Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Amityville Haunting: Horror or Hoax?

A November evening in 1974. The New York police are called to 112 Avenue, Amityville on Long Island. Six people have been killed in the six-bedroom house in Dutch Colonial style, with swimming pool and boathouse. This brutal mass murder is only the beginning of one of the most controversial stories of the supernatural the world has ever seen...

The scene is horrific. In the house the bloodstained bodies are found of six members of the Italian De Feo family: Ronald and his wife Louise, their daughters Dawn and Alison, their sons Mark and John. They are all face-down in their beds, shot at close range. There is no apparent motive for the killing, but suspicions turn quickly to the sole surviving member of the family, 23-year-old Ronald De Feo Jr., a drug addict. Under questioning, Ronny confesses that he has murdered in cold blood every member of his family, because "the voices" of demonic forces have told him to do so. A psychiatrist declares that Ronny may suffer from personality disorder, but that he was nevertheless fully aware of his actions at the moment of the crime...

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A Brief History of Nightmare House

Ronald De Feo Sr. seems to have sought the help of a Catholic priest in the weeks before the killings. By then, he had surrounded the building - which he had named "High Hopes" - with all sorts of religious icons and statuary, allegedly because "he had the Devil on his back". His wife possessed something like a "sixth sense". She had told the housekeeper that a tragedy would occur in "High Hopes".
The present house is built in 1924, but before that there was a house dating from 1782 on the site. This house was believed to be cursed and was dismantled because of continuous problems of a supernatural nature. Legend has it that the original Indian settlers, theMontaukett tribe, chose this piece of land because of its "power". The site was also used to bury their enemies... face-down.
In 1692, at the time of the witch trials, one John Ketcham fled from Salem and came to Amityville. Some believe he continued his witchery on the land where later "Nightmare House" would rise, and that Ketcham too was buried there. This, of course, sparked the interest of psychic researchers, who also noted that there were not gunshots heard by any neighbours in the night of the De Feo murders, and that not one single member of the family seems to have woken up before he or she was shot dead. They were all sleeping face-down, like their Indian predecessors and, according to the police investigators, there was not a silencer used on the gun...

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Enter: the Lutz Family

In December 1975, George and Kathleen Lutz and their three children move into the house in the suburban neighborhood on the south shore of Long Island. The house remained empty for the thirteen months that have passed since the DeFeo murders. George and Kathleen bought it for a bargain price of $80,000. The real estate broker had told them about the murders, but they decided this was not an issue.
George and Kathy were married in the summer of that year. They each had their own homes, but the couple wanted to start a new life in a new property. Kathy had three children from her previous marriage. And they had a dog too, Harry, a crossbreed Malamute Labrador.

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When the Lutz family moves into the house, much of the De Feo furniture is still there. A friend of George, who learned about the gruesome history of the house, begs George to have it blessed. A Catholic priest and psychotherapist, Father Ralph Pecoraro - aka "Father Ray" -, performs the blessing while George and Kathy are unpacking their belongings.
After he has sprinkled Holy Water in the sewing room, a loud and deep voice demands the Father to get out, and slaps him across the face. He doesn't mention the incident to either George or Kathy; he only tells them in a telephone call not to use the sewing room on the first floor as a bedroom, because he feels uncomfortable there. The call is cut short by static and after his visit to the house, "Father Ray" develops a high fever and blisters on his hands, similar to stigmata.

The Amityville Horror

After the Christmas festivities of 1975, Kathy is the first to sense there is something wrong. She hears sounds of scraping and banging, and she has glimpses of "movements" in her peripheral vision. Soon she is living through vivid nightmares about the murders, and she is levitated two feet off the bed by an unseen force. And the children begin to sleep on their stomachs, face-down.
George is gripped by an intense icy cold sensation and becomes obsessed with building the fire in the drawing room. There are not only cold spots in the house, but also strange odors of perfume and excrement. Green slime is oozing from the walls in the hall and through the keyhole of a door in the attic. Burned into the soot in the back of the fireplace, George finds the  image of a devil with half his head blown out.
While the house is plagued by swarms of flies (in the winter!), George wakes up around 3:15 in the morning, which is the estimated time of the DeFeo murders, to check the boathouse. He seems to hear a "German marching band" and begins drinking at The Witches' Brew, which is the bar were Ronald De Feo Jr. once was a regular customer. In the living room, George falls over a china lion of about four foot high and is left with bite marks on his ankle.
Kathy discovers a small secret room in the basement, with walls that are painted red. This "Red Room" has a profound effect on Harry, who refuses to go near it. Her youngest daughter Missy develops a relationship with an invisible friend. "Jody" looks like a pig and has bright red eyes. On January 1, 1976 clovenhoof-prints as of an enormous pig appear in the snow outside the house. One night, checking the boathouse again, George sees a pair of glowing red eyes looking at him from Missy's window.
After performing a blessing of their own, George and Kathy decide to move into the house of Kathy's mother in nearby Deer Park. The frightening phenomena seem to have followed them even there, with a "greenish-black slime" coming up a staircase. 

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The Amityville Hoax

In September 1977 The Amityville Horror - A True Story was published. This book by Jay Anson - with a title inspired by The Dunwich Horror of the horror and fantasy writer H.P. Lovecraft - formed the basis of a series of films released since 1979... and much controversy and lawsuits over the truthfulness of it all. Much of the controversy can be traced back to the way the book and the films were marketed. For instance, the blurb of the original "true story" had a reference to The Exorcist, the paranormal box office success of 1973.
Father Pecoraro has given many inconsistent accounts of the Amityville events. The claim of physical damage to locks, doors and windows was rejected by Jim and Barbara Cromarty who bought the house in March 1977 and the Red Room was not a secret room, really. The claim that the house was built on the land where theShinnecock Indians once abandoned the mentally ill and dying was rejected by Native American leaders. There wasn't any snow in Amityvlle on January 1, 1976 - so the Lutzes couldn't have seen cloven hoof-prints in it. And there wasn't a Witches' Brew bar in Amityville.
In May 1977 George and Kathy filed a lawsuit against William Weber,  Ronald De Feo's defense lawyer, the paranormal writer Paul Hoffman, two alleged clairvoyants who had examined the house, Good Housekeeping magazine and the New York Sunday News which had published articles on thehauntings. In 1979, Weber said in People magazine that he had created "this horror story" together with George and Kathy Lutz "over many bottles of wine". George and Kathy Lutz denied any dishonesty on their part and took a lie detector test, which they both passed.
Kathy and George Lutz divorced in the late 1980's, but remained friends. Kathy died in 2004, George two years later. The various owners of Nightmare House since the Lutz family left it have reported no problems...

Other Famous Haunted Houses:

Chingle Hall
The House in Spaniard Street, Bruges
Famous Phantom Visitors of Hampton Court