On the afternoon of May 8, 2006, George Lutz passed away suddenly. This was one of the last major interviews that Mr. Lutz provided on the subject of Amityville. Ghostvillage.com expresses our deepest sympathy to his family and friends and we hope that he has found peace. A full-length version of this interview can be found in Jeff Belanger’s book, Our Haunted Lives.
On Wednesday, November 14, 1974, around 3:00 AM, 23-year-old Ronald “Butch” DeFeo, Jr. sat awake in his bedroom at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, Long Island, New York. DeFeo, wrought with emotional and drug problems, sat seething as his mother, father, two brothers, and two sisters all lay sleeping in their beds in the silence of that cold autumn night. Butch reached for a .35-caliber Marlin rifle he kept hidden, and he walked out of his room toward the bedroom where his parents were sleeping. He slipped in, aimed the rifle at his father first, and fired twice. Next he shot his mother twice, leaving both parents in pools of their own blood. Over the next several minutes, he systematically executed every member of his family, sealing his name in the halls of infamy.
One might ask, “Who would ever want to live in a house where such an atrocity happened?” It’s an easy question to ask when you’re not currently trying to buy a house, but what if you needed a home for your family, you’ve already looked at dozens of houses, and you find a wonderful home for a significantly undervalued price? What if it’s been a year since the brutal murder, and you and your family agree that “houses don’t have memories”?
The Amityville house is one of the most famous haunting cases in the world. Ronald DeFeo’s brutality captivated the world for a brief moment, but mass murderers are soon forgotten as another twisted monster comes along, ups the ante, and makes us all forget about the last one. But we didn’t forget the house. 112 Ocean Avenue still captivates us — but not so much because of what Ronald DeFeo did there, but because of the supernatural, and by some accounts, demonic events that George Lutz and his family went through for 28 days after they moved in.
The Amityville story has been told, fictionalized, and retold again in books, magazine articles, and movies for almost 30 years now. A new movie about this house and the Lutz family’s experiences there is set for release on April 15th, and George Lutz is not happy about it. With so many different sources, each with a myriad of accounts and versions of what happened, I wanted to ask the man who lived through it what he and his family experienced. I spoke to George Lutz from his home in Nevada.
George and Kathy Lutz were married in July of 1975. Both had been married before, and Kathy had children from her previous marriage. They decided to sell both of their houses and combine households. Kathy’s house sold first, so the Lutzes all packed into George’s house until they could find something suitable for all of them.
“What brought you to the Amityville house?” I asked.
“We looked at about 50 homes over the months that we decided to combine the households,” Lutz said. “We had actually gone to contract on another home about a month before we found the Amityville house. It was smaller than this house, and it needed repairs that the sellers were not willing to negotiate on. And so when that fell through, we just kept looking. We found the Amityville house, if I recall correctly, from an ad in the paper.”
Though this new house was expensive, it was beautiful and it did have a boathouse. When the family added up what they were spending on each of their mortgages plus the docking fees for their boat, they knew what they could afford for monthly payments. Lutz recalls that they first went into 112 Ocean Avenue in late August/early September of 1975.
“So the realtor showed us the house,” Lutz said. “When she showed it to us she said, ‘I don’t know if I should tell you now or after you’ve seen the house, but this was the house that the DeFeo murders took place in.’ We kind of looked at each other like we weren’t sure what she was talking about. And then she reminded us about Ronald DeFeo having killed his whole family — it had been in the newspapers about a year before.”
“What did you think when you saw the place?” I asked.
“Kathy walked in and she just started smiling,” Lutz said. “This was the best thing that she had seen so far in terms of what she liked and what we were looking for. We had the kids with us, we walked through it, and we all really fell in love with it.”
George Lutz and his family talked for days about the house. They spoke about the price and if they could make it work for them financially, what commutes would be like — all of the kinds of things people talk about when considering a purchase as significant as their home. But they also spoke to their children about what happened in that house a year before. “Did the kids have any concerns about that?” I asked.
