Amityville Files: First off, you are related to the former owners of the Amityville house, do you know why they decided to buy a house with such surrounding controversy?
Donna Cromarty: Yes, I am the second cousin to James Cromarty. I can only render opinion here as it has been some time since 1978. However, I believe the home came on the market for a very low price so, it was a deal. My cousin grew up in the same neighborhood. He bought the home prior to the book coming out and to any “controversy” ever coming up. If you will check the closing date and when the book came out you will see this is fact.
AF: How many times were you in the home while the Cromarty family lived there?
DC: One time for my class project. However, my grandpa Jerry (James’ Uncle) was in there many times for family events. He reported wonderful parties in a beautiful home.
AF: What was the family like at the time?
DC: I would say they were warm and loving, but under stress from all the human activity outside of the house 24/7 taunting them non-stop. The human beings were the real HORROR! People would not leave the family alone. There was one story of a little old woman throwing rocks at a window and cursing the family out when they came to the door. This is the real truth no one considers!
AF: Did the Cromarty family ever say anything to you or anyone else that might indicate an evil presence within the house?
DC: Nope! The only evil was OUTSIDE the house in the form of crazy human beings obsessed with ghosts, throwing rocks at the house, ringing door bells, and harassing my family due to the movie. When I was in the home there was nothing evil in there.
AF: Tell us about the school project you did that focused on the Amityville story.
DC: It has been 30 years since I did this project so, I will try and recall what I can. I did this report for Mr O’Neill’s Massapequa High School class in fall of 1978. I went to the home with my best friend Jamie. She still lives on Long Island. She was from another school district. We were not working on the project together as some reports have misstated. She came along with me for moral support as I was nervous going into the home due to the deaths, not because I feared any evil presence. Jamie and I went to a Pentecostal church together. I was then and am now a Born Again Christian. I believe evil does exist, but we have power and authority over it in the name of Christ. There was nothing evil in there at all. It was simply a beautiful home with a tragic history. I interviewed my cousin and his wife as we went room to room. My cousin identified all the falsehoods point by point. There was indeed growling when I played the tape back during the class presentation. I was not aware it existed until the presentation. I had all to do to keep from laughing as it was funny to me. The kids in the class were scared, BUT it was due to the family poodle dogs. The growling played nicely into my report and earned me an A plus. It was like a mini Hitchcock production. Sometimes humans fear the unknown more than the known!
AF: There have been different articles written over the years that claim the audio that you recorded that day contained a growling noise every time the word “hoax” was mentioned. Is this true?
DC: No. This is a lie. I never said any such thing. The growling was caused by 2 poodles owned by my cousin. They growled at us.
AF: After hearing all the horror stories about the house, were you hesitant to even go there?
DC: I did not hear stories, I saw the movie. I was born and raised in Amityville until age 12. The inaccuracies in the film made me upset that my home town was being vilified by Hollywood. Amityville is a wonderful place… especially down by the bay where the home is. I am a Born Again Christian and I do not fear evil so, I was never hesitant. However, the thought of a innocent family perishing there was unnerving. I could not stand the fact that children died there at the hands of their own brother. The brother was the ONLY evil in that house and he was in jail. How could anyone not think about those kids?
AF: Do you know why the Cromarty family decided to leave after ten years of living in Amityville?
DC: Let me ask you this, why should anyone care if someone sells their home after 10 years? People simply move on or scale down. My cousin is up there in age now. People sell their homes every day. I think 10 years in the home says it all!
AF: Why do you believe the Amityville story continues to live on to this day?
DC: The answer to this question lies in anthropological study of human behavior. Why is it some people still believe in the Bermuda Triangle or the curse of the Pharaohs? People distrust science because they don’t understand it. There are people who want to believe in ghosts, so that is what they are going to believe NO MATTER WHAT is said or proved to be false. The real tragedy is that people forget the innocent people who died there. The only horror that existed in that home was created by Ronald DeFeo who took the lives of his own family. People should focus more on what causes humans to become so evil that they kill their own. That is where the true focus on human behavior should be studied… not some Hollywood story whose main purpose is to sell tickets and earn millions. People should try placing responsibility on human beings who commit evil deeds rather than on ghosts. It would be a much better world if everyone would be held accountable for their deeds.
