The True Story of the Amityville Horror House Is Scarier Than Fiction

home of murdered defeo family in amityville
How the Amityville Horror House Became So InfamousBettmann - Getty Images

The full story of the Amityville Horror House is featured in season three of House Beautiful’s haunted house podcast, Dark House. Listen to the episode here.

Situated sideways on a narrow plot in Amityville, New York, is a 1925 Dutch Colonial that’s arguably Long Island’s most notorious residence. The house at 112 Ocean Avenue owes its reputation to The Amityville Horror, the 1977 book and its 1979 movie adaption, which tell the “true” story of George and Kathy Lutz, a young newlywed couple who fled the home just 28 days after moving in, claiming “a very strong force” drove them to leave. While the movie remains a horror classic, it hardly depicts the real history of the house, which most likely was never haunted at all.

The three-story home was originally built for John and Catherine Moynahan, who purchased the property from the Ireland family in the early 1920s. The Moynahans removed a small, existing cottage from the lot and commissioned local builder Jessy Purdy to construct the five-bedroom, four-bathroom house complete with a gambrel roof and two quarter circle windows overlooking Ocean Avenue. In October of 1960, the Moynahans’s daughter sold the home to John and Mary Riley, who lived there for five years before they sold the house to Ron and Louise DeFeo in June of 1965.

When they purchased the house, the DeFeos had four children, Ronald Jr., Dawn, Allison, and Marc, and one on the way—their son John was born later that year. Being able to move his family from their small apartment in Brooklyn to the spacious home on Ocean Avenue was a dream come true for Ron Sr., who dubbed the house “High Hopes” and hung a sign bearing the name off a post in the front lawn. Inside, however, “Big Ron’s” pattern of abusive and controlling behavior towards his wife and children caused tension to build until it came to a tragic head nine years later.

ronald defeo
New York Daily News - Getty Images

In the early morning hours of November 13, 1974, six members of the DeFeo family were found murdered inside their home. Ron Sr. and Louise had each been shot twice, while four of their children—Dawn, Allison, Marc, and John—had each been shot once. Their bodies were discovered the following evening by the only surviving family member, Ronald Jr., who was eventually found guilty on six counts of second-degree murder. In December of 1975, he was sentenced with six consecutive terms of 25 years to life.

George and Kathy Lutz, the former owners of 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York, pose during a press tour for their book circa 1979.Hulton Archive - Getty Images

Around the same time, the former DeFeo home was sold to George and Kathy Lutz, who moved in with their three young children on December 18, 1975. According to their story, the family began experiencing paranormal activity on their first day in the house. The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson provides a chilling account of the horrors they faced, from a mysterious green slime oozing down the walls and toilet bowls turned completely black inside, to the appearance of a pig with beady red eyes and a faceless figure with demon horns and a white peaked hood. The family reached their breaking point on January 14, 1976, less than a month after moving in, and fled the home leaving all their belongings behind. Following a paranormal investigation conducted that March, the Lutzes returned the house to the bank and moved to California. Despite a Newsday report debunking a majority of their story, The Amityville Horror sparked a public fascination with the home that persists to this day.

onlookers gather at amityville horror house on long island
Newsday LLC - Getty Images

When Jim and Barbara Cromarty bought the house for $55,000 in April of 1977, they were unaware that a book would soon be published about it. By November, the Cromartys had been bombarded by so many unwanted visitors, they decided to change the address of the house. This, however, did nothing to stop curious onlookers from coming by at all hours of the day.

In an interview with Newsday the following year, the Cromartys revealed just how bad the situation had gotten, saying that because so many “visitors” came late at night, they were barely sleeping. Once, a man stood on the front lawn playing a bugle at 3 a.m. On another occasion, someone left human excrement on the porch. Around the holidays, the family’s decorations were stolen. The home’s horror house reputation even followed 14-year-old Joyce Cromarty to school, where classmates harassed her and asked repeatedly if she’d seen any ghosts since moving in. But the Cromartys said they hadn’t experienced anything paranormal there.

By December of 1978, the constant barrage of visitors proved to be too much for the family, who decided to move out and put the house on the market for $100,000. By the time The Amityville Horror starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder hit theaters in July of 1979, the Cromartys had yet to find any serious buyers. Meanwhile, the new wave of curiosity sparked by the movie was affecting the entire community.

Ocean Avenue was littered with empty beer bottles, popcorn boxes, and other trash left behind by looky-loos whose disrespect applied to every house and homeowner on the street. As the crowds grew larger, extra police details were hired and paid them overtime, a costly expense for a small village like Amityville. Though public officials had considered ways to monetize the crowds, like running bus tours or charging admission to see the house, none of these ideas were approved, out of respect for the DeFeo family.

Having given up on the idea of selling the house, the Cromartys eventually moved back in. Fighting to defend the home's reputation, they accepted speaking engagements throughout the New York area where they could share the real history of the house. In February of 1982, they reached a settlement with the publishing company to have the subtitle “a true story” removed from all future printings of the book. When the Cromartys did finally sell the house in August of 1987, things had quieted down significantly. But new interest spiked every time the movie played on TV. According to Jim, it was on the night they the house sold to longtime Amityville residents Peter and Jeanne O’Neill.

amityville horror house
Paul Hawthorne - Getty Images

The O’Neills purchased the home for $325,000 and swapped out the now-infamous eye windows for square ones. They also filled in the in-ground pool. In June of 1997, after living there for 10 years, the O’Neills sold the house to Brian Wilson for $310,000. In the 13 years he owned the home, Wilson fixed up the boathouse and added a second sunroom to the back side of the house. He sold it in September of 2010 to Caroline and David D'Antonio for $950,000. The D’Antonios lived there for 6 years before they put the home on the market with an asking price of $850,000. When it sold in March of 2017, it went for $605,000. Not a single owner since the Lutzes has reported experiencing paranormal activity in the home.

Curious to hear more about the Amityville Horror House? Listen to this week's episode of our haunted house podcast, Dark House, for exclusive ghost stories and insights into the home's twisted history.

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