Whenever you read about an individual killing his entire family, you have to suspect that things inside the household weren’t as pleasant as they seemed. Such was the case in 1974, in Suffolk County, New York. The DeFeo family, 7 in all, dwelled at 112 Ocean Drive,in Amityville, Long Island, a picturesque middle-upper class suburb, but beneath a veneer of success and happiness, Ronald Defeo Sr was a hot-tempered man, given to bouts of rage and violence. There were stormy fights between him and Louise, his wife, and he loomed before his children as a demanding authority figure. As the eldest child, Ronald, Jr., bore the brunt of his father’s temper and expectations. As a young boy, Ronald, Jr., or Butch as he would come to be called, was overweight and sullen, the victim of schoolyard taunts and unpopular with other children. His father encouraged him to stick up for himself, but while his advice pertained to the treatment of schoolyard bullies, it did not apply to how young Ronald was treated at home. Ronald, Sr., had no tolerance for back talk and disobedience, keeping his eldest son on a short leash.
As Butch matured into adolescence, he gained in size and strength, and was no longer a sitting duck for his father’s abuse. Shouting matches often degenerated into boxing matches, as father and son came to blows with little provocation. While Ronald, Sr. was not highly skilled in the art of interpersonal relations, he was astute enough to realize that his son’s bouts of temper and violent behavior were highly irregular, even in relation to his own. He and his wife arranged for their son to visit a psychiatrist, but to no avail, as Butch simply employed a passive-aggressive stance with his therapist, and rejected any notion that he himself needed help. The DeFeos employed a time-honored strategy for placating unruly children: they started buying Butch anything he wanted and giving him money. At the age of 14, his father presented him with a $14,000 speedboat to cruise the Amityville River. Whenever Butch wanted money, all he had to do was ask, and if he wasn’t in the mood to ask, he simply took it.
By the age of 17, Butch was forced to leave the school he was attending. He had begun using serious drugs such as heroin and LSD, and had also started dabbling in petty thievery schemes. His violent behavior was becoming increasingly psychotic, and was not confined to outbursts within his home. One afternoon while out on a hunting trip with some friends, he pointed his loaded rifle at a member of their party, a young man he had known for years. He watched with a stony expression as the young man’s face turned white. He fled, and Butch calmly lowered his gun. When they caught up with their friend later that afternoon, in all sincerity, Butch asked him why he had left so soon.
At the age of 18, Butch was given a job at his grandfather’s Buick dealership.Little was expected of him and whether or not he showed up for work, he received a cash allowance from his father at the end of each week. This he used for his car (which his parents had also purchased), alcohol, and drugs. Altercations with his father were growing ever more frequent and correspondingly more violent. One evening, a fight broke out between Mr. and Mrs. DeFeo. In order to settle the matter, Butch grabbed a 12-gauge shotgun from his room, loaded a shell into the chamber, and charged downstairs to the scene of the altercation. Without hesitating or calling out to break up the fight, Butch pointed the barrel of the gun at his father’s face, yelling, “Leave that woman alone. I’m going to kill you, you fat f***! This is it.” Butch pulled the trigger, but the gun did not go off. Ronald, Sr. watched in amazement as his own son lowered the gun and walked out of the room, indifferent that he had almost killed his father. It would not be the last time Butch pointed a gun at his father and pulled the trigger. The “Red Room” was featured in the original Amityville Horror movie as a haunted room after the murders had taken place.
In the weeks before the slayings, Butch, dissatisfied with the money he “earned” from his father, devised a scheme to further defraud his family. Two weeks before the slayings, Butch was sent on an errand by one of the staff at the Buick dealership, given the responsibility of depositing $1,800 in cash and $20,000 in checks in the bank. Instead, Butch arranged to be “robbed” on his way to the bank by an acquaintance, with whom he later split the loot. the first place. The police were called, and when they arrived they naturally asked to speak to Butch. Butch became tense and irritable with the police. He became violent when they suspected he was lying. In response to their questions, Butch began to curse at them, banging on the hood of a car in his grandfather’s lot to emphasize his rage. His father didn’t miss this tantrum and knew Butch had indeed faked the robbery.
Butch’s violent disposition and the fact that he was the eldest had afforded him the small luxury of his own bedroom. It also afforded him a private storage place for a number of weapons he collected and sometimes sold. As he sat in the quiet of his room, he knew what he wanted to do, what he in fact was going to do. His father and his family would be a nuisance to him no longer. The still shroud of darkness blanketed the village of Amityville in the early morning hours on Thursday, November 13, 1974. Stray house pets and the odd car were the only signs of life as families and neighbors slumbered. But hatred and savagery were brewing beneath the seeming calm at 112 Ocean Boulevard. The entire DeFeo family had gone to bed, with the exception of Butch. On the night of the murders, Butch selected a .35-caliber Marlin rifle from his closet, and set off, stealthily but resolutely, towards his parents’ bedroom. Butch pushed aside the door to his parents’ room, raised the rifle to his shoulder and pulled the trigger. This shot ripped into his father’s back, tearing through his kidney and exiting through his chest. Butch fired another round, again hitting his father in the back. This shot pierced the base of Ronald, Sr.’s spine, and lodged in his neck. Butch aimed the weapon at his mother, and fired two shots into her body. The bullets shattered her rib cage and collapsed her right lung. Both parents now lay in fresh pools of their own blood.
