It’s hard to believe that the shots that rang out in a quaint Long Island South Shore community on November 13, 1974 would still be echoing today. After more than three decades, the DeFeo murders still fascinate and attract new interest. Maybe it’s because the grisly and macabre stories surrounding the famous Amityville house speak to the deepest fears of the human psyche. Maybe because the ghostly claims help rationalize our understanding that real evil does exist in the world. Whatever the reasons may be, one thing is certain: Books and movies on Amityville have created an enduring legend that will continue to live on, even after we are all gone.
It has been speculated that at 3:00 a.m., on November 13, 1974, Ronald ‘Butch’ DeFeo, Jr. awoke in the TV room on the second floor of his family’s Dutch Colonial home at 112 Ocean Avenue filled with a murderous rage. He grabbed his .35-caliber Marlin rifle from his bedroom, loaded it and proceeded to his parents’ room.
A small votive candle burning on his father’s dresser-a makeshift shrine with several Catholic statues and pictures-and the hallway’s bathroom light were his only light source. Regardless of his poor vision, Butch stood in the doorway and, amazingly, fired two expert shots into each of his slumbering parents. But the murderous rampage had only begun.
By the time it had ended, six DeFeos-Ronald, Sr., Louise, Dawn, Allison, Marc, and John-lay dead. When the police discovered the grisly crime scene the following evening, they were mystified as to how six members of a family could be executed without any signs of a struggle. This “official” version of events concocted by a corrupt justice system, shoddy reporting, and publicity-seeking profiteers conveniently buried the truth for more than 25 years. The real events were not as fanciful, but a clear culmination of disaster brought on by a dysfunctional environment.
In order for the Suffolk County justice system to expose the fallacies in the DeFeo case, it would have to expose its own sins. While I was conducting research for my book on the DeFeo murders entitled The Night the DeFeos Died, I uncovered evidence that shed new light on the crime and haunted house claims. The true story of the DeFeo murders, and subsequent alleged haunting centered on the Suffolk County justice system that prevented Butch DeFeo from receiving a fair trial. Of course, most murder suspects say they are innocent, right? The facts, however, cannot be disputed. The DeFeo investigation was led by a police department that was eventually exposed in a 1989 New York State report that shed light on its deplorable use of corruption, torture, and deceptive practices to obtain convictions. Its so-called confession rate ran above 90%, which, in law enforcement, is unheard of.
During one instance in 1975, the district attorney prosecuting the DeFeo trial acknowledged in a private evidentiary hearing that multiple weapons and gunmen were involved in the DeFeo murders. Yet, the presiding judge refused to let the defense have time to investigate fully the crime to bring these facts to light. In an act of desperation, Butch and his defense counsel concocted wild stories that will forever haunt the residents of the sleepy little village of Amityville.
By no accounts is Butch DeFeo an innocent man. This is a man that has repeatedly attempted to profit from the murder of his own family, even in spite of his admission that he played an active role in their execution. Along with his scheming partners, he invented insanity claims that remain a cancerous tumor of fictional demons, disembodied voices, and possession. Of course, none of it is real, at least in the Amityville case.
Any tale of demonic possession or ghostly inhabitation paled in comparison to the real Amityville murders that had its roots in physical abuse, drugs, alcohol, organized crime, and police brutality, which rivaled the Nazi Gestapo’s own brand of ‘justice.’ Amityville is synonymous with horror, while it is certainly the antonym of rational thought.
There are those that want ghosts and demons to inhabit the house because it eases their own fears and hesitation at examining the real evil that a man-a brother, father and son-was capable of: The human kind. Science, logic, and history mean little to individuals that want the iconic tale of an evil house with eye-like windows to live on forever. It is tantamount to early explorers trying to convince people that the world was not flat.