Amityville Files: What first attracted you to the Amityville case and how did you first hear about the story?
Hans Holzer: I read the case in the papers and then later was contacted.
AF: Can you tell us your first impressions of the house when you arrived?
HH: I don’t get impressions as I am not a medium. My job was to investigate the facts.
AF: Tell us a little bit about Ethel Johnson Myers and how she was affected by this case?
HH: Ethel immediately picked up on an Indian Chief and his grievances. She said there was a tomb nearby the house and it was disturbed.
AF: While investigating the house, is it true bullet holes from the DeFeo murders remained in the house?
HH: I cannot disclose to much more as I am currently dealing with people in England on my never seen project in January. But, my new book really gathers up all the information well and with integrity to the case and those involved.
AF: What if any paranormal activity did you find during your investigation?
HH: None as it wasn’t a haunted house. The land was the problem.
AF: How did you first become involved with Ronald DeFeo Jr.? Did he contact you?
HH: As an investigator, I spoke with many witnesses and that led me to two visits in prison with Ronald.
AF: What were your impressions of Ronald DeFeo Jr when you first met him?
HH: I felt he was psychic and open enough to have been taken over, which he was.
AF: Do you believe Mr. DeFeo committed the murders single handedly on November 13th, 1974?
AF: How can you explain the fact that there have been no reports of supernatural occurrences at the home today?
HH: Because it was never haunted to begin with. And after time passes, things change and dissipate. You would have to go back again and do another walk through with a good medium.
AF: Why do you think the popularity of this case continues to grow, after over 30 years?
HH: In 1903, another house stood there as the land was always the issue. Not the house. People think it was a haunted house but there were no ghosts. It sits a top of a tomb and that’s all there’s too it.
AF: Do you believe this case is cursed in some way?
HH: My new book is out called “Murder in Amityville: Fact or Fiction” by Barnes and Noble. This can answer many of these and more questions.
Amityville Files: What was it like growing up with Hans Holzer as a father? Was there ever any ghost stories told at bedtime?
Alexandra Holzer: Thank God I was able to publish “Growing Up Haunted” because that answers that question right there! Both my parents contributed to growing up in a vortex of paranormal atmospheric activity that one can only deem as normal for them. No ghost stories at bedtime, rather at the time when my father entertained his famous guests. That’s when those stories crept out and I had a hard time turning off my light, and so demanded a huge night light to be placed in my room and in several spots I might add.
AF: What was your first experience with the paranormal?
AH: My first unconscience experience is also explained in the new book but it took place in Austria, when a ghost caught me before landing to my impending doom. Consciencely, I was about eight and went to day camp. My camp counselor happened to be a friend of my fathers’ named Carla. She was a medium but I hadn’t known that. On the bus back, I described her entire house to her and colors that I couldn’t have possibly known. For me, it was a game. For her, a sign that I had indeed inherited my father’s gift.
AF: Your father has investigated hundreds of different haunted locations, growing up did he ever let you “tag along” to any of these haunts, and if so what was your favorite?
AH: My father began in the early 60s with an on flux of cases so by the time I came along in 71, three years before the Amity case, I would be too young to be included. It is only now that he and I discuss his past work and will take years to digest, and for myself to go out and see for my own eyes. I can’t say what would be a favorite haunt as I think hauntings are sad.
AF: Is there one specific spot on this planet that you truly feel can be labeled as “The Most Haunted Place on Earth?”
AH: Nope. Europe of course being the oldest part of the world, would seem to me logically to harbor the most haunted places and most concentrated energies. But, I’m a Global Ghost Gal and feel the entire planet has cases everywhere and you would have to collect a lot of data and compare notes to get that answer. Hopefully, we would all still be here by the time that happened. Would make for an intriguing documentary feature though.
AF: Is there any haunted location that you’re just dying (no pun intended) to get in to?
