Amityville, L. I., the police
"Nothing indicated he could have
resorted to violence of this kind," William Benjamin, principal officer
of Suffolk County's Babylon Probation Office, said today in recalling Mr.
DeFeo's conviction for stealing a $1,750 outboard motor last September.
Last April his girl friend turned
him in as a drug user and the probation was enlarged to include drug
Amityville killers wins case in jail
Philadelphia Daily News
October 3, 1984
Horror" murderer Ronald DeFeo has been awarded $300 in damages from the
state because he was locked in his prison cell for five days last
State Court of Claims Judge Thomas
Lowery ruled yesterday DeFeo suffered mental anguish from the experience
in the Auburn Correctional Facility.
Amityville Horror Killer asks re-trial
Philadelphia Daily News
June 23, 1992
The man convicted 17
years ago of killing six family members in the house that inspired "The
Amityville Horror" book and movie asked for a new trial yesterday.
Ronald DeFeo Jr. claimed in court
papers that his 18-year-old sister, Dawn, killed the other relatives and
then he fatally shot her in a rage after discovering the bodies.
Six murders on Ocean Avenue
In the middle of the night of Nov. 13, 1974, a 23-year-old, disaffected,
recovering teenager, Ronald (Butch) DeFeo Jr., who by using drugs,
stealing outboard motors and posturing pathetically in a local saloon
already had demonstrated that he was hell-bent on becoming a loser,
sneaked around the rooms of his parents' handsome Dutch Colonial house
at 112 Ocean Ave. in Amityville, brandishing a .35-cal. rifle, with
which he shot to death every member of his immediate family: father,
mother, two brothers and two sisters. His siblings were 18, 13, 12 and
Later that evening, DeFeo presented himself to
persons familiar with him two blocks north, at a bar then called Henry's,
on the corner of Merrick Road and Ocean Avenue, where he announced with
melodramatic anguish that he had happened upon a horrible murder scene
in his house. A friend and several patrons visited the house and could
not believe what they saw. They summoned the Amityville police, who
summoned the homicide squad of the Suffolk County Police Department.
Because of the DeFeo family's size and the range of
ages of the children - this in a 2 1/2-square-mile, notoriously insular
village - nearly everybody in Amityville felt connected in one or
another way to the DeFeo family, through kids, teachers, shoe store
proprietors, auto mechanics or St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church.
My late father, Lt. Ed Lowe, was second in command of
the village police department at the time, and thus was charged with
maintaining the crime scene. A classmate of mine from high school was
the DeFeo family's favorite priest and confessor. And because I was
something of a saloonist myself, I knew both the partners and the
patrons of Henry's, whom I quietly introduced to the Newsday police
reporter covering the story.
Assigned to Newsday's Nassau County office, and with
the crime having occurred one-eighth of a mile into Suffolk, I was
spared from officially having to work on the story as a reporter.
Unprofessional as it may seem, I felt lucky to avoid the certain
animosity of my neighbors.
Because of collectively felt hurt and humiliation,
the media invariably becomes the enemy of an otherwise quiet and tight-knit
place at the time of so spectacular a tragedy, though the neighbors
understandably are even more curious than the rest of the world about
what actually happened.
But no one could have predicted how the antipathy
would escalate and how the story would become twisted, nor how
protracted and ultimately global the media assault would be.
My luck finally ran out with this assignment, to
review what would have been merely one of the most horrific true-crime
stories in the history of Long Island, but which instead became buried
under the hoopla and folderol of "The Amityville Horror - A True Story,"
among the nation's most commercially successful scams.
Despite self-serving protestations that DeFeo had
heard mystical voices and only followed their phantasmagorical orders to
kill, the State of New York convicted him in 1975 and he was sentenced
to serve six consecutive 25-year prison terms, or 150 years, for the
Under normally abnormal circumstances, that would
have been the gruesome end of it. But in December, 1975, George and
Kathy Lutz - he a land surveyor whose business had just declared
bankruptcy - suddenly bought the DeFeo house for roughly the market
value, $80,000, a figure mysteriously above their means. They lived in
the house for 28 days, during which time they never once called the
Amityville Police Department, and after which they held a press
conference, of all things, at which they claimed to be abandoning the
place in terror of its demons.
Previously, they had registered no complaints about
so much as a creaky floorboard (let alone a free-floating, window-peeping
piggy's head, a violently unhinged front door, swarms of carnivorous
flies or an ominously whispering, disembodied voice).
For months, neighbors and residents of Amityville
periodically witnessed visitations alternately as bizarre as they were
comedic, as ghost-hunters from all over the country - some wearing tweed
suits and carrying notepads, others wearing flowing black robes and
wielding medieval scepters - paraded about the house and yard,
occasionally chanting incantations and even prying off shingles,
presumably for future psychic analysis.
And we in Amityville thought that was annoying. The
Lutzes moved to California. People wondered how they could afford to do
"The Amityville Horror - A True Story" was published
in 1977, by Prentice-Hall. A pedestrian piece of imitative fiction
penned by the late soap-opera writer Jay Anson, it included a series of
episodic scenes reminiscent of recently successful horror films, notably
"The Exorcist," with its projectile vomiting, ominous voices, visiting
swarms of flies and scenes of doors being violently ripped off their
hinges, presumably in full view of anybody living across the street.
Aside from the Lutzes, only one true name was
included in the book, that of Amityville Police Sgt. Pat Cammarato, who
threatened to sue after he saw it, so that future editions of the book
referred to his fictional counterpart as Pat Zammarato.
Still, with its jacket emblazoned with the words, "A
True Story" - in blood red, of course - the book invaded the nonfiction
sections of stores and libraries and sold out everywhere across the
country. New hordes of people descended on Amityville: unofficial ghost-hunters,
curiosity hounds, believing and disbelieving readers, and obnoxious
Meanwhile, the house had traded again, for $55,000 -
the reduction in price due to the notoriety - but after a year or two,
and especially after the release of the movie starring James Brolin and
Margot Kidder, the new owners moved out. Amityville saw the entire
country, and later emissaries from the world, through a prism of mass
hysteria and unfathomable stupidity.