“In the first movie that was done about this, James Brolin says something to the effect of houses don’t have memories,” Lutz said. “And I think that’s the way we thought, without a doubt. It never occurred to us that the house would be uninhabitable. We had concern for the kids. You don’t just force your kids to move into a place like this — that’s not how we did things — but they had no reservations. And we went back at least two more times. We drove around the town a little bit, around the neighborhood, and we spent more time looking through the house. Eventually we made an offer.”
Lutz doesn’t remember the exact figures, but he recalls an asking price of something like $90,000 for a house that was probably worth around $110,000. They offered $80,000 and the deal was accepted by the DeFeo estate. George sold his house, and the move-in date was set. Everything was proceeding normally through the closing with one exception. When a close friend of George’s found out which house he and his family were buying, he insisted that George have the house blessed by a priest. “He was such a good friend,” Lutz said, “and I had never heard him say this kind of thing before, so I complied.”
A year and a half prior, George Lutz was married to a Catholic woman, and the marriage ended in divorce and then annulment proceedings. Lutz was asked to come down to the diocesan offices in Rockville Center, Long Island, to meet with Father Ralph Pecoraro. “Father Ray, we called him,” Lutz said. “He spent time with me and explained the process. I was a Methodist, so this was new and foreign to me at the time. We struck up a friendship, and from time to time we would talk. This was really strange for me — I was a biker, and I wasn’t a Catholic — but something about this guy made him different than most people you meet. He was more than just special — he was worth spending time with. I called him to bless the house because he was the only priest I could think of. He said, ‘Sure, I’d be glad to.’”
Lutz didn’t know at the time that Father Ray wasn’t just a priest, he was also an ecclesiastical judge for the Church, he had a law degree from Oxford, and he spoke several languages. “When did he bless the house?” I asked.
“He showed up shortly after we were in the process of moving in,” Lutz said. “I waved, he waved, and he went on in the house and went about blessing it. When he was done, I tried to pay him but he wouldn’t take money. He said, ‘No, you don’t charge for this, and you don’t charge friends for this.’ I thought that was a very kind thing to say, and then he said, ‘You know, I felt something really strange in that one upstairs bedroom,’ and he described the bedroom. And we said that’s what we were going to use as a sewing room. We weren’t going to use it as a bedroom. He said, ‘That’s good, as long as no one sleeps in there, that’s fine.’ And that’s all he said, and he left.”
The first night in 112 Ocean Avenue, the Lutzes didn’t experience anything too unusual. George said he couldn’t get warm, but he credits that more with having worked all day moving in on a chilly autumn day. “At what point do you start to notice that something doesn’t seem right in the house?” I asked.
“We found there were cold spots,” he said. “There was one in the stairway, there was one in the basement, and one out in the boathouse. And we would walk through the house and they would be there. The one in the boathouse was pretty solid; you’d turn around and there it was. The one in the basement, as I recall, wasn’t always there. There would be times when you were looking for it and it wouldn’t be there.
“As time goes on, you start to wonder what these things are, where is this draft coming from? You start to notice that there is a deadness of sound. You would walk into the living room and you would walk out to the front porch, which was a sunroom all enclosed facing the street, and you would see cars go past, but you wouldn’t hear them.”
The paranormal events began in a very subtle way. A few random cold spots and strange acoustics are not much on their own, but as events began to escalate and compound on each other, these are the things Lutz can identify as the beginning of the torment, now that he has the benefit of hindsight. “What other kinds of things were happening?” I asked.
“I’d be lying in bed and I’d hear the front door slam shut,” Lutz said. “It’s an unmistakable sound in that house — you absolutely knew that was the front door. I’d go downstairs and the dog would be asleep at the door, nothing would be disturbed, and the door would still be locked. So you start questioning yourself.”
“Were other people in the family hearing the door too?” I asked.
