The Chilling True Story Behind The Amityville Horror

It is perhaps the most famous haunted house in American history: 112 Ocean Avenue, a Dutch Colonial house situated in Amityville, Long Island. In 1974, a young man named Ronald DeFeo Jr. shot and killed six members of his family. A year later, George and Kathy Lutz and their three children moved into the house — only to flee after 28 days, claiming the house was haunted. The story first inspired a book and then a movie, both called "The Amityville Horror." And this was no mere ghost story, oh no – it was billed as being a true ghost story. But how true is it? Just what actually happened in that damn house? 

The Murders

On November 13, 1974, 23-year-old Ronald "Butch" DeFeo Jr. entered a local bar in Amityville and cried out for help, saying that his entire family had been shot. DeFeo and some of the bar patrons returned to DeFeo's house at 112 Ocean Avenue. Once inside, they found DeFeo's parents, Ronald DeFeo Sr. and Louise DeFeo, dead from apparent gunshot wounds. The police were called, and when they arrived it was discovered that not only were DeFeo's parents shot dead, but so were DeFeo's siblings: Dawn (age 18), Allison (age 13), Marc (age 12), and John Matthew (age 9). 

Ronald DeFeo Jr. claimed that he knew who the killer was — a mob hitman (yes, really). The police understandably didn't buy that story and proceeded to interview DeFeo. The interview resulted in numerous inconsistencies, and it quickly became apparent that DeFeo was the prime suspect. By the next day, DeFeo had confessed to the murders, saying: "Once I started, I just couldn't stop. It went so fast." When DeFeo went to trial, however, his story had changed. His lawyers claimed insanity, stating that DeFeo claimed he heard demonic voices urging him to kill. The jury didn't find DeFeo's defense believable, and he was found guilty on six counts of second-degree murder and sentenced to six sentences of 25 years to life. 

Still, some unsettling questions remained. All of the victims were found shot face down in their bed, in separate rooms, suggesting they had all been killed in their sleep. How had DeFeo managed to shoot them all with a loud rifle and not disturb anyone from their slumber in the process? Or had he shot them elsewhere and then staged the scene to make it look like they were all asleep in their beds? If so, why? The full story will likely never be known, because DeFeo kept changing details of events over the years depending on who he talked to. Whatever the whole truth is, DeFeo took it to his grave –- he died on March 12, 2021. 

The Lutz Family

In December 1975, George and Kathleen Lutz bought the house at 112 Ocean Avenue. George and Kathy were made aware of the murders, and even bought the house with some of the DeFeos' furniture still inside. The couple moved into the home with three children from Kathy's previous marriage: Daniel (age 9), Christopher (age 7), and Melissa (age 5). Not even a full month later, the Lutz family fled the home, citing the supernatural as the cause for their unexpected eviction. 

Some of their ghostly claims included George mysteriously waking up at 3:15 a.m. every night, which was supposedly the time that Ronald DeFeo carried out his murders; green slime oozing out of the walls; doors opening and closing on their own; people levitating above their beds; sounds of a phantom marching band (yes, really); a demonic pig (yes, again, really); and more. In 1976, ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren, famous now for being the main characters in "The Conjuring" franchise, even investigated the house. 

The story of the horrific misadventures that befell the Lutz family was turned into the book "The Amityville Horror" by writer Jay Anson, published in 1977. The words "A TRUE STORY" were emblazoned across the book cover in big red font, so there was no way to miss it: this wasn't just a ghost story, it was real! In 1979, the story was adapted into a film starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder as George and Kathy Lutz. That film would spawn a slew of sequels, spin-offs, knock-offs, and even a remake in 2005 –- a film that's probably best remembered today for featuring Ryan Reynolds' impressive abs.

As you might expect, the Lutzes' story was met with a lot of criticism. And, like Ronald DeFeo's claims, it was loaded with inconsistencies. For example: the book includes a scene where the Lutz family calls the police after someone –- or something –- rips their front door open and right off the hinges. But records show that there were no calls from the Lutz house to the police during the 28 days they lived there. Another example: the book claims the Lutz family found cloven hoofprints in the snow outside their house, but there hadn't been any snowfall during the time they lived there. You get the idea: things weren't adding up. 

Things got further complicated when William Weber, Ronald DeFeo's lawyer, told People magazine that he, George, and Kathy cooked up the entire story to make money. "I know this book is a hoax. We created this horror story over many bottles of wine," said Weber. George and Kathy maintained they were telling the truth, however. They even took a polygraph test, and the test indicated they weren't lying. It probably didn't matter: to this day, many people assume "The Amityville Horror" was a true story. After all, it said so on the cover. 

"My Amityville Horror"

So did anything scary actually happen in the house while the Lutz family lived there? Probably, but it most likely did not involve the supernatural. In 2013, the documentary "My Amityville Horror" was released. The doc focuses on the now-adult Daniel Lutz, who recounts his side of the story. Daniel doesn't deny the supernatural happenings, but he also makes many claims that his adoptive father George was abusive and cruel to him. Watching the doc, the viewer begins to read between the lines: there may not have been supernatural demons within the walls of that house, but George Lutz might have been abusive enough to traumatize and terrify his family. 

Beyond that, whether or not the house was really haunted is a question of faith. No one who has lived in the house since the Lutz family has ever claimed supernatural experiences, but the belief will likely never go away – it's too built into our pop culture at this point. Horror and ghost fans have been drawn to the house over the years, much to the annoyance of the subsequent owners. They got so annoyed, in fact, that the house as it stands now no longer has the iconic eye-like windows that you see on every single poster for every single "Amityville Horror" related movie. On top of that, the address has been changed –- it's now 108 Ocean Ave. But it doesn't matter -– people continue to flock to the house, hoping to catch a glimpse of the supernatural. Or perhaps hear a tune from that phantom marching band.