Friends of mine bought the house but sold out, too,
because it seemed the harassment would never end. As recently as last
Halloween, a local radio station offered prizes to any listener with the
gall to knock on the door of the house while simultaneously talking to
the radio DJ on a cell phone. When a protective next-door neighbor
intervened, he involuntarily wound up on-air as "the angry neighbor," a
character in a cruelly intrusive would-be comedy bit.
Always, hopelessly obscured in all the hype and media
madness was this: Dawn DeFeo would be about 42, had she lived; her
sister, Allison, 37; brothers Mark, 36, and John, 31. By now they might
all have provided their parents, Ronald and Louise, with grandchildren.
They might own other houses in Amityville. Instead, Ronald DeFeo
murdered them, and their memory has been all but lost to our collective
and evidently boundless fascination with events that never happened.
Amityville Horror: The Tragic Murder of the Ronald De Feo Family
By Douglass B. Lynott
Frantic Phone Call
It was another routine
evening at the Suffolk County, NY, emergency dispatch switchboard.
Calls had not been pouring in, and anyways, this placid New York City
suburb scarcely had any crime to complain of, at least by City standards.
Suddenly, at 6:35 p. m., the calm was destroyed by a phone call that
would shatter the safe suburban aura that pervaded the county.
Transcripts from the conversation demonstrate the caller’s rattled
composure as he tried to relate to an operator the horrifying scene he
and his friends had been led to:
Operator: This is
Suffolk County Police. May I help you?"
Man: "We have a shooting here. Uh, DeFeo."
Operator: "Sir, what is your name?"
Man: "Joey Yeswit."
Operator: "Can you spell that?"
Man: "Yeah. Y-E-S W I T."
Operator: "Y-E-S . .
Operator: ". . . W-I-T. Your phone number?"
Man: "I don't even know if it's here. There's, uh, I don't have a
phone number here."
Operator: "Okay, where you calling from?"
Man: "It's in Amityville. Call up the Amityville Police, and it's
right off, uh . . .Ocean Avenue in Amityville."
Man: "Ocean Avenue. What the ... ?"
Operator: "Ocean ... Avenue? Offa where?"
Man: "It's right off Merrick Road. Ocean Avenue."
Operator: "Merrick Road. What's ... what's the problem, Sir?"
Man: "It's a shooting!"
Operator: "There's a shooting. Anybody hurt?"
Operator: "Anybody hurt?"
Man: "Yeah, it's uh, uh -- everybody's dead."
Operator: "Whattaya mean, everybody's dead?"
Man: "I don't know what happened. Kid come running in the bar. He
says everybody in the family was killed, and we came down here."
Operator: "Hold on a second, Sir."
(Police Officer now takes over call)
Police Officer: "Hello."
Police Officer: "What's your name?"
Man: "My name is Joe Yeswit."
Police Officer: "George Edwards?"
Man: "Joe Yeswit."
Police Officer: "How do you spell it?"
Man: "What? I just ... How many times do I have to tell
Police Officer: "Where're you at?"
Man: "I'm on Ocean Avenue.
Police Officer: "What number?"
Man: "I don't have a number here. There's no number on the phone.
Police Officer: "What number on the house?"
Man: "I don't even know that."
Police Officer: "Where're you at? Ocean Avenue and what?"
Man: "In Amityville. Call up the Amityville Police and have
someone come down here. They know the family."
Police Officer: "Amityville."
Man: "Yeah, Amityville."
Police Officer: "Okay. Now, tell me what's wrong."
Man: "I don't know. Guy come running in the bar. Guy come running
in the bar and said there -- his mother and father are shot. We ran down
to his house and everybody in the house is shot. I don't know how long,
you know. So, uh . . ."
Police Officer: "Uh, what's the add ... what's the address of the
Man: "Uh, hold on. Let me go look up the number. All right. Hold
on. One-twelve Ocean Avenue, Amityville."
Police Officer: "Is that Amityville or North Amityville?"
Man: "Amityville. Right on ... south of Merrick Road."
Police Officer: "Is it right in the village limits?"
Man: "It's in the village limits, yeah."
Police Officer: "Eh, okay, what's your phone number?"
Man: "I don't even have one. There's no number on the phone. "
Police Officer: "All right, where're you calling from? Public
Man: "No, I'm calling right from the house, because I don't see a
number on the phone."
Police Officer: "You're at the house itself?"
Police Officer: "How many bodies are there?"
Man: "I think, uh, I don't know -- uh, I think they said four."
Police Officer: "There's four?"
Police Officer: "All right, you stay right there at the house,
and I'll call the Amityville Village P.D., and they'll come down."
By the end of the evening,
police investigators would find an additional two bodies, bringing the
Ocean Avenue death toll to six. Six of seven members of the Ronald
DeFeo family had been methodically murdered as they slept in their beds,
leaving Ronald DeFeo, Jr., as the sole survivor of the grisly suburban
Rage and Resentment
Ronald DeFeo, Sr., had
attained a trophy-size piece of the American dream when he purchased the
house at 112 Ocean Boulevard in Amityville, Long Island. Having been
born and raised in Brooklyn, Ronald had worked hard in his father-in-law’s
Brooklyn Buick dealership, and after many years began to reap rich
benefits. Money was no longer a concern when he finally made the
decision to leave the City and move to Long Island. The home he chose
was a classic piece of Americana, two stories plus an attic, several
rooms, and a boathouse on the Amityville River. There was plenty of
room for him, his wife Louise, and four children. A signpost in the
front yard read “High Hopes,” a testament to what the new home had
symbolized for the DeFeos.
But beneath the veneer of
success and happiness, Ronald was a hot-tempered man, given to bouts of
rage and violence. There were stormy fights between him and Louise, and
he loomed before his children as a demanding authority figure. As the
eldest child, Ronald, Jr., bore the brunt of his father’s temper and
expectations. As a young boy, Ronald, Jr., or Butch as he would come to
be called, was overweight and sullen, the victim of schoolyard taunts
and unpopular with other children. His father encouraged him to stick
up for himself, but while his advice pertained to the treatment of
schoolyard bullies, it apparently did not apply to how young Ronald was
treated at home. Ronald, Sr., had no tolerance for backtalk and
disobedience, keeping his eldest son on a short leash, and refusing to
let him stand up for himself the way he was commanded to at school.
