October 14

This Day in History

Crime

Oct 14, 1975:

Trial begins in Amityville murders

Ronald DeFeo Jr. goes on trial for the killings of his parents and four siblings in their Amityville, New York, home on October 14, 1975. The family’s house was later said to be haunted and served as the inspiration for the Amityville Horror book and movies.

On the evening of November 13, 1974, Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr. entered an Amityville bar and told people his parents had been shot inside their home. Several bar patrons accompanied DeFeo back to his family’s home, at 112 Ocean Avenue, where a man named Joe Yeswit called Suffolk Country police to report the crime. When officers arrived, they found the bodies of Ronald DeFeo Sr., age 43, his wife Louise, 42, and their children Dawn, 18, Allison, 13, Marc, 11, and John, 9. The victims had been shot dead in their beds. Ronald DeFeo Jr., 22, initially tried to say the murders were a mob hit; however, by the next day he confessed to committing the crimes himself.

One aspect of the case that puzzled investigators was the fact that all six victims appeared to have died in their sleep, without struggle, and neighbors didn’t hear any gunshots, despite the fact that the rifle DeFeo used didn’t have a silencer. When DeFeo’s trial began in October 1975, his attorney argued for an insanity defense; however, that November, he was found guilty of six counts of second-degree murder and later sentenced to six consecutive sentences of 25 years to life in prison. DeFeo, who gave conflicting accounts of his story over the years, later claimed his sister Dawn and two other accomplices were involved in the murders.

The DeFeo house was sold to George Lutz, who moved in with his wife and three children in December 1975. The new owners resided in the house for 28 days, before they fled, claiming it was haunted by the spirits of the DeFeo family. Critics accused George Lutz of concocting the story to make money, but he maintained he was telling the truth. In 1977, Jay Anson published a novel titled The Amityville Horror. The book became a best-seller and inspired a 1979 movie of the same name, as well as a 2005 remake.

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