On February 5, 1976, the Ten O'Clock News onNew York 's Channel Five announced it was doing a series on people who claimed to have extrasensory powers. The program cut to reporter Steve Bauman investigating an allegedly haunted house in Amityville,Long Island .
Bauman said that on November 13, 1974, a large colonial house at 112 Ocean Avenuehad been the scene of a mass murder. Twenty-four-year-old Ronald DeFeo had taken a high-powered rifle and methodically shot to death his parents, two brothers, and two sisters. DeFeo had subsequently been sentenced to life imprisonment.
"Two months ago," the report continued, "the house was sold for $80,000 to a couple named George and Kathleen Lutz." The Lutzes had been aware of the killings, but not being superstitious, they had felt the house would be perfect for themselves and their three children. They moved in on December 23. Shortly thereafter, Bauman said, they had become aware that the place was inhabited by some psychic force and that they feared for their lives. "They talked of feeling the presence of some energy inside, some unnatural evil that grew stronger each day they remained."
Four weeks after they moved in, the Lutzes abandoned the house, taking only a few changes of clothes. At present, they were staying with friends in an undisclosed location, But before they left, Channel Five stated, their predicament had become known in the area. They had consulted the police and a local priest as well as a psychic research group. "They reportedly told of strange voices seeming to come from within themselves, of a power which actually lifted Mrs. Lutz off her feet toward a closet behind which was a room not noted on any blueprints." Reporter Steve Bauman had heard of their claims. After doing some background research on the house, he discovered that tragedy had struck nearly every family inhabiting the place, as well as an earlier house built on the same site.
The Channel Five announcer went on to say that William Weber, the attorney representing Ronald DeFeo, had commissioned studies hoping to prove that some force influenced the behavior of anyone living at 112 Ocean Avenue. Weber claimed this force "may be of natural origin," and felt it might be the evidence he needed to win his client a new trial. On camera, Weber said he was "aware that certain houses could be built or constructed in a certain manner so as to create some sort of electrical currents through some rooms, based on the physical structure of the house. Again, the scientists said they 'are investigating that, to rule that out.' And after they rule out all reasonable or scientific explanation, then it's going to be referred over to another group at DukeUniversity, who will delve into the psychic aspects of the case."
The report concluded by saying that the Catholic Church was also involved. Channel Five stated that two emissaries from theVatican had arrived in Amityville in December, and were reported to have told the Lutzes to leave their home immediately. "Now the Church's Council of Miracles is studying the case, and its report is that indeed 112 Ocean Avenue is possessed of some spirits beyond current human knowledge." Two weeks after the telecast, George and Kathy Lutz held a press conference in attorney William Weber's office. The DeFeo lawyer had met the couple three weeks before through mutual friends.
George Lutz stated to reporters that he would not spend another night in the house, but he was not planning to sell112 Ocean Avenue just then. He was also awaiting the results of some scientific tests to be conducted by parapsychologists and other "sensitive" professional researchers of occult phenomena.
At that point in time, the Lutzes cut off all communication with the media, feeling that too much was being overstated and exaggerated. It is only now that their whole story is being told.
1 December 18, 1975, George and Kathy Lutz moved into112 Ocean Avenue on December 18. Twenty-eight days later, they fled in terror.
George Lee Lutz, 28, ofDeer Park, Long Island, had a pretty good idea of land and home values. The owner of a land surveying company, William H. Parry, Inc., he proudly let everyone know that the business was a third-gene ration operation: his grandfather's, his father's, and now his. Between July and November, he and his wife, Kathleen, 30, had looked at over fifty homes on the Island'sSouthShore before deciding to investigate Amityville. None in the thirty to fifty thousand dollar range had yet met their requirements-that the house must be on the water and that it must be one to which they could move George's business.
In the course of their search, George called the Conklin Realty Office inMassapequaPark and spoke to broker Edith Evans. She said that she had a new house that she wanted to show them, and that she could take them through the place between three and three-thirty. George made the appointment and the broker-an attractive, warm woman-took them there at three in the afternoon.
