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Strange Trails: Amityville Still Offers High Hopes

If you weren’t aware of the legendary haunting on Ocean Avenue, passing through Amityville, New York would not even raise an eyebrow.  There are no signs along the roads pointing to a historic marker. There are no gift shops selling “I survived the Amityville Horror” shirts.  No tour guides. Just a lazy Long Island village along the Atlantic Ocean.

That’s the way residents would prefer you to see the area, too.  The house that terrorized the Lutz family in November of 1975 is a scourge to the community.  This quiet seaside town sits an hour outside of the hustle and bustle of New York City and the influx of tourists that the murders and stories of hauntings bring in is wholly unwanted.

The Murders

Though his story has changed several times over the past four decades, it is clear that on November 13, 1974, around 3 am, Ronald DeFeo Jr. shot and killed all six members of his family with a .35 Marlin rifle as they slept in their beds in the house at 112 Ocean Avenue.  

Many facts of the case are odd, including the similar way the bodies were all posed in their beds, the fact that each family member slept through the gunshot blasts, and that no neighbors heard gunshots, only the barking of dogs.  DeFeo has also expressed that he was instructed to act as he did by voices in his head.

Ronald DeFeo Jr.

DeFeo was brought to the police station for questioning immediately following the incident, and after a couple of months in court he was sentenced to six concurrent sentences of 25 years to life.

DeFeo is currently held at the Sullivan Correctional Facility in the town of Fallsburg, New York, and all of his appeals and requests to the parole board to date have been denied.

The Haunting of High Hopes

A year after the DeFeo murders, George and Kathy Lutz moved their family into the large Dutch Colonial house, optimistically dubbing it “High Hopes.” They spent the next 28 days in terror.

High Hopes circa 1980

Some of the experiences of the Lutz family at the house are described in the “Amityville Horror” book as follows:

  • George would wake up around 3:15 every morning and would go out to check the boathouse. Later he would learn that this was the estimated time of the DeFeo killings.
  • The house was plagued by swarms of flies despite the winter weather.
  • Kathy had vivid nightmares about the murders and discovered the order in which they occurred and the rooms where they took place. The Lutz children also began sleeping on their stomachs, in the same way that the dead bodies in the DeFeo murders had been found.
  • Kathy would feel a sensation as if “being embraced” in a loving manner, by an unseen force.
  • George discovered a small hidden room (around four feet by five feet) behind shelving in the basement. The walls were painted red and the room did not appear in the blueprints of the house. The room came to be known as “The Red Room.” This room had a profound effect on their dog Harry, who refused to go near it and cowered as if sensing something ominous.
  • There were cold spots and odors of perfume and excrement in areas of the house where no wind drafts or piping would explain the source.
  • While tending to the fire, George and Kathy saw the image of a demon with half his head blown out. It was burned into the soot in the back of the fireplace.
  • The Lutzes’ 5-year-old daughter, Missy, developed an imaginary friend named “Jodie,” a demonic pig-like creature with glowing red eyes.
  • In the early morning hours of Christmas Day 1975, George looked up at the house after checking on the boathouse and saw Jodie standing behind Missy at her bedroom window. When he ran up to her room he found her fast asleep with her small rocking chair slowly rocking back and forth.
  • George would wake up to the sound of the front door slamming. He would race downstairs to find the dog sleeping soundly at the front door. Nobody else heard the sound although it was loud enough to wake the house.
  • George would hear what was described as a “marching band tuning up” or what sounded like a clock radio playing not quite on frequency. When he went downstairs the noise would cease.
  • George realized that he bore a strong resemblance to Ronald DeFeo, Jr. and began drinking at The Witches’ Brew, the bar where DeFeo was once a regular customer.
  • When closing Missy’s window, which Missy said Jodie climbed out of, Kathy saw red eyes glowing at her.
  • While in bed, Kathy received red welts on her chest caused by an unseen force and was levitated two feet in the air.
  • Locks, doors and windows in the house were damaged by an unseen force.
  • Cloven hoofprint attributed to an enormous pig appeared in the snow outside the house January 1, 1976.
  • Green gelatin-like slime oozed from walls in the hall and also from the keyhole of the playroom door in the attic.
  • A 12-inch (30 cm) crucifix, hung in the living room by Kathy, revolved until it was upside down and gave off a sour smell.
  • George tripped over a 4-foot-high (1.2 m) china lion ornament in the living room and found bite marks on one of his ankles. Later this lion would reappear in the living room after George had moved it back upstairs into the sewing room.
  • George saw Kathy transform into an old woman of 90: “the hair wild a shocking white, the face a mass of wrinkles and ugly lines, and saliva dripping from the toothless mouth.”
  • Missy would sing constantly while in her room. Whenever she left the room she would stop singing and upon returning she would resume singing where she left off.
  • On one occasion Kathy heard what sounded like a window being opened and closed through the sewing room door even though she was sure no one was in there.

In the years since there have been admissions of hoax, and retractions of these admissions.  Both George and Kathy passed polygraph tests.

George and Kathy passed in 2006 and 2004 respectively.  Their children remain. Christopher and Danny have spoken out about their time in the house in books and documentaries.  They largely attribute what is known about the house to Hollywood taking many liberties, but do claim they experienced shadow people and a handful of other original claims.  Missy Lutz has never spoken on the subject.

High Hopes Today

If you weren’t aware of the legendary haunting on Ocean Avenue, passing through Amityville would not even raise an eyebrow.  But if you are familiar, the signs leading into town will raise the hair on your neck. Spirits and evil certainly do not recognize man’s territorial boundaries, yet seeing the name alone sends shivers down your spine.

After winding around the roads and through the town you pass the plaza where DeFeo and Lutz would visit their favorite bar, “The Witches’ Brew,” and pretty quickly come to Ocean Avenue.  As a long-time reader of the stories and fan of the films, it’s really quite unbelievable.  You know that it is real and you know it’s supposedly based on a true story, but there’s something about seeing it with your own eyes.

After turning right onto Ocean Avenue I continued down the street.  The fact that in reality the house sits in a very normal neighborhood with houses close on either side is surprising at first.  My recollection of the films, which are responsible for most people’s idea of the house, was that it was more isolated. I grew anxious coming down the road, wondering how impactful my first view of the house would be.  Then completely undramatically, there it was. High Hopes was just sitting there. I think I let out an audible “Holy shit, there it is,” and made a right turn across from it to swing my car around and get a better look.

The House at 112 Ocean Avenue

There it sat.  The Lutz house of horrors, and perhaps more importantly the site of the DeFeo family murders.  When you set aside the fantastic at that moment and consider the undeniable history of this house, it becomes clear why the town doesn’t celebrate its existence, and very much would like to move beyond the stories.  The address has been changed, the iconic windows of High Hopes that had arched inward (often described as the eyes of the house) were remodeled to distance it from the image that visitors would be expecting, and the “Private Property” signs in the corners of the yard beg visitors to keep their distance, if they have to come there at all.  And of course I did have to come there, and I did keep my distance. I simply snapped one photo and headed back into town for some dinner.

The Amityville Horror is perhaps the most well known and most haunted house of all time.  Or perhaps it is the most well known and biggest haunted house hoax of all time. Maybe we’ll never know.  But the house is very real and worth a respectful visit.

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