This is another article I wrote for Eric's "Amityville Files" website. But since that website seems abandoned and looted (with everything giving you a "not found" error), I guess I'll post the article here, instead.
The longest article I did for them was "Rick Moran: Beating a Dead Source." I did that one in July of 2009 and reformatted it for this forum last week. It deals with both the haunting as well as the murders, but I put it over in the DeFeo section since it has more "murder content" than anything else.
This article is much shorter (you're welcome), was written in May of 2009 and re-written (why not) tonight.
The Conspiracy of The Amityville Horror Conspiracy
by Dan Nolte
In 1976, Stephen Kaplan was one of the very first people contacted to help investigate a supposedly haunted house in Amityville, Long Island. A man by the name of George Lutz had contacted him. Lutz owned the house and lived there with his wife and 3 step-children. It was a fine, stately home which, a year and a half prior to this, was, unfortunately, the bloody site of a horrific murder spree.
Just days before this paranormal investigation was set to take place, however, it was abruptly cancelled; and it wasn't long before Kaplan was soon spreading word around town how he felt this haunting was a phony.
Nineteen years later, Kaplan published The Amityville Horror Conspiracy. Written in a diary format, it covers the years 1974-1979, and not only gives us a glimpse into Kaplan's thought process, but also shows us how, little by little, the stories of the Lutzes' haunting in Amityville were initially revealed to the public, and how that charming Long Island home soon became notorious, with its once-friendly jack-o-lantern windows now giving children nightmares the world over.
Of course the main purpose of Kaplan's book was to detail his condemnation of the Lutzes' story. We read how the Lutzes were immediately viewed with suspicion by Kaplan, and we get a sense of how his blood seemed to boil more rapidly as the Lutzes' story grew more and more popular.
Indeed, Kaplan seems to cast himself as a sort of modern-day Chicken Little, running around trying to inform a misdirected population that "there are no ghosts in Amityville." But regardless of his efforts, the Lutzes' ghost story is quickly turned into a book (which becomes an immediate best-seller), then a paperback (which starts smashing sales records), and finally an immensely popular motion picture in 1979, which is the year this book stops, almost as if throwing its hands up in defeat.
While I found Kaplan's book very interesting, and sometimes fascinating (highly recommended to those with a deep interest in The Amityville Horror saga), it unfortunately fails to provide any real solid evidence of the haunting being a hoax, let alone any sort of conspiracy. Kaplan does offer a few good tidbits which suggest something may be amiss in Lutzland (such as George's alleged conversations with famed Wiccan Ray Buckland, and Bill Weber's claim that he helped the Lutzes "invent" the ghost story) but overall, most of Kaplan's suspicions seem warrantless.
Despite his best efforts, Kaplan tends to lose credibility fairly early-on in his book as he tries building a case against the Lutzes by nitpicking over discrepancies found between various newspaper accounts of the haunting (treating every fact as if it came verbatim from the Lutzes). What he fails to realize is that the papers are not sending out their ace reporters to do a fluff story about a haunted house, and mistakes are sure to happen. This even happens to Kaplan, himself. At various points in his book, Kaplan bemoans the fact that he has been misquoted or misrepresented himself by various reporters. And yet he fails to connect the dots. He fails to see how this can happen to the Lutzes as well, and merrily continues blaming every newspaper discrepancy on the Lutzes, acting as if it somehow proves that they just can't keep their story straight.
At one point, Kaplan even suggests that Lutz was a secret acquaintance of murderer Ronald DeFeo Jr, due to the fact that George referred to DeFeo as "Ronnie." Starting on page 32 Kaplan starts calling him "Ronnie" as well, but again, it's one rule for him and another for George Lutz. Even Joel Martin and Bill Weber are seen referring to DeFeo as "Ronnie" in the same book.
Kaplan goes on to object about the dishonesty of Prentice-Hall categorizing Jay Anson's book The Amityville Horror as a non-fiction title. Fair enough, as Anson did include bits of fiction in his account. But how about the cover of Kaplan's book? The cover of The Amityville Horror Conspiracy claims to be "the dramatic true story of an incredible twenty year investigation" -- but it is not. No, this book tells the story of Kaplan's life between the years 1974-1979. And only 4 of those 6 years contain any real investigating. If any subsequent research was done by Kaplan after 1979, it is not included in this book.
And that is just another of the many seemingly-hypocritical tidbits discovered in this book:
- When Kaplan refers to Ronald DeFeo Jr as "Ronnie," that's okay; but when George Lutz does it, that draws suspicion.
- When newspaper articles are inaccurate regarding Kaplan, that is the fault of the reporter; but when the articles are regarding the haunting, Kaplan blames any discrepancy squarely on the Lutzes.