As Butch matured into
adolescence, he gained in size and strength, and was no longer a sitting
duck for his father’s abuse. Shouting matches often degenerated into
boxing matches, as father and son came to blows with little provocation.
While Ronald, Sr. was not highly skilled in the art of interpersonal
relations, he was astute enough to realize that his son’s bouts of
temper and violent behavior were highly irregular, even in relation to
his own. He and his wife arranged for their son to visit a psychiatrist,
but to no avail as Butch simply employed a passive-aggressive stance
with his therapist, and rejected any notion that he himself needed help.
In the absence of any
other solution, the DeFeos employed a time-honored strategy for
placating unruly children: they started buying Butch anything he wanted
and giving him money. At the age of 14, his father presented him with a
$14,000 speedboat to cruise the Amityville River. Whenever Butch wanted
money, all he had to do was ask, and if he wasn’t in the mood to ask, he
simply took it.
By the age of 17, Butch
was forced to leave the parochial school he was attending. By this time
he had begun using serious drugs such as heroin and LSD and had also
started dabbling in petty thievery schemes. His violent behavior was
becoming increasingly psychotic as well, and was not confined to
outbursts within his home. One afternoon while out on a hunting trip
with some friends, he pointed his loaded rifle at a member of their
party, a young man he had known for years. He watched with a stony
expression as the young man’s face turned white. He fled, and Butch
calmly lowered his gun. When they caught up with their friend later
that afternoon, Butch asked him why he had left so soon.
At the age of 18, Butch
was given a job at his grandfather’s Buick dealership. By his own
account it was a gravy job, where little was expected of him.
Regardless of whether or not he showed up for work, he received a cash
allowance from his father at the end of each week. This he used for his
car (which his parents had also purchased), for alcohol, and for drugs
such as speed and heroin. Altercations with his father were growing
ever more frequent and correspondingly more violent. One evening, a
fight broke out between Mr. and Mrs. DeFeo. In order to settle the
matter, Butch grabbed a 12-gauge shotgun from his room, loaded a shell
into the chamber, and charged downstairs to the scene of the altercation.
Without hesitating or calling out to break up the fight, Butch pointed
the barrel of the gun at his father’s face, yelling, “Leave that woman
alone. I’m going to kill you, you fat fuck! This is it.”
the trigger, but the gun mysteriously did not go off. Ronald, Sr. froze
in place and watched in grim amazement as his own son lowered the gun
and simply walked out of the room with casual indifference to the fact
that he had almost killed his father in cold blood. That fight was over,
but Butch’s actions foreshadowed the violence he would soon unleash not
only upon his father, but his entire family.
Shots in the Night
In the weeks before the
slayings, relations between Butch DeFeo and his father had reached the
breaking point. Butch, apparently dissatisfied with the money he
“earned” from his father, had devised a scheme to further defraud his
family. Two weeks before the slayings, Butch was sent on an errand by
one of the staff at the Buick dealership, given the responsibility of
depositing $1,800 in cash and $20,000 in checks in the bank. Instead,
Butch arranged to be “robbed” on his way to the bank by an acquaintance,
with whom he later split the loot.
Butch and another
accomplice from the dealership departed for the bank at 12:30. They did
not return for two hours, and when they did, they reported that they had
been robbed at gunpoint while they were waiting at a red light. Ronald,
Sr., was at the dealership when his son returned, and exploded with rage
when he heard Butch’s story, berating the staff member who had sent him
in the first place. The police were called, and when they arrived they
naturally asked to speak to Butch.
However, instead of engaging in a
charade of cooperation, instead of at least devising a basic description
of the fictional bandit, Butch became tense and irritable with the
police. He became outright violent as they began to suspect that he was
lying, and their questions started to focus on the two hours he was away.
Wouldn’t he have hastened back to the Buick dealership once he had been
robbed of so much money? Where had he been during that time? In
response to their questions, Butch began to curse at them, banging on
the hood of a car in his grandfather’s lot to emphasize his rage. The
police backed off for the moment, but Ronald, Sr. had already come to
his own conclusion about the motive for his son’s behavior.
On the Friday before the
murders, Butch had been asked by the police to examine some mug shots in
the possibility that he might be able to finger the thief. He initially
agreed, but pulled out at the last minute. When Ronald, Sr. heard of
this, he confronted his son at work, demanding to know why he wouldn’t
cooperate with the police. “You’ve got the devil on your back,” his
father screamed at his son. Butch didn’t hesitate. “You fat prick,
I’ll kill you.” He then ran to his car and sped off. This fight had
not come to blows. But the final confrontation was imminent.
The still shroud of night
blanketed the village of Amityville in the early morning hours of
Wednesday, November 14, 1974. Stray house pets and the odd car were the
only signs of life as families and neighbors slumbered. But hatred and
savagery were brewing beneath the seeming calm at 112 Ocean Boulevard.
The entire DeFeo family had gone to bed, with the exception of Butch.
As he sat in the quiet of his room, he knew what he wanted to do, what
he in fact was going to do. His father and his family would be a
nuisance to him no longer.
Butch was the only member
of the family with his own room. His violent disposition and the fact
that he was the eldest had afforded him this small luxury. It also
afforded him a private storage place for a number of weapons he
collected and sometimes sold. On the night of the murders, Butch
selected a .35-caliber Marlin rifle from his closet, and set off,
stealthily but resolutely, towards his parents’ bedroom.
He quietly pushed aside
the door to their room and momentarily observed them as they slept,
unaware of the horror at the foot of their bed. Then, without
hesitation, Butch raised the rifle to his shoulder and pulled the
trigger, the first of 8 fatal shots he would fire that night. This
first shot ripped into his father’s back, tearing through his kidney and
exiting through his chest. Butch fired another round, again hitting his
father in the back. This shot pierced the base of Ronald, Sr.’s spine,
and lodged in his neck.
By now, Louise DeFeo had
roused herself, and had barely a few seconds to react before her son
began to fire upon her. Butch aimed the weapon at his mother as she lay
prone on her bed, and fired two shots into her body. The bullets
shattered her rib cage and collapsed her right lung. Both bodies now
lay silently in fresh pools of their own blood.
