Even if you are not a horror afficianado you may still have heard about the Amityville Horror. Originally a book, which then became a series of books and films, based on the supposedly factual accounts of the Lutz family who moved into a house on Ocean Avenue, Amityville, and moved out again twenty eight days later after a series of escilating paranormal events.
While the story of the haunting of the house on Ocean Avenue has become baked into popular culture, Very Scary People focuses on the crime that that was apparently the catalyst for the haunting of the house. The 1974 murder of the DeFeo family, mother, father and two brothers and a sister by the eldest sibling Ronald DeFeo Jr, in what became the Lutz’s home.
Very Scary People, narrated by Donnie Whalberg, yes of New Kids on the Block fame, delves into what happened in the DeFeo household, which is a tangle of accusations and rumours. DeFeo Jr claimed his sister killed most of the family before he killed her in a rage. He also claimed that his parents were plotting to kill him. DeFeo’s story changed many times over the years before he died. It was also suggested that the mafia might be involved, something that has strenuously denied as the mafia has no record of killing small children. Amoung the tangle, was the background of the family, after all children don’t kill their parents without something being very wrong in the home.
While it was clear De Feo Jr was continually trying to spin what happened in his favour, but there are questions that remain unanswered about that night, such as how come none of the family responded to the first shots? Why were they all found face down? Had they been drugged? Enough questions to give supernatural theories a foothold, that was later smashed open by the Lutz’s for their own gain.
Wahlberg’s gravelly voice guides us through the phycological map of the DeFeo’s lives, whose expensive homes hid domestic violence and control from a father, and a mother who while victim herself also continually backed up and side with her husbands violence towards her own children. A recipe for an extremely unhappy family, one that if it had not been for the Lutz would have possibly gone down as a local legend for the Long Island community, but after the initial burst of interest could have faded into the background of all the other gruesome family anhilations that the true crime cannon contains only occasionally bobbing to the surface.
De Feo Jr’s lawyer confesses that the whole haunting story was made up by himself and George Lutz in order to get his client a new trial, and Lutz the money he desperately needed because he was in over his head with the mortgage. Not everyone accepts that the haunting was made up, including the Lutz’s eldest child, Danny, who in interviews and films appears to be traumatised by the events of his childhood and fully believes the truth of his “possession” at the time.
It is here we get to the truth that underlies and pulses through the story of 112 Ocean Avenue. Not the truth about if DeFeo Jr was possessed by an evil force that compelled him to kill his family, not the truth about if the Lutz’s really experienced a haunting by the same spirit. Instead the truth it uncovers is emotional and physical abuse, two families both manipulated and dominated by father figures who had their own agenda’s of power, control and greed and mothers whom by their inaction on behalf of their children became complicit, the ultimate consequence of which leaves one family dead, and another haunted.
For other true crime family anihilations check out Father Wants Us Dead.