April 17, 2019
We have all heard the infamous story of the Amityville horror, the alleged “haunted” house along the south shore of Long Island, New York. The reason for its boom in publicity started with the Lutz family incident and their claims that the house was haunted, although that isn’t where the story actually began. On November 13, 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his entire family with a .35- caliber Marlin rifle as they slept. This started an investigation since DeFeo had gone to work after the crime and acted as if he had no idea what had happened. He claimed that he went home from work and found his family members dead, after which he ran to the nearest bar screaming for help. Although he acted as if he had nothing to do with the murder, the town already had suspicions about him because of his background. As a kid, DeFeo was abused by his father and bullied in school, which resulted in a troubled childhood. He had quite the history with alcohol and drug abuse, several arrests due to violent fights he had gotten himself into, and as a child, had once pulled a gun on his father, but it jammed.1
It didn’t take long for him to become the prime suspect, and he was quickly arrested and taken into custody. DeFeo’s trial began October 14, 1975, close to a year after the murder, and William Weber had been put on the case as his defense attorney. DeFeo claimed he had heard voices in his head telling him to kill his family. With that information, Weber decided to use a strategy that he believed would give DeFeo a lot less time in jail. Weber insisted on an insanity plea, promising DeFeo that he would be out in five years. He believed this was the best approach, considering DeFeo’s wide range of different versions of the story, which proved that he must have been insane. Unfortunately, this plan did not work, for the jury believed that even though he wasn’t mentally stable, he was completely aware of the situation and motivated by a self-centered attitude. The jurors found DeFeo guilty on November 21, 1975, and sentenced him to six consecutive life sentences.2
Not long after his imprisonment, films, novels, and documentaries came out about the murder incident. The Lutz family had moved into the house a little over a year after the murder, but they only stayed for twenty-eight days, leaving in the middle of the night with just a few days worth of clothes. They completely abandoned the Amityville house, never wanting to step foot in it again, and didn’t even want to reclaim any of the belongings they left behind. In September of 1977, The Amityville Horror: A True Story started the supernatural phenomenon when it took into account the Lutz family and their experiences.3
With this book, the story rapidly gained publicity, and started a controversy over whether the haunting was a hoax. William Weber wanted to use this popularity to his advantage. He began by using the popularity to try and open DeFeo’s case again. However, for an unknown reason it was never filed and DeFeo continues to be incarcerated at a correctional facility in Fallsburg, New York. Weber then reached out to the Lutz family, attempting to convince them to partner up on a book deal on the DeFeo case for a large advance. He often spoke with them although he was reluctant to work with them, but once they had heard he was planning to split the royalties with DeFeo, they cut Weber out of any future deals and were no longer on speaking terms. As he carried on by himself, the Lutz family sued the writer Weber enlisted to write the book for an invasion of privacy, settling the suit in 1979—causing the plan to fall through.4
This upset Weber, who was prepared to call out the family, claiming “it was was all a lie” while at the same time wanting to take credit for some of the creativity in it. Going to the press, he explained that the entire story was created over a bottle of wine between Mr. and Mrs. Lutz, even though they still claimed to have some sort of supernatural experience. It was only with his help that they started to exaggerate the details with the murder evidence that Weber had provided them. He eventually sued the Lutz family for $60 million, stating they were “stealing ideas.” The suit settled for $2,500. Even though William Weber’s plans to make a large profit didn’t go the way he wanted them to, he still managed to get a total profit of $15,000 for his connections with the book and movie.5
Ronald DeFeo Jr
I have never actually heard of this house or horror story. However I am very curious whether the house is actually haunted and if anyone lives in it today. I would assume the Lutz family was not aware of the murders before moving in. In regards to the lawyer, I know there are many lawyers who specialize in just suing people for money. Most of the time over intellectual property or copyrights. Although it may not be the most ethical approach they gotta make money somehow, and the people they sue are breaking laws. However in this case I definitely think the attorney was in the wrong. He was clearly trying to take advantage of a popular story along with the Lutz family to gain some wealth.