Despite the distinct snap
of each rifle shot, no one else stirred in the house. Butch quickly
surveyed the destruction he had wrought, before resuming his massacre of
the innocent. His two young brothers, John and Mark, would be the next
victims of Butch’s murderous sense of self-righteousness and rage.
He entered the bedroom the
two boys shared and stood between their two beds. Standing directly
above his two helpless brothers, Butch fired one shot into each of the
boys as they lay sleeping. The bullets tore through their young bodies,
ravaging their internal organs, laying waste to the lives that lay ahead
of them. Mark lay motionless, while John, whose spinal cord had been
severed by his brother’s heartless attack, twitched spasmodically for a
few moments after the shooting. Again, the shots had not roused the
only remaining members of the DeFeo family, and Butch skulked
unchallenged to the bedroom his sisters Dawn and Allison shared. Dawn
was the closest in age to Butch, while Allison was in grade school with
John and Mark.
As Butch entered the room,
Allison stirred and looked up just as he lowered the rifle to her face
and pulled the trigger. His youngest sister was murdered instantly.
Butch aimed his weapon at Dawn’s head as well, literally blowing the
left side of her face off.
It was just after 3:00
a.m. In a span of less than fifteen minutes, Ronald “Butch” DeFeo, Jr.,
had brutally slain each defenseless member of his family in cold blood.
The DeFeo’s dog Shaggy was tied up out by the boathouse, and was barking
violently in reaction to the brutality occurring in the house. His
barking didn’t distract Butch one bit, however. Aware that he had
completed the task he had set out to do, he now turned his attention to
cleaning himself up and establishing an alibi to throw the inevitable
police investigation off the trail. Butch calmly showered, trimmed his
beard, and dressed in his jeans and work boots. He then collected his
bloodied clothing and the rifle, wrapped them up in a pillowcase, and
headed out to his car. He threw the evidence into the car, and took off
into the pre-dawn hours before sunrise. Butch drove from the suburbs
into Brooklyn, and disposed of the pillowcase and its contents by
casting them into a storm drain. He then returned to Long Island, and
reported to work at his grandfather’s Buick dealership, business as
usual. It was 6:00 a.m.
Unmasking a Murderer
Butch did not remain at
work for long. He called home several times, and when his father failed
to show up, he acted as though he were bored with nothing to do, and
left around noon. He called his girlfriend, Sherry Klein, to let her
know that he would be home early from work, and that he wanted to stop
by and see her. On his way back into Amityville, Butch passed his
friend, Bobby Kelske, and the two stopped to talk. Butch proceeded on
to Sherry’s house, arriving at about 1:30 p.m. Sherry was 19 years old,
a shapely and popular waitress at one of the many bars Butch frequented
with his friends. Upon arriving, Butch casually mentioned that he had
tried to call home several times, and, although all the cars were in the
driveway, there was no response. To demonstrate, he called home from
Sherry’s apartment with the same, predictable result.
Acting puzzled but
unconcerned, Ronald took Sherry shopping during the afternoon. From the
mall in Massapequa, they drove to Bobby’s house. Ronald gave Bobby the
same report he had given Sherry, that his family appeared to be home,
but that there was no answer when he called on the phone. “There’s
something going on over there,” he said. “The cars are all in the
driveway and I still can’t get in the house. I called the house twice
and nobody answered.” Abruptly shifting gears, Butch asked if Bobby was
going out later. Bobby replied that he was going to take a nap, and
that if Butch wanted to meet him out, he would be at a local bar called
Henry’s around 6:00.
Butch spent the remainder
of the afternoon visiting friends, drinking, and taking heroin. He
finally arrived at Henry’s after 6, and Bobby followed him in shortly
thereafter. Once again, Butch feigned concern over his inability to
reach anyone at home. “I’m going to have to go home and break a window
to get in,” he told Bobby. “Well, do what you have to do,” his friend
replied blithely. Ronald exited the bar on his supposed journey of
discovery, only to return within a few minutes in a state of agitation
and dismay. “Bob, you gotta help me,” he implored. “Someone shot my
mother and father!”
The two friends were
joined by a small group of patrons, and they all piled into Butch’s car,
with Bobby at the wheel. It had been approximately 15 hours since the
murders took place. Within moments after arriving at the house, Bobby
Kelske had entered the front door and raced upstairs into the master
bedroom. There lay the bodies of Ronald, Sr., and his wife, Louise. He
returned outside to find Butch beside himself with ostensible grief and
dismay. Joey Yeswit had found the telephone in the kitchen, and was
calling the police. Within ten minutes the first policeman was on the
scene, Officer Kenneth Geguski. As he arrived, he found a group of men
gathered on the DeFeo’s front lawn. Butch was among them, sobbing
uncontrollably. “My mother and father are dead,” he said as Greguski
approached the group.
The Village of Amityville
patrolman entered the house and immediately went upstairs. He first
discovered the bodies of Ronald and Louise, as well as those of John and
Mark DeFeo. He returned downstairs to phone village headquarters from
the kitchen. Ronald was seated at the kitchen table, still crying. As
he listened to Greguski’s description, he alerted the officer to the
fact that he also had two sisters. Greguski put the receiver down and
hurried back upstairs. By this time another village patrolman had
arrived, officer Edwin Tyndall. The two of them found Dawn and
Allison’s room together. It would take a forensics investigator to
locate where the girls had been shot, and what kind of gun had killed
them: there was too much blood for the officers to even begin to guess.
Shortly after 7:00 p.m.,
the neighborhood was buzzing with word of what had transpired in the
house called High Hopes. The house itself was filled with police
personnel, while neighbors and assorted gawkers gathered on the front
lawn. Suffolk County detective Gaspar Randazzo was the first to
question Butch, the massacre’s sole survivor. They sat together in the
DeFeo kitchen, as Randazzo asked Butch who he thought could have done
such a thing. “Louis Falini,” Butch replied after a moment’s pause.
Falini was a notorious mafia hit man whom Butch claimed held a grudge
against his family as a result of an argument between the two of them a
few years prior.
The interview continued at
the next-door- neighbor’s house, where a temporary police command center
had been established. Detective Gerard Gozaloff joined in the process.
