Podcast Episode 1 – DeFeo Family Murders

Our first episode is a discussion of the tragic events that lead to the death of an entire family, the DeFeo family.

The family first moved into the home, a three story Dutch Colonial located at 112 Ocean Avenue in the town of Amityville on Long Island New York, in 1965. The family was, Ronald DeFeo Sr, his wife Louise DeFeo, the eldest son, Ronald DeFeo Jr, known as Butch, followed by Dawn, Allison, Mark, and John Matthew.

At first, the family seemed, outwardly at least, to be close and pretty happy, but their home life was far from that DeFeo Sr, who some called Big Ronnie, was both verbally and physically abusive toward his wife, and especially his eldest son. As a young man, Butch developed behavior problems and some relatives have speculated this was likely due to the constant physical and emotional abuse suffered at the hands of his father.

The two men fought constantly, but regardless Big Ronnie also gave his son whatever he wanted. Whether he was trying to buy his sons respect or love, Butch was given anything teenage boy wanted; a nice car, a speedboat and money. At 18 he began to work at the car dealership where his father was the service manager.  Big Ronnie worked at his father-in-law’s car dealership, Brigante-Karl Buick, and was able to provide a very comfortable home life for his family.  Honestly, they lived in a three-story Dutch colonial home, in a somewhat affluent part of Amityville.  The home had a guest house, and a boat slip, and they had recently finished building a pool so they were doing well.   

Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr and Ronald DeFeo Sr. / image courtesy of amytivillefiles.com
Portrait of Louise DeFeo – Courtesy of amityvillefiles.com

As a young teenager he began burglarizing the homes of his neighbors and began abusing drugs, such as heroin, LSD and often spent days on a drinking binge.  He was subsequently asked to leave school at 17, and at 18 began working at the dealership with his father.  Butch took full advantage of the fact his father was the service manager and his grandfather was part owner since he would often not go into work at all, yet still got paid.

On the evening of November 13, 1974, 23 year old Butch ran into a bar he often hung out in, and in a panicked state he screamed that his family had been killed. 

Friends called the police and began looking through the home.  They found Big Ronnie and his wife Louise had been shot in their bed.  Both had been shot twice.  Big Ronnie once in the lower back, one bullet went through his kidney and the other at the base of his spine.  Louise was shot in the chest, one bullet shattering her rib cage and destroyed most of her right lung.  As they moved through the home they found the room where his two brothers, 12-year-old Marc and 9-year-old John Matthew slept and had also been shot. Both in the back.   As they continued to look they also found 13-year-old Allison who was shot in the face and 18-year-old Dawn also shot in the neck. 

DeFeo Children – From top left, John-Matthew, Allison, Marc. Bottom, Dawn and Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr. / Stock image

When the police began their investigation they spoke to Butch who stated that he knew who killed his family and it had been a mob hit, AND he needed protection because he feared for his life.  During questioning he stated that the murders were committed by a man he believed to have mafia ties, Louis Falini, this likely is not this real name, but it doesn’t really matter at this point. The reason given as to why the family was killed was because of an argument Butch had with the man, and that Falini felt so disrespected he had to take revenge on Butch by killing his family. He was kept for several hours and placed under protective custody but was eventually released.   

Once the investigation began, the police were searching the home and surrounding areas for a murder weapon.  During the search at the home, police found what was believed to be the murder weapon, a .35 caliber Marlin rifle.  As they continued the search for clues, the police also began to question neighbors and some Butch’s friends.   Most of the neighbors stated that Butch was becoming more angry and confrontational over the past several months, especially when they would complain about the noise coming from the home due to the constant fighting, his friends meanwhile called him full blown alcoholic and drug addict.  

At this point the police decided it was time to speak to the only survivor again.  Butch was brought in and was asked to provide more details about the day prior to the murders.  He said he had been home the day before the murders due to stomach issues. He claimed that during the night he had heard one of his brothers get up to use the bathroom, so he knew that his brother was alive at this point and therefore the rest of the family.  In the morning he felt better and decided to go to work.  Throughout the day his friends and girlfriend stated he had complained about not being able to get in touch with his family.  During his questioning, he seemed upset about the death of his family, but Butch was also telling the police what an awful father Big Ronnie was, and how his mother was a terrible housewife, his brothers were pigs, and his sister Dawn was a fat bitch.  Only Allison was spared the unkind words.  His grandfather, Michael Brigante Sr. was also questioned about Mr. Falini and said that he knew Mr. Falini to be a very good and decent man, and when the investigators asked if it was possible that Butch had anything to do with the death of his family, he became visibly upset. He said that he knew his grandson had some problems that he did not believe he would have killed his own family.

