The inspiration for the well-known Amityville Horror book and ensuing film adaptations is no longer among the living. Ronald “Butch” DeFeo died at age 69 on March 12th, 2021 at Albany Medical Center, as first reported by the Niagara Gazette. No cause of death has been released. He was serving a life sentence for the 1974 murder of his mother, father, sisters, and brothers at Sullivan Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison. The murders in a quiet Long Island town were truly startling, as all six victims were killed with a .35-caliber Marlin hunting rifle and found face down in their beds. At his trial, he claimed to be insane and acting in self-defense, though the prosecution was not convinced. He was scheduled to be eligible for a parole hearing in July.
Moviegoers may know DeFeo’s story best from the original 1979 film, an adaptation of Jay Anson’s 1977 book which focused on the purported hauntings that frightened George and Kathy Lutz, the next owners of the home. James Brolin and Margot Kidder starred in the film, which earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score. Seven sequels were released between 1982 and 1996, and a remake of the original starring Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George came out in 2005. Many non-theatrical films have featured Amityville since, and the most recent incarnation was the long-delayed Amityville: The Awakening, starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, which debuted in 2017.
In addition to supernatural speculation, arguments have been presented that suggest a second killer whose presence would have more easily enabled the killing of all six people in a short period of time. The 2012 documentary Shattered Hopes: The True Story of the Amityville Murders, directed by Ryan Katzenbach, put forward that theory. Repeated investigations have not supported this idea. Regardless of its basis in truth, the original 1979 version of The Amityville Horror is considered to be one of the most successful independent films of all time, grossing more than $86 million.