It was thirty years ago when
Jay Anson began to write his very first book, The Amityville
Horror. Recounting a family's terrifying month-long
ordeal in a haunted house, the book not only became a nationwide
best-seller, but also spawned a motion-picture blockbuster, leading
to eight filmed sequels, making it one of the first and largest
major movie franchises.
As a haunted house story, the
book is quite tame; but what truly frightened and caught the
imagination of the public was its subtitle: "A True Story."
These events weren't crafted by the imagination of Poe, Bradbury
or Lovecraftthey supposedly really happened to an innocent
Long Island familythe Lutzes.
But was it actually a true
A year after the Lutzes fled,
the house was purchased by the Cromarty family, who claimed their
new home was perfectly normal. The only negative forces they
encountered were the curiosity-seekers which flocked to the house,
frequently causing commotion in the neighborhood at all hours
of the night.
In the early 1980s the Cromarty
family appeared on the television show That's Incredible
in an effort to dispel the notion that their home was some sort
of demonic passageway to Hell. They gave a tour of the house,
claiming certain features (which were noted as being damaged
in Anson's book) were, in fact, original, un-repaired and never
broken. To the casual viewer this might have been enough evidence
to prove Anson's book was a fairy talebut can you really
prove that the front door of a house never came off its hinges
4 years prior by tapping on its frame with the handle of a screwdriver?
Perhaps the most telling portion
of the That's Incredible episode came when Mrs. Cromarty
talked about the priest (the one whose blessing of the Lutzes'
home was supposedly interrupted by a demonic voice ordering him
to "get out"). She claimed the priest testified
in federal court that while he did bless the house, he never
suffered from sores on his hands nor experienced any of the other
afflictions mentioned in Anson's book. This was immediately followed
by a voiceover stating that "no such denial by the priest
could be found in the transcript of the trial." Furthermore,
the priest had given an interview for the TV-series In Search
Of, where he confirmed on-camera that he did, indeed, suffer
the afflictions mentioned in Anson's book.
Was Mrs. Cromarty misinformed,
or was she deliberately spreading misinformation about the case
in an attempt at stopping the influx of paranormal tourists (referred
to by locals as the "Amityville Horribles") from the
ongoing invasion of their quiet Long Island neighborhood?
The trial, at which Mrs. Cromarty
claimed the priest had testified, was between the Lutzes and
former DeFeo attorney William Weber. Mr. Weber was the defense
attorney during the trial of Ronnie DeFeo, the young man who
was found guilty of murdering his family of six in that same
house (a year before it was purchased by the Lutz family). After
fleeing their home in January of 1976, the Lutzes sought out
William Weber, thinking he might be interested in their experiences.
During their month-long stay in the house the Lutzes noticed
a change in their individual personalities, and felt that perhaps
Ronnie DeFeo might have been controlled by the demonic forces
they encounteredafter all, that might explain why someone
would commit such a heinous act against loved family members.
According to George Lutz, William
Weber seemed less interested in helping his former client, but
was rather more interested in including the Lutzes' haunted house
story in the book he was planning to write about the DeFeo trial.
Eventually a contract was drawn, but the Lutzes balked at some
of the provisions, including the fact that convicted mass-murderer
Ronnie DeFeo would receive a percentage of the profits. All dealings
between the two parties ended soon after the Lutzes were pressured
to participate in a press conference held in William Weber's
Shortly thereafter, George
showed a copy of the Weber contract to a friend. Thinking George
was looking for a book deal, this friend put him in contact with
an editor he knew at Prentice Hall, which led to Jay Anson writing
The Amityville Horror.
Soon after Anson's book became
a nationwide phenomenon, Weber started claiming he had helped
create the ghost story with the Lutzes, and was now suing for
breach of contract over the failed book deal between the parties.
The case was settled out of court after a long 2-year process,
and no, the priest didn't testify.
It is important to note that
while William Weber stated that he knew for a fact the haunted
house story was false (because, as he claimed, he supposedly
helped to create it), he nonetheless had a provision in his contract
whereas the Lutzes would submit to a polygraph test (to judge
if the story was true) which, if they failed, would result in
the Lutzes losing not only their share of the book profits, but
their house and anything else they owned deemed to be an artifact
of their story. The question remains: if Weber and the Lutzes
knew the story was false, why then would Weber put this clause
into the contract? Furthermore, how could Weber expect the Lutzes
to ever sign a contract which would have automatically given
away their home and the rights to their story for absolutely
no compensation at all? That clause in the contract only made
sense if Weber and the Lutzes did not create a
fake haunted house story together...
Curiously enough, the Lutzes
did end up taking a polygraph test in regards to the haunting.
The test was conducted in 1979 by Michael Rice and Chris Gugas,
both considered among the top in their field. They passed with
Over the years, people have
claimed the Lutzes created their story purely as a money-making
venture. If this were the case, then the Lutzes were very clever
to devise a story that hasn't been conclusively proven as a hoax
in over 30 years. But if they were so clever, then why didn't
they become rich from it? Surely they would have planned it all
out to ensure they received the lion's share of any and all profits.
The people who got rich were Jay Anson and the film producers,
not the Lutzes. And if the Lutzes were so clever, wouldn't they
realize what an incredible long-shot it was for their book to
actually make money in the first place?
Others have speculated that
the Lutzes were deep in debt after purchasing their Amityville
house, and faked the haunting story as an excuse to abandon their
expensive new home. In reality, both George and Kathy had each
sold their previous homes and came out ahead financially in the
deal. In fact although the Lutzes fled their home in January
of 1976, they continued making payments on it until June or July.
So is Jay Anson's book a true
story? Technically, no. Jay rearranged the events and admitted
to using literary license while writing his book. There was no
slime oozing from the walls in real life, and the Lutzes didn't
take Danny to the hospital when the window slammed down on his
hands. At best, Jay's book should be considered as being "based
on a true story."
But did a haunting really happen?
That we don't know. There is no proof that a haunting ever happened
in Amityville. Due to its very nature, it is next to impossible
to prove that ghosts even exist. However, if it was all a hoax,
then there should definitely be proof of thata weak link,
a forgotten clue, something. To date many have theorized and
given their opinions on the matter, but so far no one has proven
the Amityville Horror to be a hoax...