In the early 1990s, suburban Massapequa, Long Island, was known for Italian restaurants, big-hair beauty parlors, sprawling malls and lavish cookouts in Oyster Bay. But in May 1992, it became known for a teenager who fell for a middle-aged man and brutally shot his wife in a jealous rage.
Amy Fisher was a 16-year-old student at John F. Kennedy High School when her dad brought the family Cadillac into an auto-body shop and introduced her to the 38-year-old proprietor, Joey Buttafuoco. Amy would take in her own Dodge Daytona for minor cosmetic work after several accidents so she could see the married father, and together they began an 18-month affair. Then, on May 19th, 1992, Amy went to her lover’s home near the Biltmore Shore Beach Club. She walked onto his stoop holding a .25-caliber semi-automatic gun and knocked on the door. When his wife answered, she pulled the trigger, shooting 37-year-old Mary Jo Buttafuoco in the head.
In a case that homicide detective Daniel Severin called one of the “most bizarre in years,” tabloids were drawn into the sensationalism that tore a middle-class family apart and dissected the sexual escapades of a teenage bad girl and a middle-aged knucklehead.
When Amy entered her not-guilty plea in front a jury in Nassau County Court two weeks after her arrest, prosecutor Fred Klein said Amy’s father had described her as “totally uncontrollable” in a missing person’s report from 1991. Lawyers painted her as a lovesick teenager, a beeper-wearing prostitute who planned the murder of Mary Jo in a jealous rage. Klein said to call her a high school girl was “as accurate as calling John Gotti a businessman in New York.” Judge Marvin Goodman ordered Amy held on $2 million bail.
Amy’s lawyer, Eric Naiburg, a frustrated actor and former vibrating-bed salesman, argued that if Amy was a prostitute then Joey was her pimp – a “Teflon bum” who preyed on the teenage girl. Naiburg then offered the rights to Amy’s story to raise bail money. “Usually people in this situation – the Mike Tysons, the Kennedys – have significant financial assets of their own,” Naiburg said. “Amy Fisher happens to be a high school student. Her only asset is her story.” Though Hard Copy and The Maury Povich Show declined to talk with Naiburg, Hollywood producers staked out courthouse grounds in a race to turn the crime story into a TV movie, an increasingly popular genre. Amy was later released from jail, securing the bail money partly from a television production company. Mary Jo, with a bullet lodged in her neck near her spine, landed a deal for a TV movie of her own to pay for her medical bills.
Back on the middle-class street of Berkley Lane, the Fishers drew their blinds to avoid packs of TV crews. Her friends agreed not to talk to media. But neighbors opened their mouths with varying stories describing Amy as everything from a prostitute or the “polite little girl” they often saw walking her dog, Muffins. During initial court proceedings, A Current Affair broadcast a home video purportedly showing her having sex with a John. A man who lived down the street told Geraldo Rivera that Amy showed him pornographic pictures of her ex-boyfriends. (The claim was never substantiated.)
In June 1992, Naiburg filed a statutory-rape complaint accusing Joey of initiating the affair when Amy was only 16-years-old. The next month, Amy pleaded guilty to shooting Mary Jo in the face to avoid the potential of a lengthy trial. “I went up to the doorstep with a loaded gun in my pocket,” Amy told Goodman. “I hit her on the back of the head. I hit her again. The gun went off.”
Three days after copping the deal and pleading guilty to reckless assault, Amy overdosed on prescription drugs and was admitted to Huntington Hospital. Naiburg said “the bottom fell out” when his client saw a Hard Copy broadcast of a secretly taped video of her visiting her boyfriend, 30-year-old Long Island gym owner, Paul Makely, the night before the plea, offering him oral sex, and asking him to marry her. “I want my name in the press,” she told him on the recording. “Because I can make a lot of money. I figure if I have to go through all the pain and suffering, I’m getting a Ferrari.” Police said Amy “hated Mary Jo so much” that she had talked to two ex-boyfriends about killing the mother of two. Peter Guagenti, a 21-year-old from Brooklyn, was arrested and eventually sentenced to six months in jail for selling her the gun and driving her to the Buttafuoco house in his Ford Thunderbird.
The Fisher-Buttafuoco story played out in the tabloids every day for four months, and became a punchine everywhere from Saturday Night Live to In Living Color to David Letterman, who squeezed laughs by simply muttering “Buttafuoco” to his Late Night audience. Joey tried to gain a little sympathy, calling Howard Stern to say that he was faithful to his wife. When Stern asked about a report that Amy had been seen at the Buttafuoco house during the time of the affair, Joey denied that it ever happened. “That’s insane. When my kids heard that report, where she claims to have said my kids call her Aunt Amy, my son, who’s 12, went nuts,” he said. “So you’re claiming that the papers are lying when they call you Amy’s lover?” Stern asked. “Absolutely, yes,” Joey replied.
While in Huntington Hospital, Amy was on suicide watch when she met with a NBC screenwriter working with KLM, the Long Island production company that bought her story rights. But in November 1992, Amy, who was then freed on bail, asked Judge Goodman to sentence her to prison one month earlier than scheduled. “Her home is being staked out by reporters,” Naiburg said. “She cannot even go into a restaurant without people jumping up to call the media.” In early December, Goodman sentenced her to up to a maximum of 15 years, describing her shooting of Mary Jo like a “wild animal that stalks its prey motivated by lust and passion.”
Then came the onslaught of made-for-TV movies. That month, NBC aired Amy Fisher: My Story. In January 1993, CBS presented Casualties of Love: The Long Island Lolita Story starring Alyssa Milano, and ABC showed The Amy Fisher Story featuring a teenage Drew Barrymore.
Later that year, Joey went to court dressed in a “dark blue suit, a flamboyant floral tie and his signature black-and-white snakeskin cowboy boots,” as the New York Times reported, and for the first time admitted to having an affair with Amy. The Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon had said he would not pursue the charges since Amy was an unreliable witness, but changed his mind when Joey’s former employees told law enforcement that he had bragged about having sex with the then 16-year-old girl. He ended up serving five months for statutory rape, while Amy was released in 1999. She changed her name, got married and moved to Florida – though according to recent reports, she’s back on Long Island, going by the name Liz.