CREEPY CORNER: Let's Talk About the Amityville Horror Hoax

What's your favorite spooky hoax?
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Louise Hung
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What's your favorite spooky hoax?

Not all scary stories have to be true to be frightening. 

Take a look at most of the horror books, movies, and TV shows out there — just the idea of "What if this happened?" is enough to send your mind reeling and keep your nights sleepless. 

Though I'll admit that the tagline "based on true events" is a tantalizing addition to a spooky story, I think we're all savvy enough Creepy Corneristas to know that the words "based on" can mean that the only true detail in a haunted house story is that a family indeed resided inside four walls and a roof. 

While supposedly true stories are what keep the Creepy Corner creepy, a masterfully crafted hoax can be a thrill for the imagination. Really, how many of you have gone to the comments to tell us that you don't believe the mongoose was talking or the watcher was watching, but that you still enjoy a good story?

Sincerely, I love that our little Creepy Corner Community has hardcore skeptics and hardcore believers alike. I firmly believe that cases of mistaken hauntings, weird things explained by science, and yes hoaxes, hold a valuable place in the creepy canon. 

A hoax that fascinates me in its enduring nature as well as its intermingling of truth, outright lies, and contradictions, is the Amityville "horror." 

amityville house pic

The Amityville house with its famous 1/4 moon windows. Recent owners all say the house is NOT haunted, and wish "ghost hunters" would leave them alone. Photo source Creative Commons

While there are a handful of people and Warrens out there who maintain that the events surrounding 112 Ocean Avenue were true, I fall into the majority that says it was all concocted. 

But what a concoction.

Tragically, part of the story is true. On November 13th, 1974 Ronald "Butch" DeFeo Jr. murdered his entire family in their house on Ocean Avenue. He shot his parents, Ronald Sr. and Louise, in their bed, and moved on to shoot his two brothers and two sisters in their beds. The entire family was massacred within 15 minutes. 

At first Butch reported the killings to the police, claiming that his family was killed by a mafia hitman by the name of Louis Falini. Butch was taken into police custody for his protection, but after reconstructing the timeline and finding that Falini's alibi checked out, the police began to suspect Butch. 

Butch quickly admitted to the murders saying, "Once I started, I just couldn't stop. It went so fast." 

When Butch went to trial his lawyer, William Weber, entered an insanity defense claiming that Butch heard voices in the house telling him to kill his family. Butch's "insanity" was supported by Dr. Daniel Schwartz who said that Butch "was neurotic and suffered from dissociative disorder." 

It is here that I believe the seeds for a money-making (and shamelessly exploitative) ghost story were planted. 

On December 18, 1975 the Lutz family moved into the DeFeo's former home. The Lutzes claimed strange things started happening immediately. As the story goes, they fled the house in 28 days. 

According to George Lutz (as told to "The Amityville Horror" author, Jay Anson) a Father Pecoraro AKA Father Mancuso from the book, entered the house to perform a blessing on that very first day. Lutz claims that Pecoraro heard a sinister voice in one of the upstairs bedrooms that said, "Get out!" Anson and Lutz claimed that Father Pecoraro advised the Lutzes that nobody should sleep in that upstairs bedroom. It later became the sewing room. 

Though in Anson's "The Amityville Horror" book, the Father Pecoraro/Mancuso character figures heavily into the supernatural happenings, it is unclear if Pecoraro had a close relationship with the Lutzes, let alone visited the house. 

In fact Father Pecoraro testified in the Lutz vs. Weber trial, during which the "facts" of the Amityville haunting were questioned, that none of the "supernatural afflictions" that Anson said happened to him, actually did. 

Although Weber eventually claimed that Pecoraro never entered the home at all, Pecoraro did maintain — albeit vaguely — that he did go to bless the house on move-in day, and that a voice did tell him to get out. It's hard to know who's telling the truth in this regard. 

Of course there's this "exclusive" interview with Father Pecoraro on the TV show In Search of. Was Pecoraro in on the hoax? 

If nothing else, enjoy the 70s TV-recreation glory.  

At this point you may be asking why I keep referencing Weber. How did he figure into all this haunting business?

It turns out that Weber, the Lutzes, and a group of Weber's associates (clairvoyants, writers, lawyers — oh my!) created the tale of the haunted Amityville house. Weber even went to so far as to admit in a 1979 issue of People Magazine, "I know this book’s a hoax. We created this horror story over many bottles of wine."

