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The Weber Book Contract

by Dan Nolte


“The truth behind The Amityville Horror was finally revealed when Butch DeFeo’s lawyer, William Weber, admitted that he, along with the Lutzes, ‘created this horror story over many bottles of wine’.”



But is that statement really accurate?

When you say "this guy admitted it was all a sham," the normal human reaction is to automatically believe it, just as you would when someone confesses to a crime. After all, why would someone confess or admit to a wrongdoing if they didn't actually do it? What could their motivation possibly be?

Now what if I told you that William Weber made this statement as he was actively suing the Lutzes, trying to get a cut of the profits from The Amityville Horror book and movie? Doesn't seem so simple anymore, does it? Now we see a clear motivation – money. If the story was seen by the courts as a work of fiction, and if Weber could convince the court that he played a role in the development of the fiction, then he could be seen as a co-author of the story, and he would be entitled to a share of the profits.

So when people read that Bill Weber confessed to a hoax, they may think, "Well that's it, case closed – the haunting never happened." But it's not that clear-cut. Many people view William Weber's statement as a confession when in reality it should be treated as an accusation.


The story so far...

In November of 1974, Ronnie DeFeo murders his family. A year later he is convicted and sent to prison. His court-appointed attorney was William Weber. With the trial complete, Weber starts thinking about writing a book on the DeFeo case. Meanwhile the DeFeo house is sold to the Lutz family, who move-in during the middle of December, 1975, only to leave a month later claiming it was haunted. They temporarily stay at their mother's house where they can take a breath, clear their heads, and decide how to "fix" their Amityville home.

Having hired a writer, Weber works out a legal agreement with his associates for their DeFeo book project when he is suddenly contacted by the Lutzes, who feel that perhaps his client, Ronnie DeFeo, was affected by the same forces they, themselves, encountered.


"We realized there was something so wrong there, that it would be inhuman, it would be improper to just let him rot in jail and not try to help get him some kind of psychological help."

—George Lutz, ABC Primetime Live, 2003


"They just said that they had some personal experiences in the house that they would like to relate to me because they thought it could help me in the defense of Ronnie DeFeo."

—William Weber, on Spectrum with Joel Martin, 1979


When Weber heard what the Lutzes had to say, he did seem interested in helping DeFeo gain access to some sort of psychological care; but he seemed even more interested in talking about his book project, feeling that maybe the Lutzes' experiences would make an interesting chapter – perhaps a sort of epilogue to the murder story. He attempted to persuade the Lutzes into coming on board with his book venture, eventually sending them the following contract proposal:


Weber/Lutz Contract Page 1 .....



Already soured on William Weber over the bullying tactics he used (in order to secure their involvement in an earlier press conference), this contract really drove the nail into the lid of the coffin in terms of the Lutzes having any further association with him or his book project. One particular item the Lutzes found distasteful was clause #4 (found on page 3 of the contract) which stated how convicted murderer Ronnie DeFeo would be entitled to a percentage of the profits, which meant he would be profiting from his crimes! The following letter from Weber to Ronnie DeFeo (attached to the contract and mentioned in clause #4) talks about the deal and spells out the percentages Ronnie would get from the book project:




To understand the other objections the Lutzes had, it's important to note how this contract called for the creation of a company whose main purpose was the publication of this book. The company was to consist of Bill Weber, his 2 associates, writer Paul Hoffman and the Lutzes. The contract called for the Lutzes to "cooperate with the media as determined by the company" or face losing their equity in the company – no doubt this clause being a direct result of the Lutzes' reluctance to participate in the recent press conference.

But the haunting was a traumatic experience for the Lutzes. They didn't want to relive it over and over again in interview after interview, especially when they had no control over when & where they would appear and how many interviews would be scheduled. To them, this contract made them slaves to Bill Weber – forced to appear whenever and wherever he desired. And if they refused, they lose all stake in the company, meaning they wouldn't be paid and they would lose out on any profits.

