The death of the Amityville killer and the birth of one of history’s great haunted house stories

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NEW YORK — In just a matter of minutes, Ron De Feo eliminated his entire family — shooting his mother, father, two brothers and two sisters as they slept.

He initially claimed that he was in the basement and high on marijuana and heard nothing. He later asserted that the mob did it.

As I told you yesterday in the wake of DeFeo’s death, over my years as a journalist, I have had close ties to the story. I’ve had correspondence with DeFeo, and his defense attorney, spent one night in the Amityville house, participating in a séance, and I’ve been in half a dozen documentaries talking about it. The next one will be on CNN Headline News in May.

His third claim as to how the murders occurred appeared in one of those letters.

“Ron claimed his 18-year-old sister Dawn initiated the shooting and when he tried to wrestle the gun from her, he killed her in self-defense,” said Laura Didio, Amityville Horror historian.

As his alibis wavered, at one point, police said he confessed and that he declared “once it started, I couldn’t stop it. It went so fast.” His assertion that he heard voices telling him to kill prompted believers of the occult to say he was possessed.

“Ron DeFeo was demonically influenced in committing that horrible crime,” said demonologist Lorraine Warren in an interview years ago.

But DeFeo’s defense attorney William Weber, several years ago, said he didn’t buy that.

“Was Ronnie possessed? No. He was insane.”

A jury never bought the insanity defense, however, and neither did DeFeo. He wrote to me that there was no insanity, “only people talking to Weber about it. Books, movies, etc. about me being obsessed.”

“Ron was into some very dark things. He was into dark practices,” said Warren.

One of the questions that still lingers from the night of the murders — why didn’t any of the victims hear gunshots from the high-powered rifle as Ron picked off one family member after another?

“The psychic investigators claimed that the DeFeo family experienced ‘phantomania,’ which is a form of psychic paralysis during a supernatural event in which the victims can’t see or hear anything,” said Didio.

As DeFeo was beginning his six consecutive life sentences, George and Kathy Lutz and their three children moved into their house one year after the horrific murders. They fled in panic 28 days later, claiming they were driven out by demonic forces.

It was the birth of one of the greatest ghost stories of all time — the Amityville Horror became an instant cottage industry. Months after the Lutz family fled, I spent a night at the house and participated in a séance with clairvoyants, demonologists and psychics.

The story of the Amityville Horror has endured for almost half a century, attracting new generations of believers.

But attorney Bill Weber later fessed up that he and the Lutz family concocted that story over dinner and wine.

In one of his letters to me, DeFeo declared the story was a hoax and all about money. He added that he was angry he was cut out of the lucrative book and movie deals.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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