The Amityville Horror
A well-publicized case of a modern haunting that turned out
to be an elaborate hoax. On November 13, 1974, a large colonial
house at 112 Ocean Ave., Amityville, Long Island, New
York, was the scene of a mass murder. Twenty-four-year old
Ronald DeFeo shot his parents, two brothers, and two sisters
with a high-powered rifle. At his trial, DeFeo claimed that he
had been obsessed by voices who told him to kill, and his attorney
entered a plea of insanity. The plea was not accepted, and
DeFeo was sentenced to six consecutive life terms.
In view of this horrific tragedy, the spacious Dutch colonial
house was offered for sale at a relatively low price, and was purchased
by George Lee Lutz of Long Island. He and his wife,
Kathleen, and three children moved into their new home on
December 18, 1975. They stayed in the house, which had been
named ‘‘High Hopes’’ by a previous owner, only 28 days, then
fled in terror, claiming they had been plagued by spirits. The
hauntings reported were many and varied. Kathy Lutz was levitated
one night and her face transformed into the appearance
of an aged hag. One of the children talked to the spirit form
of an enormous pig named Jodie. There were plagues of flies
in the dead of winter, unearthly loud voices, music and footsteps,
unpleasant smells, and a green slime that oozed through
ceiling, walls, and keyholes. A Catholic priest who attempted to
bless the house was commanded by a mysterious voice shouting
‘‘Get out!’’ After the Lutzes left the house, various mediums
held seances but became ill afterward.
Mrs. Lutz’s story to the press was analyzed on a truthdetecting
Psychological Stress Evaluator of a type used in legal
proceedings as court evidence. The investigator claimed that
the results indicated Mrs. Lutz was telling the truth or what she
believed to be the truth. The story of the Amityville hauntings
was the subject of a telecast on Channel 5 Ten O’Clock News on
February 5, 1976, with reporter Steve Bauman. The story was
also told at length by author Jay Anson in his book The Amityville
Horror A True Story (1977). Anson’s book became a bestseller,
with paperback editions in the U.S. and Britain, and was
turned into a highly successful movie with six sequels.
It now appears that the Lutzes abandoned the house, not because
of any hauntings, but because they realized that they had
gotten in over their heads financially. They abandoned their
furniture when they left because it was so worn it was not worth
moving. The idea of the haunting seems to have come from
DeFeo’s attorney’s attempt to have DeFeo’s conviction overturned.
When insanity proved unacceptable, he tried to blame
the murders on the voices.
When Anson began his book on the story, he was not allowed
into the house and he never interviewed the Lutzes. He had
only several tapes they had made from which to work. He seems
to have borrowed heavily from his own screenplay of The Exorcist
to fill in the gaps and make an entertaining story. Many of
the strange events mentioned in the book simply never occurred
there was no levitation, no marching band, no door
torn off its hinges, no tracks in the snow (as it had not snowed
during the Lutzes’ time in the house), no pig’s face, etc. In the
court hearing in September 1979 on the DeFeo case, the Lutzes
admitted under oath that almost everything in the book was fiction.
Because of the powerful impact of the movies, few are
aware of the fictional nature of the story, which was presented
to the public as fact.
The Amityville house was subsequently occupied by new
owners, who stated that there were no unusual phenomena
whatsoever except extensive harassment from tourists. They
sued the Lutzes, the publisher Prentice-Hall, and Jay Anson for
$1.1 million damages. (See also Poltergeist)
Sources
Anson, Jay. The Amityville Horror A True Story. Englewood
Cliffs, N.J. Prentice Hall, 1977.
Morris, Robert L. ‘‘The Amityville Horror.’’ The Skeptical Inquirer
Vol. 2, no. 2 (SpringSummer 1978) 95–102.
Stein, Gordon. Encyclopedia of Hoaxes. Detroit Gale Research,
1993.