THE REAL Amityville Horror is the godawful tangle of lawsuits it has inspired.
"Half the western world is getting sued," said an executive at Bantam Books, which has printed 6 million copies of what one skeptic called "the most profitable dog-ate-my-homework story ever told."
The story, originally told by George and Kathy Lutz to Prentice-Hall (235,000 hardback copies), is about how the couple fled in terror from their dream house in Amityville, L.I. after 28 days of thumpings, window slammings, door wrenchings, emanations of green slime and black ooze, psychokinesis and dreadful apparitions.
Where there are lawsuits, there is money. The publishers are pikers compared to American International Pictures, which has grossed $48 million on the picture since its opening July 27.
Since literally running away from the house in January 1976, leaving behind all their possessions (to be auctioned later), the Lutzes have not had jobs, though they are renting a $100,000 house near San Diego. They say their 50 percent share of the book money -- they missed out on the film rights -- goes mostly to pay lawyers and old debts.
However, testifying in a lawsuit in a Brooklyn federal court last week, George Lutz admitted netting $100,000 from the book and another $100,000 from the film.
The suit, brought by lawyer William Weber (of whom more later), was settled out of court, and neither party would discuss the terms. During the course of it, Lutz refused to comment on a statement by Judge Jack B. Weinstein that, "it appears to me that to a large extent the book is a work of fiction. . . ."
Weinstein threw out the Lutzes' $1 million suit against Weber, brought earlier.
George Lutz noted in a recent interview here that they had had money troubles since buying the place in 1975 for $80,000. They had been looking for something in the $30,000 -- $50,000 range but couldn't resist what seemed to be a tremendous bargain.
With six bedrooms, a heated pool and a large boathouse on the Amityville River, the attractive hip-roofed Colonial was indeed a bargain. . . but that was because it was the DeFeo house. In 1974 young Ronald DeFeo took a high-powered rifle and murdered his parents, two brothers and two sisters as they lay in drugged sleep. (He was convicted and is serving six consecutive life terms.) After that, nobody would touch the place.
But Lutz thought he could just swing it by running his surveying business from the house and by putting his cabin cruiser and speedboat in the boathouse, thus saving marina fees. The week before Christmas 1975 they moved in: George and Kathy, both 32 and married a year, and her three small children by an earlier marriage.
And then it began.
There are several versions of exactly what did happen, mainly a Good Housekeeping article by writer Paul Hoffman, the book put together from tapes by filmmaker Jay Anson, and the movie, with screenplay by Sandor Stern.
The differences are minor, but nagging. Hoffman has "trickles of red" running from the keyholes. The book has "greenish black slime" that flows up the stairs and oozes out of the walls. The movie has black drippings that flow down. Father "Mancuso," the priest who tried to bless the house, goes blind in the movie but not in the book. (Lutz says he did lose his sight and was operated on last January for an ocular tumor.)
Much of the violence in the book and the film -- notably the heavy doors being ripped off their hinges, the pane-smashing winds -- is missing from the article. There was levitation in the book, but not the movie.
"Paul Hoffman was represented to us as a criminologist," Lutz said. "He was working with William Weber. He wrote for the Daily News and then for Good Housekeeping. Neither article was done with our knowledge or cooperation or confirmation. No one talked to us from either publication."
The Lutzes are suing Hoffman and others over that. They also sued Weber, who stated in an Associated Press article last July that he had plotted the whole thing with the Lutzes over bottles of wine, that when he mentioned certain details of the DeFeo killings, the Lutzes snapped them up for their own use.Weber's countersuit was for fraud and breach of contract, since the book was to be a collaboration including the DeFeo story and titled "Devil on My Back."
Then there are the Cromartys, James and Barbara, who bought the house after the Lutzes turned it back to the bank and who were so bedeviled by vandals and gawkers (who stood on the lawn for hours, rang the doorbell and asked whether Ronnie DeFeo was in) that they rented it out and are about to sell it sight unseen to a realtor.
There were no occult manifestations, however.
A policeman named in the book is suing the Lutzes and Bantam. The original publishers, by the way, fictionalized a policeman's name between editions and softened their endorsement of the claims.
Perhaps the most persistent skeptic has been Newsday, the Long Island newspaper, which conducted an elaborate investigation of the case and found "enormous contradictions," according to reporter Jim Scovel. These mostly involve the outside witnesses, the local people whose corroboration is so important to the Lutzes' credibility. The three children, who were in on most of the events, have been declared off-limits by their parents.
Father "Mancuso," who Newsday said was Rev. Ralph J. Pecoraro, told the newspaper that he had known Kathy during her first marriage and had instructed George, a Methodist (since converted to Catholicism), before their marriage. But he had never been near the house at 112 Ocean Ave., the paper reported, and had referred the couple to the local parish priest, to whom they never went.
He also denied that his own quarters at Rockville Center were overwhelmed by a smell of excrement -- supposedly a satanic sign -- and added that his colleagues there made a joke of the claim.
The Catholic Directory said that as of this year he is no longer posted to a diocese (the last was Hempstead, L.I.). He is reported to be in San Francisco.
The Lutzes say this:
"People say all sorts of things about the priest: that he's no longer a priest, that he's now a rabbi, that he's in Europe, that he was excommunicated. But he never backed down."
He remains very much in touch with them, Kathy Lutz adds. And George, asked whether he recognizes the name Pecoraro, replies, "Newsday says a lot of things.As far as we're concerned, he's Father Mancuso. There were a number of priests involved who'll never be told about. Also a rabbi. It'll never be told unless I find a publisher (for a followup book full of detailed proofs)."
