The Real Amityville Horror
America's most popular true ghost story was a hoax.
by Brian Dunning
January 11, 2007
Podcast transcript | Download | Subscribe
In the small town of Amityville on New York's Long Island, on a dark evening
in 1974, 23 year old Ronald "Butch" DeFeo burst into a bar and declared
that his entire family had just been shot. Police discovered six bodies in
the DeFeo home at 112 Ocean Avenue, and what's more, the subsequent investigation
revealed that Butch DeFeo had himself killed them all: both his parents, and
his four younger siblings, with a Marlin rifle. Despite DeFeo's claim that
strange voices in his head compelled him to commit the murders, he was convicted
of all six murders and remains imprisoned to this day.
Just over a year after the murders, the home was purchased by newlyweds George
and Kathy Lutz, who moved in with their three children. The house was sold
furnished so all of the DeFeo's furniture was still there, just as it had been
on the night of the murders. George Lutz had heard of the murders, so just
to be on the safe side, they called a priest whom Kathy knew, to bless the
house. The trouble began when the priest was driven out of the house by an
angry disembodied voice, and received stigmatic blisters on his skin. The family
daughter reported a friendly pig named Jodie, who later began making appearances
to the rest of the family through windows. A sculpted lion came to life and
walked around the house, and even bit George Lutz. The apparition of a demonic
boy appeared and was photographed, which you can find online. Angry red eyes
looked into the house at night, and left cloven footprints in the snow. George
Lutz woke up in a sweat every night at the same hour the DeFeos were murdered.
Stephen Kaplan, a local parapsychologist, was called in to investigate. Powerful
forces caused doors to explode off their hinges. Kathy developed strange red
marks on her chest and levitated two feet off her bed, and George saw her transform
into a hideous old hag. Green slime oozed from the walls of the house, and
a crucifix on the wall constantly rotated itself upside down. And, in one final
night of terror that the Lutzes have never even been able to describe, the
family was driven out of the house, never to return. Their stay had lasted
only 28 days.
The events are not surprising, since a few hundred years before the Defeos
were murdered, the local Shinnecock Indians used the same property as a sort
of insane asylum for their sick and dying. Negative demonic energy was nothing
new to the Amityville Horror house.
So what happened next?
George Lutz, whose business was failing (ostensibly as a result of the distraction
of the haunting), hoped to find a silver lining and called up the publisher
Prentice-Hall. The Exorcist had come out only two years before and
had been wildly successful, putting things like demons and abused priests firmly
in the public consciousness, so Prentice-Hall was keen to capitalize on the
Lutzes' experience. The publisher engaged author Jay Anson to write the book The
Amityville Horror, and the rest is history. The book and subsequent nine motion
pictures were highly successful, though most critics agree that the movies
were all stupid.
Where it started to get murky was a meeting that George Lutz had during his
28 days in the house. The man he met with was William Weber, who was no other
than Butch DeFeo's defense attorney. Who initiated the meeting is not clear.
According to William Weber's admission in later years, what transpired in that
meeting was an agreement that served both men's interests. The story of the
haunting was concocted, based in part upon elements from The Exorcist. George
Lutz stood to gain from the potential commerciality of a ghost story based
upon the DeFeo murders, and Weber would have a new defense for his client:
Demons, as evidenced by the Lutzes' experience, caused Butch DeFeo to murder
his family, at least in Butch's own mind.
Prior to the publication of the book, Lutz and Weber set out to publicize
the haunting to the best of their ability. The most notable success they had
was a television crew from Channel 5 in New York who brought a pair of psychics,
Ed and Lorraine Warren, who reported on camera that the house was plagued with
malevolent spirits. Other psychics also visited the house on different occasions,
and by the time the book came out, the groundwork for a bestseller was well
laid. To this day, the Warrens maintain that the Amityville Horror was a genuine
haunting, and they describe their experience on their website warrens.net.