AH: Amity of course, that’s if it is still having issues and actually the places my dad once visited. To be a part of what he was a part of is history in the making for me in the paranormal field. I am attracted to castles so it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if an offer came up to visit one, that I would not say no.
AF: What is your take on all the ghostly orb photographs circling the Internet - orbs or dust?
AH: Many are both. You can tell the difference and with the technologies of digital cameras, film processing and witnesses it really is a no brainer. What I think some people may have an issue with, is if an orb is a sprit or just energy surrounding that place or person in that moment. You can always have a good transmedium with you to help decipher if indeed, if the orb is a spirit and has something to say. The dust, well rain being a huge culprit and wind but there really is a big difference. You just have to be educated on the terms, facts and be open-minded to the unexplainable.
AF: Alexandra, what are you personal thoughts and feelings on the Amityville case?
AH: It disturbs me. All the books my father has written and the private tapes and conversations that sit in my old home bother me. I sometimes feel as if it all should be buried along with those pour souls that lost their lives that fatal day. Many places are bad and bad things happen. Amity is no different, it just became a film and one that was done well for it’s time. That’s what we call a cult classic and sticks with you generation after generation. I wouldn’t put too much stock in just one case and when it’s glamorized, it takes on a whole new meaning and life force.
AF: What about the murders? Do you feel Ronnie may have been under the influence of possession at the time of the murders?
AH: The murders were an act of a cold blooded soulless man who very well could have been under the control of a pissed off Indian Chief and his helpers. It’s so hard to tell because it was thirty years ago and a re-visit of the utmost respect and privacy should happen in-order to feel it again, if still there. Ronnie could have been possessed, but again I am conflicted that maybe he lost it and took it out on his family, but why I don’t’ know. Not every misguided youth turns on their family in such a horrific way. I wasn’t there that day and often wonder what lingers in and around the property.
AF: Do you think everyone is vulnerable to possession, or do you feel you have to be willing to let a demon or paranormal entity inhabit your body?
AH: I think everyone is vulnerable to anything bad in life, it’s just a question of when it occurs. You can’t escape bad moments because we all have them, famous or not, rich or poor. But, what I do believe in which my father and I don’t agree here, is demonic entities that surround negative people and places feeding on that festering energy.
There are coo coo birds out there as with anything in life, that would take this to the opposite extreme and that is where I stop and turn away. I am just one person on a small planet surrounded by a galaxy of larger and older stars and suns with perhaps other life forms. Who am I to say possession doesn’t exist and that it’s always based on a medical disorder. I tend to think it can be both.
AF: Do you believe the Lutzes story is 100% true, or do you feel there may have been some embellishment to their story?
AH: I spoke with Director Daniel Farrands who had worked with my father back in 2000 on an Amity Documentary. He was very close to these people and there was a lot that went down between threats of lawsuits and character defamation, all the way up to infringement on rights to the whole case. I truly believe this case needs to be closed out of respect to the families involved. To see if the area and property is still harboring entities would be deemed a re-visit, and a different investigation which is normal and done everyday in every town. So, for documentation and perhaps new evidence or there lack of on this piece of land, would be the new story and just like many other stories of reported paranormal activity in an area. That’s how I would handle it and leave the rest at the door.
AF: If you could tell the current owner of the Amityville house one thing, what would that be?
AH: I respect your privacy and home. Unfortunately, owning a famous plot doesn’t exactly help the situation when trying to obtain that privacy and home. Personally, given my back story and kind natured way and love for life, would only want to re-visit with a new perspective, new information and light on the world of the paranormal and areas that can be active. As my father before me, he was one of the very few who gave respect to all those involved, and never looking for money or fame..I can attest to this because I am helping him now. I would hope that I would be allowed to do a revisit not for fame or notoriety, but rather for closure and peace.
Amityville Files: Explain how you first became involved in ghosts, hauntings, and the paranormal in general?