After several more hours of questioning the police told Butch that the family did not die during the day while Butch had been at work, as he had suggested all this time, but instead it was more likely they had been killed between 3 and 4 am on the morning of November 13th.   Butch then asked them to give him a minute, he put his head in his hands and admitted that it had been him who had killed his family.  Houston, we have a problem.

            Attorney William Weber agreed to represent the Butch, and at that time both he and his defendant decided that the best defense was to have Butch state he had killed his family because he had heard voices telling him to do so.  These voices told him that his family was going to kill him, and that he needed to defend himself.

During the trial, the court appointed psychiatrists said that Butch had an antisocial personality disorder which was not helped by his drug and alcohol addiction.  He also often used LSD and that is known to sometimes produce psychotic episodes, so you can certainly hear and see things that really aren’t there. But it was ultimately concluded that he was fully aware of his own actions at the time, and not insane.  He was found guilty of six counts of second-degree murder on December 4th of 1975 and was sentenced to six consecutive terms of 25 years to life. 

            Let’s explore the insanity plea, because this is what would eventually become part of the narrative of the Amityville Horror book and movie. The Lutz family and their 3 kids bought and moved into the home in December of 1975.  They paid $80,000.  Now, at that time, the housing market was not obscenely inflated like today, but still, that was a huge bargain for a home that size and the Lutz’s knew it.  After pressing the realtor, they found out why, but they still wanted the house.   Since they were the current owners Mr. Weber, and this is all conjecture, says they all got together and after talking and a few bottles of wine, they came up with the story that the house was haunted. Weber had hoped that this would corroborate his client’s claims about hearing voices and also make some extra money so why not?.    

There’s been a lot of back and forth throughout the years, and even though the Lutz’s both passed polygraph tests, it is still widely thought that their claims were part of a big hoax.  My feeling about this is that I believe it is possible that the Lutz’s we’re being haunted, but not so much because the home itself was haunted, but they were haunted. People can be haunted the same as homes are haunted or cemeteries are haunted or any other thing can be haunted.  There’s a YouTube video about a movie called My Amityville Horror, in which Daniel Lutz, the adopted son of George Lutz, talks about George being involved in a satanic cult and practicing black magic. And because of this he had brought negative influences into that house. I believe this haunting was something that was directly connected to George.  And, If you believe in these things and have studied them long enough you know that if you don’t know what you’re doing you can bring in some really wild and scary shit into this world, and it can be very very  hard getting rid of it. Weber and the Lutzes did speak, and they were involved in the book and movie, but while Weber stated it was made up, the Lutz’s stated it was true.  

Something has always bothered me though about the murders of the family.   Nobody woke up?  A lot has been theorized about this but the only thing that makes sense is that they were drugged.  But toxicology reports stated that there w4ere no drugs in their systems.  And there was no silencer used.  Over the past nearly 50 years, Butch has changed his story several times.  First, he heard voices saying that his family was going to kill him, then a demon came to him one night and told him to kill his family.  Another claim was that it was his mother who killed the family, and he didn’t want his grandfather to know his daughter had done something so vile that he took the blame for it.  And then, he claimed it was his sister Dawn who had killed the family, and he had killed Dawn because he feared for his life.  So, will we ever truly know what happened that early morning November 23rd, 1973?

            Ronald DeFeo Jr. spent the rest of his life in prison and died on March 12 of 2021 was 69 years old.

Sources:

https://allthatsinteresting.com/amityville-murders-ronald-defeo-jr

THE FAMILY

https://horrorobsessive.com/2021/04/02/the-defeo-murders-the-story-behind-the-amityville-horror/

YouTube video about the movie “My Amityville Horror” which included Daniel Lutz, Laura DiDio, Lorraine Warren. https://youtu.be/lOKKSbhedRU

https://amityvillefiles.com

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