In 1977, a runaway bestseller
titled The Amityville Horror, written by Jay
Anson, took the nation by storm. The promotional copies sent out by
the publisher, Prentice Hall, hailed it as “the non‑fiction Exorcist.” The cover carried the subtitle of “A True Story,”
while the copyright page read:
The names of several individuals mentioned in this book have been
changed to protect their privacy. However, all facts and events,
as far as we have been able to verify them, are strictly accurate.
Jay Anson undertook the daunting challenge of chronicling George and
Kathleen Lutzes' claims that they and their three small children felt
threatened from strong supernatural forces while living at 112 Ocean
Avenue. Apparently, the family moved into the DeFeo house believing it
to be their dream home.
December 18, 1975, the Lutz family moved into the
DeFeo home. Although it had only been 13 months since the DeFeo murders
had occurred, the family later claimed at a press conference, “The DeFeo
slayings weren’t something that would bother us.”
According to Anson's book, Father Mancusco arrived to bless
the family's new home on the same day they moved into it. While the Lutzes
unloaded their rented moving van, the Catholic priest entered the house and
began his ritual blessing alone. He made his way upstairs to the second
floor and entered the northeast bedroom, which had been Marc and John
sprinkled holy water around the room and recited a prayer, he heard a
loud male voice allegedly say, “Get out!” Although the priest supposedly did not
tell the family about the voice, he did warn them about the room,
saying, “Don’t use it as a bedroom. Don’t let anyone sleep in there.”
According to a Good Housekeeping article, dated April 1977, the
Lutzes followed the priest's advice, turning the room into a sewing
the very first night they moved in, the family claimed they felt strange
sensations. Anson had written that the family's personality had
drastically changed. On one occasion in the book, the young couple beat their children
with a strap and large wooden spoon. After moving to the house, the
children apparently had become brats.
Purportedly, things worsened over the next few weeks. From the stench of
bile to the smell of cheap perfume, the family became increasingly
perplexed by the mysterious odors that would emanate from different
locations of the house. Black stains appeared on the toilets and could
not be lifted even with Clorox. Green slime ran down walls, although
there appeared to be no reason or source. Hundreds of flies appeared
in the sewing room despite it being the dead of winter. Of course,
Anson's crowning moment was an upside down crucifix.
According to Anson, the phenomena then turned physical.
Kathy was victimized by unseen touches, which had sometimes forced her
to pass out. On the other hand, George would sit hours by the fireplace because
he suffered from constant chills. In addition, he would wake up nightly
at 3:15 a.m., reasoning that there was a connection between that hour
and the hour the DeFeos were killed. In reality, the time of the deaths
was never determined by the medical examiner.
month progressed, apparently the situation worsened again for the
family. Anson reported that George awoke one night to witness his wife transform into a
90‑year‑old hag. The next night, she began levitating off the bed,
forcing her husband to grab her before she floated away.
Realizing they needed help, the family contacted the same Catholic
priest to ask him to return to perform another blessing. According to
Jay Anson's book, the priest had been feeling the aftereffects from the first
blessing. Whatever was plaguing the family was also bothering the
priest. (See the Catholic Church Speaks Out
failing to get the priest to return, the family took matters into
their own hands. Armed with a crucifix, they walked throughout the
house reciting the Lord's Prayer. A chorus of voices erupted in
response, asking them, "Will you stop?"
most incredible part of Anson's story was his claim that the
daughter had befriended an invisible, red‑eyed pig named Jodie. "Jodie
could not be seen by anyone unless it wanted to. At times it was a
little bigger than a teddy bear and other times bigger than the house," George Lutz explained in October 1979 on the TV show
"In Search Of," which he served as a consultant and participant
for the show.
night while coming back from the boathouse, Anson had George Lutz
standing behind his stepdaughter in her bedroom. Kathy
Lutz's introduction to her
daughter's friend was just as disturbing. On a separate evening, she
was startled to see two red eyes peering in through the darkness from
the window. Although Anson's version was dramatic, Hollywood's
adaptation was simply unbelievable.
book reported that the malevolent forces caused significant
property damage to the house, such as the front door being ripped off
its hinges, windows being smashed, banisters being torn from their
fittings, damage to the garage door, and water damage from
hurricane‑force winds, which local meteorological stations had no record
their dog, Harry, a malamute‑Labrador mix, supposedly suffered from the
strange forces. Although the animal was normally hyper, it had become
increasingly lethargic while at the house. One time the dog had almost
choked itself because it tried to scale the fence, or so the book would
have readers believe.
the more chilling events in Anson's book was when George awakened
to the sound of a marching band in his living room. He claimed he raced
downstairs and entered the room, only to find dead silence and the
furniture pushed to one side.
28 days in the DeFeo home, the family claimed they could take no more.
They grabbed only a few belongings and fled the house, taking shelter at
Kathy Lutz's mother's home in nearby Babylon.
Anson's The Amityville Horror sold more than three
million copies and was turned into a major motion picture that grossed
more than $80 million dollars. The family happily went on a nationwide
tour to promote the book as their "true story." Nevertheless, questions
remained about the validity of their claims.
Butch DeFeo, however, believed the stories
were concocted with the help of William Weber, Butch's defense attorney
in 1975. In a handwritten letter, Butch wrote,
"Amityville was a hoax that Weber and the Lutzes started. Yes, to make
money. It started as my trial was in progress."
Although George Lutz proclaimed his story to
be true, William Weber argued the story and Anson's book were not. In
the September 17, 1979 issue of People magazine, Weber charged,
“I know this book’s a hoax. We created this horror story over many
bottles of wine.”
With MGM's remake of The Amityville
Horror movie, Amityville may never see an end to the legendary ghost
stories that made it infamous. Although entertaining in one sense,
comical in another, Jay Anson's book and the subsequent film adaptation have
weathered nearly three decades successfully. But the question remains:
Can the story last another three decades?
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