Roxanne Kaplan: When I was a little girl, I was fascinated by mysteries and ghost stories. I would read the Nancy Drew and Judy Bolton stories, and when I ordered from the school book club (Scholastic?) I would always order books like “Stranger Than Fiction” or anything that told about supposedly true paranormal phenomena. When my friends and I put on a back yard carnival, we would always include a make-shift “haunted house”, where kids had to stick their hands into bowls of “guts” (mushy spaghetti) or “eyeballs” (peeled grapes). I even had a little game we played outside at twilight called “Attention All Spooks”. Then, as a teenager I discovered the old TV gothic soap opera “Dark Shadows” and I was hooked! During the run of “Dark Shadows” I talked my Mom into signing me up for the “Universe Book Club”, where I would order books about ESP, ghosts, UFO’s, aliens, tarot, astrology, out-of-body experiences…..the list goes on and on. At the age of 20, I attended one of Stephen’s lectures, and the rest as they say, is history.
AF: Have you ever had a ghostly encounter of your own? What was it like? Was it what you expected?
RK: My first strange encounter was as a teenager, and it involved a Ouija board. I told my Mom about someone who had talked to me on the board and given her initials, and I described the person to her in detail. My Mom told me that I had described my Great Aunt Lydie, who had died 2 months before I was born. Aunt Lydie continued to tell me things about my family for several years, a lot of it unverifiable but some of it quite accurate. My other experiences were after I met Stephen and joined the Parapsychology Institute of America (PIA) as a researcher. On one occasion I only heard the “ghost’s” footsteps coming up the stairs from a deserted basement in a house where we were having a séance to contact a woman who had been murdered there. During another case, I actually saw an apparition, which looked like a misty blob that was roughly in the shape of a human head and shoulders.
AF: How did you and Stephen first meet?
RK: During the summer of 1974 I was moping around my house trying to recover from the breakup with my first love the previous December. My Dad saw an article in a local paper about a free lecture being given at the PIA on strange phenomena. Knowing my interest in the topic, he showed it to me, hoping to get me out of the house and interested in something again. I was amazed to discover that Long Island even HAD such an organization, and I reserved a spot at the lecture immediately. The lecturer was Dr. Stephen Kaplan, who was conducting a whole series of free summer lectures that year. The PIA turned out to be located in the office adjoining his home. Stephen was in a failing marriage at the time and had 2 small children. I attended the summer lectures, then signed up for a class he was teaching that fall at an adult education program. In October, Stephen opened the PIA to new members and I became a researcher and Corresponding Secretary. I turned 21 that same month; I was the baby of the group. We all had such great times researching the unknown and trying to help people to solve their paranormal mysteries. In 1977 after Stephen was legally separated from his wife (and eventually divorced after several grueling years of court battles), we began dating, and in 1982 we were married.
AF: Tell us a little about Stephen’s background, and how he first began investigating the paranormal.
RK: Stephen was born and raised in a middle class Jewish family in the Bronx, NY City. His Dad was a Tool-and-Die maker, a limo driver for Mayor Beame, and held various other jobs when he was able to work, having been disabled while in the service. His Mom was a homemaker and doted over Stephen, his twin sister Rochelle, and his older brother Warren. The kids loved to go to the movies, where you could pay a dollar or so and watch movies all day long; Stephen’s favorites included ones about werewolves, Dracula, mysteries and comedies. Stephen had a severe visual impairment as a child, and was often told by school officials that he should give up his dream of college and learn a trade. That just made him more determined to succeed, and he certainly proved them wrong! Stephen earned a BA and an MA from City College of NY, another Masters degree from State University at Stony Brook, and a non-traditional PhD from Pacific College of CA. (Although there has been much criticism of this last degree, it is very similar to degrees that are now available from colleges such as Empire State College, which is now accepted as a part of the NY State University system. Back in the 70’s, it was quite a revolutionary idea, and Stephen took a lot of flak for it from people such as the Warrens, but he enjoyed being a pioneer in the field of alternative education.) Stephen majored in Education, minored in Sociology, and also took many classes in Anthropology. He became a teacher for the NY City Board of Ed, specializing in language skills, remedial reading and ESL (English as a Second Language). His interest in Anthropology led him to study primitive societies, which in turn led him to wonder about strange rituals and practices in our own society. The 60’s were a hotbed of interest in all kinds of strange phenomena, and it was then that his interest and his research first began.