It was suggested that, if the murders were indeed linked to organized
crime, that Butch might still be a target, and that any further
questioning should take place at police headquarters. It was here that
they were joined by a third detective, Joseph Napolitano. And it was
here that Butch gave police his written statement. In it, he claimed to
have been home the night before, and that he stayed up until 2:00 a.m.
watching the film Castle Keep on television. At 4:00 a.m., he
reported walking past the upstairs bathroom, and that his brother’s
wheelchair was in front of the door. He also claimed to have heard the
toilet flush. Since he couldn’t go back to sleep, he decided to head to
work early. He described the rest of his day, leaving work early,
visiting with Sherry and Bobby, drinking, and trying to reach his family
by telephone. He said that when he finally returned home to check on
his family, he entered the house through a kitchen window, and went
upstairs where he discovered his parents’ bodies. Upon his discovery,
he raced downstairs and back to Henry’s Bar, where he rounded up some
men who subsequently alerted the police.
After Butch submitted his
signed statement, the detectives continued to question him about his
family, about his suggestion that Louis Falini might be the killer.
Butch replied that Falini had lived with them for a period of time, and
during that time he had helped Butch and his father carve out a hiding
space in the basement where Ronald, Sr., kept a stash of gems and cash.
His argument with Falini had stemmed from an incident where Falini
criticized some work Butch had done at the auto dealership.
voluntarily confessed to being a casual user of heroin, as well as to
the fact that he had set one of his father’s boats on fire so that
Ronald, Sr., could collect on an insurance claim rather than paying for
the motor, which Butch had originally damaged. Around 3:00 a.m. the
detectives had finished their questioning, and Butch went to sleep on a
cot in a back filing room. Ronald, Jr., gave every appearance of a
cooperative witness, and so far the detectives had no reason to hold
Butch under suspicion.
That circumstance was
beginning to change, however, as investigators continued to examine
physical evidence, both at the crime scene and in the police laboratory.
A crucial discovery was made around 2:30 a.m., November 15, when
Detective John Shirvell was making a last sweep through the DeFeo
bedrooms. Rooms where the murders had taken place had been scoured
thoroughly, while Ronald’s room had so far been given a cursory once-over.
But, upon a second look, Det. Shirvell spotted a pair of rectangular
cardboard boxes, both with labels describing their recent contents:
Marlin rifles, a .22 and a .35. Shirvell was unaware that a .35-caliber
Marlin had been the murder weapon, but snagged the boxes anyway in the
event that they may be important evidence. Indeed they were! Shortly
after arriving at police headquarters with the new evidence, Shirvell
learned exactly what make of weapon had been used in the murders.
Subsequent questioning of Bobby Kelske led to the discovery that Butch
was a gun fanatic, and that he had staged the robbery of the Brigante
In short order, the
detectives on the case began to seriously consider the possibility that
Butch had been playing them, that he may be their suspect, that he at
least knew much more about the killings than what he had told them so
far. At 8:45 a.m., Detective George Harrison shook Butch awake. “Did
you find Falini yet?” he asked. But Harrison was not there with any
such news: he was there to read Butch his rights. DeFeo protested that
he had been trying to be cooperative all along, and that it wasn’t
necessary to read him his rights. He went so far as to waive his right
to counsel, all to prove that he was an innocent witness with nothing to
By this time, Gozaloff and
Napolitano were exhausted. Two other officers, Lt. Robert Dunn, and
Detective Dennis Rafferty took over. These two meant business.
Rafferty re-read Butch his rights, and proceeded to question the suspect
about his activities and whereabouts over the prior two days. Rafferty
zeroed in on the time of the murders. Butch had written in his
statement that he was up as early as 4:00 a.m., and that he heard his
brother in the bathroom at that time. “Butch, the whole family was
found in bed lying in their bedclothes,” said Rafferty. That indicates
to me that it didn’t happen at like one o’clock in the afternoon after
you had gone to work.” Rafferty continued to press Butch until he was
able to pry him away from his earlier version of when the crime took
place, establishing that the crime actually took place between 2:00 and
With this slight fissure,
Butch’s crudely constructed story began to crumble. Dunn and Rafferty
hammered at the discrepancies between Butch’s stated version of the
events and what the physical evidence led police to believe actually
happened. Butch was physically linked to the scene once the time of the
murders was established. At first, Butch tried desperately to make the
best out of a deteriorating situation, trying to lead the detectives to
believe that while he had indeed been present in the home during the
murders, he had only been in each bedroom after the murders had taken
place. But the police weren’t biting.
“Butch, it’s incredible,”
said Rafferty. “It’s almost unbelievable. Butch, we know we have a
thirty-five-caliber gun box from your room. Every one of the victims
has been shot with a thirty-five-caliber. And you’ve seen the whole
thing. There has to be more to it. It’s your gun that was used.”
More desperate than ever,
Butch continued to lie, even as his lies put him more squarely in the
middle of the murders. He told his interrogators that at 3:30 a.m.,
Louis Falini woke him up and put a revolver to his head. Another man
was present in the room, Butch said, but upon further questioning, he
could not provide any kind of physical description for the police.
According to Butch’s new version of events, Falini and his companion led
Butch from room to room, murdering each one of his family members. The
police let Butch keep talking, and he eventually implicated himself as
he described how he gathered and then discarded evidence from the crime
scene. “Wait a minute,” said Rafferty. “Why did you pick up the
cartridge if you had nothing to do with it? You didn’t know it was your
gun that was used.”
Butch didn’t respond to
the question, so the investigators allowed him to talk some more. They
had already mined a good deal of evidence implicating Butch, all the
while pretending to believe that Falini and his accomplice had taken
Butch along on their killing spree while sparing his life alone. Once
they had been given a solid description of how the murders took place,
Dunn went in for the kill. “They must have made you a piece of it,” he
told Butch. “They must have made you shoot at least one of them -- or
some of them.” Butch fell for it, and the trap was sprung.
“It didn’t happen that way,
did it?” asked Rafferty.
“Give me a minute,” Butch
replied, his head in his hands.
“Butch, they were never
there, were they? Falini and the other guy were never there.”
