The historical documentary series continues. This
edition examines the bizarre events surrounding a
murder case in a quiet village in middle America.
After six members of the same family were
murdered in Suffolk County, New York, stories of
hauntings, demonic possession and poltergeist
activity grabbed the attention of the world’s media.
Is there an element of truth behind these tales, or
was the whole thing an elaborate hoax?
On November 13, 1974, police discovered six
members of the DeFeo family dead at 112 Ocean
Avenue in Amityville, New York. Ronald, the eldest
son of the DeFeo family, had shot his parents, two
brothers and two sisters as they lay in their beds.
Local reporter Joel Martin was one of the first
journalists on the scene. “It was national news from the first moment,” he says.
As Ronald awaited trial, the press began to speculate about his motive. Some suggested that he had killed his family to cash in on his father’s life insurance policy; others that he had been tipped over the edge by domestic violence. However, it was not until Ronald had been sentenced to six life terms that another, sensational motive came to the fore.
A year after the murders, George and Kathy Lutz bought the property at a bargain price and moved in with their three children. “It was a dream come true,” said George of the move during a subsequent interview. But after just 28 days in the house, the Lutzes fled, leaving all their possessions behind. George and Kathy claimed that they were haunted by a series of supernatural events, including wild fluctuations in temperature, the appearance of slime and fetid odours, unexplained noises and sleepless nights.
Soon after the Lutzes left the property, they met with William Weber, Ronald DeFeo’s defence attorney, and suggested that the killer may have been driven to his crimes by demonic possession. Seeing a commercial opportunity in the Lutzes’ story, Weber suggested joining forces and quickly arranged a press conference to announce a joint collaboration on a book.
New York news station Channel 5 launched an investigation into the Lutzes’ claims, and 19-yearold journalist Laura Didio gained the couple’s trust. “It was going to be a ratings grabber,” she recalls. The channel put together a team of demonologists, parapsychologists and mediums – among them Ed and Lorraine Warren – and arranged for a séance to be broadcast from the house. “The vibrations were outrageous,” remembers Lorraine. “How anybody could spend 28 days in that house is beyond comprehension.” Though the ‘experts’ claimed to have felt all kinds of activity, the TV crew recorded nothing out of the ordinary.
In May 1976, the Lutzes moved to California where they met Hollywood author Jay Anson, who made them an offer. Anson’s horror novel became a bestseller, and the subsequent movie, ‘The Amityville Horror’, was a box-office hit. The success turned the Lutzes into media stars, but with their fame came intense media scrutiny –was there any truth behind their experiences, or had they faked the whole story?
The most significant doubts came from William Weber, who claims to have had a hand in fabricating the story during a drunken first meeting with the Lutzes. “There’s no question in my mind that they pulled off a successful hoax,” he says. But the couple were so adamant that they were telling the truth, they took a lie-detector test – and passed. So if the story was not a hoax, could there be another explanation behind the Lutzes’ claims? Professor of psychology Richard Wiseman thinks so: “Some people are fantasy prone,” he says. “The whole process feeds on itself.” In 2004, Kathy Lutz died, to be followed two years later by George. Nobody will ever know the whole truth of what happened in Amityville during that month, but the Lutzes’ story captured the imagination of the world. Since the terrible events of 1974, some eight films have been released and numerous books have been written, all based on the legend that is the Amityville horror.

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