AF: George Lutz claimed that the reason he canceled Stephen’s investigation was because Stephen went to the press. Do you believe that was Mr. Lutz’s real reason, or do you think he felt intimidated by the fact that Stephen would expose him, if Stephen found out that the story was fake?
RK: George’s story was told in the press BEFORE Stephen became involved. after several articles were printed about the Lutzes, several papers, knowing that Stephen had the only local paranormal research group, called him to ask his opinion on the case. Stephen was quoted as saying something like “…they should leave it to the experts to investigate.” George Lutz read the quote and called Stephen to ask him to investigate his house. The PIA made plans to do so, and when Stephen was next interviewed, he mentioned that our group had been asked by Lutz to investigate. Stephen also told Lutz from the beginning that although there would be no charge, we were a public service group and would reveal our findings to the public whether we found legitimate phenomena or fraud. George called several days later to cancel, saying he wanted no publicity, but then called in Channel 5 News, the Warrens, and a whole circus of people who paraded through the house on the evening news. There is no doubt in my mind that George only wanted people who would substantiate his claims. If he cared so much about avoiding the press, then he never would have held those initial press conferences and he certainly wouldn’t have allowed Channel 5 into the house. What he did want to avoid was anyone DISAGREEING with him in the press.
AF: Were you at first skeptical or did you believe what the Lutzes were initially saying?
RK: I was skeptical, not because I didn’t believe in strange phenomena but because they had TOO MANY all in one house! And that was only the beginning; their list of phenomena continued to grow longer and longer as each article, and eventually each book, came out. -There are many people out there today that say that Stephen was not qualified to investigate the house. What do you have to say about that? I strongly disagree. Who decides who is “qualified”? There wasn’t then, nor is there now, any certification required to be a parapsychologist or a “ghost hunter”. You could hang out a shingle tomorrow and start your own research group. As long as you are not attempting to give medical attention or psychotherapy to clients, you are breaking no laws. In 1976, Stephen had more experience investigating strange phenomena then almost anyone in the country, with the possible exceptions of the Psychical Research Foundation at Duke University and maybe the Association for Psychical Research in Manhattan. And neither of those 2 groups was willing to go public with any findings regarding Amityville.
AF: Tell us about the first time you entered the ‘Horror House.’ What were you expecting? Were you nervous, or did the house seem like a fairly comfortable place to live?
RK: I was expecting to be nervous about being in a house where 6 people had been murdered, but I was surprised to find that the Cromartys had made their home such a comfortable place to be that I was able to relax. That’s not to say that I didn’t think about the sad fate of the DeFeo family; I did. But I never sensed any evil presence, or any other kind of presence, there at all.
AF: Explain why Stephen spent so much time trying to debunk the Warrens’ claims.
RK: Stephen spent so much time trying to debunk the Warrens because they are dangerous people. They prey on people who are scared or lonely, and this is how they make their living. We never charged people more than minimal travel fees, and Stephen earned his living from teaching for a NYC public school. Stephen hated that the Warrens passed off fiction as fact and made the whole field of parapsychology look bad by association. We also had personal contact with families who had been told by the Warrens to abandon their homes because there were demons or evil spirits there, when all it was were spirits of deceased family members who were trying to get a message to their loved ones. Those poor people suffered being homeless needlessly because of the Warrens’ bad advice, as well as suffering financially from paying their fees.
AF: Tell us about the Halloween party that you and Stephen attended at the ‘horror house.’
RK: That was the best party I have ever been to. The costumes were hilarious, the guests were interesting and having a great time, and I felt happy that the house and its occupants had been able to cast off the sadness from the murders. Stephen and I had recently completed the “Weight Watchers” program and were looking our best, and I even had a minor celebrity tell me that I looked like Linda Ronstadt. I know, big deal, but remember, I was only 26 and a shy girl from Long Island!