Camerato (Zammatero in the Bantam version), who the Lutzes say was shown the wrecked garage door, the footprints of a gigantic pig in the snow and a terrible face burned into the fireplace wall, denies ever being on the property, Newsday says.
Policeman Edward Lowe, asked for comment: "Its all bull -- -- -- -. What would you do if your doors were ripped off and your windows broken and $1,500 mysteriously disappeared? You'd call the police, right? Well, the Lutzes never contacted the police until after they moved out."
George Lutz had an answer for that nearly two years ago, when he admitted to People magazine that there were inconsistencies in the story and that a lot of people had "tried to dissociate themselves from all of this. I can understand that. But if we had tried to perpetrate some kind of hoax, I think we would have been much surer of when and how things happened, because we would have been inventing them."
The book has Lutz consulting the Amityville Historical Society and learning that the house sits on the spot where the Shinnecock Indians corralled their sick, mad and dying, believing the place to be infested with demons.
Newsday quotes curator Seth Purdy to the effect that the Shinnecock Indians never lived anywhere near Amityville and that Lutz didn't visit the society until after he left the house.
Lutz tells of seeing the face of a pig staring redly out of his daughter's window at 3:15 Christmas morning (the hour of the DeFeo murders), when "the orb of the full moon was like a huge flashlight."
The World Almanac insists that the moon was in its third quarter that night and had set well before midnight.
And those storms. The worst was on Jan. 11, when the Lutzes "discovered that the battering rain and wind of the night before had left the house a complete mess. Rainwater had stained the walls, curtains, furniture and rugs, from the first floor to the third floor. Ten of the windows had broken panes and several had their locks bent completely out of shape. . . The locks to the doors of the sewing room and playroom were twisted and forced out of their metal frames. . . ."
According to the New York Times, winds over Long Island on the 10th were up to 12 m.p.h., and on the 11th less than 10 m.p.h. with a bit of sleet later in the day.
An odd thing here. The Lutzes noted at the time that their neighbors had suffered none of the damage they had. But they also point to the undeniable fact that the DeFeo murders, all those rifle shots, went unheard by any neighbor.
Furthermore, the terrible smells and the flies on the window, most unusual for a Long Island winter, had been reported by police in the DeFeo case. And 23-year-old Ronnie DeFeo said he had been urged on by voices. So there was something strange about the house before the Lutzes ever moved in, they say.
For their interview here, the couple brought along their friends Ed and Lorraine Warren. Ed is a demonologist by trade, and Lorraine a clairvoyant. Their flier says they can lecture on hauntings, seances, auras, precognition, telepathy, voodoo, satanism, astral projection, the evil eye, exorcism, witchcraft, vampirism and other subjects.
Said Ed Warren: "If this was a hoax, we wouldn't be in on it, or the priest. Why would they leave behind all their possessions on the mere chance of a best seller? They lost $400,000, but that's not the point."
Lutz believes it is important to examine just who is making what accusations and why. He admits the movie is very different from the book, adding that he had nothing to do with the film, though he did get a half hour of scenes cut from it.
"If I let everything bother me that's gone wrong, I'd be a walking paranoia case with a chip on my shoulder, unable to carry on my own life. I never thought of my life story being a big property. I don't control it. I don't have any say in the publishing rights, I didn't sell the movie rights or the presale (to CBS for $1.8 million) or the advertising (the film's ad budget alone came to $16.2 million). All I know is what happened to me."
As for Newsday: "They never came to us, they never contacted us in California, never interviewed us in any way, shape or form. They did one interview Feb. 16, 1976, but we were coerced into that. They never tried to reach us, misquoted us, concocted stories when we refused to talk to them"
Newsday's Scovel indignantly retorts that he tried repeatedly to reach the Lutzes.
"Our critics," says Lutz, "are people who've never been in the house, just people who read a book. No one who was ever in the house, who investigated it, ever called it a hoax. No one with any credentials who was personally involved ever called it a hoax. No one who helped us there, with the auction, with getting stuff to the Salvation Army, ever called it a hoax.
"As a matter of fact, we're tired of being called liars. We have affidavits from those people."
He also has a photo of the torn-off door and, until it was lost in the shuffle, he had a repair bill for 16 broken windows, "some broken in, some outwards."
Lutz says the door photo was run in Newsday. Scovel, the staffer on the story, says it was not. The Lutzes are not suing Newsday.
About the lie detector test: Chris Gugas, a Los Angeles polygraph specialist, reported that he tested the Lutzes separately, his associate working with Kathy, asking about the levitation incidents, the brief transformation of Kathy into a 90-year-old woman, the other events.
"They both answered truthfully," Gugas said. "They were pretty frightened, and it took us nearly two hours to get him calmed down. But what they told us, they believed."
Gugas added that he has run tests on several people in occult cases, finding that some were lying outrageously, but that some were telling the truth. Among his credentials he lists polygraph tests on James Earl Ray, Robert Vesco and actress Terry Moore, whom he confirmed in her claim to have been Howard Hughes' wife.
Meanwhile, George and Kathy Lutz have grown wary. Soon they will have to move again, for the children's sake, since their fame has caught up with them in San Diego.
"All I know is what happened to me," George Lutz says.
Sherlock Holmes once summed up his sleuthing technique: "Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth." The question here is, have all the other factors been eliminated?