Basically, Amityville is tired of being known for the one-two punch of a mass murder and a haunted house.
“I wanted to sell shirts that played up the Amityville Horror thing and was told, ‘Do not do it, you’ll irk the town elders,’ ” says Erica Reichlin, the 34-year-old owner of the village’s Cornucopia’s Noshery café. “The way the townspeople view The Amityville Horror is you just don’t talk about it. They want it put under the rug. They don’t like the tourists.”
So one can only presume the village won’t be happy about the attention that could be coming soon. Because if Katzenbach is right, the gun his team of divers just recovered from the canal is the long-missing second murder weapon in one of the most famous crimes in American history.
This is a big deal for one very simple reason: Officially, there is no second murder weapon. And if there is, everything we thought we knew about what happened that night in 1974 is wrong.
The house on Ocean Avenue was actually the site of two horrors: one very real, one likely made up.
First came the killings.
In the early morning of November 13, 1974, six members of the DeFeo family were shot and killed: Ronald and Louise DeFeo and four of their children—Dawn, Allison, Marc, and John, who was just nine years old. A day later the sole surviving family member, 23-year-old Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr., confessed to the murders. Reports at the time suggested that he had either murdered them in the cold-blooded pursuit of cash or had snapped in the face of endless abuse.
“Me and my father, you know, it was just one problem after another. He was just abusive,” DeFeo told a parole board in 2007. “He never stopped. He never stopped. He never stopped. He never stopped.”
The official story: Butch acted alone, with a .35-caliber lever-action Marlin rifle as the only weapon. None of the victims were said to have stirred from their beds.
“I couldn’t stop if I wanted to. I thought somebody was inside moving me,” DeFeo told the court during his trial. After unsuccessfully trying for an insanity plea, he was found guilty on six counts of second-degree murder and sentenced to six consecutive terms of 25 years to life at Green Haven Correctional Facility in Stormville, New York, where he remains today.
The haunting came 13 months later.
On December 18, 1975, George Lutz, an ex-Marine and third-generation land surveyor; his wife, Kathy; and her three children from a previous marriage moved into the old DeFeo house. They scooped up the classic Dutch Colonial waterfront estate, with its eerily eyelike quarter-moon windows, for the discount price of $80,000 (about $337,000 in 2012 money), plus an extra $400 for much of the DeFeo family’s furniture.
Four weeks later the Lutz family was gone, supposedly driven from their dream home by bleeding walls and disembodied voices. A best-selling book (Jay Anson’s The Amityville Horror: A True Story) followed, along with a parade of movies—a fright franchise whose appeal has always been its supposed basis in fact.
Since then skeptics have spent decades chipping away at the Lutz story. One popular theory: The “haunting” was an obvious—and remarkably successful—attempt to cash in on the true horror of the DeFeo murders.
“I later found out that George Lutz owned 94 percent of Amityville Horror Enterprises, LLC, which had its hand in almost every Amityville book and movie made,” Katzenbach says.