“No,” Butch finally
confessed. “It all started so fast. Once I started, I just couldn’t
stop. It went so fast.”
Butch DeFeo’s case came to
trial on Tuesday, October 14, 1975, almost one year after the murders
took place. The prosecution of DeFeo, the responsibility to see to it
that such a man would never be a danger to anyone in the community again,
rested with Gerard Sullivan, assistant district attorney with Suffolk
County, NY. Despite DeFeo’s confession, despite the fact that he had
been able to lead investigators to the exact spot where he had disposed
of the evidence, and despite the fact that Butch’s .35-caliber rifle was
positively ID’d as the murder weapon, Sullivan took no chances in his
approach to prosecuting.
During the period of pre-trial interviews and
jury selection, Sullivan had studied DeFeo, questioned him, observed how
he behaved and interacted with others. He knew that Butch was a
pathological liar, that he was evasive. He had retained well-known area
attorney William Weber for his defense; his pattern of behavior before
the murders would afford Weber the opportunity to plead innocence by
reason of insanity on his client’s behalf. But Sullivan knew that Butch
DeFeo was not crazy, was indeed a violent, cold-blooded killer, and he
was determined to put him away for good. His opening statement to the
jury was crucial, as it would set the stage in his attempt to reveal the
truth about DeFeo’s criminal character. He could not afford to take for
granted that the jury would see DeFeo as he did, as a sane, methodical
“Ladies and gentlemen of
the jury,” he said, “each of you will be changed to some degree by this
case. You will leave this courtroom after rendering a verdict perhaps a
month from now, carrying with you an abiding memory of the horror that
occurred in that house at 112 Ocean Avenue in the dead of night eleven
“Bear in mind that the
evidence establishing and bearing upon how these crimes were carried out
is as important to your verdict as the proof bearing upon who carried
them out,” he continued, anticipating an insanity defense. “Much of the
evidence of ‘How?’ will bear upon the issue of whether you will excuse
the defendant for his action by reason of some mental disease or defect.
If you will keep your minds open, carefully evaluate and assess all the
proofs, I’m confident that at the end of the case you will come back
into this courtroom and find Ronald DeFeo, Jr., guilty of six counts of
murder in the second degree.”
The question of DeFeo’s
mental state at the time of the murders would remain the defining piece
of evidence upon which his acquittal or conviction would rest. Prior to
the trial, Weber had shrewdly attempted to have the case dismissed
outright, alleging that Butch had been refused access to counsel right
before the police took his confession. He further contended that the
confession itself was obtained under duress, the product of physical
abuse on the part of the police. Neither of these claims stood up under
scrutiny, however, and Weber was left to defend his client’s actions on
the grounds that he was legally insane at the time they took place.
Sullivan was prescient
enough to see that a one-dimensional argument that DeFeo was in fact
sane and responsible for his actions might not be enough to convince the
jury of his guilt. Sullivan called a number of witnesses, including
police officers and detectives who had worked the case, and assorted
relatives and friends of Butch’s. Through their testimony, he sought to
present to the jury a more three-dimensional portrait of the man who was
capable of murdering six defenseless family members. But no witness
offered him this opportunity more so than DeFeo himself.
Weber called his witness
and led the questioning, predictably leading his client to supply
responses that would burnish DeFeo’s claim of insanity. Holding a
picture of his mother as she lay slain in her bed, Weber asked his
client, “Ronnie, that’s your mother, isn’t it?”
“No, Sir,” Butch
responded. “I told you before and I’ll say it again. I never saw this
person before in my life. I don’t know who this person is.”
Weber proceeded to show
Butch a photo of his father’s body, and asked, “Butch, did you kill your
“Did I kill him? I killed
them all. Yes, Sir. I killed them all in self-defense.”
Sullivan wore his
straightest poker face, while some members of the jury gasped out loud
in response to DeFeo’s courtroom confession. Weber continued unfazed,
asking why Butch had done such a thing.
“As far as I’m concerned,
if I didn’t kill my family, they were going to kill me. And as far as
I’m concerned, what I did was self-defense and there was nothing wrong
with it. When I got a gun in my hand, there’s no doubt in my mind who I
am. I am God.”
To the average layman
member of the jury, DeFeo’s testimony might have seemed to be that of a
deranged lunatic, someone with a fleeting grasp on reality. And it was
precisely this possibility, the possibility that DeFeo would escape
judgment by duping the jury, that Sullivan worked the hardest to prevent.
He wasted no time in assaulting DeFeo’s testimony during cross-examination.
He ridiculed Butch’s seeming inability to remember who his own mother
was, he exposed inconsistencies between his testimony and the statement
he gave police on the night of the crime. Most of all, Sullivan pushed
DeFeo’s buttons, aggressively set forth to rattle his composure, to
enflame his arrogance and hatred. Sullivan wanted the jury to see that,
rather than the victim of insanity, Ronnie “Butch” DeFeo, Jr., was a
lucid, devious, cold-blooded killer.
His questions began to
center around the murders themselves, and DeFeo’s conflicting accounts
of his actions that night. Sullivan knew that he would not be able to
get a straight accounting from Butch in regard to what had transpired,
but he did know that he could goad the murderer into revealing the
twisted sense of enjoyment he got from killing his entire family.
“You felt good at the
time?” he asked.
“Yes, Sir. I believe it
felt very good,” Butch responded.
“Is that because you knew
they were dead, because you had given them each two shots?”
“I don’t know why. I
can’t answer that honestly.”
“Do you remember being
“I don’t remember being
glad. I remember feeling very good. Good.”
Sullivan’s efforts to this
end culminated in his provoking Butch to the point where he actually
threatened the prosecutor’s life. “You think I’m playing,” he barked
hatefully from the stand. “If I had any sense, which I don’t, I’d come
down there and kill you now.”
