Tragic events, murders and hauntings are hugely inspiring to television producers and filmmakers. And, of course, there’s something about them that we love, too. Otherwise, these films wouldn’t see the success they do.
The Amityville Horror is one of those movies which is (loosely) based on fact. Ronald DeFeo, Jr killed his father, his mother and his four siblings in 1974 New York. Who was this man, and what’s the truth about the Amityville murders and the haunting? We have covered the Amityville story before in full, but now it’s time to delve a little deeper and look at the many different aspects of this historic story.
Ronald DeFeo, Jr.
Ronald DeFeo, Jr had a rough start. His family, to outsiders, was pretty normal. Dad worked at a Buick dealership, and Mom stayed home with the five kids. Ronald “Butch” DeFeo, Jr was the oldest of those kids.
Ronald DeFeo, Jr’s father had a temper. He was successful as a car salesman, but that was in large part because of his domineering, overpowering demeanor. He frequently fought with his wife and was known to frequently lash out at his kids as well.
Ronald DeFeo, Jr. was overweight. So in addition to his troubles at home, he was frequently picked on at school. An unhappy kid all around, he began to lash out at those around him, including his father. Obviously, his parents became concerned.
Butch DeFeo’s family did take him in for psychological evaluation, and to speak to counselors. But that didn’t work, and instead they resorted to offering incentives for good behavior. Unfortunately, the young man used the cash for less than ideal investments – he began to use heroin.
Ultimately, Butch was expelled from school. However, his parents were still determined that rewards would cure the boy. He was given a position at the Buick dealership. His father paid him weekly, regardless of whether he showed up for work.
Of course, the paycheck went to buy more heroin. It also bought a few guns and began to act strangely.
Ronald “Butch” DeFeo, Jr and His Father
Ronald DeFeo, Jr’s relationship with his father was strained. The two just didn’t get along. Ronald, Sr was overpowering and haughty, yet seemed to be clueless as to how to raise his children.
His son took advantage of this. He continued to take his father’s money, and when that wasn’t enough, began to embezzle money from the Buick dealership.
He began to use his guns, too. He threatened one friend with a rifle on a hunting trip. Then, he attempted to shoot his father. Ronald, Sr and his wife were in an argument, and Ronald DeFeo, Jr. pulled a shotgun on him. Despite the fact that Butch pulled the trigger, the gun didn’t fire.
Shortly after that incident, the Buick dealership caught on to DeFeo’s embezzlement. The police came to question DeFeo at work, and the man was very unhappy, to say the least. At that point, he threatened to kill his father. No one believed him.
The DeFeo Murders
It wasn’t long after that that everyone believed him. On November 13, 1974, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. killed his entire family.
The man had accumulated an arsenal of guns, using the stipend from his father and the money he’d stolen from the dealership. One of those was a .35 caliber Marlin rifle.
He used that rifle to kill his mother, his father, his two brothers and his two sisters. After killing his parents and his siblings at point blank range, DeFeo showered, got dressed, and went to work.
Of course, DeFeo Sr didn’t show up for work that day. Ronald DeFeo, Jr. called home, pretending he was concerned about his father’s absence. There was obviously no answer, and DeFeo, Jr. continued on with his work day as normal.
It wasn’t until six o’clock that evening that Robert DeFeo, Jr called a friend, telling that friend his home had been broken into and that his family were all killed in their beds. The friend called the police, who arrived at the DeFeo home.
The DeFeo family were all found face down in their beds, shot to death. Police questioned DeFeo, as he was the only surviving family member, but the man claimed he couldn’t sleep and had left for work early that morning. He even went so far as to accuse the mafia of killing his family.
The Amityville Horror in Popular Culture
After further investigation, police began to suspect that DeFeo had something to do with the murders of his family members. The man had initially been in protective custody, but police began to find clues indicating he wasn’t as innocent as he claimed. For instance, they discovered the box for a brand new .35 caliber rifle.
DeFeo was ultimately arrested, tried and convicted for the murders of Ronald, Louise, Dawn, Allison, Mark and John Matthew DeFeo. He was sentenced to six concurrent terms of 25 years to life.
In the years that have followed, the DeFeo murders have served as fuel for both those searching for facts and those creating fiction. In 1977, jay Anson wrote the novel The Amityville Horror: A True Story, an account of the Lutz family.
The Lutzes lived at the house on Ocean Drive for less than a year, during which time they claimed to have experienced paranormal events – they said the spirits which haunted them were those of the DeFeo family.
As you’re likely aware, a movie was made from this book in 1979, called The Amityville Horror. Subsequent movies have been made, including Amityville II: The Possession and a remake of the original Amityville Horror.
Over the years, the truth about the Amityville haunting has come to light. For more information about the house on Ocean Drive and the Lutz family who precipitated the rumors of the haunting, visit our guide to the Amityville Horror.
Ronald DeFeo, Jr is currently held at the Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, New York. Each of his appeals to the parole board for release have been turned down.