Admittedly (for those of you still holding onto hope that there is some truth to this ghost story), it may have been sour grapes on Weber's part. 

It seems that in 1976 Weber tried to get the Lutzes to sign a book deal with his the corporation his associates had formed; promising the Lutzes 12% of shares from the book. Dissatisfied with this offer, the Lutzes went with Jay Anson to tell their story, receiving instead 50% of shares. 

And then the circus really started. 

Writer Paul Hoffman of Hoffman, Weber, Burton and Mars Corporation (Weber's band of goons who worked up the Amityville story with the Lutzes) sold a story titled "Life in a Haunted House" to the New York Sunday News in July of 1976, and another story to Good Housekeeping called "Our Dream House was Haunted" in April 1977.

In May of 1977 the Lutzes filed a lawsuit against Weber and the Spooky Crew. The Lutzes sued for "alleged invasion of privacy, misappropriation of name for trade purposes, and negligent infliction of mental distress." They wanted $4.5 million. 

Hoffman, Weber, and Burton (it seems that Mars jumped ship) countersued, claiming the Lutzes "had perpetrated a fraud and breached a contract."

Long, ridiculous story short, the judge dismissed the Lutzes' suit and upheld Hoffman, Weber, and Burton's claim. 

Upon dismissing the Lutzes' lawsuit, Judge Jack B. Weinstein said, "Based on what I have heard, it appears to me that to a large extent the book is a work of fiction, relying in a large part upon the suggestions of Mr. Weber."

Amidst the circus, Butch DeFeo wrote a letter saying, "Amityville was a hoax that Weber and the Lutzes started. Yes, to make money. It started as my trial was in progress." You know you're slinging crazy when the imprisoned murderer writes a letter damning you. 

So despite all this easily Internet-accessible information on the Amityville hoax, why is the story still so popular? Still perpetuated as truth?

Because in many ways Amityville is a very relatable American haunted house story. Normal people, in a normal neighborhood, in a house we can imagine living in. 

Even though the Amityville hoax is pulled from the ugliness and actual horror of the DeFeo murders, I believe people are drawn to the idea that some sort of mysterious, evil force was the real perpetrator — that the horror was done to the Lutzes, to Butch DeFeo. The house is the villain, and the events are just close enough to the realm of possibility to put yourself in the Lutzes' shoes. 

The story hits all the American haunted house/possession marks. If you're unfamiliar with the Amityville haunting story here are some of the highlights:

  • Strange odors either of perfume or excrement were smelled in the house — especially the sewing room. 
  • George Lutz would wake up at 3:15 a.m. every morning. Aside from the 3 a.m. hour having connections to demonic possession, this was supposedly the time when the DeFeo killings took place. 
  • The whole family started having vivid nightmares about the DeFeo murders.
  • Strange "marching band" music would be heard downstairs at night, and when George would investigate, it would stop.
  • One of the Lutz children, Missy, had an "imaginary" friend named Jodi — a demon pig with glowing red eyes. Missy would sing with and speak to Jodi. George supposedly saw Jodi's glowing eyes standing behind Missy while looking out the window at him. 
  • The family claimed that they saw hoofprints in the snow outside the house (it was later confirmed that there had been no snowfall when the Lutzes claimed). 
  • The Lutzes found a hidden room, not in the blueprints of the house, behind some shelving in the basement. Called "The Red Room," the family dog refused to go near it. 
  • A crucifix hung in the living room turned itself upside down
  • George would wake up to the 250-pound front door slamming. When he'd investigate, it was undisturbed, and nobody else would be awake. 
  • The house was supposedly built on a "cursed" cemetery/Native American burial ground (of course). 
  • The house nearly destroyed George and Kathy Lutz's marriage. George became moody and violent.
  • Green slime oozed from the walls (they really did cover all their bases).
  • When George and Kathy said the Lord's Prayer in the house, George heard voices saying "Will you stop?!"
  • BONUS "evidence:" Here's a "ghost picture" from when the Warrens "investigated" the Amityville house. 

Hoax or not, if you take the above at face value as just a scary story, it's pretty darn spooky. 

What do you think of the Amityville horror/hoax? Do you think it's all BS or do you think there are some eerie unexplainable details?

What's your favorite spooky hoax? What eerie true/not true story creeps you out, even if you know it's fake?