“I don’t think so, when I think back about it,” he said. “There were a number of times I would think a clock radio or something went off downstairs. I heard what I can only describe as a marching band tuning up, and at one time it had sounded like they had rolled up the carpet there were so many footsteps down there — there was so much noise. And you go running downstairs to see what it is or what caused this, and you get to the landing halfway down and there’s nothing, and the dog would be asleep. At different times I can still remember looking at him and saying, ‘Some watchdog you’re turning out to be.’”
As the days progressed, Kathy Lutz aged in an unnaturally fast way at one point. The house, it seems, affected everyone differently. “She would feel someone come up behind her and embrace her,” Lutz said. “She would smell this perfume that was, forgive the expression, ‘old lady perfume.’ She would feel embraced, and it would be comforting. And that’s not something that she had ever gone through before. When she turned into an old woman, she didn’t just age a little, she aged a lot. She turned into someone completely different physically than I had ever thought was possible. Her mother saw this too.”
This was all happening in the span of just a few weeks, as the Lutz family only lived in Amityville for 28 days. The paranormal events began to intensify, they were hearing more footsteps throughout the house, and then they discovered a hidden room in the basement. “I was at work, and Kathy called me and said that she had just found this room,” Lutz said. “It was painted red and located behind the bookcase. She was working in the basement and she was putting things away in the living room and she went to see if this bookcase was movable. I don’t know how to describe the space other than as a room — you had to crouch down to get into it. This was under the stairs in the basement and it was painted red. It was hidden behind this bookcase; it was never shown to us when we saw the house.”
“The bookcase was there from the previous owners?” I asked.
“As far as we know. It was there when we took possession of the house — forgive that expression.”
The Lutzes obtained the original house plans, but the hidden room was not there. Lutz described the space as big enough for two very friendly people to sit together. But there was something else about this space. “The room had odors coming out of it,” Lutz said, “and they weren’t always there, and there was no pipe access for sewers or anything like that. We took Harry [their dog] down there, and he just wouldn’t go in. He backed away. It’s the only time I can recall him ever cowering from something. That was just one of those discoveries in the first few weeks of moving in.”
I asked Lutz when things started getting bad, and he was quick to point out that none of these events were really bad — just peculiar and quickly adding up. But the subtle events continued to build on each other, and the disposition of the family members was changing — George and Kathy began to withdraw from life. George rarely went in to work anymore, and Kathy signed up for a continuing education class but never went to a single class. “Was it like a depression?” I asked.
“I got very sick there and lost a lot of weight,” Lutz said. “Part of it was that I just didn’t want to leave the house. Kathy described it later as: ‘the house was charming.’ We would invite people over instead of going to see them. There came a point when we would invite people over to see whether we were crazy or not. Because when our friends sat in the kitchen, they could hear the people walking around upstairs after the kids had been put to bed. We’d all go up and find the kids fast asleep. There was no way it was the kids — and when your friends confirm that for you, you almost want to break down and say out loud, ‘I’m not crazy. They hear it too!’ That is such an emotional moment when someone else confirms for you what you’re hearing and that it’s not just you hearing it — it’s not your imagination.”
Though friends could offer some confirmation that the things the Lutz family was hearing were real, they couldn’t help everything in regards to the family’s sanity. George described thoughts that came to his head — thoughts that couldn’t have come from himself. “You know that these thoughts were not your own,” he said. “This is not how you ever thought about things, or other people, or events. These are not nice things; this is not nice stuff to talk about.”
“Were they violent thoughts?” I asked.
“You would start questioning what the hell is going on with me that I would even think this?” he said.
“So this isn’t a way you’ve ever felt before?”
“We’re not talking about feelings, we’re talking about thoughts. We’re talking about thinking a particular thing that is just not part of your own nature, your own makeup as you know yourself to be. This was not normal. This would happen, and when it would happen, you’d start to wonder. Forget about if you want to call it sanity. From those kinds of things, you start to get a feel for what might have gone on before we were there. You start to get an idea of what kinds of influences may have caused what went on there before.”