He entered the bedroom his two brothers shared and stood between their two beds. Standing directly above them, Butch fired one shot into each of the boys as they lay sleeping. The bullets tore through their young bodies, ravaging their internal organs, laying waste to the lives that lay ahead of them. As Butch entered his sisters’ room, Allison stirred and looked up just as he lowered the rifle to her face and pulled the trigger. His youngest sister was murdered instantly. Butch aimed his weapon at Dawn’s head as well, literally blowing the left side of her face off.
It was just after 3:00 a.m. In a span of less than fifteen minutes, Ronald “Butch” DeFeo, Jr., had brutally slain each member of his family in cold blood. He cleaned himself up and established an alibi to throw the inevitable police investigation off the trail. Butch calmly showered, trimmed his beard, and dressed in his jeans and work boots. He collected his bloodied clothing and the rifle and threw it into his car. Butch drove from the suburbs into Brooklyn, of the evidence by casting it into a storm drain. He returned to Long Island, and reported to work at his grandfather’s Buick dealership, business as usual. It was 6:30 p.m. Hours later, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. burst into Henry’s Bar Amityville, Long Island, New York and declared: “You got to help me! I think mother and father are shot!” 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.
Butch related a story to police that implicated a man named Louis Falini. Falini was a notorious mafia hit man whom Butch claimed held a grudge against his family as a result of an argument between the two of them a few years prior.That circumstance was beginning to change, however, as investigators continued to examine physical evidence, both at the crime scene and in the police laboratory. A crucial discovery was made around 2:30 a.m., November 15, when Detective John Shirvell made a last sweep through the DeFeo bedrooms. Rooms where the murders had taken place had been scoured thoroughly, while Ronald’s room had so far been given a cursory once-over. Initially, Butch had written in his statement that the murders must have taken place at 1:00 p.m. just before he returned home from work. “Butch, the whole family was found in bed lying in their bedclothes,” said Rafferty. That indicates to me that it didn’t happen at like one o’clock in the afternoon after you had gone to work.” Rafferty continued to press Butch until he was able to pry him away from his earlier version of when the crime took place, establishing that the crime actually took place between 2:00 and 4:00 a.m.
At 8:45 a.m., Detective George Harrison shook Butch awake. “Did you find Falini yet?” DeFeo asked. But Harrison was not there with any such news: he was there to read Butch his rights. DeFeo protested that he had been trying to be cooperative all along, and that it wasn’t necessary to read him his rights. He went so far as to waive his right to counsel, all to prove that he was an innocent witness. Butch repeated his story, that he hadn’t been in the house when his family was murdered
“It didn’t happen that way, did it?” asked Rafferty.
“Give me a minute,” Butch replied, his head in his hands.
“Butch, they were never there, were they? Falini and the other guy were never there.”
“No,” Butch finally confessed. “It all started so fast. Once I started, I just couldn’t stop. It went so fast.”
At trial, Butch’s attorney William Weber showed Butch a photo of his father’s body, and asked, “Butch, did you kill your father?”
“Did I kill him? I killed them all. Yes, Sir. I killed them all in self-defense.”
Some members of the jury gasped out loud in response to DeFeo’s courtroom confession. “If I didn’t kill my family, they were going to kill me. And as far as I’m concerned, what I did was self-defense and there was nothing wrong with it. When I got a gun in my hand, there’s no doubt in my mind who I am. I am God.”
Prosecuting attorney Gerard Sullivan, was determined to prevent the jury from seeing Butch as a deranged madman with no control over his actions. Sullivan exposed Butch for what he was; a pathological liar, and an evil, cold-blooded killer. Sullivan knew he could goad the murderer into revealing the twisted sense of enjoyment he got from killing his entire family.
“You felt good at the time?” he asked.
“Yes, Sir. I believe it felt very good,” Butch responded.
“Is that because you knew they were dead, because you had given them each two shots?”
“I don’t know why. I can’t answer that honestly.”
“Do you remember being glad?”
“I don’t remember being glad. I remember feeling very good. Good.”
Sullivan provoked Butch to the point where he yelled, “You think I’m playing,” he barked hatefully from the stand. “If I had any sense, which I don’t, I’d come down there and kill you now.” The original Amityville movie featured a toilet filled with blood after the murders; one of the many fictional liberties taken in the movie.
On Friday, November 21, 1975, Ronald DeFeo, Jr., was found guilty of six counts of second-degree murder. Two weeks later he was sentenced to twenty-five years to life in prison on all six counts. He remains incarcerated with the New York State Department of Corrections today. The murders took place in 1974. By 1977, ghost stories circulated about the tragedy at 112 Ocean Drive and eventually became fodder for novels, true crime books, and movies. The horror in Amityville at 112 Ocean Drive continues.
- physical brutality in the family was a normal way of life – Ronald Jr received the brunt of it
- Ronald was “spoiled”
he didn’t have to hold a job as a teenager; his parents gave him an “allowance”
his parents bought him whatever he wanted to placate him
his father defended his lies
when his father realized Ronald faked a robbery and lied to police, he supported his son’s falsehoods
- Ronald had easy access to firearms and often used them irresponsibly
- When Ronald attempted to kill his father, his father didn’t react in a rational manner (no therapy, didn’t call police)
- He had significant problems at school that weren’t addressed at home
Understandably, Ronald DeFeo Jr was a time bomb waiting to explode, as they say. It was just a matter of time.