LONG ISLAND, NY – He was famous for slaughtering his family and inspiring a cult film series that has become an icon of American folklore. It’s known as The Amityville Horror which was inspired by his crimes, and a series of alleged phenomena that disturbed the peace of those who moved into the Amityville residence after the fact. On Friday, March 12, 2021, the only person who knows what really happened in the Amityville house in 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr., died, at the age of 69, taking his dark legacy to the grave. During his trial, pursuing an insanity defense, DeFeo said he heard voices that drove him to kill.
His death made international headlines this week as in a paradoxical way, Mr. DeFeo, had become both an infamous icon of America at its most brutal, and a pop culture figure. DeFeo was a ‘family annihilator’ who killed all six members of his immediate family. The Behavioral Analysis Unit of the FBI has published its research into Serial Murder, explaining the terms that describe specific types of serial killers. Family annihilators are killers who kill their entire family. Research published in UK Wired stated that family annihilators are predominantly male, and were “overwhelmingly” unknown to criminal justice and law enforcement prior to discovery.
In the case of Ronald De Feo, Jr., he confessed to the murder of his parents and all four of his siblings. He was the eldest son of Ronald DeFeo Sr. and Louise Brigante. His siblings were Dawn Defeo,18, Allison Defeo,13, Mark DeFeo, 11; and John Matthew, 7.
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The family resided in Amityville, a suburb of New York City on Long Island in Suffolk County. The now infamous address of 112 Ocean Avenue has been changed to confuse tourists cruising through the neighborhood looking for a glimpse of the infamous home. A large Dutch Colonial home, which at the time, was christened with “High Hopes” by the mother Lousie, who had a sign with that name placed in the front yard. It appears in an AP photograph like an icon of sadistic satire. Repeating that theme, the home’s front yard had been converted into an elaborate shrine of the Catholic faith it would soon abandon by violating one of the major Christian commandments.
The slaughtered family’s remains were identified by a male relative, as was reported by The New York Times in 1974. The remains were transferred to Guidetti Funeral Home at 33 Spring Street in Manhattan, a few days after the murder.
The grisly events in November 1974 inspired author Jay Anson to write “The Amityville Horror” which was then adapted into a film series and instantly became a cult classic. The book recalls how the Lutz family moves to the Dutch Colonial a year after the murder took place in Amityville and are plagued by supernatural phenomena until they must flee the residence. The story was recalled by New York Voice in October 2019.
The Lutz family and researchers who investigated the house after the events attest that the house was haunted by the presence of evil spirits that possessed Ronald DeFeo and compelled him to execute his family. The story has been referred to as “spell-binding” and a “shocking true story” of the phenomena that the Lutz family endured one year and a month after the mass killing of the DeFeo family.
According to The Seattle Times, one of the three Lutz children who lived in the house maintains that the hauntings happened, but that they were mostly hyped up for profit. William Weber, the defense lawyer on DeFeo’s case, told People Magazine in 1979 that initial book the Amityville murders was a hoax. According to the lawyer, he and the Lutzes conjured up the story over bottles of wine. The Lutz family would sue Weber over the invasion of privacy, and Weber countersued for fraud and breach of contract. A judge through-out the Lutz case, and Weber settled out of court.
Earlier in the morning of November 13, 1974, DeFeo Jr. systematically shot his entire family. He used a rifle, which was recovered from a creek near the family home, The New York Times reported November 16, 1974. In this report, the Times likewise noted that a girlfriend of DeFeo had turned him in for drug use previously and that he had been convicted on larceny charges, but had been observed for behavioral improvement during probation.
DeFeo was known to have diverted the investigation by entering Henry’s Bar at the corner of Merrick Road and Ocean’s Avenue the evening of November 13 and calling out for help because he thought his family had been shot. His friend Robert Kelske was present and went with DeFeo and a group of other men to investigate.
When DeFeo was eventually interrogated by the police, he asserted that it was likely Louis Falini, a mob hitman who had an alleged grudge against the DeFeos. Further investigation, including the inconsistencies in DeFeo’s recollection of events and the wrong kind of bullet casings found at the scene, led police to implicate DeFeo in the murders. He then confessed to them all, stating that “it all started so fast” and once he started killing them he couldn’t stop.
DeFeo Jr. was 23-years-old at the time of the murders and spent the remainder of his years incarcerated.