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The Amityville "Haunting"

By: Paul Geraghty - Updated: 25 Nov 2010 | comments*Discuss
 
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The Amityville case is one of the world's most famous ghost stories. It has been the subject of a number of books, films and documentaries and the controversies it has generated linger even to this day. Disputes centre on how much of the original story is based on fact and how much is fictional embellishment or even outright invention. Claims, counter-claims, and lawsuits have flown among those involved with the house, the alleged haunting and the subsequent investigation of it.

The DeFeo Murders

The basis of the story is a family tragedy that no one disputes. On November 13th, 1974 23-year old Ronald DeFeo Jr., murdered all the other members of his family - his parents, two sisters, and two brothers - in cold blood, shooting them with a rifle while they slept. Although DeFeo initially feigned innocence to the police and concocted a story suggesting that a mafia hit-man may have been responsible, his lies were quickly uncovered and he soon confessed responsibility for the crimes.

DeFeo pled insanity at his trial but this defence was rejected. He was convicted of six counts of second degree murder and sentenced to 25 years to life.

The Amityville Legend

Just over one year later, George and Kathy Lutz, a newly married couple with three children from Kathy's previous marriage, purchased the Amityville house for the bargain price of $80,000. They knew beforehand of what had taken place there and had reconciled themselves to it. But they were to remain in their new home for only 28 days - before fleeing in terror to live with Kathy's parents

Their experiences during those 28 days formed the basis of the Amityville legend. It was presented to the world initially through "The Amityville Horror," a book by author Jay Anson. According to Anson, the family had a succession of weird experiences in the house. They heard strange sounds, had the sensation of being plucked at by strangers; one of the children developed an imaginary friend, called Jodie, who said strange things to her and would sometimes manifest as a boy, and sometimes as a kind of demonic pig. Kathy Lutz was said to have been levitated into the air while she slept and sometimes had her appearance metamorphosed into that of an old woman. George Lutz reported hearing strange music playing from somewhere in the house and hinted that he developed homicidal inclinations towards his own family. Green slime oozed from the walls of the house. Mysterious apparitions were seen; and strange, painful welts appeared on the body of Kathy Lutz.

Throughout their one-month stay in their new home, the Lutz family was advised by a Catholic priest who, at one stage, even performed a blessing on the house, attempting to drive out any trace of evil that remained there. As the priest performed the ritual of blessing, he is said to have heard a deep, masculine voice instructing him to "Get out!" When he turned to see who it was, there was no one there. According to the book, the priest was himself afflicted with a variety of physical ailments which he was sure stemmed from a supernatural presence in the house.

The book also claimed that the area in which the house stood had been used as a kind of internment area by the Indians who once lived there; sick, deranged and terminally ill members of the Native American community had been locked up there until they died.

Amityville Horror or Amityville Hoax?

The Lutz family cooperated with Anson in the creation of the book and had arrived at an arrangement with him beforehand through which they would be entitled to a share of any profits the book made. In the event, it became a best-seller, selling millions of copies in America alone. Predictably, film-makers were soon interested and when the film rights to the book were sold, the Lutzes cashed in again. George Lutz later admitted that his family had made between $400,000 and $500,000 from its share of the book and film deals.

After the book had become a best-seller, the carping began. Paranormal investigator Stephen Kaplan decided to look into the case and quickly became convinced that a fraud was being perpetrated on the general public. He could see plainly that the parts of the house that the book described as having been destroyed or damaged in the strange sequence of events were, in fact, in perfect condition, in their original form. The book reported the Lutzes having found a cloven-hoofed footprint in the snow outside. Kaplan checked the records and found there was no snow on the ground that day.

The sceptics were vindicated in 1979 when William Weber, Ronald DeFeo's lawyer, appeared on a radio program and confessed that the whole thing was a hoax. He claimed that he and George Lutz had dreamed up the fraudulent scheme while consuming several bottles of wine. Weber wanted a new trial for his client, using the pretext that DeFeo had been under supernatural influence while committing the murders; Lutz, he said, just wanted to get out from under a mortgage that was crippling him financially.

The priest who had played such a prominent part in the narrative denied that he had suffered any bodily afflictions, as the book had described. In 2002, the local church issued a statement, indicating that it believed the whole thing was a fraud.

Many of the critics noted the strangely cinematic nature of the oddities described in the book - the green slime oozing from the walls, the apparitions and illusions that vanished quickly after appearing - many of which seemed curiously reminiscent of the film "The Exorcist" which had been a worldwide pop-culture sensation only a few years before.

Conclusion

Most people now accept that the Amityville case, as described in Jay Anson's book, and the films that followed it, was, to a large extent, fraudulent. Some believe there was a vestige of truth there; that some paranormal activity did occur, but was embellished beyond all recognition by an unscrupulous author; others claim that the whole thing was a fiction from start to finish. It should be pointed out, however, that George Lutz maintained until his death in 2006 that his story was accurate and truthful and some of the investigators who looked into the case over the years stand by their original assessment that the haunting was real.

Jim and Barbara Cromarty, a couple who moved into the house after the Lutzes vacated it, insisted they encountered nothing unusual and were bothered more by the legions of curiosity-seekers who showed up than by any paranormal phenomena.

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