The untold truth of The Amityville Horror

In 1977, The Amityville Horror hit bookshelves across the U.S., introducing readers to the one of the scariest haunted house stories of all time. But unlike many tales that had come before, author Jay Anson claimed this particular story was real. Soon, the book inspired a classic horror film, and to this day, many believe the events depicted in both the book and the movie actually occurred. But what really happened at the house at 112 Ocean Avenue? Were there really evil forces at work, or was it the greatest hoax in paranormal history? Well, make sure there aren't any evil pigs staring through your window and then read on to find out the untold truth of The Amityville Horror.

The DeFeo murders

When most people remember The Amityville Horror, they imagine demonic creatures and angry flies. But before the alleged haunting began, something far worse occurred at 112 Ocean Avenue. A year before the infamous Lutz family moved in, the hell house belonged to Ronald DeFeo Sr., a car salesman with a bad temper, a big family, and a particularly scary son. Ronald DeFeo Jr., also known as Butch, was a troubled young man who often got into fistfights with his father. Butch was a heavy drinker, a heroin user, and a small-time crook. Crazier still, Butch once pointed a rifle at a friend, and he even tried shooting his own dad with a shotgun.

In short, Butch was bad news, and on November 14, 1974, the 23-year-old grabbed a .35-caliber Marlin rifle, left his bedroom, and proceeded to murder everyone in his family. He walked from room to room, shooting his dad, mom, two brothers, and two sisters as they slept.

After ditching the murder weapons and bloody clothes, Butch spent the next day hanging out with friends, before returning home to "discover" his family was dead. Acting distraught, he ran to a nearby bar where he asked the patrons for help. When the police arrived on the scene, Butch claimed a Mafia hit man had done the deed, but you can only lie about mass murder for so long before your story falls apart. The police quickly learned that Butch owned the same kind of gun used in the killings, and after they ripped his timeline to shreds, Ronald cracked under the pressure and confessed to the crimes.

Butch went on trial in October 1975, and while his lawyer tried to use an insanity defense, the jury just wasn't buying. By the time it was all over, Ronald DeFeo Jr. had earned six consecutive sentences of 25 years to life, and to this day, Butch is still sitting behind bars.

The Lutzes move in

About 13 months after the DeFeo murders, a new family moved into 112 Ocean Avenue. George and Kathy Lutz arrived in Amityville on December 19, 1975, bringing along Kathy's three young children — Daniel, Christopher, and Missy — from a previous marriage. The Lutzes had purchased the home for $80,000, but while most folks would've been reluctant to move into a murder house, the Lutzes weren't bothered. After all, this was their "dream home."

But just to play it safe, George called in a priest to bless the place … and this is where you should start taking everything with a truckload of salt. The priest's name was Father Ralph Pecoraro (though he's named Father Mancuso in the book), and according to George, the Lutz family was unpacking their stuff from a rental van when Father Pecoraro went inside the house by himself. According to Amityville lore, the priest went into one of the upstairs bedrooms, and that's when things got freaky. As he began sprinkling holy water, Father Pecoraro supposedly heard a deep, otherworldly voice that shouted, "Get out!" Then he said he felt a slap in the face. Being a sensible man, Father Pecoraro decided to follow orders.

(It should be noted that, according to George Lutz, the priest wasn't attacked by flies, as depicted in the movie. The bugs didn't show up until later.)

Before the priest left 112 Ocean Avenue, he told George there was something strange about that particular room. When Lutz said they planned on converting it into a sewing area, the priest replied, "That's good, as long as no one sleeps in there, that's fine." However, Father Pecoraro didn't escape completely unscathed, as he supposedly received blisters on hands (similar to stigmata), plus his car began acting like it was possessed, with the doors and wipers going haywire until the engine died. And if you believe the Lutzes, this was only the beginning of the horrors to come.

The haunting

The horror started right away. As soon as the Lutz family moved inside 112 Ocean Avenue, green ooze started seeping from the walls, black stains appeared on their toilets, and flies appeared even though it was wintertime. On one occasion, George heard a marching band in the living room, but when he went to investigate, he found all the furniture shoved to one side of the room. As for Kathy, she reported invisible hands hitting and scratching her, and when she put a crucifix in the living room, the cross supposedly turned upside down and emitted a "sour" smell.

But while Kathy had it rough, it seems like George was losing his mind. He allegedly woke up every night at around 3 a.m., about the same time as the DeFeo murders. Soon, George had stopped taking care of himself, and he spent a lot of his free time chopping wood, which he used to keep a fire going in the living room in an attempt to ward off chills. The children also started acting strangely, and it's said they began sleeping on their stomachs — which is how the DeFeos were supposedly discovered by the police.

As time went on, the disturbances only escalated. Windows shattered, doors were torn from their hinges, and then there was the lion. George claims he tripped over a small lion sculpture in the living room, and when he looked at his foot, he found bite marks. Things got creepier still when George took the statue up to the second story, only to later find the lion had somehow made its way back downstairs.

