This Day In History: November 13

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On the tragic evening of November 13, 1974, a young man shoots and kills his entire family with a 35-caliber Marlin rifle as his parents, two brothers and two sisters apparently sleep. The gruesome murder of the DeFeo family shakes up the sleepy Long Island town of Amityville—and leads to decades of horror storytelling.

Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr. told people that night at an Amityville bar that his parents had been shot inside his home, an upscale dwelling with a statue of the Virgin Mary and a sign declaring "High Hopes" in front. Several bar patrons accompanied him back to the now-famous house at 112 Ocean Avenue, where someone had called the Suffolk County police to report the murders. Ronald DeFeo, 23 at the time, initially blamed the familicide on the mob, but he confessed by the next day.

“Once I started, I just couldn’t stop,” Ronald DeFeo said about slaying his family, though he claimed that the “voices from the house” made him do it. DeFeo was reportedly a known LSD and heroin user.

He killed his entire family: parents Ronald DeFeo Sr., a car salesman, and Louise; daughters Dawn, 18, and Allison, 13; and sons Mark, 12, and John Matthew, 7. All six family members were found in their beds face down, hands raised above their heads. Oddly, no one in the neighborhood reported hearing gunshots, and there were no signs of struggle in the house. Homicide detectives said this was the largest number of slayings in a single incident on Long Island in recent memory.

Ronald DeFeo went on trial for the murders on October 14, 1975. His attorney argued for an insanity defense, but DeFeo was convicted of all the murders and sentenced to six consecutive sentences of 25 years to life in prison.

The DeFeo murders inspired the supernatural haunting story that led to the The Amityville Horror book in 1977 and movie in 1979. But many Amityville residents dispute this haunting story, and claim that the next family who moved into the house—George and Kathy Lutz, who allegedly experienced a horrifying demonic presence—made up the story as a hoax to capitalize on the tragedy. Their claims included green slime seeping down the walls, windows spontaneously shattering, a ghost boy peering out of a doorway (allegedly captured in an infrared photo) and Mrs. Lutz levitating above the bed.

The true Amityville horror, skeptics say, is the all-too-real murder of a family at the hands of a son.

“I guess the Amityville Horror really is supposed to be me, because I’m the one who got convicted of killing my family,” DeFeo, who changed his story many times, once said. “I’m the one they say who did it; I’m the one that’s supposed to be possessed by the devil.”

Ronald DeFeo died in March 2021 at age 69, while serving a life sentence at the maximum-security Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, N.Y. He had made multiple appeals to the parole board throughout his prison term, but all were denied. He also had sought to have his conviction overturned.

Today, the former DeFeo house, which has changed ownership several times, remains famous. Horror fans frequently drive by the three-story home, which has had its the iconic quarter-circle windows—which looked like a pair of eyes—changed to make it less recognizable.