Once enough money had been made by the book, the lawsuits began. Lutz and
Weber sued each other and just about everyone else under the sun, with claims
such as breach of contract, misappropriation of names, and mental distress.
The judge eventually threw everything out of court, along with a stern lecture
about the book being a work of fiction based in large part upon Weber's suggestions
and the popularity of The Exorcist.
Let's back up a moment to Stephen Kaplan, the parapsychologist whom the Lutzes
called in during their brief stay in the house, per Lutz and Weber's marketing
plan. As it turned out, Kaplan didn't buy the Lutzes' story, and concluded
while he was there that he was being hoaxed. Later, when Anson's book became
so popular, Kaplan became concerned that the Lutzes' story, which he considered
bogus, would give paranormal research a bad name, so he wrote his own book
called The Amityville Horror Conspiracy in which he laid out more
than 100 factual inconsistencies.
Among these inconsistencies was that the Shinnecock Indians, or any other
native tribes, never lived anywhere near present-day Amityville. The nearest
Shinnecock settlement was 70 miles away, even according to the Shinnecocks
themselves, and you can find their web site at shinnecocknation.com.
Father Pecoraro, the priest who tried to bless the house when the Lutzes moved
in but was allegedly attacked, reports that nothing unusual happened during
his visit and no attack or evil threat of any kind took place, although he
did express a concern about evil spirits to George Lutz based on the house's
history. Some reports, including one affidavit by Pecoraro himself, state that
he never visited at all but only spoke to the Lutzes over the phone. As a
result, author Jay Anson created a new priest for the book, Father Mancuso.
The only priest who ever got blisters and a ghostly warning was a fictitious
There were many other inconsistencies. No doors or windows in the house were
found to have ever been ripped off their hinges; all were found undamaged
and securely mounted with their original hardware. The local police department
records indicate no calls or visits to the property during the 28 days, despite
a number of such events in the book. The same goes for disturbances affecting
the neighbors. No snow fell during the period, which strains the cloven hoof
prints in the snow. In short the book was full of episodes that created physical
evidence, but none of that alleged evidence has ever withstood any scrutiny.
Indeed, everything that was falsifiable was easily falsified by Kaplan
and numerous other investigators. It should be noted that the Warrens, who
enjoyed their best public exposure during their televised visit to the house,
consider Kaplan's book to be false and to be simply his own attempt at self-serving
If you've ever listened to this podcast before, you know what my recommendation
is when you encounter claims that are far fetched or that violate physical
laws: Be skeptical. In the case of the Amityville Horror, plenty of evidence
exists to indicate that none of the events in the book happened, and the only
evidence that anything did happen are anecdotal personal accounts
by parties with clearly vested commercial interests. If you want to read the
book — and most readers report that it is a great scary story — enjoy
it for a work of fiction that launched one of pop culture's most engaging and
long-lived ghost stories.
By Brian Dunning
Please contact us with any corrections or feedback.
Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "The Real Amityville Horror." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media,
11 Jan 2007. Web.
27 Jul 2016. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4020>
References & Further Reading
Anson, Jay. The Amityville Horror. New York: Pocket Books, 1977.
Borzellieri, F., Capo, F. It Happened in New York. New York: Globe Pequot, 2006. 130-135.
Carroll, Robert Todd Carroll. The Skeptic's Dictionary: A collection of strange beliefs amusing deceptions, and dangerous delusions. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2003. 158-159.
Kaplan, Stephen, Kaplan, Roxanne Salch. The Amityville Horror Conspiracy; 2nd Edition. Laceyville: Toad Hall / KatcoMedia, 1995.
Osuna, Ric. "Revealing the Facts." The Amityville Murders. The Amityville Murders, the Official Website for the Amityville Murders, 8 Mar. 1999. Web. 7 Dec. 2009. <http://www.amityvillemurders.com/facts.html>
Radford, Benjamin. "The Amityville Horror." Snopes.com. Snopes.com, 15 Apr. 2005. Web. 7 Dec. 2009. <http://www.snopes.com/horrors/ghosts/amityville.asp>
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