And, of course, let's not forget Jodie, Missy Lutz's imaginary friend, famously depicted in the 1979 movie. According to Missy, Jodie was a demonic pig with glowing red eyes, and both George and Kathy reported seeing this spirit swine at different times. George even claimed to have found cloven prints in the snow. But the situation took a truly nightmarish turn when George saw Kathy both levitate off their bed and transform into an old woman. Finally, after 28 days of horror, something happened that forced the family to flee, leaving all their belongings behind. The hosts of Last Podcast on the Left theorize that George possibly attacked the family, prompting them all to escape from 112 Ocean Avenue and its evil influence behind forever.

The psychic investigation

Two months after the Lutzes had abandoned their home, word of the 112 Ocean incident had started making its way around town, and a local TV station decided to launch an investigation into the haunting. Like a supernatural Nick Fury, reporter Laura Didio gathered a team of parapsychologists, including Ed and Lorraine Warren of The Conjuring fame, and in 1976, the group descended upon the hell house, hoping to discover what was happening inside.

Admittedly, it seems Didio wasn't taking things super seriously; she even called the event a "psychic slumber party." The mediums and clairvoyants, on the other hand, put on quite a show for the TV crew. One "researcher" took sick and felt "personally threatened" by an evil being. Another psychic supposedly saw the tear-stained face of a young child. And naturally, the Warrens made some rather dramatic claims, with Lorraine saying 112 Ocean Avenue was home to something "right from the bowels of the earth." The infamous demonologist also said she hoped her Amityville experience was "as close to hell as I'll ever get."

Still, despite all their alleged encounters, the team walked away with very little actual evidence other than one creepy photo. In 1979, George Lutz released a picture of what appeared to be a young boy with glowing eyes lurking behind a banister. Skeptics say this is an image of one of the psychic researchers who accidentally wound up in front of the infrared camera (the glowing eyes are the result of the infrared film). However, many think it's proof of the paranormal, claiming the photo shows one of the murdered DeFeo boys wandering through the house.

The Native American theory

Let's assume for a moment that the Lutzes were telling the truth, and their house really was haunted. So what was the cause? Well, some believe the demonic activity in Amityville was linked to one of the most stereotypical horror tropes of all time: the ancient Indian burial ground.

In The Amityville Horror, author Jay Anson (more on him later) claims the Lutzes were approached by a local historian who said their property had once been the site of a Native American mental asylum. According to the historian, the Shinnecock tribe had used the area as a sort of prison for their "sick, mad, and dying," leaving their unfortunates to die of exposure. The historian also allegedly said the Shinnecock thought the property was just crawling with demonic beings.

Then in 1977, a parapsychologist named Hans Holzer went to the Amityville site with a psychic who began channeling the spirit of an Indian chief. The chief offered up a slightly different story about the property's past, saying the area had once been an Indian burial ground. The spirit also "revealed" that the chief had possessed Ronald DeFeo Jr. and had chased the Lutz family out of their house.

While this certainly sounds creepy, there's zero proof to back it up. Firstly, the Shinnecock tribe never lived in the Amityville area. In fact, they lived 70 miles away. Secondly, members of the closely related Montaukett Nation have made it clear that the Shinnecock never left their sick to die in the elements. And most importantly, Chief Straight Arrow Cooper of the Montaukett explained to ABC that his tribe would never "go into somebody's body and capture their soul and control in a very negative way. … That's not us."

Jay Anson and the Amityville phenomenon

While the Amityville Horror is one of the most famous haunting in American history, there's a good chance we might not have ever heard of 112 Ocean Avenue if it hadn't been for Jay Anson. According to People magazine, Anson was a scriptwriter who specialized in writing documentary shorts. He had 500 films to his credit, but he wanted to branch out and try his hand at something a little different, like a book. Of course, Anson had to find something interesting to write about first, and that's when fate smiled upon the aspiring author.

George and Kathy Lutz desperately wanted to tell their story, and Jay Anson was just the man for the job. Listening to 45 hours of recorded interviews, Anson banged out The Amityville Horror in just three months, and the book was published in 1977 by Prentice Hall. When curious readers pulled back the cover, they found a disclaimer reading, "The names of several individuals mentioned in this book have been changed to protect their privacy. However, all facts and events, as far as we have been able to verify them, are strictly accurate." Anson also backed up the true story angle, saying, "There is simply too much independent corroboration of their narrative to support the speculation that [the Lutzes] either imagined or fabricated these events."

Coming hot on the heels of The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror became a best-seller, moving over 3 million copies. The book also inspired a 1979 movie starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder, not to mention 18 additional films. Thanks to Anson, The Amityville Horror became an international phenomenon, cementing the story of devilish flies and green ooze in the public consciousness.

Too bad it was all made up.

