On March 12th, mass murder Ronald DeFeo Jr passed away in prison at the age of 69. He had spent the last 45 years of his life imprisoned on six counts of second-degree murder. An official cause of death has not yet been determined or released (but this page will be updated here once that information is released).
There are more questions than answers, even now, several decades after the famous mass murder and (highly disputed) claims of a haunting that followed. So, I feel now is a great opportunity to revisit this case, reestablish the timeline of events, point out the mysteries, ask some new questions and help bring to light a fascinating paranormal theory that hasn’t gotten enough attention.
- In the early morning hours, after midnight, on November 13, 1974, 23-year-old Ronald DeFeo Jr murdered his entire family, methodically killing his dad, mom and all four of his younger siblings as they lie in bed, face down. Unlike how it’s depicted in the movies, only two victims were shot in the head (both sisters). Everyone else was shot in the back. The parents were the only to suffer two gunshot wounds while each sibling was shot once.
- That evening, around 6:30pm (roughly 15-17 hours after the killings), Ronald went to his local bar asking for help, telling people, “I think my parents were shot.” A group of customers from the bar went to the family house where they discovered the bodies of the parents and DeFeo’s two brothers. Once the police were called, they discovered the bodies of DeFeo’s two sisters.
- DeFeo initially told police that the family was killed by Mafia hitman Louis Fellini (I’ve also seen his name spelled with one or two Ls as well as an A instead of an E, so there are lots of variations on the name between Fellini to Falini. I would like to research this Mafia associate as much as possible, so if anyone has any concrete leads, please let me know).
- The mobster Fellini/Falini had an alibi for the night – he proved he wasn’t in the state on the night of the murders.
- At one point, Ronald inquired about the process for collecting his parents life insurance.
- Ronald DeFeo soon cracked and confessed to the murders. He then showed police where he stashed the murder weapon and the bloody clothes he wore on the night.
- Once the case goes to trial (11 months after the crime, in October 1975), DeFeo attempted an insanity plea, claiming that he heard voices that lead him to kill his family (specifically, they were the voices of his family members who were plotting against him). It should be noted that he was a user of hard drugs including LSD & heroin. Regardless of his actual mental state, this is likely where the connections between the house and the paranormal (or demonic) began.
- The trial was relatively short, with DeFeo being found guilty in November 1975. In December, two things happen:
- DeFeo was sentenced to 25 years to life for EACH of the six murders.
- The Lutz family moved into the vacated house on Ocean Avenue
- 28 days later, in January 1976, the Lutz family moved out, claiming that the house was too haunted for them to remain.
- A number of paranormal investigators and psychics, notably Ed & Lorraine Warren, visit the house in 1976. One of the most famous and striking paranormal photos ever taken happens during this time. (photo below)
- The book “Amityville Horror” was published in 1977, thrusting this story into the mainstream. The first of several movies based on the book was released in 1979.
- Throughout DeFeo’s entire time in prison, he claimed many different versions of events, blaming other family members for the killings. He claimed he killed his sister only after she had killed everyone else. He also told a similar story about his mom. His mom, Louise, and sister, Dawn, were believed to be the only ones awake when they where killed. The reason Ronald gave for not sharing the “true” story of his mom being the killer was that he feared retaliation from his grandfather, Louise’s dad, Mike Brigante Sr., who is well connected in the Mafia.
A mystery still associated with this case: How did no one hear the gunshots?
- Neighbors claimed the family dog was barking all night, but no one claimed to have heard the gunfire. There were 8 shots fired and if two of the victims were alive at the time of their murder, there’s reason to believe there was a scream or two amidst the chaos.
- Why didn’t the victims wake up and flee when the first shots were fired? During Ronald’s confession, he claimed to have drugged his family at dinner. However, he never gave the name of the drug he used and no traces of a drug was found in the autopsies.
Ronald was no saint, even before the mass murder. As stated, he was into drugs and had a criminal history as a petty thief. His biggest crime was a staged robbery where he claimed to be mugged while making a deposit for work. He fell apart on the spot as he was filing his false police report. He certainly didn’t have a stomach for crime and didn’t have the ability to commit a crime, thinking he’d be able to get away with it.
When coming up with a fake story, he tried to pin it on a Mafia-connected hitman. How many people could name a currently operating hitman? He certainly ran in some questionable crowds and his drug habits likely lead him to getting in over his head and possibly desperate.
Whether the money need was drug-related or Mafia-related, it does appear that the motive was to collect his parents life insurance. The fact that he had a very bad relationship with his allegedly abusive father only sweetened the opportunity. However, if he only ‘needed’ to kill his parents, why go room to room killing everyone else?
The Amityville ‘truther’ conspiracy theory that this was Mafia-related hit, while not backed up by any facts, does still feel at least somewhat possible. I had never known that Louise’s father was either in the Mafia or at the very least, Mafia-connected. Initial searches of the FBI database and newspaper archives don’t return any hits for Mike Brigante Sr., so this possible Mafia link has yet to be confirmed by me, so I’m still looking for more information here as well.
The more one looks into this case, the more questions pop up. However, perhaps this is what happens anytime to try to find reason in a drug-fueled random crime.
The Paranormal Aspect
By even Jay Anson’s account (the author of “The Amityville Horror”), the book was slapped together quickly with little to no fact-checking. The Lutzes themselves even referred to the book as “mostly true,” so as a best-case-scenario, it’s a fictionalized retelling of a true haunting. Consider it an entertaining novel, not a scientific study.
Future owners of the house have not reported any hauntings. This is the “smoking gun,” most skeptics use to consider the Amityville hauntings a hoax. However, the youngest child of the Lutzes, who now goes by the name Christopher Quarentino, has a first-hand take on things that few people have heard.
According to him, George Lutz was heavily into the “dark arts,” practicing all sorts of occult rituals before and well after their 28 days in the Ocean Avenue house. The paranormal events that occurred at the house weren’t connected to the murders, but George’s rituals. The hauntings didn’t continue at the house after they moved away… because the paranormal activity followed them to future houses. Chris comes off as a very credible witness, much in the same way Travis Walton tells his UFO abduction story (the inspiration for “Fire in the Sky”). Neither come off as a showman, looking to prove their points. They are soft-spoken people who are reluctantly willing to share a difficult part of their past, growing up with a traumatic element in their DNA.
Memory is a very fragile thing, especially for a young child forced to live through a traumatic experience. It should be noted that Christopher remembers things different from even his older brother, Daniel, who released his version of events in the celebrated documentary “My Amityville Horror.” When asked about the documentary at the Chicago Ghost Conference, Chris just rolled his eyes at his brother’s dramatics.