My Own Amityville Horror, Amityville 36 Years Later
There, I said it. Now, let’s sit back and wait for everything to go to hell.
You see, that’s what happens whenever the topic of Amityville comes up around me. Whether it’s talking about it on the show, or discussing it amongst my friends and colleagues, it seems as though the mere mention of the word is enough to cause whatever negative forces that are out in there in the universe to come wreak havoc upon me.
Sounds a little dramatic, doesn’t it? Well, I’ll start at the beginning.
The Amityville Horror has long been a fascination of mine. I first found Jay Anson’s novel—you know, the one that was “Based on a True Story”—at a flea market on the Cape when I was about 11 or 12 years old. I was super into Stephen King at the time (and still am), so I thought this would be the perfect book to while away the hours of a lazy summer afternoon. Instead, it would be the impetus for weeks of nightmares.
The thought of hooded figures appearing on the wall of a fireplace, of demonic-eyed pigs appearing in windows, of the sound of a marching band stomping through the house in the wee hours of the night--it wouldn't leave my brain. Being the young lad that I was, I was unaware that Anson was both a terrible writer and a blatant sensationalist; to me, those simple words on the cover--"Based on a True Story"--meant that it had to be true, right?
But reading the book wasn't enough; soon after, I caught the original 1979 film on cable. Then I found Anson's sequel novel, in which the horror followed the Lutz family across the country to California. Now, I was really getting freaked out by this story. Not only did these people live in an actual haunted house, but they couldn't escape the haunting, even when they moved!
By this time, I was already reading up on all things paranormal, and having my own experiences at the haunted home of my aunt and uncle. Even with all the studying I'd done on the topic, I didn't understand the complexities and specific mechanics of individual hauntings; in my eyes, my aunt and uncle and cousins were soon to become no different than the Lutzes. I was already wondering who would play me in the movie version of The Halifax Horror.
Thankfully, their haunting was benign, nothing like the reported goings-on at 112 Ocean Avenue. And when they moved away a few years later, the ghosts remained behind. Good enough for me. Yet I still couldn't get enough Amityville, and soon found other books, television documentaries and other media about the case.
When we started Spooky Southcoast, I knew it was a topic that sooner or later, we'd get around to covering. I was in the process of trying to book George Lutz to appear on our show in the spring of 2006 when he passed away from heart disease. His ex-wife Kathy had predeceased him by a couple of years and Kathy's three children were living in obscurity, so I figured that was the end of any opportunity I had to get first-hand information about the Amityville house.
I attempted to get Ed Warren, who along with his wife Lorraine were the celebrated demonologists who studied the case and investigated the home. But Ed was in failing health--he died in August of 2006--and Lorraine spent all of her time caring for her beloved husband (side note: there's a new film coming out, The Conjuring, which focuses on the work of the Warrens).
We spoke to the nephew of the Warrens, John Zaffis (star of SyFy's Haunted Collector) on the day Ed passed away, and John shared with us some inside information about Amityville. I figured it was as close as I was going to get.
But a funny thing happened--as the years went on, the subject just kept coming back. Eventually, we were able to talk with filmmaker Ryan Katzenbach, who has put together a "docu-trilogy" called Shattered Hopes that tells the true story of the DeFeo murders that are the impetus to the Amityville Horror. And along with him, we were joined by Alexandra Holzer, whose father Dr. Hans Holzer was one of the world's leading researchers into the paranormal and the Amityville case (I had spoken with Dr. Holzer on the phone before his death on a few occasions, but we couldn't work out a date for him to come on the show. Still one of my biggest regrets).
That was as close as I was going to get to knowing what really went on...or so I thought. A few years ago, a gentleman named Christopher Quaratino began making the rounds of the paranormal radio and television shows. Formerly known as Christopher Lutz, he was one of the three children who lived in that home for 28 days in December of 1975. After talking for quite some time over the internet, Chris agreed to appear on our show and gave us one of our most memorable episodes.
Christopher Balzano, an author and researcher who I consider to be my "paranormal brother" and eventually became our show's content director, also had a longtime friendship with famed psychic medium Jackie Barrett. Jackie often works with those plagued by the dark side and had become a confidant (and later gained power of attorney privileges) of Ronnie "Butch" DeFeo, Jr. who was convicted of killing his family in the Amityville house back in 1974. Jackie helped Ronnie shake the evil that had chased him throughout his life, but that evil had begun to plague her instead.There was talk of both Chris and I each at one point or another putting her experiences with Ronnie into a book; yet whenever it was discussed, bad things happened. I can't really get into detail, but trust me, we were not meant to write the book. Eventually, Jackie did so herself, and she did a masterful job.
Jackie has made a few appearances on our show, and things tend to go wrong when she's on. The same thing has happened when we've talked to Ryan Katzenbach, and Chris Quaratino. Maybe it's just the vibe we get when talking about it, but discussing Amityville tends to bring about bad things. It also led to one of the scariest moments I've ever had in my life, when Jackie told me that Ronnie DeFeo had a message for me personally: to stay away from Amityville, or it would come after me.
I couldn't believe that the case that had first grasped my attention, and then became my ultimate nightmare, had come full-circle for me. Although it was not my intention, I had become part of the Amityville story.
Other things have happened as well. I had a long Facebook conversation with Jackie where I tried to convince her to help me get Ronnie on the show; that conversation caused her iPad to crash (sorry again, Jackie). Recently, when talking to some producers about a different project on a Skype video meeting, the subject of Amityville came up, even though I had warned them that we'd better not discuss it. Almost as soon as I'd spoken the word, my computer crashed, and once I got it back online I couldn't re-connect with the producers.
Now, I know what I've encountered and endured is nothing compared to the true-life experiences of the DeFeos and the Lutzes, but it's still enough to put me on edge when we welcome filmmaker Eric Walter this Saturday night, to discuss his documentary My Amityville Horror. It tells the story of the other Lutz son, Daniel, and recounts the events through his eyes. It will be interesting to see if we can get through this episode without any technical difficulties.
I know I should leave this topic alone. But I just can't. Tune in Saturday night, and you'll hear why.