She was very pleasant and patient with the young couple. "I'm not sure if this is what you're looking for," she told George and Kathy, "but I wanted to show you how the 'other half' of Amityville lives." The house at112 Ocean Avenue is a big, rambling, three-story affair, with dark shingles and white trim. The lot on which it stands is 50 by 237, the fifty feet facing the front, so that as you look at the house from across the street, the entrance door is down the right side. With the property comes thirty feet of wooden bulkhead that stands against the AmityvilleRiver.
On a lamppost at the end of the paved driveway, is a small sign bearing the name given the house by a previous owner. It reads "High Hopes." An enclosed porch with wet bar looks out at a preferred, older residential community of other big homes. Evergreens grow around the narrow grounds, partly blocking off the neighbors on either side, but their drawn shades can be seen easily enough. When he looked around, George thought that was peculiar. He noticed the neighbors' shades were all drawn on the sides that faced his house, but not in front or in the direction of the houses on the other side.
The house had been on the market for almost a year. It was not in the paper, but was fully described in Edith Evans' agency listing:
EXCLUSIVE AMITYVILLE AREA: 6 bedroom Dutch Colonial, spacious living room, formal dining room, an closed porch, 3-1/2 baths, finished basement, 2-car garage, heated swimming pool and large boathouse. Asking $80,000
Eighty thousand dollars! For a house described like that in the listing, it would have to be falling apart, or the typist could have left out a "1" before the "8." One might think she'd want to show a suspect bargain after dark and from the outside only, but she was glad to show them inside. The Lutzes' examination was pleasant,-swift but thorough. Not only did it meet with their exact requirements and desires, but contrary to their anticipations, the house and other buildings on the property were in fine condition.
Without hesitation, the broker then told the couple it was the DeFeo house. Everyone in the country, it seems, had heard about that tragedy, the twenty-three-year-old Ronald DeFeo killing his father, mother, two brothers, and two sisters in their sleep on the night of November 13, 1974.
Newspaper and television accounts had told of the police discovering the six bodies all shot by a high powered rifle. All-as the Lutzes learned months later -were lying in the same position: on their stomachs with their heads resting on their arms. Confronted with this massacre, Ronald had finally confessed: "It just started; it went so fast, I just couldn't stop."
During his trial, his court-appointed attorney, William Weber, pleaded for his insanity. "For months before the incident," the young man testified, "I heard voices. Whenever I looked around, there was no one there, so it must have been God talking to me." Ronald DeFeo was convicted of murder and sentenced to six consecutive life terms.
"I wonder if I should have told you which house this was before or after you saw it," the broker mused. "I'd like to know for my future reference with clients looking for a house in the ninety-thousand dollar range." Clearly she didn't feel the Lutzes would be interested in such an affluent property. But Kathy took one final look about the house, smiled happily and said, "It's the best we've seen. It's got everything we ever wanted." Obviously she had never hoped to live in such a fine house. But George vowed to himself that if there was a way, this was the place he wanted his wife to have. The tragic history of112 Ocean Avenue didn't matter to George, Kathy, or their three children. This was still the home they had always wanted.
During the remainder of November and the early weeks of December, the Lutzes spent their evenings laying out plans for minor modifications to be made in the new house. George's surveying experience enabled him to rough out suitable layouts for the changes.
He and Kathy decided one of the bedrooms on the third floor would be for their two boys, Christopher aged seven, and Daniel, nine. The other upstairs bedroom they gave to their children as a playroom. Melissa, "Missy," the five-year-old girl, would sleep on the second floor, across the hall from the master bedroom. There would also be a sewing room and a big dressing room for George and Kathy on the same floor. Chris, Danny, and Missy were well pleased with their room assignments.
Downstairs, on the main floor, the Lutzes had a slight problem. They didn't own any dining room furniture. They finally decided that before the closing, George would tell the broker they'd like to purchase the dining room set left in storage by the DeFeos, along with a girl's bedroom set for Missy, a TV chair and Ronald DeFeo's bedroom furniture. These things and other furnishings left in the house, like the DeFeo's bed, were not included in the purchase price. George paid out an additional $400 for these items. He also got for free seven air-conditioners, two washers, two dryers, and a new refrigerator and a freezer.