AF: You’ve been one of the few to actually step (or crouch) down into the ‘red room.’ Explain what the room is, and what your reactions was the first time you saw it.
RK: I was amazed to find that the “room” was in fact not a room at all. It was merely a small space behind a shelf under the basement staircase that would allow access to the pipes in a plumbing emergency. The cinder block walls and the cement floor had been painted with red paint, but it was peeling off from the humidity. We picked up a couple of “samples” of the paint chips as souvenirs but I have no idea what we eventually did with them. I got no strange feelings while squatting there with Stephen to pose for snapshots.
AF: You have taken several photos inside the ‘horror house’. Has anything ‘strange’ ever happened to you or to any of the photos you have taken?
RK: No, nothing strange happened with any of the Amityville photos. I did, however, once take a photo in Poe Cottage in the Bronx of a ghostly figure sitting in Edgar Allen Poe’s old rocking chair. I thought I was only taking a picture of the empty chair, so imagine my surprise when the photo was developed and appeared to show a faint image of Poe sitting in the chair! -You have been invited to the house on numerous occasions, ever way into the 80’s. Did it seem at all possible that the house may have been ‘haunted?’ Anything is possible, but I never experienced anything out of the ordinary there, other than the strange tourists who pass by and harass the owners.
AF: What are your thoughts about Butch DeFeo and the killings?
RK: It was a tragic story, and I feel bad that the surviving family members had to suffer further from the sensational stories being told about their loved ones. It is one of the reasons why Stephen and I felt so strongly about exposing the hoax. As for Butch DeFeo, I was fascinated by Ric Osuna’s book on the subject. I doubt that the whole story of the murders will ever be known by anyone but Butch himself. -Do you believe the latest version he has told of the slayings? Which version? He has told so many that I have no reason to believe that he would reveal the whole truth now.
AF: Have any of the owners of the house ever thanked you for trying to expose a hoax?
RK: I believe that the Cromartys may have thanked us once, back in the 70’s. They were the only owners we ever dealt with. What meant more to Stephen and I was when we were thanked by the father and brother of the late Louisa DeFeo, for respecting the memory of the slain family.
AF: What is the biggest flaw in the whole Amityville story?
RK: That’s a tough question because there are many, but maybe the biggest flaw would be the fact that every family to live there after the Lutzes experienced no paranormal phenomena. If the house and the grounds are such an evil location, then why has the house been able to be used as a normal home for so many years?
AF: After almost thirty years of books, movies, and documentaries have come and gone. Are your thoughts towards this case still the same?
RK: Yes, I have not changed my mind over the years. What amazes me is that the story continues to be such a legend all these years later.
AF: What is it about the Amityville case that makes it live on?
RK: Many things: the way it started as a horrific murder case, the continual media attention it received, the nostalgia of people like yourself who became fascinated while they were small children, the fascination with all things gothic or otherworldly. These are just guesses on my part. I am frankly amazed that it does live on, and that some people seem to have embraced it almost like a religion. The “fans” are scarier to me than the actual case.
AF: Stephen spent a major part of his life working on “The Amityville Horror Conspiracy”. He tragically died just weeks before the book’s release. From knowing him, and his work, tell us how proud he was to have finally accomplished what he did?
RK: He couldn’t have been prouder. He considered “The Amityville Horror Conspiracy” his major life’s work. It took us 10 years to get it published. I have made next to nothing, financially, on the book because of distributors that went bankrupt, but I don’t care because we never did it for the money. Stephen and I just wanted to tell the public our story of what really went down.
AF: If you could tell the public one thing, what would that be?
RK: Just read the transcript of William Weber’s interview with Joel Martin that we included in our book, and you will see how obvious it is that Lutz and Weber constructed the story with the motives of making money and getting a new trial for DeFeo on a “devil made me do it” defense. Judge Jack Weinstein made it official when he called it a hoax during the court case between Weber and the Lutzes in the late 70’s. Unfortunately, the average person had no access to that information and so could continue to believe the hype put out there by the Lutzes and the media.