Ronald DeFeo, the convicted murderer who killed six family members and inspired the ever-growing “Amityville horror” franchise, died Friday, March 12th, The New York Times reports. He was 69.
DeFeo died in a hospital in Albany, New York, the New York State Department of Correction and Community Supervision confirmed. He had been serving a sentence of 25-years-to-life at the Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, New York, and had been taken to the hospital on February 2nd. A cause of death has not yet been announced, but will be determined by the Albany County coroner.
In 1974, DeFeo used a rifle to kill his father, Ronald DeFeo, Sr., his mother, Louise, his two sisters, Dawn and Allison, and his two brothers, Mark and John Matthew. All six victims were found in their beds at the family’s home in Amityville, a town on the South Shore of Long Island, on November 13th, 1974. A year later, DeFeo was convicted on six counts of second-degree murder after confessing to the killings.
The case went on to inspire an array of books and movies, starting with Jay Anson’s 1977 book, The Amityville Horror, which was followed in 1979 by Stuart Rosenberg’s film of the same name. Along with delving into the horrors of the DeFeo murders, many of these books and films have also drawn on the story of the Lutzes, the family that moved into the DeFeos’ old house and left after just 28 days, claiming the house was haunted.
Over four decades and countless adaptations later, the Amityville story retains a certain allure — not to mention, it’s essentially an unofficial “franchise” that’s copyright-free, as Amityville is a real town, and both the murders and the Lutzes’ alleged haunting are considered historical events and thus free from intellectual property claims. In 2020 alone, four different Amityville-related projects were released (though most of them, admittedly, were low-budget, direct-to-video affairs, like the horror comedy, The Amityville Vibrator).
DeFeo was born into a generally well-to-do and religious family, working with his father at a car dealership in Brooklyn. DeFeo’s relationship with his father, however, was reportedly strained, and the younger DeFeo also had a reputation for using drugs, drinking and fighting. Following the murders, DeFeo reportedly went to a bar near his home and proclaimed his parents had been shot, while he also reported the deaths to the police himself.
After his confession, DeFeo’s six-week trial focused primarily on why he carried out the murders, with DeFeo’s court-appointed lawyer, William Weber, mounting an insanity defense. In 1992, however, DeFeo claimed Weber had pursued the insanity defense against his wishes — and he’d done so to potentially drum up interest in possible book or film deals.
“William Weber gave me no choice,” DeFeo told The Times. “He told me I had to do this. He told me there would be a lot of money from book rights and a movie. He would have me out in a couple of years and I would come into all that money. The whole thing was a con, except for the crime.”