The DeFeo Murders

DeFeo crime scene
November 13, 1974. Patrons of Amityville sat around drinking at Henry’s Bar, just blocks from 112 Ocean Avenue, better known to locals as “High Hopes”.

At 6:30 p.m., Ronald “Butch” DeFeo, Jr. swung open the door of the bar and shouted: “Please! You’ve got to help me! I think my mother and father are shot!” The young man falls to his knees and begins weeping, surrounded by his startled friends.

Butch’s best friend, Robert “Bobby” Kelske, along with Joey Yeswit, John Altieri, Al Saxton and William Scordmaglia raced back to 112 Ocean Avenue driving Butch’s 1970 Buick Electra 225.

DeFeo crime scene

Upon arriving, the men found the front door unlocked. Inside, the house was dark and still. Shaggy, the DeFeo family’s sheepdog, began barking as the men entered. The dog was tied up to the inside of the kitchen’s back door.

Bobby Kelske led the group of men up the staircase and to the master bedroom on the left. Switching on the light, the men were met with a horrifying scene. The lifeless bodies of Ronald DeFeo Sr., 43, and his wife Louise DeFeo, 42, lay sprawled out on their bed. A bullet hole and a dried stream of blood were visible on Ronald’s back. Louise’s body was buried beneath a blanket.

Soon after, the men discovered the bodies of the DeFeo children, Dawn, Allison, Marc and John-Matthew, all seemingly shot in their beds while slumbering.


DeFeo Murders second floor diagram DeFeo Murders third floor diagram

The Call

Operator: Suffolk County Police. May I help you?

Yeswit: Hah?

Operator: This is Suffolk County Police. May I help you?

Yeswit: We have a shooting here. Uh, DeFeo.

Operator: Sir, what is your name?

Yeswit: Joey Yeswit.

Operator: Can you spell that?

Yeswit: Yeah. Y-E-S W I T.

Operator: Y-E-S-W. . .

Yeswit: Hah?

Operator: Y-E-S . . .

Yeswit: Y-E-S-W-I-T.

Operator: . . . W-I-T. Your phone number?

Yeswit: I don't even know if it's here. There's, uh, I don't have a phone number here.

Operator: Okay, where you calling from?

Yeswit: It's in Amityville. Call up the Amityville Police, and it's right off, uh . . . Ocean Avenue in Amityville.

Operator: Austin?

Yeswit: Ocean Avenue. What the ... ?

Operator: Ocean ... Avenue? Offa’ where?

Yeswit: It's right off Merrick Road. Ocean Avenue.

Operator: Merrick Road. What's ... what's the problem, sir?

Yeswit: It's a shooting!

Operator: There's a shooting. Anybody hurt?

Yeswit: Hah?

Operator: Anybody hurt?

Yeswit: Yeah, it's uh, uh-everybody's dead.

Operator: Whattaya’ mean, everybody's dead?

Yeswit: I don't know what happened. Kid come running in the bar. He says everybody in the family was killed, and we came down here.

Operator: Hold on a second, sir. (Police Officer now takes over call)

Police Officer: Hello.

Yeswit: Hello.

Police Officer: What's your name?

Yeswit: My name is Joe Yeswit.

Police Officer: George Edwards?

Yeswit: Joe Yeswit.

Police Officer: How do you spell it?

Yeswit: What? I just ... How many times do I have to tell you? Y-E-S-W-I-T.

Police Officer: Where're you at?

Yeswit: I'm on Ocean Avenue.

Police Officer: What number?

Yeswit: I don't have a number here. There's no number on the phone.

Police Officer: What number on the house?

Yeswit: I don't even know that.

Police Officer: Where're you at? Ocean Avenue and what?

Yeswit: In Amityville. Call up the Amityville Police and have someone come down here. They know the family.

Police Officer: Amityville.

Yeswit: Yeah. Amityville.

Police Officer: Okay. Now, tell me what's wrong.

Yeswit: I don't know. Guy come running in the bar. Guy come running in the bar and said there-his mother and father are shot. We ran down to his house and everybody in the house is shot. I don't know how long, you know. So, uh . . .

Police Officer: Uh, what's the add ... what's the address of the house?

