Happy Friday the 13th! On this day of spook, there is nothing spookier than someone murdering their entire family. And, weirdly enough, this is the second of four articles in November that will detail a person killing their entire family. Now that is spooky.
On November 13, 1874 (which was not a Friday) Ronald DeFeo, at the age of 23, murdered his father, mother, 2 brothers, and 2 sisters. The case is the inspiration for the book and film versions of The Amityville Horror. He was tried and convicted of the murders, and remains behind bars to this day.
It was 6:30pm on Wednesday, November 13, 1974 when 23-year-old Ronald DeFeo entered a bar in Amityville, Long Island, New York, yelling that he believed his mother and father had been shot. A few people from the bar accompanied him to 112 Ocean Avenue, his family's home near the bar, to find that, indeed his parents had been shot and killed inside of their home.
DeFeo's friend, Joe Yeswit, called the Suffolk County Police to report the crime. But during the search, it was learned that his parents weren't the only bodies in the house. 6 members of the family total were found murdered, lying in their beds.
The victims included his 44-year-old father, Ronald, his 42-year-old mother Louise, and all 4 of his siblings, including 18-year-old Dawn, 13-year-old Allison, 12-year-old Marc, and 9-year-old John Matthew. They had all been shot with a .35 caliber rifle, the estimated time of death clocking in at about 3 in the morning that day. DeFeo's parents had been killed with 2 gunshots, while the lives of his siblings were taken with a single shot each.
Evidence suggested that most of the family was asleep when they were killed, except Louise and Allison, who were likely awake at the time of death. They were all found lying face down in their beds.
Originally, taking into consideration that DeFeo had run, panicked to the nearby bar to report the crime, and given that he was the only one left alive in a slaughtered family, he was taken to the local police station for his own protection. He had told police that he believed the crimes may have been committed by a local mob hit man, and that it was dumb luck that he wasn't among the bodies as well.
But the longer he stayed at the police station, the more inconsistencies arouse in his story. And, the following day, he confessed that he had carried out the murders himself, and the hit man had nothing to do with it. Of the murders, he said, "once I started, I just couldn't stop. It went so fast." He said that he took a bath and changed his clothes, discarded the evidence, and went to work as usual before staging a panic by running into the bar, setting off the aforementioned sequence of events.
During his trial, which began on October 14, 1975, his defense lawyer went with the typical insanity defense, claiming that DeFeo had murdered his family because he heard voices in his head, plotting against him. A psychiatrist supported the insanity plea. However, the psychiatrist for the prosecution argued that even though DeFeo had a history of drug use and antisocial personality disorder, he was aware and in control of his actions at the time of the murders.
On November 21, 1975, DeFeo was found guilty of 6 counts of murder. He was sentenced to 6 sentences of 25 years to life. Now, he is sitting in the Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, New York, his repeated requests to the parole board over the years being denied.
MORE ABOUT THE MURDER
There are a couple of odd things that happened during the murders. For instance, the police investigation concluded that the rifle had not been fitted with any sort of sound suppressor. Despite this, not a single neighbor reported hearing gunshots. Though it was 3 in the morning, and most were asleep, there were a few who were awake in the wee hours, but only heard the family's sheep dog, Shaggy, barking. If you could hear a dog barking, you would be able to hear a gunshot, right?
Another odd thing is that a motive for the murders has ever been made clear. It is known that DeFeo had a pretty bad relationship with his father, but the motive for murdering his younger siblings and mother has never truly been determined. He asked detectives how he could collect his father's life insurance, prompting some to believe he was killing for money... but it really doesn't line up, especially when he confessed the following day.
Even DeFeo doesn't have a good grasp on what truly happened that night, or just isn't willing to tell everyone the same story. He has given varying accounts since it happened. In a 1986 interview, he said that Dawn had killed their father, and then their distraught mother killed all of his siblings, and then he killed his mother. He claimed he took the blame because he was afraid to say anything negative about his mother, because he worried his grandfather would kill him. He was also worried about his father's uncle, Pete DeFeo of the Genovese crime family, and so he just took the fall to protect himself.
But then in 1990, he filed a motion to have his conviction vacated. He said that Dawn, along with a 2nd unknown assailant, killed their parents, and once the 2nd killer ran off, Dawn killed the rest of the siblings. He said he only killed Dawn, and it was an accident as they wrestled over her rifle. In both claims, he mentioned that he had a wife, one Geraldine Gates, who police determined was living upstate and married to someone else at the time. The appeal was denied on the grounds that he definitely fabricated everything. However, he was married to Geraldine at some point, but those dates are a matter of contention, too. She said she married DeFeo in 1974, but in Osuna's book, she said 1970. And, their 1993 divorce case says they met in 1985, married in 1989, and divorced in 1993. (Later, she stated under oath that she hadn't married him until 1989 in anticipation of this exact motion.)
In 2002, The Night the DeFeo's Died was published by Ric Osuna, who claimed he had met with DeFeo and talked with him for 6 hours. But in a later letter, DeFeo denied ever speaking to him, or giving him anything he could use in the book. He said he immediately left the interview, giving him nothing substantiative.
But, according to Osuna, DeFeo claimed he committed the murders with Dawn and her 2 friends, Augie Degenero and Bobby Kelske, "out of desperation" because his parents wanted to kill him. He claimed that, after a huge fight with his father, he and his sister planned to kill their parents. But Dawn took it a step too far, killing their siblings to eliminate witnesses. DeFeo was furious at this, and knocked her unconscious and shot her in the head. He reiterated this story on an A&E documentary. However, the ME found nothing to indicate that Dawn had been involved in any sort of struggle. The single bullet through her head was the only mark on her body, and it had been determined that she was likely asleep at the time of the crime.
The Amityville Horror franchise was created as a result of the DeFeo murders. The Amityville Horror, published in September 1977, details the 28-day period in which a fictional family becomes the first to move into 112 Ocean Avenue since the murders. They are terrorized by paranormal activity there. The 1979 film adaptation was the highest-grossing independent film of all time, and held the record until 1990.
Since then, tons of Amityville books and movies and other forms of entertainment have been created and published. In those, the changing stories go even further, even detailing a rumored incestuous relationship between DeFeo and Dawn.
Most of the fictional representations focus around the haunting of the house after the crimes, but many a book, podcast, documentary and blog detail the actual murders of the DeFeo family at the hands of Ronald DeFeo.