By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Amityville cop Ken Greguski had just gotten a sandwich roast beef or ham and cheese, he doesn't remember from a deli on lower Broadway when he got the call. He ambled his squad car down Merrick Avenue and made a right onto Ocean Avenue. Pulling up to the Dutch Colonial at 112 Ocean, Greguski spied a distraught young man, Ronald DeFeo Jr., whose family lived in the house, standing outside with three other men. Greguski walked into the house, climbed the circular staircase and entered the master bedroom.
"I didn't check their pulses, 'cause they were already turning color," he recalls. "I went into the boy's room next, then into the sister's room. There was blood all over the walls."
Greguski was first on the scene of a murder 25 years ago this November that would transform a modest residence on a sleepy street into the Amityville Horror, the most famous haunted house in America.
"I went back downstairs and called into headquarters and said there were five bodies," Greguski says. "Then DeFeo said, 'I have another sister.' I hadn't gone up to the third floor because I thought it was an attic. On the third floor was Dawn."
With his entire family lying in six separate pools of blood on the floors above his head, 23-year-old Ronnie DeFeo his friends called him Butch sat in the kitchen, crying softly. He wasn't crying hard enough to suit Greguski. "If that had happened to me," Greguski, 62, now retired and living in Dix Hills, says, "I wouldn't be able to speak. I wouldn't be able to walk."
Ronnie DeFeo had his own reasons for showing little emotion. He was the one who had taken a .35-caliber Martin rifle and methodically moved from room to room, shooting his family in the back as they slept.
The next year, George and Kathy Lutz moved into the house. Twenty-eight days later, the couple fled in terror, ranting and raving about evil spirits, floating pigs and oozing slime. And the place on Ocean Avenue has been an American icon ever since.
Everyone agrees that six people died a violent death in the house. Some people believe the horror stories are true, that Ronnie DeFeo somehow heard voices that commanded him to kill, that the spirits re-emerged after the Lutzes moved into the house. Most people think the horror stories are bullshit.
But the question still lingers for people who 20 years ago saw the movie that was based on the best-selling book about the case. The mystery furrows the brows of tourists who flock to Amityville each year on the anniversary of the slaughter to see the house, now designated 108 Ocean Ave. in an unsuccessful attempt to confuse rubberneckers. Fueled by the unspeakable gore, the Amityville horror has spawned numerous websites and hotwired conspiracy theorists around the world. Did DeFeo hear voices? Was it the house that drove him to kill?
Take a Good Look At My Face
"The guy was a scumbag," says Pat Cammaroto, a retired Amityville police sergeant who still lives around the block from the DeFeo house and once busted Ronnie for being in possession of a stolen outboard motor. "Anybody who can kill his family, brothers and sisters. The father, I can understand, 'cause he was a scumbag, too."
Sure, an ex-cop wouldn't like the guy, but what about Ronnie's drinking buddies? One of them now works at the town library.
"He was a guy who tried to buy his friends," recalls Irene Reichelt, a clerk/typist at the Amityville Public Library who 30 years ago used to hang out with DeFeo at Henry's bar on Merrick Avenue. "He was always buying people drinks. He used to say his father would give him five thousand dollars if he asked. Always fancy clothes, fancy cars. He had a car with one of those cucaracha horns."
DeFeo liked guns, drugs and soul music. "You know that song 'They smile in your face, all the time they want to take your place, the backstabbers,' " Reichelt says, referring to the O'Jays hit. "He used to play that song all the time. One on one, he was nice. But if you pissed him off, he was crazy."
And you couldn't ever be sure that he was bluffing. Reichelt reaches back for one memory: "One time, he picked up a cash register and threatened to throw it through the window of the Blue T." That pizza place still stands at the corner of Merrick and Ocean. "He didn't do it, it was just to scare people."
When the slaughter happened, however, there was little question whose gruesome work it was. "Every one of us thought he did it," she says.
It's clear that Ronnie DeFeo was an obnoxious, spoiled bully as an adult. Had he suddenly soured after a blissful childhood and promising teen years? We think not.
"I knew him from Brooklyn as a kid," recalls Sandy, owner of the Cloud Nine bar in Amityville. "I was going out with his best friend. Ronnie used to chase me down the block, get me up against the wall and try to kiss me. He was always after me. He was scary. Those eyes, boy. Piercing, dark eyes." In a freaky twist of fate, the bar Sandy just bought a year ago used to be called Henry's the same joint where DeFeo used to gulp vodka and 7-Up every night. It's also the bar DeFeo ran into for help after he "discovered" his family was dead.