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It all started so fast. