It was a story that horrified Long Islanders and later inspired horror films. On Nov. 13, 1974 -- exactly 40 years ago Thursday -- Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his entire family inside their Amityville home.
Found dead on their beds, each with a single bullet in their back, were his parents, Ronald DeFeo Sr., 43, and Louise, 42; his sisters, Dawn, 18, and Allison, 13; and his brothers Mark, 11, and John, 9.
All had apparently been killed in their sleep by Ronald DeFeo Jr., 23, who would later confess to the murders. He's currently serving six concurrent sentences of 25-years-to-life in an upstate New York prison.
The following text is from the first story about the case that Newsday published on Nov. 14, 1974. (To view a PDF version of the original article click here)
Six in Amityville Family Found Murdered at Home
Amityville – A middle-aged car sales manager, his wife and four of their five children were found shot to death in their beds last night, each reportedly with a single bullet, in their luxurious south Shore home.
Homicide detectives said it was the largest number of victims in a single slaying on Long Island in recent memory. The victims were identified by Suffolk County police as Ronald J. DeFeo, 43; his wife, Louise, 42; their two daughters, Dawn, 18, and Allison, 13, and two of their sons, Mark, 11, and John, 9.
A high Suffolk police official said early this morning that a “prime suspect” is in custody but is not under arrest.
According to detectives, the husband and wife were found on their bed in a second-floor bedroom of the three-story house at 112 Ocean Ave. The boys were found together in another bedroom across the hall from their parents’ room, and one of the girls, Allison, was found in a third bedroom on the same floor. The oldest daughter, Dawn, was found in her bed in her third-floor bedroom.
The victims were wearing their nightclothes, police said, and were shot in the back, apparently while still asleep. There were no signs of struggles. Judging from the condition of the bodies, police said, they believed that all were shot sometime between 5:45 and 9 yesterday morning.
The killings were reported shortly after 6 PM yesterday by the only surviving member of the family, the oldest son, Ronald J. DeFeo Jr., 23. He told police that he arrived a little after 6 PM but found the front door locked. He said he managed to get in by crawling through an open window at the front of the house and found his parents’ bodies.
Then, he said, he ran from the house and drove to Henry’s Bar at 180 Merrick Rd., about a half-mile from the house, where he told some friends of finding his parents dead and asked for their help.
He said that three of his friends, William Scordamagalia, Robert Kelske and Joseph Yeswot, accompanied by another man in the bar, John Altieri, returned to the house and at 6:35 found the other bodies and called police.
Police said DeFeo was being questioned further at the Fourth Precinct station in Hauppauge this morning and added that, although he has a bedroom in the house, he was not at home Tuesday night. They also said he had not gone to work in Brooklyn at the Brigante-Karl car dealership owned by his grandfather and where his father was sales manager.
Investigators said the only multiple slaying of comparable size they could recall on Long Island in recent years was the Mate Ivanov murders in Mineola in 1961. Ivanov who spent 11 years in mental institutions after he was acquitted by reason of insanity, was accused of killing his brother-in-law, Peter Gregov, Gregov’s wife, and their three sons, aged 17, 15 and 11. The bodies has been slashed and stabbed with a bayonet. After his release in July, Ivanov, now 51, was deported to his native Yugoslavia.
The DeFeo house is probably one of the most expensive in the neighborhood, where most of the homes are of 1920s vintage. The well-tended home has dark-shingled siding and white shutters at every window. On the path leading to the main entrance on the side of the house is a post with a white sign with black letters. It says: “High Hopes.”
The DeFeo family moved to the house from Brooklyn about nine years ago, a neighbor said, and liked the neighborhood because it was quiet “and right for bringing up children.” Devout Catholics, the family had a brightly lit shrine on the front lawn depicting St. Joseph holding the baby Jesus. Around them, three angels, each about 10 inches high, kneel in adoration of the child.
The family attended St. Martin of Tours Church at 35 Union Ave. in Amityville. The three younger children attended classes at the parish elementary school and the oldest daughter recently graduated from St. John the Baptist High School in West Islip.
The Rev. James McNamara, an assistant pastor at the family’s church, said the family attended services regularly but was not active in church affairs. “They seemed like an average good family,” Father McNamara said.
It was Father McNamara who was summoned to the DeFeo home after the bodies were discovered, and he administered the last rites. The bodies were taken from the house in dark-colored plastic body-bags and transported to the county morgue.
John Nemesh, 15, who lives at 100 Ocean Ave., a few doors from the DeFeo house, said the DeFeos had two dogs, a German shepherd and a Shetland sheep dog. John said that at about 3 AM yesterday he was awakened by the sound of the dogs barking loudly. He said the barking, which he called unusual at that time of night, went on for about 20 minutes.
A woman neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said that late Tuesday night – around 10 PM – she noticed all the lights on in the DeFeo house. She explained that on most nights the house is only partially lit and described it as “very unusual and something I had never noticed before.”
Chief of detectives Patrick Mellon said metal detectors were being used in an effort to find the murder weapon, which he said was probably a revolver or an automatic pistol. The search for the weapon continued through the night and Mellon said the area around the house would be thoroughly gone over again today. He said that Third Squad detectives and men from the county organized crime control bureau and identification section were taking part in the investigation, along with Amityville village police. He called it “a wide open investigation” and predicted a swift solution.
The neighbors said the DeFeos appeared to be a closely knit family. “They could not do enough for their children,” one woman neighbor said of Ronald and Louise DeFeo. “The whole world was oriented around their children.”
Several weeks ago Mark dislocated a hip while playing and spent a couple of weeks in Brunswick Hospital in Amityville. Father McNamara said he understood the boy had been confined to a wheelchair because of the injury.
Neighbors, standing behind ropes police had put up to control the curious, watched as uniformed police officers carried the bodies out of the house.
One neighbor said her son and Ronald Jr. were friends and that Ronald had been at her home earlier in the day. Told of the slaying, she said, “Oh my God, that just can’t be!”
The DeFeo house was well equipped for a large family. In the backyard was a large in-ground swimming pool, and the house had a completely finished basement. On the first floor is a living room, kitchen and an enclosed sun-porch, with a carpeted circular stairway leading to the second and third floors.
At the scene last night was Mrs. DeFeo’s father, Michael Brigante, owner of the Brooklyn car agency. Police refused to admit him to the house and he was angry. “If this was New York, I’d have been inside already,” he angrily told a detective. “I want to see my daughter before they put her in the bag.”