Yeswit: Uh, hold on. Let me go look up the number. All right. Hold on.

Yeswit: Hello. Hello?

Police Officer: Yes.

Yeswit: One-twelve Ocean Avenue, Amityville.

Police Officer: One-what?

Yeswit: One-twelve Ocean Avenue, Amityville.

Police Officer: Is that Amityville or North Amityville?

Yeswit: Amityville. Right on ... south of Merrick Road.

Police Officer: Is it right in the village limits?

Yeswit: No, it's uh ... you know where the high school is?

Police Officer: Yeah.

Yeswit: It's in the village limits, yeah.

Police Officer: Yeah. That's the village limits, right?

Yeswit: Yeah.

Police Officer: Eh, okay, what's your phone number?

Yeswit: I don't even have one. There's no number on the phone.

Police Officer: All right, where're you callin from? Public phone?

Yeswit: No, I'm calling right from the house, because I don't see a number on the phone.

Police Officer: You're at the house itself?

Yeswit: Yeah.

Police Officer: How many bodies are there?

Yeswit: I think, uh, I don't know-uh, I think they said four.

Police Officer: There's four?

Yeswit: Yeah.

Police Officer: Alright, you stay right there at the house, and I'll call the Amityville Village P.D., and they'll come down.

Yeswit: Okay.

The Investigation

Within ten minutes of Yeswit’s call, Officer Kenneth Greguski of the Amityville Village Police Department arrived at 112 Ocean Avenue. By now, the men were grouped in the front yard, trying to comfort Butch who sobbed uncontrollably.

“I’m not going to go back in that house!”, screamed Butch, as he pounded his fists into the Electra. “My mother and father are dead!” (Sullivan, High Hopes, pg. 16)

Finally convincing Butch to come back inside, the men reentered the house and sat DeFeo at the kitchen table. After Greguski inspected the scene, he immediately called police headquarters to report the murders.

Detectives and police officials came in swarms, followed by legions of reporters and curious locals stunned by the tragic news.

Ronald 'Butch' DeFeo, Jr.

Suffolk County detective Gasper Randazzo was the first to question Butch on the scene. Amongst his sobbing, Butch was able to tell Randazzo where he had been that day and how he found the bodies. When asked who he thought was responsible, Butch demanded that a supposed Mafia hit-man, Louis Falini, was to blame. Detective Gerard Gozaloff suggested that Ronnie be put into protective custody, if indeed, the killings were linked with organized crime.

After signing an official statement, Butch was driven by homicide detectives George Harrison and Joseph Napolitano to Fourth Precinct headquarters, where he could be interviewed. Butch continued to insist that Falini was connected with the murders. He explained that Falini had lived with the DeFeo family briefly and knew of a certain area in the basement Butch and his father had stored a collection of cash and gems.

With continued questioning, Butch seemed more intense in his willingness to cooperate, admitting petty robberies he and his friends had taken part in. Feeling they had pulled enough information from him, the detectives allowed Butch to sleep while they returned to the scene of the murder.

Marlin .35-caliber ammunition

Investigators soon discovered boxes of Marlin .35-caliber ammunition in his room, which matched the murder weapon. Further questioning of Butch’s friends revealed Ronnie was a “gun fanatic”. The pieces began to fall into place.

The next morning, Gozaloff, Harrison and Napolitano went to wake Butch, who was still asleep on a cot in the police file room. As Ronnie awoke, Harrison began to inform him of his rights. Butch became anxious. “You don’t have to do that…Get Falini. He’s the guy you want. Not me.” (Sullivan, High Hopes, pg. 35)

Detective Dennis Rafferty and Lieutenant Robert Dunn soon relieved Gozaloff and Napolitano after hours of questioning. Rafferty continued to press at the discrepancies in Ronnie’s version of the events and his involvement.

Butch continued to lie, claiming that he had been awakened by Louis Falini at gunpoint and made to accompany him as Falini did away with each member of his family. He went even further to describe how he had discarded of the evidence in a sewer in Brooklyn.

“Did it really happen that way?” asked Rafferty.

“No.” Butch confessed. “It all started so fast. Once I started, I just couldn’t stop. It went so fast.” (Sullivan, High Hopes, pg. 47)
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