In 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. shot and killed his parents and four younger siblings in their Long Island home – then blamed the series of murders on demons.
On the day his family was murdered, Ronald DeFeo Jr. spent most of the afternoon with his friends. But he also called his parents and siblings several times, telling his friends he couldn’t contact them. Eventually, he returned to his family’s home in Amityville, New York to check on everyone. No one expected the sequel.
Later that same day, on November 13, 1974, the 23-year-old ran into a local bar in a fit of hysterics, shouting that his father, mother, two brothers and two sisters had been murdered. A group of DeFeo’s friends accompanied him to his house, where they were all greeted by a gruesome sight: every member of the DeFeo family had been shot and killed while sleeping in his bed.
When police arrived at the scene, they found Ronald DeFeo Jr. in shock. He told them he thought his family may have been targeted by the mob. He even named a potential hitman. But police soon discovered the suspected hitman was out of town, and DeFeo’s story didn’t add up.
The next day he confessed the truth: he killed his family. And, as his attorney would later claim, the “evil voices” in his head prompted him to do so.
Now known as the Amityville Murders, the horrific story only evolved from there. The house where the DeFeos were murdered, 112 Ocean Avenue, was soon haunted and inspired the 1979 film The Amityville Horror. But whether the ‘Amityville Horror House’ was cursed or not, that doesn’t change the truth about what happened there in 1974 – or about the man who committed one of the world’s most infamous crimes. history of Long Island.
The troubled youth of Ronald DeFeo Jr.
Ronald Joseph DeFeo Jr. was born on September 26, 1951, the oldest of five children born to Ronald DeFeo Sr. and Louise DeFeo. The family led a comfortable upper-middle-class life on Long Island, thanks in part to Ronald Sr. working at his stepfather’s car dealership. However, as Biography reports, Ronald Sr. was hot-headed and overbearing, and sometimes violent towards his family — especially Ronald Jr., nicknamed “Butch.”
Ronald Sr. had high expectations for his eldest son and made his anger and disappointment known whenever Butch fell short.
If home life was difficult for Butch, it only got worse when he went to school. As a child, he was overweight and shy – and other children tormented him frequently. As a teenager, Butch began to lash out at his abusive father and classmates. In an attempt to help their deeply troubled son, Ronald Sr. and Louise DeFeo took him to see a psychiatrist.
Butch, however, insisted he didn’t need help and refused to attend psychiatrist appointments. Hoping to convince him to improve his behavior in some other way, the DeFeos began giving Butch expensive gifts, but that also failed to correct his life course. By age 17, Butch was regularly using LSD and heroin and spending most of his allowance on drugs and alcohol. And he was expelled from school because of his violence towards other students.
The DeFeos didn’t know what else to do. Punishing Butch didn’t work and he refused to get help. Ronald Sr. got his son a job at his dealership, paying him a weekly allowance, regardless of how bad Butch was.
Butch then used that money to buy more booze and drugs — and guns.
How Ronald DeFeo Jr.’s outbursts got worse
Despite having a steady job and enough money and freedom to do whatever he wanted, Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr.’s situation got worse. He developed a reputation for getting drunk and starting fights, and on one occasion attempted to attack his father with a shotgun while his parents were arguing.
In a 1974 interview with The New York Times, Butch’s friend Jackie Hales said he was part of a mob that was “drinking and then fighting, but the next day they were apologizing”. Shortly before the murders, Hales said DeFeo broke a pool cue in half “because he was angry.”
Still, most people who knew the DeFeos considered them a “nice, normal family.” They were outwardly kind and religious, holding a “Sunday morning prayer caucus”, as a family friend recalled.
In 1973, the DeFeos installed a statue of Saint Joseph — the patron saint of families and fathers — holding the infant Jesus on their lawn. Around the same time, Butch handed out statuettes of the same saint to his colleagues, telling them, “Nothing can happen to you while you’re wearing this.”
Then, in October 1974, Butch was instructed by his family’s dealership to deposit around $20,000 in the bank – but Butch, still dissatisfied, felt he wasn’t making enough pay and devised a plan. with a friend to stage a fake robbery and steal the money for themselves.
His plan quickly fell apart when the police arrived at the dealership to question him. He refused to cooperate with authorities and Ronald Sr. later questioned his son about his possible involvement in the robbery. The conversation ended with Butch threatening to kill his father.
The Amityville Murders and the Tragic Aftermath
In the early hours of November 13, 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. walked through his family’s home with a .35 caliber Marlin rifle. The first room he walked into was his parents’ – and he shot them both. He then entered the rooms of his four siblings and murdered his siblings: Dawn, 18, Allison, 13, Marc, 12, and John Matthew, 9.
Then he took a shower, hid his bloody clothes and gun in a pillowcase, and drove off to work, dumping the evidence in a storm drain along the way.
That day at work, DeFeo made several calls to his family’s house, feigning surprise that his father hadn’t come in. In the afternoon, he had left work to spend time with friends, continuing to phone the DeFeo house and, understandably, receiving no response. After leaving his group to “check on” his loved ones in the early evening, DeFeo claimed to have found his murdered family.
During the ensuing investigation, DeFeo told several stories about what happened on the day of the Amityville murders. At first he tried to blame a hitman named Louis Falini – but the police soon learned that Falini was out of town at the time. He couldn’t kill the DeFeos.
Then, the next day, Ronald DeFeo Jr. confessed, later claiming to have heard voices in his head that prompted him to kill his family. The scary story quickly spread, with rumors surfacing across the country that DeFeo was being tormented by demons. When another family, George and Kathy Lutz and their three children, moved into the house about a year later, they continued the story, claiming the house was haunted by malevolent spirits.
It quickly became known as the Amityville Horror House and inspired a number of books and films, including the 1979 film The Amityville Horror.
But the Lutzes have been accused of fabricating their stories over the years in order to sell books and land a movie contract — and Ronald DeFeo Jr.’s later claims seem to support that claim. According to a 1992 interview with DeFeo, he invented voices on the advice of his attorney, William Weber, to make the story more attractive for future book and movie deals.
“William Weber gave me no choice,” DeFeo said The New York Times. “He told me I had to do it. He told me there would be a lot of money from book and movie rights. He’d take me out in a few years and I’d get all that money back. It was all a scam, except for the crime.
That same year, DeFeo attempted to seek a new trial, this time claiming that the film’s money offer tainted his original lawsuit and that his 18-year-old sister, Dawn, had been the real culprit responsible for murdering their family. . He admitted to killing Dawn, but only after discovering her alleged crimes.
During a 1999 parole hearing, DeFeo said, “I loved my family very much.”
DeFeo spent the rest of his life in prison. He died in March 2021 at the age of 69.
After reading about Ronald DeFeo Jr. and the Amityville murders, discover 11 real-life murders inspired by horror movies. Then take a look at the true story of Candyman that inspired the horror classic.