The Conspiracy of The Amityville Horror Conspiracy
In 1976, Stephen Kaplan was one of the very first people contacted with regards to help investigate a supposedly haunted house in Amityville, Long Island — the site of a mass murder just over a year before then where six members of a family were shot & killed by the eldest son. But just days before the investigation was to take place, it was abruptly cancelled. Quickly growing suspicious of George Lutz (the man who bought the murder house and who now was claiming it to be haunted), Kaplan soon was telling anyone and everyone how he felt the haunting was just a big hoax.
Nineteen years later, Kaplan published The Amityville Horror Conspiracy. Written in a diary format, it covers the years 1974 - 1979, and not only gives us a glimpse into Kaplan’s world, but shows us how, little by little, the stories of the murder and haunting in Amityville were first revealed to the public, and how that charming Long Island home soon became notorious, with its jack-o-lantern windows giving children nightmares the world over.
Of course the main point of the book was for Kaplan to explain his condemnation of the Lutzes’ story. We read how the Lutzes were immediately viewed with suspicion by Kaplan, and how his blood seemed to boil with each step of the Lutzes’ story gaining in popularity. Indeed, Kaplan paints himself much as a modern-day Chicken Little, running around trying to inform a misdirected world that there are no ghosts in Amityville. But regardless of his efforts, the Lutzes’ ghost story is turned into a book (which quickly becomes a best-seller), then a paperback (which starts smashing sales records), and finally an immensely popular motion picture in 1979, which is the year this book stops, almost as if throwing its hands up in defeat.
While I found Kaplan’s book very interesting, and sometimes fascinating (highly recommended to those with a deep interest in The Amityville Horror saga), it fails to provide any solid evidence of the haunting being a hoax, let alone some sort of conspiracy. Kaplan does offer a few good points to suggest something may be amiss (such as George’s conversations with famed Wiccan Ray Buckland and Bill Weber’s claim that he helped the Lutzes “invent” the ghost story) but overall, most of Kaplan’s suspicions seem warrantless. Despite his best efforts, Kaplan tends to lose credibility fairly early-on when tries to build a case against the Lutzes by nitpicking over discrepancies found from one newspaper article to the next (treating every fact as if it came verbatim from the Lutzes). Lutz is even suspected of being a secret acquaintance of murderer Ronald DeFeo Jr, due to the fact that he referred to DeFeo as “Ronnie” (something Kaplan does himself, starting on page 32, as does Joel Martin & Bill Weber).
Kaplan’s treatment of the newspaper accounts is especially troubling because there are various instances where Kaplan points out how he, himself, has been misquoted or misrepresented by reporters; and yet he turns a blind eye at the possibility that the Lutzes are receiving the same treatment.
Along those same lines, Kaplan objects at the dishonesty of Prentice-Hall categorizing Jay Anson’s book The Amityville Horror as a non-fiction title. Fair enough, as Anson did include bits of fiction in his account; but how about the cover of Kaplan’s book? The cover of The Amityville Horror Conspiracy claims to be “the dramatic true story of an incredible twenty year investigation” — but it is not. It tells the story of Kaplan’s life between the years of 1974 to 1979 and his investigation during 4 of those 6 years. If any subsequent research was done by Kaplan after 1979, it is not included in this book.
Its just one of many seemingly-hypocritical tidbits discovered in this book. When Kaplan refers to Ronald DeFeo Jr as “Ronnie,” that’s okay; but when George Lutz does it, that draws suspicion. When newspaper articles are inaccurate regarding Kaplan, that is the fault of the reporter; but when the articles are regarding the haunting, Kaplan blames any discrepancy on the Lutzes. And when the cover of Kaplan’s book carries an untrue byline, that’s fine; but not fine when it is done on Jay Anson’s book.
Kaplan really goes all over the map in this book and seems to contradict himself again and again. One such example is with his general theories of the haunting being untrue. In some instances Kaplan seems to suggest that the Lutzes were involved with Bill Weber (DeFeo’s defense attorney) in concocting the fake haunting as a possible means of securing a new trial for the mass murderer. At other times Kaplan suggests that the Lutzes misinterpreted the events — that they were merely dreams or hallucinations.
But if the Lutzes had dreamt or hallucinated the events, then their story wouldn’t be a hoax. That would mean they really did think these paranormal events were happening, but were mistaken. And that is quite different from them making the whole story up out of thin air in an attempt to either make money or to help Bill Weber get his client charged with a lesser crime. Kaplan doesn’t seem to care whether the Lutzes were hallucinating or whether they outright lied, his main goal is to somehow show the haunting wasn’t real — like an outlaw sheriff attempting to put a man behind bars, no matter what trumped-up charge does the trick. The ends justify the means.
Unethical? Lets look at how Kaplan addresses the question of ethics in these two short excerpts from The Amityville Horror Conspiracy. The first is from the Feb 18, 1976 entry on page 26:
I was also called by a network TV news program in Manhattan. They wanted me to go on the air to talk about the “haunted house.” I told them I had not yet investigated the house, and therefore it would not be ethical to discuss it.
So far, so good — but look what happens the following day — Feb 19, 1976:
To end my involvement in the case once and for all, I called the Long Island Press and told them the investigation was off, elaborating on my suspicions of a set-up to reporter Thomas Condon.
In the space of one day Kaplan breaks his own code of ethics by discussing a case he had not investigated — and more than discuss it, Kaplan condemns it as a hoax! All without any investigation being conducted.
But why didn’t Kaplan investigate the house in February of 1976 as originally planned? Why was that investigation suddenly cancelled? Some claim Lutz got cold feet after being warned how Kaplan would expose any possible evidence of a hoax to the public. Others claim that it was George who cancelled after he discovered Kaplan’s credentials didn’t check out. So, what’s the truth?
In this book, Kaplan gives his side of the story, explaining that George didn’t want media attention and asked him not to speak to the press. Soon afterwards, Kaplan sees that George & Kathy held a press conference — so when a newspaper reporter calls later that evening, Kaplan feels it must now be okay to mention his upcoming investigation of the Amityville house.
The next day, Kaplan tells us about an angry phone call from George Lutz, asking why he spoke to the press. Kaplan mentions the Lutzes’ press conference, and George explains they only did that to clear up inaccurate reporting done on the matter. George ends the call by postponing the upcoming investigation until the press interest had died down. After that phone call, Kaplan discusses the matter with the people who were to handle the investigation. They discuss their various suspicions of the case, and decide that if and when George decided to reschedule the investigation, they would decline. Kaplan then picks up the phone — the very same night that George postponed the investigation — and phones a local reporter, telling him how he feels the Amityville haunting is all one big hoax.
So there you have it, straight from Stephen Kaplan, himself — the investigation was not cancelled by George Lutz, it was cancelled by Kaplan. Therefore the theory that the Lutzes were worried of being exposed by Kaplan simply doesn’t hold water.
So what does this all mean? Was the haunting real after all?
No one can prove a haunting is real in an age where science has yet to determine whether ghosts even exist. The Lutzes’ story can’t be authenticated. If it was a hoax, then there may be hope of uncovering that, but unfortunately this book consists of mere theories and speculation with no hard evidence to back it up. As the years go on, the mystery behind The Amityville Horror is likely to outlive you and I.