- When the cover of Kaplan's book carries an untrue byline, that's fine; but it's not fine when it happens on Jay Anson's book.
But if the Lutzes had dreamt or hallucinated the events, then their story wouldn't be a hoax. That would be something entirely different. It would mean they really did think these paranormal events were happening, but were mistaken. And that is quite different from them making the whole story up out of thin air in an attempt to either make money or to help Bill Weber get his client charged with a lesser crime.
It's as if Kaplan doesn't care whether the Lutzes were hallucinating or whether they outright lied -- his main goal is to somehow show that the haunting wasn't real. Much like an outlaw sheriff attempts to put a man behind bars, no matter what trumped-up charges do the trick. The ends justify the means.
And that begs the question: why is this book presented in a diary format? Is it a jab at Jay Anson's book, which was similarly presented in a diary format? Or could it be an excuse for Kaplan to throw various hoax theories around, just in case on of the theories has some legs? You could do that in a diary -- justifying it by saying, "well I felt this first theory was true on this day and on this other day I was leaning more towards this other theory."
Could that be the reason for the diary format? Using it in a somewhat unethical manner?
Along those lines, let's look at how Kaplan, himself, addresses the question of ethics in these two short excerpts from The Amityville Horror Conspiracy. The first is from the Feb 18, 1976 entry on page 26:
So far, so good -- but look what happens the following day -- Feb 19, 1976:I was also called by a network TV news program in Manhattan. They wanted me to go on the air to talk about the "haunted house." I told them I had not yet investigated the house, and therefore it would not be ethical to discuss it.
In the space of one day Kaplan breaks his own code of ethics by discussing a case he had not investigated -- and more than discuss it, Kaplan condemns it as a hoax! All without any investigation being conducted! And I didn't even have to go searching for these quotes -- it's all right there in his own book. As if he's proud of doing a sudden ethical about-face.To end my involvement in the case once and for all, I called the Long Island Press and told them the investigation was off, elaborating on my suspicions of a set-up to reporter Thomas Condon.
So yeah, that's another troubling aspect to Kaplan's investigation:
- the fact that he deems it a hoax based on a hunch, and
- the fact that he ignores his own code of ethics so suddenly (especially when it seems that this is done to "get even" with Lutz for cancelling the investigation that he was looking forward to)
Did Lutz get cold feet after being told by Kaplan that he would expose any possible evidence of a hoax to the public?
Did Lutz cancel after he discovered Kaplan's credentials didn't check out.
Let's look at Kaplan's side of the story, as told in his book. Kaplan explains how George didn't want media attention and asked him not to speak to the press about the investigation. But soon after being told that, Kaplan sees George & Kathy holding a press conference! So when a newspaper reporter calls later that night, Kaplan rationalizes that it must now be okay to mention his upcoming investigation of the Amityville house since the Lutzes have already spoken to the press.
The next day, Kaplan gets an angry phone call from George Lutz. "I told you we didn't want any publicity." Kaplan mentions the Lutzes' press conference, and George explains they only did that to clear up inaccurate reporting done on the matter. George is upset, and ends the call by postponing the upcoming investigation "until the publicity has died down some."
After that phone call, Kaplan discusses the matter with his team -- the people who were going to assist him with the investigation. They discuss their various suspicions of the case, and decide that if and when George decided to reschedule the investigation, they would decline. Kaplan then picks up the phone -- the very same night that George postponed the investigation -- and phones a local reporter, telling him how he feels the Amityville haunting is all one big hoax.
So there you have it, straight from Stephen Kaplan, himself -- the investigation was not cancelled by George Lutz after all -- it was actually cancelled by Kaplan. Therefore the theory that the Lutzes were worried of being exposed by Kaplan simply doesn't hold water, especially when Kaplan quotes Lutz as saying that he simply wanted to wait for the publicity to die down and that he'll call him to reschedule in about two weeks!
I honestly do enjoy Kaplan's book. He does a very good job taking you back in time to when the story was just starting to leak out and capture the public's imagination -- and I find that fascinating. And for the most part, Kaplan's recollection of events are actually very similar to those of George Lutz. There is very little contradiction between the two. The only issues come when Kaplan tries to validate his hoax theories with sketchy tactics and speculation.
So what does this all mean? Was the haunting real after all?
No one can prove a haunting is real in an age where science has yet to determine whether ghosts even exist. The Lutzes' story can't be authenticated. If it was a hoax, then there may be hope of uncovering that, but unfortunately this book consists of mere theories and speculation with no hard evidence to back it up. As the years go on, the mystery behind The Amityville Horror is likely to outlive you and I.