The hoax unravels

So here's the truth about the Amityville Horror. It's a great story. It's also one of the greatest hoaxes of the 20th century, one that's been debunked multiple times over the years. As mentioned above, the Shinnecock Indian theory proposed by Jay Anson has totally been discredited. And then there's the issue of the cloven hoofprints. If you'll remember, George Lutz claimed he found demonic footprints in the snow, but according to investigators Rick Moran and Peter Jordan, weather records show there was no snowfall that particular day.

Even more damning, Anson's book says the Lutzes called the police several times, but the police didn't receive even one call from the Lutzes during their 28 days at 112 Ocean Avenue. What about all the windows getting smashed and doors that were torn from their hinges, you ask? Well, according to skeptic Joe Nickell, when he investigated the Amityville house, all the original fixtures were still in place, without any sign of damage.

Things really fall apart when you start talking about Father Ralph Pecoraro (Father Mancuso in the book), the priest who blessed the house. According to Rick Moran — who actually spoke to Pecoraro — the priest didn't encounter anything weird when he visited the Amityville home. There was no evil voice, no car trouble, no stigmata. In fact, according to Brian Dunning of Skeptoid, Father Pecoraro once gave an affidavit saying he never actually went to the Amityville home and only spoke to George Lutz over the phone. In other words, The Amityville Horror makes for an entertaining read, but the book is essentially a work of fiction.

The William Weber meeting

So if The Amityville Horror is one big hoax, when did it all get started? Well, it appears the Lutzes were planning to capitalize on their haunted house story before they even met Jay Anson. In fact, their first ally was William Weber — Ronald DeFeo's defense attorney.

In 1979, the lawyer admitted to meeting the couple and cooking up the haunted house story "over many bottles of wine." Inspired by The Exorcist, Weber would feed them details about the DeFeo family, and according to the defense attorney, George would give the facts a supernatural spin.

For example, Weber told George that a cat used to hang around the DeFeo house and would peer through the windows. George then turned the neighborhood kitty into Jodie the demonic pig. "We took real-life incidents and transposed them," Weber confessed again in 1988. "In other words, it was a hoax." Weber and the Lutzes were also the ones responsible for contacting the media and instigating the "psychic slumber party" for publicity reasons, but what were their motivations?

Well, George allegedly had a bad mortgage and problems at work, so he needed cash, whereas Weber thought he could help his client by creating a "devil made him do it" defense. Plus, Weber wanted in on the book deal. So when the Lutzes left the lawyer and went with Jay Anson, Weber sued for $2 million because everybody involved with the Amityville story just wanted a piece of the demonically possessed pie.

The DeFeo murder controversy

At the end of the day, the only horrors that went down in Amityville occurred in 1974, when Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his entire family. Of course, if you ask Butch, he'll tell you a totally different tale. After he was first arrested, DeFeo claimed voices drove him to kill, but over the years, he's changed his story several times. Most recently, DeFeo has insisted that he didn't act alone.

Butch claimed in 2000 that he teamed up with his 18-year-old sister Dawn to butcher his parents because Ronald DeFeo Sr. was so abusive. However, his sister didn't stop there and proceeded to murder the rest of the family. When Butch discovered what she'd done, he supposedly retaliated by shooting Dawn to death. Granted, it's a far-fetched theory, one probably meant to absolve Butch of slaughtering his kid siblings. However, there are quite a few people who wonder if Butch really did have help that night.

After all, it seems weird that DeFeo marched into several rooms, fired multiple bullets, and not one family member ever got out of bed. Was it possibly a coordinated attack with another gunman? That's what documentarian Ryan Katzenbach thinks, and in 2012, the filmmaker claimed he'd discovered an old handgun in the canal running behind the Amityville house. Katzenbach thinks this is proof of a second shooter, but the cops don't agree. Either way, there's no denying Ronald DeFeo Jr. had a hand in the murders, and whether he heard voices, had help, or was just stoned out of his mind, it's safe to say he deserves to be behind bars.

Amityville today

In the years after the Lutzes moved out, it seems the spirits at 112 Ocean Avenue have settled down. (Or, you know, were never there in the first place.) Once George and Kathy vacated the premises, the house was sold to new owners, the Cromartys, who claimed they never experienced a single supernatural episode. In fact, they actually sued the Lutzes and Jay Anson, saying The Amityville Horror had ruined their lives as tourists were constantly dropping by to check out the house.

As for the people involved, George Lutz passed away in 2006, dying of heart disease. His stepson, Daniel Lutz, also made headlines in recent years, showing up in the 2012 documentary My Amityville Horror. Despite all the debunkings, Daniel maintains the events that allegedly occurred at 112 Ocean Avenue were very real and that his stepdad was possessed by an evil spirit. As for the house itself, the two-story mansion was sold for $850,000 in November 2016. No word yet if the new owners have encountered any evil pigs.