And it wasn't just the profits they stood to lose – on page 2 of the contract it states "all records, tapes or artifacts now in the Lutzes' possession which pertain to these experiences shall be held solely and exclusively for the use of the company." George saw this as possibly including the Amityville house, itself; so if they refused any interview or media appearance, they might even lose their home!

The Lutzes didn't sign Weber's contract (a contract Weber later claimed he never wrote) and one day George showed it to a friend who was involved in the book industry.


"A friend of mine who sold textbooks to colleges looked at this and said, 'I know someone who you should talk to before you ever consider such a thing.' I said, 'Well we're not even considering this – this is just an absurd idea,' but he introduced us then to Tam Mossman who was an editor at Prentice-Hall Books – Prentice Hall Trade Division. Tam Mossman was Jane Roberts' – who did the "Seth Speaks" books – her editor. And I went and looked those up, and bought them and read them, and learned about – even thought there was some really strange stuff in those books, that this was a guy who knew what he was talking about – what he was doing – who understood the paranormal, at least one particular perspective, and I was now dealing with a credible company. He made a recommendation of someone he knew – Jay Anson – and asked that we meet with Jay."

—George Lutz, Penn State speaking engagement, 2003


That set the ball rolling with Jay Anson and Prentice-Hall, and Jay quickly got to work writing what would become The Amityville Horror.

Meanwhile, in July of 1976, still shopping for a publisher for his own book project, Bill Weber commissioned Paul Hoffman to write an article about the haunting for The New York Daily News. The piece was a hit, causing hordes of curiosity seekers to descend upon Amityville, gazing upon the eerily vacant house. A revamped version of this article was later sold to Good Housekeeping in early 1977, prompting concern from Prentice-Hall which forced the Lutzes to sue Hoffman, Weber, and their associates (partly in order to prevent any future articles from coming out before Anson's book was released). Weber counter-sued the Lutzes, claiming breach of contract in regards to them backing out of Weber's book deal (claiming an oral agreement had been made) and misrepresentation, as he explained in a 1979 radio interview:


"They took all of the material from me, converted it to their own use under the guise of helping me and Ronnie DeFeo, and they also pre-empted the field, preventing us from getting our book published."

—William Weber, on Spectrum with Joel Martin, 1979


"I know this book's a hoax," charges Weber. "We created this horror story over many bottles of wine."

—William Weber, quoted in People magazine, 1979


And that quote brings up an interesting question – if the Lutzes and Bill Weber did, in fact, make-up the story of the haunting as a work of fiction, then why did Weber include a clause in the contract above (found on page 2) requiring the Lutzes to take and pass a polygraph examination to confirm their claims regarding the haunting? That clause clearly tells us that Weber wasn't sure if the Lutzes' story was real. And if he wasn't sure if the story was real, then that means he did not help the Lutzes create it (because if you help create a fictional story, then you sure as hell know it's fiction). So that right there tells us that William Weber did not, in fact, help invent The Amityville Horror.

The court case dragged on for 2 years. By the time it ended, with an out-of-court settlement reached on September 12, 1979, the book had long been published, the movie was a box-office hit, the Lutzes were tired of traveling back & forth to New York (and paying for hotel rooms and babysitters back home), and Weber was facing potential ethical questions before the New York State Bar Association – as judge Jack Weinstein put it, "There is a very serious ethical question when lawyers become literary agents."

Despite the claims of not being able to go ahead with his own book due to the Lutzes "pre-empting the field," Weber was, in fact, eventually able to cash-in on the Amityville craze by ditching Paul Hoffman and teaming up with Hans Holzer on the book Murder in Amityville, as explained in this letter from Weber to Ronnie DeFeo:




And as seen in this 1980 letter to attorney Jack Glazer (deceased), Weber writes about how he "anticipates receiving as much as $200,000" from the Murder in Amityville project which he described as "one literary project with a possible movie connected with it" (apologies for the scribbling on the letter – that was done by Ronnie DeFeo).



The movie rights for Murder in Amityville were sold to Dino DeLaurentis, and provided the basis for the movie Amityville II, which set off a whole new round of lawsuits for the Lutzes, this time lasting some 12 years...


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