Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Real Life Amityville Horror

Rage and Resentment

112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville
112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville

Ronald DeFeo, Sr., had attained a trophy-size piece of the American dream when he purchased the house at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, Long Island. Having been born and raised in Brooklyn, Ronald had worked hard in his father-in-law's Brooklyn Buick dealership, and after many years began to reap rich benefits. Money was no longer a concern when he finally made the decision to leave the City and move to Long Island. The home he chose was a classic piece of Americana, two stories plus an attic, several rooms, and a boathouse on the Amityville River. There was plenty of room for him, his wife Louise; and five children. A signpost in the front yard read "High Hopes," a testament to what the new home had symbolized for the DeFeos.

Ronald DeFeo, Sr., victim
Ronald DeFeo, Sr.,

But beneath the veneer of success and happiness, Ronald was a hot-tempered man, given to bouts of rage and violence. There were stormy fights between him and Louise, 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 apparently did not apply to how young Ronald was treated at home. Ronald, Sr., had no tolerance for backtalk and disobedience, keeping his eldest son on a short leash, and refusing to let him stand up for himself the way he was commanded to at school.

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.

In the absence of any other solution, 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 parochial school he was attending. By this time 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 as well, 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, 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. By his own account it was a gravy job, where little was expected of him. Regardless of 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), for alcohol, and for drugs such as speed and heroin. 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 mysteriously did not go off. Ronald, Sr. froze in place and watched in grim amazement as his own son lowered the gun and simply walked out of the room with casual indifference to the fact that he had almost killed his father in cold blood. That fight was over, but Butch's actions foreshadowed the violence he would soon unleash not only upon his father, but his entire family.

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