There was a lot to be accomplished before moving day. In addition to the physical move of all their belongings, there were complicated legal questions, relative to the transfer of the title, that required sifting and sorting out. The title to the house and property was recorded in the names of Ronald DeFeo's parents. It seemed Ronald, as the sole survivor, was entitled to inherit his parents' estate, regardless of the fact that he had been convicted of murdering them. None of the assets in the estate could be disposed of before being legally settled in Probate Court. It was a difficult legal maze that the executors had to travel, and more time was still needed to provide the proper legal administration of any transactions related to the house or property.
The LuLzes were advised that provisions could be devised to protect the legal interests of all concerned if the sale of the house was consummated; but to arrive at the proper procedure to accomplish this could take weeks or longer. Eventually it was resolved that, for the closing, $40,000 was to be put in escrow for the mortgage until a legal deed could be completed and executed.
The closing date was set for the morning George and Kathy planned to move fromDeer Park . They had arranged to close on the sale of their old house the day before. Confident that everything could be worked out, and probably influenced by their anxiety to get settled in their new home, the couple decided to try and get everything done on the same day. Packing was to be mainly Kathy's job. To keep the children out of her hair and away from George, she assigned them minor projects. They would gather their own toys and arrange their clothing for packing. When the chores were completed, they were to start cleaning their rooms to make their old house presentable for the scrutiny of new owners. George planned to close his office in Syosset and move it into the new house to save on the rent money. He had included this item in his original estimate of how he and Kathy could afford an $80,000 house. Now he figured that the basement, a well-finished layout, might be the best place. Moving his equipment and furnishings would be time consuming enough, and if the basement was to be the location of the new office, some carpentry would be needed.
The 45 by 22 foot boathouse, out behind the house and garage, was not there just to be ostentatious and an unused decoration for the Lutzes. George owned a twenty-five-foot cabin cruiser and a fifteen-foot speedboat. The facilities at his new house would again save him a lot of money he normally had been paying to a marina. The task of getting his vessels to Amityville with a trailer became an obsession with him, despite the priorities that he and Kathy were constantly discovering.
There was work to be done at112 Ocean Avenue, both inside and outside. Although he wasn't sure where the time was going to come from, George planned to attend to some of the landscaping and the garden to prevent frost damage, maybe put framed burlap around the shrubs, put in bulbs and after that, spread some lime on the lawn.
Handy with his tools and equipment, George made good progress on many interior projects. Now and then, pressed for time, he got his hopeful projects confused with his musts. He soon dropped everything to clean the chimney, then the fireplace. After all, Christmas was coming up. It was quite cold on the actual moving day. The family had packed the night before and slept on the floor. George was up early and single handedly piled the first full load into the biggest U-haul trailer he could rent, finishing in barely enough time to clean up and get to the closing with Kathy.
At the legal ritual, the attorneys used up more than their usually allotted heretos, whereases and parties of, and dealt each other long sheets of typewritten paper. The Lutzes' lawyer explained that because of the impediments on the house, they did not have a clear title to the property, though they'd have the best that could be fashioned for their mortgage. But remarkably, the closing was all over a few minutes past noon. As they rushed from the office, their lawyers assured them they would have no problem and eventually would get proper ownership papers. At one o'clock, George rolled into the driveway of112 Ocean Avenue, with the trailer crowded with their belongings, and the DeFeos' refrigerator, washer, dryer and freezer that had been in storage. Kathy followed with the children in the family van with their motorcycle in the back. Five of George's friends, young men in their twenties and husky enough to help move bulky items, were waiting. Furniture, boxes, crates, barrels, bags, toys, bikes, motorcycles, and clothing were taken from the truck onto the patio at the rear of the house and into the garage.
Then George walked to the front door, fumbling in his pockets as he went, searching for the key to the door. Irritated, he returned to the truck and thoroughly searched it before admitting to his assistants that he didn't have it. The broker was the only one with the key, and she had taken it with her as she left the closing. George called her, and she went back to her office to fetch it.
When the side door was finally open, the three children leaped from the van, made right for their respective toys and began a parade of unprofessional movers in and out of the house. Kathy designated the destination of each parcel.
It took time to maneuver furniture up the fairly narrow stairwell leading to the second and third floors. And by the time Father Mancuso arrived to bless the house, it was well after one-thirty p.m.