Live Internet Chat
(Nov 1, 2002)
Dream House Turns Out to Be Haunted – Or Was It?
31 – When George and Kathy Lutz moved into the three-story
colonial in Amityville on New York's Long Island in December 1975,
they were thrilled.
The sprawling house at 112 Ocean Ave. had cost them just $80,000,
and they loved it. "It was a dream come true," George
True, the house had been the scene of a horrible multiple murder
a little over a year before, when 23-year-old Ronnie DeFeo went
from room to room methodically shooting his parents and his four
brothers and sisters in their beds. But the Lutzes sat down with
their three young children and agreed the family could handle
Just in case though, the day they moved in they had a priest,
Father Ray Pecoraro, bless the house. According to Lutz, the priest
said he felt an unseen hand slap him in the sewing room and heard
a voice say "Get out." Then, Lutz says, Pecoraro became
ill with flu-like symptoms and his hands began to bleed.
The family moved in anyway, but within days they began to notice
"There were ... odors in the house that came and went,"
Lutz says. "There were sounds. The front door would slam
shut in the middle of the night.... I couldn't get warm in the
house for many days."
Lutz says the family kept the fireplace burning day and night
in a futile attempt to stay warm, and found strange gelatinous
drops on the carpet when they woke up in the morning. At times,
he claims, his wife was physically transformed into an old woman,
with the face, hair and wrinkles of a 90-year-old.
Lutz claims that he mysteriously woke at 3:15 a.m. almost every
day – around the same time the DeFeo murders were believed
to have happened. One night, he says, he heard his children's
beds "slamming up and down on the floor" above him but
he was unable to do anything because he was immobilized in bed
by an unseen force. Later that night, he woke to see his wife
levitating and moving across the bed, he says.
The next morning, just 28 days after they moved in, the Lutz family
fled the house, leaving their clothes in the closets and food
in the refrigerator. If the family had not left, Lutz says, he
believes something horrible would have happened. "I try not
to think about it," he says.
As word spread of the Lutzes' experiences, people interested in
the paranormal contacted them. Two months after the Lutzes moved
out, reporter Laura Didio assembled a group of psychic researchers
to evaluate the family's claims.
The investigators spent a night in the house, walking from room
to room trying to pick up ghostly vibrations. "It was like
a psychic slumber party," Didio remembers.
One of the researchers, Lorraine Warren, remembers an "overwhelming
feeling" of "horrible depression" in the house.
The team also took a series of time-lapse photos of the upstairs
landing. None of the photographs showed anything out of the ordinary
except one, which had what Didio describes as "the face of
what appeared to be a little boy, peering out from one of the
With a Murderer's Lawyer
Things returned to normal for the Lutz family after they left
the house, and George Lutz began to wonder if it was the house's
horrors that had driven DeFeo to kill his family.
"We realized there was something so wrong there that it would
be inhuman, it would be improper, to just let him rot in jail
and not try to help get him some kind of psychological help,"
At his trial, DeFeo had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity,
claiming he had heard voices and that on the night of the murders
something out of his control made him kill. The jury rejected
that defense and sentenced him to six life terms.
Lutz contacted DeFeo's attorney, William Weber, who was already
fielding book proposals from publishers for his client's story.
The Lutzes' story of a haunted house had the potential to drive
up interest in a book, and Weber agreed to meet George and Kathy
Lutz to hear their account.
Weber remembers the Lutzes as starting out in a "reserved"
tone, with "no ranting and raving going on." But then,
he says, the three went on to consume at least four bottles of
wine and the evening turned into a creative writing session about
what kind of thing could go into a horror book. "There was
this give and take, and toward the end we were creating ideas,"
One such idea, according to Weber, was giving the gelatin drops
the Lutzes found on the carpet a sinister explanation: "If
you were talking about the green slime, why couldn't it have come
from a demonic source?" he told Primetime.
Weber says he never believed the Lutzes' account of inexplicable
happenings during their stay on Ocean Avenue. "Absolutely
not. Because they were making a commercial venture," he said.
Find Another Project
The Lutzes say they felt pressured by Weber and did not like his
idea of offering a share of the profits to DeFeo. They decided
not to work with him and, after moving to California, ended up
agreeing to a book project with author Jay Anson.