The ability to prove or
disprove DeFeo’s mental state at the time of the killings was crucial to
the success of both his defense and prosecution. Leaving nothing to
chance, both sides had retained the services of two local, highly
reputable psychiatrists. Dr. Daniel Schwartz was retained for the
defense, and was no stranger to criminal proceedings. He had
interviewed a number of defendants, testifying in hundreds of cases. He
would later gain widespread national notoriety as the psychiatrist who
found David Berkowitz to be criminally insane in the wake of the Son of
Sullivan was aware of the
crucial juncture the trial had now reached. All of the groundwork he
had laid, all of his attempts to flesh out Butch DeFeo’s murderous
persona for the trial would be for naught if he were to allow Weber and
Schwartz to take control of this final stage of the trial. Despite the
fact that he had retained the services of another very prominent
psychiatrist, Sullivan knew that he had to rely on his skills as a
prosecutor and cross-examiner as on the abilities of his expert witness.
As he wrote in his account of the trial, “The jurors had been learning
about DeFeo and his murders for almost two months. They had listened to
his lies and vituperation for days. Dr. Schwartz had only talked to him
for hours. I would show that the psychiatrist didn’t know the real
As it happened, Sullivan
caught a fortunate break in the form of Weber’s questioning of his own
witness. In a move that could clearly be interpreted as overconfidence
in Schwartz’s ability on the stand, Weber posed only a few preliminary
questions to his witness, then proceeded to let Schwartz blithely
deliver a mini-lecture on psychosis, disassociation, and criminal
insanity. Sullivan noticed that the jury was indeed affected by his
professional delivery, by what appeared to be his expert grasp of the
subject and how it applied to Butch DeFeo’s actions on the night of
November 14, 1974. Despite this, Sullivan silently noted a number of
key points Schwartz had made which Weber failed to challenge or ask
Schwartz to expand upon. He smiled, silently planning to do so himself
Sullivan opened his line
of questioning by referring to Schwartz’s prior experience as an expert
witness, attempting to rattle him by demonstrating the extent to which
he had researched the witness. Seeing that this provided only limited
benefit over a short period of time, Sullivan moved swiftly to the case
at hand, contesting Schwartz’s characterization of DeFeo’s behavior
after he had slain his family.
“Is this not indicative of
a person who has gone to very careful lengths to remove evidence of the
crime, that would connect him to that crime, out of that house?”
Sullivan asked incredulously.
“It’s evidence of somebody
who is trying to remove evidence from himself, too, that he has done
this,” Schwartz responded. “We are now speculating as to the motive for
the cleaning up. If you are familiar with Lady Mac Beth’s complaint --
‘What, will these hands never be clean?’ -- she’s not hiding a murder
from anyone, but she can’t live with the imagined blood on her hands.”
Sullivan didn’t buy a word
of it, and was determined not to let the jury buy it, either. “Doctor,”
he roared, “is that your considered psychiatric opinion?”
“My considered psychiatric
opinion, Counselor, is that he’s not hiding this crime from anybody by
picking up the shells,” Schwartz retorted hotly. “The bodies are there.
The bullets are in the people.”
“Everything that he could
get that would connect him with the crime, he removed from the house,
didn’t he?” pressed Sullivan.
“What you are talking
about is trivia compared to the six bodies,” Schwartz responded flatly.
His indifferent response
ignited the prosecutor’s sense of outrage. “Trivia that he removed the
evidence out of that house that would connect him to the crime, trivia
that has nothing to do with whether he thought that the crime was wrong?”
“The evidence is there in
the victims,” was Schwartz’s only response. But Sullivan had him on the
run, the respectability of his earlier testimony vanishing, receding in
the face of the prosecutor’s furious onslaught. Sullivan next took aim
at Schwartz’s actual diagnosis of DeFeo as a neurotic.
“So it’s your testimony,
as I understand it, Dr. Schwartz, that the fact that it wasn’t too
bright to throw everything in that sewer drain all together in one
location is significant of the fact that it was neurotic that he did
this?” Schwartz responded affirmatively, noting that DeFeo appeared to
be acting without any clear purpose in mind, someone distracted by
paranoid, neurotic delusions. In doing so, he fell straight into
Sullivan’s trap, a trap constructed with the very notes Schwartz had
taken during his interview of Butch.
“Did he tell you about not
wanting to leave clues for the police?” asked Sullivan. He indicated
the passage in Schwartz’s notes where DeFeo had made exactly such a
“I asked him about the
casings, and he said he didn’t want to leave the police any clues as to
what kind of gun it had been. He was not a friend of the cops, and he
didn’t want to help them.”
The trap was sprung,
Schwartz was now caught in his own testimony, and Sullivan stood
triumphantly over his prey. “Okay, now you know why he removed the
casings, don’t you?” he asked derisively.
“I know one of the reasons.
There are others,” Schwartz responded angrily. But his testimony had
been fatally wounded by Sullivan’s aggressive questioning. “I have no
further questions,” the prosecutor announced as he strode back to his
Dr. Harold Zolan testified
for the prosecution. Unlike Weber’s style of questioning his expert
witness, Sullivan devised an elaborate question-and-answer exchange with
Zolan, making every deliberate effort to give the jury access to Zolan’s
thought process, so that they might come to understand how Zolan had
reached his assessment, and that they might even reach the same
assessment themselves. Unlike Schwartz, Zolan attributed DeFeo’s
behavior to an antisocial personality, a form of personality disorder he
distinguished from any form of mental illness. Essentially, those with
such a personality disorder are fully aware of their actions, are fully
able to comprehend the difference between right and wrong, but are
motivated by an imperious, self-centered attitude. Sullivan and his
witness were thorough in their dissection of DeFeo, presenting an
ironclad case to the jury in crystal-clear language that Butch was
indeed responsible for his actions on the night of November 14, 1974.
While Weber tried to rattle Zolan as Sullivan had rattled Schwartz, the
prosecution’s witness held fast to his diagnosis. Sullivan was
confident that between his methodical questioning and Zolan’s well-thought-out
responses, the jury was finally in possession of clinical evidence that
Butch was guilty of murder.
After each expert witness
had been questioned and cross-examined, a few more witnesses were called
by Sullivan to testify. While not central to his case, their additional
testimony helped to bolster Sullivan’s case against DeFeo. However, the
verdict of innocence or guilt rested upon the question of DeFeo’s sanity,
as he knew it would. Weber and Sullivan made their summations. Then,
on Wednesday, November 19, 1975, a year and five days since the murders,
the presiding judge instructed the jury to gather in the deliberation
chamber, and return to the court with a verdict for Ronald “Butch” DeFeo,
painstaking efforts, he knew that a guilty verdict was not a sure bet.
