The 13th Floor

The Amityville Hoax vs. The Amityville Reality

THE CONJURING 2 is, as of this writing, still playing in theaters and racking up both box-office success and a fair amount of critical praise. If you haven’t seen it, the film is a fictionalized account of real-life demonologists Ed and  Lorraine Warren, and their famed investigation into the authenticity of the well-documented Enfield haunting. The details of that haunting are interesting enough, and the film’s rendition of them comes to some interesting and undocumented conclusions about what was really going on. There are many mysterious happenings surrounding that haunting, as well as many pieces of evidence that the entire thing may have been a hoax.

One of the conceits of THE CONJURING 2 is that the Warrens were in the employ of the The Vatican to investigate whether or not certain hauntings and demonic possessions were, in fact, authentic, and would require closer attention from the Catholic church (the only church, it seems, equipped to deal with demons and the like).


The Warrens were even called in — as depicted in the opening scenes of THE CONJURING 2 — to investigate the infamous Amityville haunting. The film posits that there was indeed a dark ghost living there — visualized as an evil nun by the film’s screenwriters — and that the infamous house at 112 Ocean Avenue in Long Island, New York, was indeed haunted.


Incidentally, the house is currently up for sale for only $850,000.

Of course, a lot of what we now know about the Amityville haunting — as depicted in books, TV shows, and an endless series of movies (I think there are over 15 feature films with the word “Amityville” in the title; I’ve seen at least 11 of them) — we now know to be a hoax perpetrated by previous owners the Lutz family and their lawyer. There are, however, some odd details that are still suspicious, and could, to the adventurous mind, still point to something supernatural.

The chronology of events is as follows: Ronald DeFeo, Jr., one night in 1974, took up a shotgun and murdered his mother, father, and four siblings. He was arrested and convicted, claiming at first that his family members were victims of a mob hit, but later confessed to the killings. DeFeo put in a not-guilty plea for reasons of insanity, although that didn’t stick. DeFeo was convicted and is still serving a prison sentence to this day.


DeFeo’s own accounts of the killings, however, have changed dramatically over the years. In one account, DeFeo was married and in New Jersey at the time of the killings. In another, he heard voices commanding him to kill. There is an extended litany of versions of the killings. What we know for sure is that the Lutz family moved into the same house, and shortly afterward moved out, having reported weird feelings, slamming doors, and all of the details that are now available to us in Jay Anson’s famous book and its subsequent film adaptation (as well as its sequels and remakes).

It has since been maintained, however, that DeFeo’s lawyer William Weber has already debunked the “ghost” theory at DeFeo’s trial. There is no date as to their actual meetings, but evidently the Lutzes, DeFeo and Weber had once met to actively start telling lies about a haunting — lies which eventually turned into THE AMITYVILLE HORROR.


Why did they do it? Well, DeFeo had nothing to lose, having already been convicted, and Weber and the Lutzes could easily make a buck off the story. Horror fans already know the details, and the tale has been passed around for so long, it’s passed into folk history as genuine. The Amityville house, still the site of actual murders, remains one of the most most famous haunted locations in America.

But here’s the thing: there are still some eerie details about this entire affair that still keep ghost-hunters interested, and that have not been explained by the Lutzes.

For one, since DeFeo’s story keeps changing, it’s hard to tell how much of what he says may be true. He may have been full of spite when he murdered his family, or he may have been driven mad by visions and dark influences that he encountered in that house. It’s easy for ghost-hunters to postulate that he was, in a very traditional sense, possessed. At any rate, DeFeo’s motives remain unclear. He may have hated his father; he may have wanted life insurance. He’s never been clear on the matter.


What’s more, the known details of the original murders remain strangely unexplainable. Not all of his family were asleep that early morning (estimated to be around 3 am), and they were all shot with a high-caliber rifle while still in their beds. I will admit that his younger victims — his youngest brother was nine — may have been petrified by the loud noise and refuse to leave their beds, but why did no one wake up and flee? Why was there no struggle? There were no sedatives involved. The slayings took place on several floors of the house, so there would have been ample time for one of the DeFeos to get up and call for help, but there was a strange silence over everything. No one knew what had happened until DeFeo himself entered a local bar at 6:30 that evening to admit something had happened.


The slayings also occurred rapidly, and criminologists are still confused as to how DeFeo managed to carry them out in such a small time. There are even theories that there may have been other killers in the house. One of DeFeo’s stories is that his sister Dawn killed their father and siblings, his mother killed Dawn, and he only killed his mother. No details have arisen to prove any of these speculations, however. To confuse matters further, an alibi for DeFeo arose years later, putting him on the road at the time of the killings. This, of course, can’t be proven either.

There is also some supernatural question as to whether or not the Amityville house rests on an Indian burial ground, giving ghost-hunters something to get excited about. Some locals maintain that there were burials or other crimes committed at the site of the house… although these stories are all based on hearsay.


Are there actual ghosts at the Amityville house? One would have to live there to be sure, I suppose. We do know that there are lies and inconsistencies surrounding the crime, and that DeFeo was convicted for the killings. We know the Lutzes made up a lot of what we know the best about the Amityville hauntings for the sake of Anson’s book. But we also know that the circumstances remain mysterious.

For those who see a hoax, there is enough evidence to shoot down any ghosts. For those who see a haunting, there is still enough doubt for demons.


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