The result, The Amityville Horror: A True Story, released
in 1976, went through 13 printings and sold more than six million
copies. The film version, released three years later, was a huge
box-office success. But the Lutzes never signed a contract with
Anson, and the book and the film netted the family only about
$300,000, the family says.
Lutz admits that some of the scenes in the book and the movie
– such as the green slime – were an embellishment.
But he insists the book and the movie are based on events that
actually happened during the family's 28-day stay in the house.
He denies making anything up, saying that if they had, they would
have come up with a better story and would not have fled their
house, leaving their belongings behind. But he says people are
entitled to call his story a hoax if that's what they think. "I
can't tell them what to think. I can just say what I experienced."
Says Indian Chief Was on Warpath
Weber continued to pursue his book project, enlisting Hans Holzer,
a professor of paranormal psychology, self-styled ghost catcher,
and author of dozens of books on the occult.
In 1977, Holzer visited the Ocean Avenue house with a medium who
claimed to be able to talk to the dead. According to Holzer's
account, the medium went into a trance and said there was an Indian
chief on the warpath in the house because it had been built on
the site of a sacred burial ground. Holzer believes Ronnie DeFeo
was possessed by the angry spirit of the Indian chief, and that
the chief will not leave the house until it burns down and leaves
the land bare.
But members of the Montauket tribe of Long Island are skeptical
of Holzer's theory, saying there are no records of a burial ground
in Amityville. Even if there were, "that doesn't mean we
will go into somebody's body and capture their soul and control
in a very negative way ... that's not us," said the tribe's
Chief Straight Arrow Cooper.
Joe Nickell, a professional skeptic who has made a career out
of challenging claims of paranormal activity, believes there is
no scientific basis for any of the claims, from Holzer, the Lutzes
or anyone else: "The bottom line is that ... it was a hoax,
or is, simply, at best, a matter that's not proven. And that's
not very good for America's most famous haunted house."
As for DeFeo, he told Primetime he lied when he said he heard
voices commanding him to kill, and was only trying to create a
better insanity plea. He is still serving six life sentences in
an upstate New York prison.
So in the end, who is telling the truth? After nearly three decades,
there is very little proof either way – though no one who
has lived in the house on Ocean Avenue since the Lutzes has reported
any strange activity.
A Chat With Ex-Amityville Resident George Lutz
Nov. 1 – In 1974, Ronnie DeFeo Jr. made headlines when he
murdered his parents and four siblings in their suburban Long
Island home. A year later, George and Kathy Lutz purchased the
sprawling three-story home. But just 28 days after moving in,
the family made a run for it, leaving all their possessions behind.
The Lutz family claims they were spooked by strange odors and
sudden noises in the middle of the night. They say they witnessed
apparitions, levitations and mysterious life forces.
Their story would later become a best-selling book and blockbuster
movie – The Amityville Horror.
But was it all just a hoax?
George Lutz joined a live chat with ABCNEWS.com readers on Friday,
Nov. 1. The transcript follows.
MODERATOR: Welcome to our live chat! Our guest
today is George Lutz, former resident of America's most haunted
house in Amityville, N.Y. The Lutz family's story would later
become a best-selling book and blockbuster movie, The Amityville
Horror. Welcome – and thanks for joining us!
You knew that a whole family had been murdered in the Amityville
house a year before. Didn't that make you think twice before moving
We talked about it as a family for quite a while. Kathy and I
were concerned that the children might not be comfortable or might
not want to live in such a house. When we were convinced that
the kids were okay with it, we went ahead with arrangements to
try to purchase the house.
So yes, it was a concern. But that concern went away once we had
spoken as a family.
MODERATOR: Can you describe some of the things
that happened in the 28 days you spent in the house?
When I look back at it now, what comes to mind first and foremost
is the subtle but increasingly severe changes in our relationship
as family – the way we treated each other, talked to each
other. In general, we retreated into our own little corners of
the house. We changed as a family.
What that means today is that we were no longer the same people
28 days later. We went in there as a happy family and came out
very frightened and very confused, and very worried about our
ability to survive with our sanity intact.
