This Fall, the TV show “America’s Most Wanted” started its 23rd season, continuing its run as the longest-running program on the FOX network. One of its creators was Michael Linder, an Emmy Award-winning TV producer and investigative journalist with roots as a radio broadcaster. Back in the mid-1970s, Mike was working at New York radio station WQIV, but was fired (along with most of the on-air staff) when the station switched formats from rock to classical music.
By early 1976, Mike landed a job as the news reporter for rival radio station WNEW. Around this time, stories began circulating about a supposedly haunted house in an upscale community on Long Island, the scene of a grisly family murder the previous year. Through a friend of his (the TV news director for Channel 5, which was associated with WNEW), Mike heard of an upcoming seance to be held at the home. It was to be Mike’s first assignment for his new station.
“I had done some paranormal research in the past,” Mike explains, recalling a previous paranormal experience he had in 1969. “I was living in suburban Cleveland. I remember being at a Ouija board seance with a group of friends in a house that they believed to be haunted. That seance produced a narrative that came out of the Ouija board that channeled a 19-yearold kid who drowned on the lake in the 1860’s with his dad, trying to rescue people on a boat that was in trouble in a storm. They were fishermen. They lived on the edge of Lake Erie. And when we asked things like, ‘What kind of fish did you fish?’
“Well there are no lake trout around Lake Erie anymore, but the local historical society said in the late 1800’s there were. So there was some historic corroboration and stuff that came out of that. It was a really interesting evening. Couldn’t debunk it. Had some historical accuracy to it. And I reported that story on the radio.
“I had also interviewed and studied people who had gotten very serious into paranormal research,” Mike continued, “So I had gone in there [Amityville] with an open mind, thinking,
‘Okay, I know this terrain, I’ve studied exorcisms and ghosts and know about putting salt in the corners of the rooms, all that kind of stuff,’ and I went in there thinking, ‘Well maybe there is something going on.’”
“…the “true story” of the Amityville saga has been embellished with half-truths and self-serving twists and turns.”—Rick Moran, “Amityville Revisited,” Fortean Times, 2004
Rick Moran knows what he’s talking about. Not only was he one of the first to research The Amityville Horror case, but he is a master at embellishing stories with half-truths and self-serving twists and turns. Moran proudly labels himself a journalist with the integrity to seek out corroboration in an effort to get an unbiased story – and yet when it comes to the Amityville case, he spits in the face of accepted evidence, his sources seem dubious at best, and some of his claims seem downright laughable.
Earlier this year, Rick Moran gave an interview to White Noise Paranormal Radio, an Internet-based radio program. I’ve read his previous articles on The Amityville Horror case, so I thought I knew what to expect; but as it turned out, the statements I heard Moran give were way more outlandish that what appeared in print. One ridiculous statement after another. I felt compelled to phone-in.
Though the radio hosts let me argue my points with Rick for a fair amount of time, we never really got anywhere. Rick has been playing this game for quite some time, and he knows how to stall, ignore and switch topics on people. Still, I transcribed the interview for my website and included my arguments against Moran as endnotes (click here to read).
So who is Rick Moran, and why are his claims outlandish? Let’s start by examining a summary of Moran’s involvement with The Amityville Horror case, which appears on his ASUP website (which, by the way, is a direct copy of his 2004 Fortean Times article).
In 1977, Rick Moran and his colleagues at the Association for the Study of Unexplained Phenomena (ASUP) were given a draft of Jay Anson’s then-unreleased book The Amityville Horror, the story of the Lutz family who claimed their lovely Long Island home (the scene of a recent grisly mass-murder) was haunted. Moran was given this book by Peter Jordan, a field reporter for the Psychical Research Foundation (PRF) loosely connected with Duke University. Jordan and his PRF colleagues were very upset that Anson’s book seemed to be using their organization to falsely give credence to the Lutzes’ claims of a haunting, when in reality the investigation the PRF did on the house was inconclusive.
From the summary Moran gives us, it seems evident that Anson’s book was looked upon as being a wild pack of lies before any member of the ASUP bothered to crack it open. Here they were being presented with a book that lied about their friends and colleagues at the PRF. Surely such a book – which felt it necessary to use false information to support its case – would be suspect. Given this, I believe Moran and his team dove into Anson’s book not in the spirit of fairly investigating its claims, but rather with the intention of finding as much fault with it as humanly possible.
Moran and his fellow investigators wasted no time in listing all the various incidents of paranormal activity contained in The Amityville Horror. Out of 103 paranormal incidents, the ASUP claimed to have found 83 that were proven false. In a book with 207 pages, that works out to one false claim for every 2.5 pages! Could there really be that much lying going on?
We might never know. As luck would have it, Moran’s only copy of this master list was lost in a fire. That’s unfortunate – it would have been interesting to examine. Moran claims this list had been published, but out of the 200+ related articles my colleagues and I have collected, we haven’t seen any proof of that – and honestly, its unlikely anyone would print such a long list in full. A few articles make reference to this list, but provide little, if any, details.
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.
The following photographs were taken by Stephen and Roxanne Kaplan in 1979. The majority were shot during the infamous Halloween party hosted by the Cromarty family.
“The house overflows with happiness. Not even the tourists and hecklers who are passing by quite often outside now (prevented from getting too close by security) can spoil the mood of celebration and good times inside. Any aura of tragedy that may have been left over from the DeFeo murders has been purged forever by the love that is felt for this house by its owners and their friends. The Lutzes’ stories of horror have been exposed for what they are in the media and in Federal Court. This house is not a horror. This house is a home.” - Stephen Kaplan, Ph.D.
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.