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Ronald Joseph "Butch" DeFeo, Jr.
Born September 26, 1951 (1951-09-26) (age 58)
Conviction(s) 6 counts of second-degree murder
Penalty 6 consecutive sentences of 25 years to life
Status Incarcerated
Parents Ronald DeFeo, Sr.
Louise DeFeo

Ronald("Butch") DeFeo, Jr. (born September 26 1951) is an American murderer. He was tried and convicted for the 1974 killings of his father, mother, two brothers and two sisters. The case is notable for being the real life inspiration behind the book and film versions of The Amityville Horror.

Contents

The murder of the DeFeo family

At around 6:30 on the evening of November 13, 1974, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. burst into Henry's Bar in Amityville, Long Island, New York and declared: "You got to help me! I think my mother and father are shot!"[1] DeFeo and a small group of people went to 112 Ocean Avenue, which was located not far from the bar, and found that DeFeo's parents were indeed dead. One of the group, Joe Yeswit, made an emergency call to the Suffolk County Police, who searched the house and found that six members of the same family were dead in their beds.[2]

The victims were car dealer Ronald DeFeo, Sr. (43), Louise DeFeo (42), and four of their children: Dawn (18); Allison (13); Marc (12); and John Matthew (9). All of the victims had been shot with a .35 caliber lever action Marlin 336C rifle[3] at around three o'clock in the morning of that day. DeFeo's parents had both been shot twice, while the children had all been killed with single shots. Louise DeFeo and her daughter Allison were reportedly the only victims who were awakened by the gunfire at the time of their deaths,[4] but according to Suffolk County Police the victims were all found lying on their stomachs in bed. The DeFeo family had occupied 112 Ocean Avenue since purchasing it in 1965.

Ronald DeFeo, Jr. was the eldest son of the family, and was also known as "Butch". He was taken to the local police station for his own protection after suggesting to police officers at the scene of the crime that the killings had been carried out by a mob hit man named Louis Falini. However, an interview with DeFeo at the station soon exposed serious inconsistencies in his version of events, and the following day he confessed to carrying out the killings himself. He told detectives: "Once I started, I just couldn’t stop. It went so fast."[1] DeFeo admitted that he had taken a bath, redressed, and discarded crucial evidence like blood-stained clothes, the Marlin rifle and cartridges on his way to work as usual.[5]

Trial and conviction

DeFeo's trial began on October 14, 1975. He and his defense lawyer William Weber mounted an affirmative defense of insanity, with DeFeo claiming that voices in his head had urged him to carry out the killings. The insanity plea was supported by the psychiatrist for the defense, Dr. Daniel Schwartz. The psychiatrist for the prosecution, Dr. Harold Zolan, maintained that although DeFeo was an abuser of heroin and LSD, he had antisocial personality disorder and was aware of his actions at the time of the crime.

On November 21, 1975, DeFeo was found guilty on six counts of second-degree murder. On December 4, 1975, Judge Thomas Stark sentenced Ronald DeFeo, Jr. to six consecutive sentences of 25 years to life.

DeFeo is currently held in Green Haven Correctional Facility, Beekman, New York, and all of his appeals to the parole board to date have been turned down.

Controversies surrounding the case

Ric Osuna's book The Night the DeFeos Died offers an alternative but controversial explanation of the murders

All six of the victims were found lying face down in their beds with no signs of a struggle or sedatives having been administered, leading to speculation that someone in the house should have been awakened by the noise of the gunshots. Neighbors did not report hearing any gunshots being fired. The police investigation concluded that the victims had been asleep at the time of the murders, and that the rifle had not been fitted with a silencer. Police officers and the medical examiner who attended the scene were initially puzzled by the rapidity and scale of the killings, and considered the possibility that more than one person had been responsible for the crime. During his time in jail, Ronald DeFeo has given several accounts of how the killings were carried out, all of them inconsistent. In a 1986 interview, he claimed that his mother was responsible for the shootings, which was dismissed as "preposterous" by a former Suffolk County official.[6]

On November 30, 2000, Ronald DeFeo met with Ric Osuna, the author of The Night the DeFeos Died, which was published in 2002. According to Osuna, DeFeo claimed that he had committed the murders "out of desperation" with his sister Dawn and two unnamed friends. He claimed that after a furious row with his father, he and his sister planned to kill their parents, and that Dawn murdered the children in order to eliminate them as witnesses. He said that he was enraged on discovering his sister's actions, knocked her unconscious on to her bed and shot her in the head. It has been reported that during the original police investigation, traces of gunpowder were found on Dawn's nightgown, indicating that she may have discharged a firearm.[6] This line of inquiry was not pursued after Ronald DeFeo's confession.