The thoughts, subtle sounds, smells, cold spots, and the very house was beginning to wear on the family. Things in the house were getting worse.
“The boys came down in the morning absolutely frightened. They were unable to get down to me, and I was unable to get up to them. Missy came in and just asked what was that all about? And Kathy had no memory of much of it. That day we spent trying to get a hold of Father Ray, and he said all the right words.”
“Did you run out of the house at this point?”
“We didn’t get up to leave that morning, you need to understand that,” Lutz said. “This was our house, we lived there. We didn’t know what was going on, but he [Father Ray] said the right words. He said something to the effect of, ‘Look, you guys obviously need some sleep. Is there someplace you can go just for the night?’ And Kathy said her mom’s house. He said, ‘That’s perfect, why don’t you just go there, get some sleep, and we’ll talk some more.’ How he said it was just the right words to get us out.
“When we left, we didn’t know we weren’t coming back. We didn’t know that what we were leaving behind, we would never see again.”
Lutz explained that whatever was in their house followed them to Kathy’s mother’s house. Both George and Kathy experienced levitation at her mother’s house, their children’s sleep was tormented with nightmares, and even their dog seemed plagued by the unseen force. But they were out of the house — and once outside, they began to think more clearly. The Lutz family needed help, and they wanted their house fixed.
The Lutzes arranged a meeting with Ronald “Butch” DeFeo’s attorney to discuss what kinds of things may have happened in 112 Ocean Avenue before. “There was no doubt in our minds that he [DeFeo] was influenced by what was in that house,” Lutz said.
“What did the attorney say?” I asked.
“He told us a number of strange stories about the housekeeper for the DeFeo family, and different events that had taken place over the years that he had heard. He brought back a criminologist — a guy that was supposedly a criminologist — he turned out to be a writer — his name was Paul Hoffman, who eventually wrote an article about us in Good Housekeeping magazine, of course without our permission.”
After the Good Housekeeping article, the Lutzes’ story was out, and the media was getting a lot of interest in the house and in the family. “Why go public with your story?” I asked.
“I like that question,” Lutz said. “And the reason I like it is because it’s days like the last few months have held that bring back the memories of why we did that, and they bring them back so strongly that the conviction has to stay for it to be valid now as well. In March of ‘76, a news crew, a number of psychics including Mary Downey, Ed and Lorraine Warren [paranormal investigators], a photographer, representatives from what we thought was Duke University’s psychical research center, and others came at different times during the day, and most of them stayed overnight in the house, and they did a full investigation and a number of séances — or at least one while they were there. The consensus of opinion from the experts was that whatever it is there never walked the face of the earth in human form. They said they could not cleanse the house, that they could not fix it, and that if the house was to be fixed it would require an Anglican or Roman Catholic priest to come and say Mass there. He would not be a normal priest — he would have to be one that was reserved for such things, I would guess mostly sequestered. He would have to fast before he went in and in no uncertain terms, his life would be put in jeopardy by trying to cast out what was there. The other part of the summation that usually gets left out of any explanation about it is that it wasn’t limited to just this one entity, but there were other forms of activity that were caused by other forms of energy. I heard it put one time that this was like a supermarket of these kinds of entities, or phenomena, if you will, and your own personal sensitivity might be the trigger that makes you aware of some of this. Someone else with a different psychological makeup or nature or whatever might not experience anything there. The house found certain people interesting and others not. It liked being fed by people, it liked having people come over to choose from and play with. There were people involved with trying to help us from a distance that were affected by this. The only people that we know of that still live in the same place as they did then is the Warrens. No one else.”
I spoke to Lorraine Warren a few weeks before speaking to George Lutz and asked her what the most significant case she and her husband Ed have worked on. “Amityville is a case that affected our personal lives more than any case we’ve ever worked on,” she said. “Because it followed us. It followed us right here to our home, it followed us on the road. We had very dangerous things happening to us as a result of the Amityville case.”
