Many people are familiar with the story of The Amityville Horror from the two film adaptations, released in 1979 and 2005. The films, based on a book by Jay Anson, chronicle the haunting of the Lutz family in a house in Amityville, New York in 1975. The book was a huge hit, which led to the film version a few years later.
While the veracity of the Lutz family’s haunting has been debated, it is certain that a gruesome night of terror the previous year in Amityville remains one of New York’s most notorious true crimes – and that Hollywood mined the massacre for inspiration for the Amityville films.
Ronald DeFeo, Sr., his wife Louise, and their five children had lived in a beautiful Dutch Colonial home in affluent Amityville, New York since 1965. Ronald Sr. was a successful car salesman and his family seemed to live a happy, comfortable life. However, there was a side of the DeFeo family that friends and neighbors did not know. Ronald Sr. was an overbearing father, who ruled his family with strict authority. The leader of the DeFeo clan frequently got into heated fights with his wife and children – and his oldest son, Ronald Jr., who went by Butch, was the primary target of his abuse.
Butch’s problems at home spilled over into school, and he became a frequent user of heroin and LSD. Eventually Butch was kicked out of high school for repeated violent incidents. The eldest DeFeo child continued to struggle, and he fell deeper into drug addiction. Despite this, he held down a steady job at the same car dealership where his father worked.
Despite his comfortable lifestyle, Butch DeFeo eventually snapped. Around 3:00 a.m. on November 13, 1974, the 23-year-old Butch armed himself with a rifle and went room to room in the grand home on Ocean Avenue, shooting his family members as they slept. He killed his father, 44, his mother Louise, 42, his brothers Marc, 12, and John, 9, and his sisters Dawn, 18, and Allison, 13. In the blink of an eye, Butch DeFeo wiped out his entire family.
After the murders, Butch entered an Amityville bar close his house, yelling and screaming hysterically that his parents had been shot. Police converged on the DeFeo house and discovered the six dead bodies. The town of Amityville reeled in shock at the horrific crime.
Butch DeFeo was taken in by police for questioning. Investigators quickly noticed inconsistencies in his story. After being pressed by the police, DeFeo confessed to the six murders, saying, “once I started, I just couldn’t stop. It went so fast.”
In 1975, Butch DeFeo was sentenced to six 25-year sentences, one for each member of his family he murdered. DeFeo has changed his story several times over the past four decades. Some suggest that he killed his parents to collect insurance money, others say Butch’s murder spree was precipitated by voices in his head, commanding him to kill. We will probably never know the entire story of the murder of the DeFeo family, but the legacy of the case remains in the public eye, especially as Hollywood continues to repackage the story, which they did again this year.
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