05 April 2009

The Amityville Horror Refried

Just ask most people about "The Amityville Horror" and they will tell you along with urban legends website Snopes.com (I bring up Snopes because most of what is said about Amityville on the net is a cut and paste job from Snopes) that it was an admitted hoax made up so that a couple, George and Kathy Lutz, and writer Jay Anson could make money off a book and later a Motion Picture starring Margot Kidder and James Brolin (remade again in '05 starring Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George).

This is the real background on the story.

The whole thing started with an article about the haunting in "Good Housekeeping" magazine, an article printed without permission by the Lutzes. The article was a sensation and soon everyone wanted a piece of the "Haunted House" publicity. Since they were already outed, the Lutzes had no choice but to hire a writer (Jay Anson) to write a book separating fact from fiction with what was a growing story in the media and to silence those who were claiming involvement with the house to make money. Anson was given a series of audio tapes given to him by the Lutzes detailing what happened to them while living in the house, from those tapes, he penned "The Amityville Horror." The Lutzes saw only about $400,000 from both the book and the movie (the book alone made millions). So much for making money off the story if that was their aim (the claim the Lutzes were hurting for money and that is why they pulled this hoax is false. Both George and Kathy were ahead financially after selling their houses and it was abandoning Amityville after only 28 days because of their experience is what put them in the hole).

The whole hoax myth started with a man named Stephen Kaplin. A self-named director of a paranormal group he founded in Long Island, he was also a known publicity seeker and self-avowed "vampire hunter" who was at first on board with the investigation. The Lutzes fired him soon after hiring him (banning him from the property before he even took one step into the house) because they felt his showman antics were undermining their experience and because he lied about his education (Kaplin said he was a graduate of Stony Brook University and received a Doctorite from Pacific College, both proved false). Kaplin saw his opportunity for national recognition with his involvement with Amityvillego out the door when he could no longer be a part of the investigation, but that didn't stop him from making a name for himself debunking it. Most of what Kaplin wrote did indeed point out discrepancies, but most of it was with Jay Anson's artist license in how he wrote ("it was a cold and stormy night...") and Anson's own embellishments that the Lutzes themselves went to the media and claimed they were unhappy with (the Lutzes had no say in the final draft of the book). Privately Kaplin DID believe the events happened to the Lutzes, according to his wife Roxanne (interviewed for a History Channel documentary on the haunting; "Amityville - Horror or Hoax?"), just not Anson's added-on account of it.

Rick Moran, another "paranormal researcher" (Read about Moran's antics here), added to the hoax theory by debunking the Indian history of the property (Still debatable by historians. Indian burial sites are common around Long Island, the dispute was on whether one was on the actual grounds of the Amityville house. It's likely there was with the layout of the land and what records there were to prove it, 'vanished' from the Amityville archives.) and interviewing the Priest involved with the blessing of the house. The Priest told Moran that he felt no paranormal feelings in the house, but he contradicts himself with what he forgot was an earlier interview he did for the 70's unexplained mysteries television show "In Search Of" were he claimed he was smacked and told to "Get Out" by an unseen entity, was struck with boils, almost killed in a car accident and felt under spiritual attack when he tried to warn the Lutzes about the house. I don't know why the Priest re-canted, but he was transferred out of his Diocese soon after he made public his claims of the haunting. The year before Amityville, a young Bavarian girl named Anneliese Michel died while undergoing months of exorcisms. The courts found Anneliese's parents, the two Catholic Priests and indirectly the Catholic Church who gave it's permission for the exorcism guilty of negligent manslaughter. The Anneliese Michel case was an embarrassment for the Church and the last thing they wanted was an association with another possession, be it human or house.

William Webber, an Attorney for Ronald DeFeo Jr. who murdered his entire family in the house before the Lutzes bought the property, has also stepped up to the fray with saying he collaborated with the Lutzes in making up the "Haunted House" story up over a bottle of wine so as to give a new trial for his client. Why the Lutzes would make up the story and keep up the charade for all of there lives to help free a man who slaughtered his entire family in cold blood, a man who the Lutzes never knew or even met before there own experience in the house, is never explained by Webber, his claims are least credible of all debunkers mentioned here yet he is the one Snopes claims knows the real truth.

