The Case that Should Not be Named
It’s the façade that launched a thousand nightmares. In reality, it’s the façade that launched a thousand pages of theories, accusations, and lawsuits. Whether 12 Ocean Avenue is a gateway straight to hell or just a piece of difficult real estate to get a decent buck for, the Amityville horror (notice the lower case lettering) is a force within the field of the paranormal, and we have been lucky enough to hear from some of the experts, usually of the minority opinions of the case, and break news as things have developed.
For those people in the little Southeastern corner of Massachusetts, there is another obvious attraction to the case in Long Island. Although a hundred years apart, it echoes much of the mystery and history of Lizzie Borden. Both criminal cases were high profile with prominent members of their respective communities. Both involved one generation striking against another in a disproportionate way. Amityville might not have the whodunit aspect to it, but there is the why (drugs, money, greed, demonic possession) of DeFeo’s actions. Books and experts have come out of the ether to offer their insight as to what happened, and in both cases we are no closer to knowing, or excepting, the answer.
The when you get beyond all of that, you still have the sticky nature of the paranormal to deal with. The hoax or reality of the Amityville hauntings will never be sorted out, no matter how many bottles of wine we finish off discussing it. Many of the spooky aspects of the story are relegated to the Defeo stages of the case. Lizzie’s, however, has had a second life in the past decade or so. What started as a segment on an old episode of Unsolved Mysteries has blossomed into a full time business, with the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast consistently making lists of the most haunted places in the country. The evidence gathered there and the personal experiences people have shared have even caused many people to reconsider whether Lizzie, like DeFeo, may have been possessed at the time of the murders.
Over the years, for different reasons, the show has avoided the Amityville case. In fighting to be taken seriously, it was important to not hang your wreath on one of the cases many point to as a reason cynics don’t trust ghost stories. So many people were sucked into it, and even our barometers of the supernatural, like the Warrens, had declared the site unholy land. Instead we brought people on when new ideas about the case came out, like when Jeff Belanger interviewed George Lutz right before his death or when Christopher Lutz came out with his side of the story. We’ve also been supportive of two explorations of the topic, Ryan Katzenbach’s Shattered Hopes and Jackie Barrett’s work with Ronald Defeo and her book The Devil I Know, as well as the newer My Amityville Horror by Eric Walter.
It was after meeting Jackie Barrett at Lizzie Borden’s that the curse of Amityville found its way onto our airwaves. Jackie asked me to help her write a book about Ronald Defeo and asked me to explain the odd things that had been happening in her house since he has sent some of his personal effects to her house. As we cover in Haunted Objects, that was all it took to start the curse. It seemed whenever we mentioned the case on air, something odd would happen. We have had several guests, including Jackie, on to discuss the case since, and there are almost always issues with promoting it or getting it on the air. As Tim and I have discussed the case on other shows to promote the book, we have been cut off or had audio and phones fail us. For us, it is the case that shall not be named, but that we can not avoid.
They can change the way the house looks, change its address, and scoff at every new theory that comes out or every new book that conflicts what was said in the last one. The Amityville story remains on of the anchors of this country’s paranormal life, partly because its story has all the element of a great haunting and partly because so much of the what we know about it has been called a lie at one time or another. There is something universal, or at least supernaturally universal, about the Defeo’s and the Lutz’s stories and the stories of those who followed them in the house. At one point in the original movie James Brolin looks back as the house seems to be imploding on itself, and you get a sense the house will never leave them alone. Forty years have passed, and we keep looking back and seeing that house with those windows, and we don’t seem to be getting any farther away from it.