I don't mean to be rude to not go into all the details of what
happened. But one of the reasons we wrote the book was to not
have to relive the events, which is what happens with the retelling.
MODERATOR: Do your children back up your claims
that the house is haunted?
You need to understand that I don't speak for the children, just
as I don't speak for Kathy. They're all grown-ups, they all have
their own lives, they all have their own memories.
As a family, there isn't one of us who denies anything that ever
happened there; we all know what happened. But the kids are no
longer kids and have their own stories to tell if they so choose
– and that is their right.
I can understand them not wanting to, because of all the distortion
that happens when you begin to talk about this kind of thing.
But my own conversations with each of them, even over the last
year, reminds me of how good their memories are, and how severely
they were affected there as well.
MODERATOR: Did paranormal activity follow your
family after you left the home on Ocean Ave.?
Yes it did – for a number of years and in a lot of different
ways. Over those years, there were many, many times that we thought
the activity had stopped. But just as many times, we came to believe
We worked very, very hard at trying not to blame the "house"
on things that would go wrong. But too many events take away the
possibility of randomness. It's been a long time now since we've
been as concerned as we used to be about this.
SEAN: Would you say you were a skeptic when it
came to ghost-type things before these phenomena began occurring
around you? Also, at the height of the disturbances, were you
or any of your family physically hurt as a direct result of these
Absolutely, we were all skeptics – including the kids. I
don't think we would have bought the house if we weren't.
My son Danny's hands were crushed in a window. Our dog Harry literally
hung himself by his chain over a fence trying to leave the property.
When we did the lie-detector test years later with Chris Gugas
and Michael Rice, one of the questions asked of Kathy was: Is
it true that you turned into a 90-year-old lady? It took a very
long time for the effects of that to disappear.
I personally lost about 25 pounds in the house; I was ill much
if not most of the time we were there.
MICHAEL: Do you believe whatever may be in the
house was there before the DeFeo murders or as a result of the
We came to the conclusion that there was something wrong with
the house and wanted to get it fixed so that we could move back
into the house after we left.
The idea that what was there was there long before the DeFeos
didn't really have the credibility until we did research on the
house and the investigators (the Warrens and Holzer) came in to
see what it was DeFeo thought was there.
When we think back upon it now, then yes, I would certainly say
that the general conclusion back then was that what was there
was very old, very intelligent and very strong; it had the ability
to reach out from there and affect lives on many different levels
to the point that of all the people that were involved with us
then, as far as we know, only the Warrens still live in the same
house that they did then.
That house changed everyone's lives.
AMY: Did you ever retrieve your possessions from
the house, or was everything left there and disposed of?
Some friends went back and got one of my motorcycles, which I
eventually crashed in California, and a wooden chest that my grandfather
had made for me. Other than that, we retrieved nothing else.
We left our clothes, food, boats, and furnishings. Everything.
It was eventually auctioned off in April or May of 1976. After
that, we gave the house back to the bank, forfeiting our down
payment, and we were glad to be relieved of the responsibility
of selling the house to someone else.
DEKLAN: Although I am highly skeptical of the
paranormal, I do believe that you and your family experienced
something. Whether it was mass hysteria or a true paranormal phenomenon
will never be known. I remember reading the book as a teenager,
and it scared the hell out of me. That book along with Stephen
King's books kept me up quite a few nights.
What was the slimy stuff that you described seeing in the mornings
on the carpet? Also, what happened to the priest that blessed
your house? How did he die?
The slimy stuff was like drops of jello that went from room to
room. At first, we thought it could have been the kids, but it
wasn't. There was also a teardrop kind of ooze from the keyholes
in certain doors. It was a hard substance, almost like epoxy,
and grew longer as were there. But there was no blood from the
walls, as in the movie.
I personally do not know that Father Ray is dead. His life was
turned upside down by the publicity from all of this. Eventually,
he changed states and went on to get a degree in forensic psychiatry.
ANGELIA: Can you explain why other people that
have lived in that same house have experienced nothing?
I don't know that that is true. I don't believe that any family
since us has ever had the house blessed or investigated by a serious
psychic team. But they all have had financial problems. And it
is probably the most divorced house in the United States; almost
every couple that's lived there has since divorced.