The most vocal of critics is writer Rick Osuna. Like Kaplin, Osuna was a supporter of the Lutzes until a falling out, in this case over a future book (George Lutz wanted a more experienced writer) to be written by Osuna and representation for a movie deal fell through, caused him to turn against them. Unlike the others, his belief of a hoax was only from a "feeling." Also like Kaplin (he believed Kaplin was a fraud ironically), Osuna saw his cash cow with the Lutzes go out the window, but determined to still make money from Amityville, like Kaplin, he still wrote a book. In his case about the Defeo murders. Ronald Defeo Jr. has come out and publicly accused Osuna of being a "fraud and liar" and perpetrating a hoax using his name with denying the haunting.

Snopes also quotes a man named Joe Nickell in their attempt at debunking Amityville. What Snopes doesn't tell you is that Nickell is a paid consultant for CSICOP, a group of professional debunkers you can read about here. CSICOP will often threaten legal action if their de-bunking views are not included in documentaries about the unexplained airing on the National Geographic channel, History channel, and A&E.

The town of Amityville also had reason to say it was a hoax. The town was still living down the horrific murders of the DeFeo family just 13 months prior, now they had to deal with the publicity of being associated with a house full of devils. The publicity from the book alone brought people in droves, disturbing what was once a quiet little town. Crime was now also a concern and the locals got into the habit of saying "it never happened" at the urging of local police. Everyone in Amityville wanted the people/notoriety to just go away.

Before the Lutzes moved in, the DeFeo family had to deal with the house. Ronald DeFeoDeFeo Sr. filled the house inside and out with religious icons and Ronald Jr. stated in initial interviews that screams would be heard throughout the house with dark shadowy figures moving about the rooms terrifying the family. Ronald Jr. blamed the house's influence for the murders (one of several eerie aspects of the murders was why no one but the family dog out in the yard heard the loud gunshots as Ronald slowly went from room to room, shots that should have been heard for blocks and why none of the other family members woke up, still remains a mystery to Detectives to this day. The initial belief that the family was drugged to not wake up proved false).

George and Kathy Lutz both passed two separate polygraph tests about their experiences in the house and both stuck to the story even on their death beds (she passed away in '04, he in '06). The children back up the events (daughter Missy insists that the pig creature "Jodie" was a real entity in a '05 interview, The fact that others saw it gives her credibility and the Lutz's son Christopher has gone on record in saying the family was terrified by the house) and though George and Kathy divorced several years later after their experience, relatives on both sides continue to support their accounts of what the family went through to this day.

No one can call the Lutzes liars or the story untrue by the current claims of the debunkers mentioned above and Snopes need to check their facts before they write off what was a house of horrors for the Lutz family and a house of death for the DeFeos.

addendum: The Smithsonian Channel covered the Amityville story on their series "The Real Story" in 2009. All the same things were covered that were covered by other documentaries on the events that happened in the house, but it did state several things that only confirm the haunting. The priest recanted his denial of the haunting and admitted shortly before his death that indeed the supernatural events that he claimed earlier DID take place. The Priest (Father Ralph J. Pecoraro) confirming the haunting is relevent because he, unlike all the major players involved with the haunting mentioned above, had nothing personal or financial to gain in saying it was true. William Webber confirms the deluge of people that flocked to Amityville (he claimed one time he counted 50 buses in front of the house) as did the former Mayor who claimed there were so many people, residents couldn't even get into their own houses. Webber also claims that he too had a book deal going on with the Lutzes that turned sour (explains his hostility towards the Lutzes) and who do we see debunking Amityville on the documentary? Our good friend Joe Nickell who now is going by the misleading title of "Paranormal Investigator." Even some paranormal web sites are following the debunking crowd with one stating:

"The case has indeed been debunked by many experts considered to be foremost in the fields of parapsychological and paranormal investigation. To this day, there is not one genuine paranormal researcher, who takes his or her research seriously, is willing to work with genuine evidence and believes in telling that truth, who will support the case as being real. This is an undeniable FACT."
This is false. Where are all these "many experts" who don't believe in Amityville? One expert who actually went inside of the house is one of the biggest and most respected names in what is called Paranormal Investigating; Hanz Holzer and renown medium Ethel Meyers who both came away with saying the house was haunted to the rafters.

May 10th, 2010: I just find out now this post was linked on an "Amityville Faq" forum (not worth a link) on the sly back in '09. Nothing I said was contradicted even though readers were invited to find all the "mistakes" on my blog. The one thing they did mention was the possibility the Lutzes could be drinkers as Catholics when I stated as Catholics they couldn't drink (since deleted). Out of everything I wrote that's the only thing they can bring up? That they were Catholics who drank? And then the thread trails off onto other subjects that have nothing to do with what I wrote. I'll say this again, not everything in the book happened, the Lutzes said that from day one and were the loudest in saying it to the media and anyone else who would listen.

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