Horrors! Amityville Returns!

March 20, 2013

Although claims in The Amityville Horror book and movie seemed to have been laid to rest—after a civil trial yielded evidence that the “demonic” events were mostly fiction—the case has resurfaced once again. This time the oldest child of the troubled family, Daniel Lutz, who was nine at the time of the brouhaha, has come forward to claim the essential story was true and that he and his stepfather George had been “possessed.”

A documentary, My Amityville Horror (2013), focuses on Daniel, who revises discredited material. For example, he says that on the day the family moved into the house, while carrying boxes into one room, “there was [sic] probably four- or five-hundred flies.” He says he killed them by swatting them with a newspaper, but that when his mother came the dead flies had disappeared. This leaves one wondering whether he had simply made up the incident. Again Daniel tells how a window smashed down on his hand, causing it to swell to several times its size before it quickly returned to normal. That is of course unlikely in the extreme.

In fact, such scenes raise the possibility that many of the alleged incidents—which some have described as “poltergeist” effects—could have been staged or falsely reported by Danny. For instance, according to The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson (New York: Bantam, 1978, p. 40), Danny and the other children were suspected by their mother of having blackened a toilet bowl by throwing paint into it.

Daniel Lutz certainly had a motive to play poltergeist. Like other unhappy children who secretly act out their hostility, he was unhappy with his situation and wanted to effect change. Daniel hated his stepfather, calling him “the biggest f—ing a—–e you could ever meet,” and boasted that he was glad he was dead. An ex-Marine, George was, Daniel says, a violent disciplinarian who beat him. And so he admits, “I started destroying this guy’s world every opportunity that I walked into” and would “just do anything to get him” so that “we could go back home.”

Unfortunately for the poltergeist-mimicking hypothesis, however, there is much better evidence as to what really happened at Amityville. The tale was deliberate fiction. Some of the reported events were simply made up, while others were exaggerations of mundane occurrences.

William Weber—an attorney seeking a new trial for his client, who had murdered his parents and siblings in the Amityville house the previous year—admitted colluding with the Lutzes on a book deal. Weber told the Lutzes, for example, how one of the murder victims’ bodies had lain in the room for over 18 hours, yielding a stench and maggots; the Lutzes subsequently developed this for their demonic tale, using what Weber calls their “creative imagination.” Again, Weber says he showed the couple numerous crime-scene photographs, some of which revealed “black gook” in the toilet bowls, which he attributed to police fingerprint powder. Weber says that he and the Lutzes “created this horror story over many bottles of wine that George Lutz was drinking.” (See Stephen Kaplan and Roxanne Satch Kaplan, The Amityville Horror Conspiracy [Laceyville, PA: Belfry Books, 1995, pp. 174–86], and Joe Nickell, The Science of Ghosts [Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2012, 293].)

Throughout the documentary, Daniel Lutz retells many of the now-familiar Amityville incidents in elaborate fashion, often claiming things happened to him that were previously attributed to his parents. Distinguished psychologist (and CSI Fellow) Elizabeth Loftus explains on camera how people can fill in gaps in their memory with exaggerations and even outright additions, so as to make things seem more dramatic and interesting. At the end of the video, Daniel is asked by the director if he will take a lie detector test. He refuses. His younger brother and sister do not appear to endorse his claims: they declined to be interviewed for the documentary.