I was born at Brunswick Hospital, in Amityville, on Long Island - so I feel a special affinity for the town, victim of “America's Most Famous Haunting”. Since 1977, when the book “The Amityville Horror” - subtitled “A True Story” and purporting to relate the tribulations of George and Kathleen Lutz and family - became a best-seller, the town has been subjected to periodic swellings of the armies of the asinine. They find their way to Montauk Highway (Merrick Road, to the locals), then to Ocean Avenue and number 112 (or what used to be 112 - the address was changed years ago, along with the iconic “eyes of evil” windows) and gape slack-jawed at the place where the Lutzes supposedly spent 28 days fending off buzzing flies, creepy priests, hovering pigs and demonic voices.
In 1978 the book became a hit film, which begat a multitude of sequels (including “Amityville 3-D”). If you're too young to have seen any of them, don't worry: there's a remake on the way. The tag line “Based on a True Story” indicates no acknowledgment Jay Anson confessed on his deathbed that the events depicted in the book hadn't occurred, that the whole thing was a hoax. The only truth in “The Amityville Horror” is that Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his entire family as they slept. Why? Gerald Sullivan's excellent High Hopes - explains that DeFeo, who had a terrible relationship with his father, had become a junkie and was trying to steal a box containing $10,000 in cash kept in his parent's bedroom. He shot his mother, father and four siblings to cover up the crime - intending to blame the murders on a Manson-like cult.
The DeFeo murders are the reason I turned down my one and only invitation to the house. In the early 1980's I was working for the Cromartys - an old-line Amityville family who bought the house after the Lutzes “fled”. Came October and my employers invited me to a Halloween party. I turned them down, to the ongoing ridicule of my co-workers: “Whatsa matter? You SCARED of ghosts?!”
“No...” I'd reply, “Six people were killed in their sleep in that house.” (I'd just read “High Hopes” - the title is taken from the wooden sign the elder DeFeo hangs in front of the house - and the crime-scene photos were fresh in my mind). Ultimately, I couldn't bring myself to “trespass”, to be yet another gawker exploiting a tragedy. Not for the first time do I feel incredibly alone admitting that: in researching this piece I googled “Amityville Horror” and came across a veritable industry devoted to maintaining the lie. I guess the true story - junkie murders family - isn't nearly compelling enough.