Ronald DeFeo, Jr.

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Ronald "Butch" DeFeo, Jr
Background information
Birth nameRonald Joseph DeFeo, Jr
Born(1951-09-26) September 26, 1951 (age 60)
Conviction6 counts of second-degree murder
Penalty6 concurrent sentences of 25 years to life
ParentsRonald DeFeo, Sr.
Louise DeFeo
Killings
DateNovember 13, 1974
Killed6
Weapon(s).35 Marlin rifle
 
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Ronald "Butch" DeFeo, Jr
Background information
Birth nameRonald Joseph DeFeo, Jr
Born(1951-09-26) September 26, 1951 (age 60)
Conviction6 counts of second-degree murder
Penalty6 concurrent sentences of 25 years to life
ParentsRonald DeFeo, Sr.
Louise DeFeo
Killings
DateNovember 13, 1974
Killed6
Weapon(s).35 Marlin rifle

Ronald Joseph "Butch" DeFeo, Jr. (born September 26, 1951) is an American mass 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 PM on Wednesday, November 13, 1974, 23-year-old 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] and 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. The murdered members of the DeFeo family are buried in nearby Saint Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale.[5]

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 Tony Mazzeo. However, an interview with DeFeo at the station soon exposed serious inconsistencies in his version of events. The following day he confessed to carrying out the killings himself and Mazzeo had an airtight alibi proving he was out of state at the time of the killings. DeFeo told detectives: "Once I started, I just couldn’t stop. It went so fast."[1] He 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.[6]

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 he killed his family in self-defense because he heard their voices plotting against him. 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 concurrent sentences of 25 years to life.[7]

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 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 most of the victims had been asleep at the time of the murders,[citation needed] and that the rifle had not been fitted with a suppressor. 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 inconsistent accounts of how the killings were carried out.

In a 1986 interview for Newsday, Ronald DeFeo, Jr., claimed that his sister killed their father, then their distraught mother killed all of Ronald's siblings before DeFeo, Jr., killed his mother. He stated that he took the blame because he was afraid to say anything negative about his mother to her father, Michael Brigante, Sr., and his father's uncle out of fear they would kill him. His father's uncle was Pete DeFeo, a caporegime in the Genovese crime family.[8] This was dismissed as "preposterous" by a former Suffolk County official.[9] Moreover, a 1974 letter sent by DeFeo Jr. to Brigante from prison, that was published on page 33 of High Hopes, stated negative things about Louise thus contradicting his 1986 claim that he feared retribution if he criticized her.

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 with his sister Dawn and two friends, Augie Degenero and Bobby Kelske, "out of desperation" because his parents had plotted to kill him. Allegedly Ronald 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. Police found traces of unburned gunpowder on Dawn's nightgown, which DeFeo proponents allege proves she discharged a firearm.[9] However, at trial the ballistics expert, Alfred Della Penna, testified that unburned gunpowder is discharged through the muzzle of a weapon and thus a sign of being in proximity to the muzzle of a weapon that has discharged not a sign of firing a weapon. He reiterated this on an A&E Amityville documentary that is extensively discussed in Will Savine's Mentally Ill In Amityville. Savine had an expert evaluate Della Penna's assessment and the expert confirmed he was correct. Moreover the medical examiner found no signs on Dawn's body of having been in a struggle, the bullet wound was the only fresh mark on her body.

Ronald DeFeo, Jr. had a stormy relationship with his father, but why he killed the entire family remains unclear. He asked police what he had to do in order to collect on his father's life insurance which prompted the prosecution to suggest at trial that his motive was to collect on the life insurance policies of his parents.[10][1][11]

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.[12] In a letter to the radio show host Lou Gentile, DeFeo denied giving Ric Osuna information that could be used in his book, he said that he immediately left the interview and did not speak to Osuna about anything substantive. [13]

Ric Osuna's book, as of summer 2010, is being adapted into a docudrama entitled Shattered Hopes: The True Story of the Amityville Murders. The film, written, directed and produced by Ryan Katzenbach and featuring narration by veteran actor Ed Asner, examines all aspects of the Amityville case with a strong focus on the DeFeo family and the events surrounding their murders.

The murders in pop culture

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.[14]

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.[15]

Hip Hop artist Eminem makes numerous references to the murder in his song "Amityville"; in the chorus he attacks Ronald's self-accusation of being legally insane. However, the song does not completely revolve around the murders - he uses the event as an example for the point he attempts to convey throughout the song.

References

  1. ^ a b c Lynott, Douglas B. "The Real Life Amityville Horror". truTV Crime Library. Trutv.com. http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/notorious_murders/family/amityville/1.html. Retrieved 2008-12-10. 
  2. ^ http://www.DJTricities.com/amityville
  3. ^ "(Slideshow: Gunbox)". The Amityville Murders™. http://www.amityvillemurders.com/csgallery/slides/gunbox.html. 
  4. ^ Lynott, Douglas B.. "The Real Life Amityville Horror; Shots in the Night". truTV Crime Library. Trutv.com. http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/notorious_murders/family/amityville/3.html. 
  5. ^ Amityville Horror Murder Victims accessed May 22, 2010
  6. ^ Ramsland, Katherine: Inside the minds of mass-murderers: why they kill. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2005, p. 80. ISBN 0-275-98475-3
  7. ^ "New Evidence Raises Questions In Decades-Old Amityville Horror Murders". CBS. February 27, 2012. http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2012/02/27/new-evidence-raises-questions-in-decades-old-amityville-horror-murders/. Retrieved 2012-05-19. 
  8. ^ Keeler, Bob. ""DeFeo's New Story," Newsday, March 19, 1986". http://amityvilletruth.freeservers.com/newsday.htm. 
  9. ^ a b "Amityville - the Cultural Impact of Homicide". Castleofspirits.com. http://www.castleofspirits.com/amitycultural2.html. Retrieved 2008-12-08. [dead link]
  10. ^ Ramsland, Katherine. "Haunted Crime Scenes; Amityville Controversy". truTV Crime Library. Trutv.com. http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/notorious_murders/classics/haunted_crimescenes/13.html. Retrieved 2008-12-08. 
  11. ^ "The Amityville Murders". Amityvillemurders.com. http://www.amityvillemurders.com/murders.html. Retrieved 2008-12-08. 
  12. ^ Nickell, Joe (January 2003). "Amityville Horror Investigative Files (January 2003)". Skeptical Inquirer. http://www.csicop.org/si/show/amityville_the_horror_of_it_all/. Retrieved 2008-12-08. 
  13. ^ "Ronnie DeFeo Jr.". Amityvillehorrortruth.com. Archived from the original on 2008-07-01. http://web.archive.org/web/20080701030950/http://www.amityvillehorrortruth.com/defeo.htm. Retrieved 2008-12-08. 
  14. ^ Amityville II: The Possession (1982) at the Internet Movie Database
  15. ^ "The Amityville Murders". Amityvillemurders.com. http://www.amityvillemurders.com/facts.html. Retrieved 2008-12-08. 

External links