On November, 13, 1974, a crime occurred in an elegant, three-story Dutch house located at 112 Ocean Avenue that rocked the village of Amityville, New York, and has captivated the country for decades. At approximately 6:30 in the evening, a hysterical young man, named Ronald DeFeo Jr., or "Butch" as he was popularly known, busted into a bar frantically screaming that his parents had been shot. Concerned patrons of the bar went with DeFeo to the house, whereupon seeing the bodies, called the police, and within a matter of minutes, the local police responded to the house. Butch was in the front yard, being consoled by friends when law enforcement arrived. Butch at first refused going back inside, but the police convinced him to come inside with them and he sat in the kitchen as the police inspected the house. On the second floor, the wealthy Ronald DeFeo Sr., aged 43, and his wife, Louise, 42, were found deceased in their master bedroom, situated on the second floor. It appeared that they had been dead for some time, as the blood on Mr. DeFeo's back, stemming from the bullet hole, had begun to dry. Also in bedrooms on the second floor, were three of the DeFeo's children. John and Marc DeFeo were found dead in their shared bedroom, and Allison was found in hers. On the third floor, Dawn DeFeo was found dead in her bedroom. All six family members were found shot to death, in the back, while sleeping. They all were found in the same position- sprawled out on their stomachs. The dog, Shaggy, was spared his life. How were six people, spread out over two floors and four bedrooms all shot to death, without any of them waking up, or without the neighbors hearing the multiple shots or the dog barking? If the neighbors did hear the gun shots or the dog barking incessantly, why did no one call the police?
The medical examiner removed the bodies of the DeFeo family by a little after midnight. The murder weapon was determined to be a rifle. On the scene, the police questioned Butch who disclosed that he believed a Mafia hitman murdered his family. As a precaution, the police took DeFeo to the precinct to protect him if it turned out that the mob was involved. At the precinct, the police further questioned DeFeo, and he confessed that a member of the Mafia had lived with them. However, he also admitted to having taken part in some robberies, along with his friends. Butch slept at the station after his statements, while the police continued their investigation, interviewing his friends and further searching for evidence. Among the discoveries, the police found a box of ammunition for the firearm that was the murder weapon in Butch's room, and learned from his friends that Butch had a penchant for guns. This aroused investigators' suspicions, and once they returned to the station, Butch was arrested. The police interrogated DeFeo, aiming at the holes in his story. Butch fabricated a story that the hitman forced him to watch as he killed his parents and siblings. Unconvinced, Detective Dennis Rafferty asked Butch: "did it really happen that way?" Finally, the truth came out: "no. It all started so fast. Once I started, I couldn't stop. It went so fast." Butch responded.
In his written, signed statement, the 23-year-old Butch claimed he lived with the family, working for his father. The day before the murders, Butch stayed home from work. The day of the murders, Butch went to work, but his father stayed home to take one of the boys, Mark, to the doctor. DeFeo claims he called the house that "several times and got no answer". Butch left work early that day, as he was on probation, and needed the pay stubs from the house for his probation officer. Since no one at home returned his calls, Butch skipped the meeting that day with his probation officer, instead, going to some friends' houses and the bar at around 3:30. Butch wrote that he had "four or five" vodka and seven-ups and then left the bar, to go to another friend's house. At one of his friend's houses, he did heroin, although he emphasized in his statement that "I don't consider myself to be an addict." After leaving the friend's house, he returned to the bar, where he told another acquaintance about the situation at home. During the afternoon, Butch drove by and stated "the two cars were there but nobody answered." Butch wrote that he did not want to break in because he claimed his father would hit him if he did. Butch and his father had a bit of a rocky relationship. In fact, five days before the murder, he and Butch had gotten into an argument at work. Butch told the friend at the bar about the house, and claimed he was convinced to go home and try again to see if someone was home to let him in. Butch reported he went inside and found his parents dead. He then went back to the bar, wailing, and told the people there, who accompanied him home and called the police. Some of the friends entered the house, while Butch remained outside. Friends noted the front door was unlocked. Butch claimed the family dog was "a good watchdog." If the killer was an intruder, a stranger, then surely this good watchdog would've barked, right?
Ronald DeFeo Jr.'s case went to trial, where he was found guilty and sentenced to six life sentences, which he is currently serving in a New York Prison. During the trial, DeFeo claimed that a mysterious "someone" was talking to him which he said he believed was God. His story has changed numerous times over the years. In his 1999 parole hearing, DeFeo said "I loved my family very much and I, I had a very serious drug problem. Like I say, I am not using that as an excuse. Exactly what happened in my house, I am not really sure to this day." DeFeo also admitted to using mescaline, as well as LSD, and that he had gotten into an argument with one of his sisters over the rifle later used in the murders. During this hearing, Butch alleged that other people were in the house who killed the other members of his family. He also said "there was serious family problems in my house. Me and my sister wanted to get out of there. She was using drugs, too. I mean we were like animals. We were like dogs on leashes. We were always beat up and abused by my father. I am not making excuses. These are the facts. It just went on and on." Butch's story keeps changing, with the most recent version being that his sister Dawn murdered everyone and he killed her and only her in revenge.
The story of the Amityville murders has been greatly publicized, and after the Lutz family moved into the murder house and claimed it was haunted, the media attention skyrocketed. What we know is this: a young man murdered his family and fabricated many contradicting stories over the years to hide the truth. We may never know the truth about DeFeo's motives for murder or exactly how the crime went down on that day in November of 1974. While the Amityville horror movies terrified audiences with stories of hauntings and ghosts, what is even more terrifying is the simple fact that a young man murdered his entire family, in bed while they slept. The DeFeos were real people and this a tragic case of mass murder.
Ronald DeFeo Jr. (left) and Ronald DeFeo Sr. (right)Amityville Files
Louise DeFeoAmityville Files
Mark DeFeo, 11 (left) and John DeFeo, 9 (right)Amityville Files
Allison DeFeo, 13 (left) and Dawn DeFeo, 18 (right)Amityville Files
Resources include the State of New York County of Suffolk and the State of New York Executive Department Division of Parole records obtained from the website Amityville Files.
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