The Lutz family went public with their story because they were “outed” at this point by the media. There were many people who tried to attach themselves to the Amityville case. Unscrupulous psychics and researchers held press conferences in front of the house without the Lutzes’ permission, and the media frenzy escalated. The Lutz family sought a publisher to be able to tell their own story, which is how they came in contact with author Jay Anson. “So we had a choice,” Lutz said. “We decided it’s our story, this is what happened, we’re either going to stand up and say this happened, or we’re going to try and become anonymous someplace else. But in any case, we we’re leaving New York and we’re going to do this. We’re going to sell my business, we’re going to leave everything that’s there [in the house] and deal with that later, and we’re moving out of state. It was a choice to make. I can’t say it was the wisest choice, and I can’t say that if I had known all of the controversy, all of the accusations, all of the legal problems — there’s been something like at least 13 lawsuits about this, and all of them involve the right to tell even one single day of our own story ourselves — if I had known all of the different things that would’ve gone on after, I don’t know that we would’ve done this. I can’t blame anyone that goes through this kind of thing to never speak of it again.”
The Lutzes packed their bags at Kathy’s mother’s house and left for the airport. When they arrived, they handed the keys and title to their car to the curbside porter who helped them unload their bags, and they boarded a plane for San Diego, a new life, and the beginning of the healing.
For George Lutz, the 28 days in Amityville changed his perspective on faith. He converted to Catholicism, and when I asked about his sense of spirituality now he said, “It’s a part of daily life. Once you begin to understand what you’ve been missing, you don’t ever turn your back on it, and you don’t look to it to fix everything you think needs fixing. Instead, you try to learn more and understand more about the hows and whys of life. But always you have this place that will bring light back any time you need it.”
In MGM’s new version of the movie, the production company claims their movie is “based on a true story” and that they have found new research uncovering some of the events that happened to the Lutz family. That research did not include talking to George Lutz or his family. “When they did this remake, and when we got wind that they were even considering doing it, I had my attorney get a hold of them via a letter and say we would really like to know what you’re doing here, in so many words,” Lutz said. “We don’t think you have the right to do this. If you think you do, we’d like to talk to you about it — I’m paraphrasing here. The first letter went completely unanswered, and then another one had to be sent, and then I believe another one. They never responded to these; instead what they did was they sued me last June in federal court. It was a motion for declaratory relief — trying to get the judge to agree that they absolutely had the right to do a remake and do whatever they wanted. At that point, we had to counterclaim, answer that with a lawsuit back against them, because at that point there were so many different violations of the original contract — at least as far as we were concerned — and those violations have continued through the years.”
To answer all of the rumors and misinformation, Lutz has launched two Web sites, www.amityvillehorror.com and www.amityvillehorrortruth.com, as a forum to present his side of the story. The site also includes lie detector test results that he and Kathy willingly submitted to in order to prove they were telling the truth about their experiences in Amityville. The explosion of the Internet and all of the Amityville rumors and articles that were popping up forced Lutz to emerge from his otherwise normal and quiet life and respond. “Once you stand up, you’re up,” he said. “One fictional movie about Amityville is enough. We don’t need another fictional remake. They’re taking the Amityville name and using that name to amass millions for themselves, with no regard for the effects on the family, no regard for the hard-fought true story to even survive. No care for any of that.”
“Do you think the presence that was in that house when you and your family lived there still exists?”
“I think that denial of the existence of this stuff is what it [the entities in the house] seeks to have happen,” Lutz said. “I think that from one perspective, this new movie serves that. If that’s so, then maybe you get a glimpse into its passion — why it stays alive. Whatever I have for an opinion is based on when I lived there; it’s not now. All I can talk about is when I lived in there.”
George and Kathy Lutz divorced in the late 1980s, but remained close until Kathy died of emphysema in 2004.
George Lutz’s Web sites: