By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The producers may have gotten rich, but you wouldn't want to bank on the authenticity of the story. Soon after the book was published in 1978, naysayers began calling it a fraud. Setauket psychic Stephen Kaplan, who had been contacted by the Lutzes to take a "reading" of the house but was dropped in favor of more notable psychics, later wrote a book called the Amityville Horror Conspiracy, in which he tried to discredit the ghost stories.
Kaplan claimed George Lutz invented the story because he couldn't pay off the house's mortgage and realized he and his wife were in over their heads. Kaplan spent years trying to get the book published; shortly after the book went to press in the '90s, he died of a heart attack.
Ronnie DeFeo's attorney, William Weber, blew the whistle after claiming he and the Lutzes created the story "over many bottles of wine." But believers say Weber was just getting back at the Lutzes for supposedly screwing him out of profits from the original book by Anson.
Local cop Pat Cammaroto wound up as a character in the book, which claims he visited the house. Reality check: "The way I was portrayed was bullshit," Cammaroto says. He was in the Amityville station the day Lutz came in and surrendered a gun because he feared what the house's "demons" would make him do to his wife and his three step-children. "He brought in the gun and said he was afraid of having the gun 'cause the house was haunted," Cammaroto recalls. "It was all nonsense."
The Lutzes' subsequent storytelling didn't enhance their credibility in most eyes. In 1982, the couple wrote a sequel with Anson in which they claimed that "Jodie the demon pig," the specter George had seen in his stepdaughter's window, had followed them to California on the wing of their airplane (à la the Twilight Zone episode starring William Shatner). In subsequent books, the demons chase the Lutzes around the globe. "The Exorcist was out at the time, and they saw a chance to capitalize," says Purdy.
The Horror Continues
The Amityville franchise is still alive and kicking. Ric Osuna, 26, a website builder from Las Vegas, is associate producer for a documentary called The Amityville Horror: 25 Years Later. "I'm hoping that if we can get the cooperation of the homeowners," he says, "we can do a sonar scan of the backyard to see what's underneath." His website gets 2,000 hits a week. He also claims he has new information that "is gonna blow everyone away." It's proof, he says, that the house truly is haunted. There are rumors that another movie, called Amityville 2000, is in the works.
The house sits on what is one of the most beautiful streets on Long Island. The trademark fan windows in the attic have been replaced, but the house's sideways appearance is a dead giveaway for people trying to find it. The current resident of the house is sick of the media bugging him. Apparently, the owner doesn't understand that an annoyance tax comes with buying one of the most famous houses in America.
Ronnie DeFeo, his bid for parole recently rejected, still sits in a cell at Green Haven state prison in Dutchess County. His stories about the murders have shifted over the years like the swirling of so many ghosts. At various times, he has accused everyone else of the crime, from the mob to his mother, to his sister Dawn who he says acted with an accomplice while he was in the basement playing pool. He claims that when he heard gunshots he confronted his sister, took the gun away from her and shot her. Then, realizing the murders would be pinned on him, he tried to hide the evidence by throwing the rifle in a river and picking up the shell casings.
One of the case's biggest mysteries is how the family members could remain asleep as someone was shooting a rifle in the house. Autopsies showed that, contrary to early reports, the family had not been drugged at dinner. But no one else has ever been fingered as an accomplice. And nobody has ever bought Ronnie DeFeo's stories.
"He used to say, 'Big things are gonna happen to this town. You just wait and see,' " DeFeo's bar buddy Reichelt recalls.
She and the rest of the people of Amityville didn't have to wait very long.