Of course, there are all kinds of stories – but they're
those families' stories, and not mine.
SEAN O: What was your initial reaction to the
Well the first cut, if you can imagine, was even worse than the
released version. Since I had no control over what they had done,
the only way I could get some changes made was to agree to do
publicity for them.
One of the hard things to explain to people is how the rights
were obtained by the movie company. Initially, Anson sold the
rights to CBS. Then, American International Pictures wanted the
rights and came in and made a new deal with Anson and CBS.
They then paid Anson and came to us and said: "We're going
to make this movie." And we said: "How are you going
to do that? We have signed no contract with you and have none
of your money."
After about six weeks of negotiations, Kathy and I obtained the
sequel rights, which is basically unheard of in such a case, and
agreed to let them go forward with the movie.
So we had no control over what they did, but at least it left
us in control of our own story in the future.
CINDY: Why did you let Anson "embellish"
your story in his book? Were you more interested in telling a
good tale or telling your story?
We didn't write the book – Anson did. To this day, I don't
think Kathy has ever read it.
To understand how this came about, we finally had a contract with
the publisher in August 1977, when the book was due to be released
two weeks later. It was already printed and shipped.
That doesn't mean we didn't contribute to the book – of
course we did. We had done a number of cassette tapes, talking
out most of our experiences, and gave him those tapes.
We did the tapes really for ourselves – not for anyone else,
let alone for a book. They weren't exactly coherent, and it was
just us sitting around talking about all the different things
that had happened in no particular order.
We had done our own research about the history of the house, and
the Warrens had agreed to be interviewed by Anson, and so had
We left New York with a verbal agreement with Anson on Mother's
Day 1976. The agreement was that if he was able to write a book
and get it published, then we would have a contract with him.
During the process of all this, there were different galleys sent
out to us that we worked hard to correct. But ultimately, the
control of the content was in the hands of the publisher and the
When I think back to then, I was not dissatisfied with the book
– and I'm not today.
J. CALLAHAN: I've never seen the picture of the
little boy on the landing before, and can find no reference to
it on any of the Amityville Internet Web sites, pro or con. What
person or organization actually took the picture? Where has it
been all these years? Is there any documentable past reference
to its existence?
The first time that picture was shown was on the Merv Griffin
show back in 1979. It was discovered 3 years after it was taken.
Gene Campbell, who was a professional photographer, was brought
into the house in 1976 when the Warrens went in with their team.
He set up an automatic camera on the 2nd floor landing that shot
off infrared film, black and white, throughout the night. There
are literally rolls of film with nothing on them. There's only
one picture of the little boy.
In 1979, I was putting together a book that has yet to be published
that included the photographs, many of which were on the show
last night. The secretary I had at the time was about eight months
pregnant. We had dozens of these pictures to choose from that
didn't have the boy, and she asked me: "Which one should
we put in the book?"
I told her to just pick one. She came running back into my office
about 5 minutes later saying that every time she picked up the
photograph with the boy, the baby kicked her.
We then asked my kids if they knew who this was. Missy said it
was the little boy she used to play with in the house.
I then called the Warrens and the photographer and let them know
about the picture. We licensed the photograph to the History Channel's
documentary 2 years ago. But it hasn't been published in a book
KEVIN HOTT: Would you return to the house today
if you were given the opportunity? Would you stay in the house
for a night 27 years later?
No – I can think of no circumstance where I would consider
MODERATOR: George, do you have any final thoughts
before we sign off?
I don't have anything profound to say. We understood skepticism
would be a large part of this story when we agreed to tell it.
The last 25+ years have shown us just how much we underestimated
Just because we lived through this, we really don't think of ourselves
as special. But we do think of ourselves as fortunate for having
We can only tell our story and it's not our place to tell other
people what they should think. But I want to thank ABC for being
so fair last night and for all of you having the interest to come
There is a site that deals with the truth of all of this. Go to
There is a forum
there that deals with a lot of this. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thanks to George Lutz – and
all those who joined this live forum.
At the end, when George mentions a forum, he was referring
to an earlier incarnation of the "Amitvyille Truth
which is currently hosted on this site.]