Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
November 29, 1986 Saturday
SECTION: NEWS AND FEATURES; Pg. 26
LENGTH: 868 words
HEADLINE: WHEN A HOAX TURNED INTO A HORROR STORY
In the cold, damp early morning hours of November 13, 1974, Ronald DeFeo jun walked quietly into his parents' bedroom and shot them in the head twice.
Then he walked across the hall and shot his two younger brothers. He continued calmly upstairs and shot his two younger sisters.
Then he cleaned himself up and drove to his father's car sales yard in Booklyn, where he worked.
Later when 23-year-old DeFeo confessed, he claimed he had been told to murder his family by strange voices in the family home on Ocean Avenue, Amityville.
DeFeo didn't know it, but he was to be the focus of a hoax that has haunted this sleepy Long Island town 50 kilometres south-east of New York for the past nine years.
It's called the Amityville Horror, a best-selling novel and a box-office hit movie of dubious critical merit.
Amityville's real horror started in 1977 when Jay Anson's novel became a best-seller. The author claims the story of George and Kathy Lutz's 28 days of fear, including green-slime-oozing walls, a blood-red, secret basement room, and a daughter possessed by a red-eyed pig, is true.
The Lutzes bought the house in December, 1975 from an Amityville bank that had foreclosed on Ronald and Louise DeFeo's home after their death.
As Anson's novel describes, the Lutzes were subjected to the house's peculiar set of personality disorders, from bad plumbing - a black bile-filled toilet - to uneven central heating - one room that emitted cold gusts. The Lutzes say they fled after 28 days of horror.
But William Weber, Ronald jun lawyer, said not so. He sued the Lutzes for breach of agreement, claiming he and George Lutz created the horror story over many bottles of wine and planned to sell the story together.
He says the Lutzes reneged on the deal and sold the idea to another publishing company. They later also sold the film rights for $US200,000.
Now 12 years after the murder, Amityville residents are haunted by hundreds of tourists who seek out the Dutch-style colonial house, which has been renumbered and repainted to hide it from the "ghostwatchers" as the locals call them.
"It's baloney that the house has always been haunted," Frank Burch says disdainfully. He's a large burly man, not the type to be intimidated by red-eyed pigs or levitating women.
Burch, who owns a printing business not far from the "horror" house, says he and his two sons lived there in 1979 when the film came out.
He had offered to look after the house for the current owners, Barbara and Jim Cromarty, who really did flee in 1979. But the Cromartys didn't flee ghosts, they fled from flesh and blood humans.
Burch said the thrill-seekers became so noisy that the village called in extra police to protect the house from souvenir hunters, television crews, the curious, and the occasional exorcist eager to purge the house of its evil spirits.
"For some strange reason people thought the house was a museum or public domain," Burch said. "I would find them in the house just wandering around during the day."
His impatience increases when asked about some of the myths that have grown up around the house: "What about the man in the burlap outfit with the staff and the herd of goats?"
"There was one guy and one goat," Burch sneers. "He brought the goat down -one goat - to eat the spirits off the lawn. I told him 'to get the hell out of here'.
"If four people pulled up in a car, you could guarantee that one of them would be a expert and would talk about the house. Then they would come up to the door and ask to come in.
"One guy asked for the solid gold D (for DeFeo) that was supposed to be near the door. It was a tile," Burch said. "I told them it's a tile with a D, but they still wanted to take it. It doesn't even exist in the story."
Some of the myths were created and nurtured in the imaginations of the local children who couldn't resist leading nosey visitors on.
Hope Keller, now 28 and a writer, and her 26-year-old brother Barth, a teacher, live a few houses down from 108 Ocean Avenue. They say they loved to create horror stories whenever a visitor asked for directions to the house.
"I remember telling one family that whenever I walked past the house, cold gusts of air would almost blow me over," Hope laughs. "I told them even in the middle of summer the house sent out cold gusts of air. The family looked at me aghast for a moment, and then they caught themselves and laughed."
Hope and Barth say they rarely tell people where they are from because they are tired of answering questions about the "horror" house.
"A few years ago," Hope says, "I was returning to Paris after a trip home and as I came out of the underground at about 3 o'clock in the morning, I looked up and all along the Champs Elysees were posters emblazoned with Amityville II - the sequel.
It was like a bad dream."
For all its fame, Amityville is an ordinary little town of about 11,000 people. The village was settled in 1697 and as its name denotes appears to be a friendly village.
Amityville's Mayor, Vic Niemi said: "I live right across the street from the house. Sometimes I wake up in the night and hear people yelling at the house. It gets worse every time they show the movie on TV. I suppose it definitely put Amityville on the map."