Attempts to contact the two alleged accomplices have failed, since one died in January 2001 and the other is said to have entered a witness protection program. Ronald DeFeo, Jr. had a stormy relationship with his father, but why the entire family was killed remains unclear. The prosecution at his trial suggested that the motive for the murders was to collect on the life insurance policies of his parents.[7][8][9]

Joe Nickell notes that given the frequency with which Ronald DeFeo has changed his story over the years, any new claims from him regarding the events that took place on the night of the murders should be approached with caution.[10] In a letter to the radio show host Lou Gentile, DeFeo has denied giving Ric Osuna information that could be used in his book.[11]

The book and film versions linked to the murders

Jay Anson's novel The Amityville Horror was published in September 1977. The book is based on the 28-day period during December 1975 and January 1976 when George and Kathy Lutz and their three children lived at 112 Ocean Avenue. The Lutz family left the house, claiming that they had been terrorized by paranormal phenomena while living there.

The 1982 film Amityville II: The Possession is based on the book Murder in Amityville by parapsychologist Hans Holzer. It is a prequel set at 112 Ocean Avenue, featuring the fictional Montelli family who are said to be based on the DeFeo family. The story introduces speculative and controversial themes, including an incestuous relationship between Sonny Montelli and his teenaged sister, who are based loosely on Ronald DeFeo, Jr. and his sister Dawn.[12]

The Hollywood film versions of the DeFeo murders contain several inaccuracies. The 2005 remake of The Amityville Horror contains a fictional child character called Jodie DeFeo, who was not a victim of the shootings in November 1974. The claim that Ronald DeFeo, Jr. was influenced to commit the murders by spirits from a Native American burial ground on the site of 112 Ocean Avenue has been rejected by local historians and Native American leaders, who argue that there is insufficient evidence to support the claim that the burial ground existed.[13]

The 2005 film version of The Amityville Horror exaggerates the isolation of 112 Ocean Avenue by depicting it as a remote house similar to the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick's screen adaptation of Stephen King's The Shining. In reality, 112 Ocean Avenue was a suburban house within 50 feet of other houses in the neighborhood.

References

  1. ^ a b Lynott, Douglas B. "The Real Life Amityville Horror". http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/notorious_murders/family/amityville/1.html. Retrieved 2008-12-10. 
  2. ^ http://www.DJTricities.com/amityville
  3. ^ http://www.amityvillemurders.com/csgallery/slides/gunbox.html
  4. ^ The Real Life Amityville Horror: Shots in the night
  5. ^ Ramsland, Katherine: Inside the minds of mass-murderers: why they kill. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2005, p. 80. ISBN 0275984753
  6. ^ a b "Amityville - the Cultural Impact of Homicide". Castleofspirits.com. http://www.castleofspirits.com/amitycultural2.html. Retrieved 2008-12-08. 
  7. ^ "Famous haunted crime scenes & stories about them library". Trutv.com. http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/notorious_murders/classics/haunted_crimescenes/13.html. Retrieved 2008-12-08. 
  8. ^ "The Real Amityville Horror: The Tragic Murder of the Ronald De Feo Family". Trutv.com. http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/notorious_murders/family/amityville/1.html. Retrieved 2008-12-08. 
  9. ^ "The Amityville Murders". Amityvillemurders.com. http://www.amityvillemurders.com/murders.html. Retrieved 2008-12-08. 
  10. ^ Nickell, Joe (January 2003). "Amityville Horror Investigative Files ( January 2003)". Skeptical Inquirer. http://www.csicop.org/si/2003-01/amityville.html. Retrieved 2008-12-08. 
  11. ^ "Ronnie DeFeo Jr.". Amityvillehorrortruth.com. http://www.amityvillehorrortruth.com/defeo.htm. Retrieved 2008-12-08. 
  12. ^ Amityville II: The Possession (1982) at the Internet Movie Database
  13. ^ "The Amityville Murders". Amityvillemurders.com. http://www.amityvillemurders.com/facts.html. Retrieved 2008-12-08. 

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