He was awarded for his skepticism when the jury’s first vote came back
10-2, with two holdouts who were still uncertain about DeFeo’s mental
state at the time of the murders. After reviewing transcripts of
DeFeo’s testimony, however, the vote came back at a unanimous 12-0. On
Friday, November 21, 1975, Ronald DeFeo, Jr., was found guilty of six
counts of second-degree murder. Two weeks later he was sentenced to
twenty-five years to life in prison on all six counts. He remains
incarcerated with the New York State Department of Corrections today.
Horror and Exploitation
“George and Kathy Lutz
moved into 112 Ocean Avenue on December 18. Twenty-eight days later,
they fled in terror.” So begins Chapter One of Jay Anson’s novel, The
Amityville Horror. Written as a work of nonfiction, the book
purports to relate the day-to-day events that drove the new residents of
High Hopes from their home in terror. The book became a runaway
bestseller, and was made into a popular movie starring Rod Steiger,
Margot Kidder and James Brolin. “Their fantastic story, never before
disclosed in full detail, makes for an unforgettable book with all the
shocks and gripping suspense of The Exorcist, The Omen or Rosemary’s
Baby, but with one vital difference…the story is true,” reads the
trailer on the book’s back cover.
The one vital difference
between truth and fiction is what paranormal investigator Dr. Stephen
Kaplan spent many years trying to expose in regard to the Amityville
“Horror.” Now deceased, Dr. Kaplan was a well-respected Long Island
parapsychologist. The founder of the Parapsychology Institute of
America, he was a frequent guest on the WBAB radio program, “Spectrum
with Joel Martin.” On February 16, 1976, shortly after the Lutz family
“fled” from the house on Ocean Avenue, Dr. Kaplan received a phone call
from George Lutz, requesting that Dr. Kaplan and his associates
investigate the house. As Dr. Kaplan recalled in his account of the
incident, “The Amityville Horror Conspiracy”, this initial conversation
immediately began to arouse his suspicions as to the validity of
George’s claim that the house was haunted by demons and all variety of
“I began to ask questions.
What actually happened to him and his family? George…says that he
simply can’t describe the psychic phenomena. But there are demons there.
He even knows their names!
“ ‘What are their names?’
I ask. [George] won’t tell me. He claims they’ll appear if he as much
as mentions their names out loud.
“ ‘Who told you that?’ I
“ ‘I read it in a book.’
I ask him for the title, but he can’t remember -- he’s read so many
books since they bought the house. Books on demonology, witchcraft,
Satanism, ghosts, psychic phenomena -- the list went on and on. And all
in just a few short weeks, or so George claims.
“I press him about the
demons and he answers by reciting ‘facts’ he has learned about demons
and Satan worship. In a discussion about witchcraft, [George] mentions
Ray Buckland, a prominent witch in the area who ran the Witchcraft
Museum in Bayshore before moving to New England.
I am getting more
suspicious by the minute. Didn’t George just tell me that he knew
nothing of the occult up until the past two months? Ray Buckland had
been gone from New York for a year or two now. That would mean George
had discussed ‘the craft,’ as it is called, with one of the most
knowledgeable witches in the country long before he bought the house.”
Dr. Kaplan’s doubts about
the veracity of the Lutz haunting were confirmed a year-and-a-half later,
when he received a copy of The Amityville Horror. Reading it
from cover to cover, he swiftly came to the conclusion that George had
indeed done his witchcraft and demonology homework -- the account was
packed with every sort of ghost, ghoul, poltergeist, and demon, all of
which employed every trick in the book to terrorize the Lutz family, but
could not scare them into leaving for an entire month. The
inconsistencies and fabrications Dr. Kaplan found include:
The complete exaggeration of the role a priest
friend played in the whole drama. In the book, a priest character
named Fr. Mancuso is terrorized by a demon while trying to bless the
new home. He is then stalked by the specter back to the rectory,
where he is afflicted with boils, bleeding palms (a la stigmata), a
fever, and the pervasive scent of excrement. In real life, a priest
did bless the house, and did have some concern about the possibility
of a haunting. Both the real priest and rectory were unharmed by
any such demon.
Henry’s Bar, the scene of Butch’s shocking
revelation, is referred to as the “Witches Brew.” An imaginary
police sergeant named “Gionfriddo” mentions that the police
discovered the murders because Butch told the bartender, a depiction
of events that doesn’t even come close to how they really occurred.
The supernatural phenomena that the Lutz’s
describe witnessing is too wide-ranging, which is to say that no one
home could possibly hold enough demons, spooks, etc. to cause
everything they say happened to them. For instance, George claims
that a porcelain lion leapt from a corner of the living room and
“bit” him on the ankle; George saw a ghostly vision of Ronnie DeFeo,
Jr.’s head floating in the cellar; George and his wife Kathy believe
they saw the burned impression of a demonic, hooded figure on their
fireplace; Kathy levitated above their bed; Kathy looked in the
mirror and saw a decrepit elderly woman looking back; the toilets
backed up with black smelly ooze, and the walls of the house were
covered with slime; George and Kathy looked out the living room
window and saw a floating pig with glowing red eyes.
end, this tale of horror and demonic possession was debunked by the
Catholic Diocese of Rockville Center, the Amityville Police Department,
William Weber (Butch DeFeo’s defense attorney), U.S. District Court
Judge Jack Weinstein, and even George and Kathy Lutz, who ended up
recanting certain parts of the tale. The new owners of 112 Ocean Avenue
in Amityville were disturbed by no other visitors than the hordes of
curious onlookers, and those convinced that theirs was a haunted house.
This entire fabrication detracted from what was in fact the true horror
of Amityville, the cold-blooded murder of six innocent people by one of
their own family members.
Anson, Jay. The Amityville Horror. Prentice-Hall, Inc.:
Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1977.
Kaplan, Stephen, Ph.D. The Amityville Horror
Conspiracy. Belfry Books: Laceyville, PA, 1995.
Sullivan, Gerard, and Harry Aronson. High
Hopes: The Amityville Murders. Coward, McCann & Geoghegan: New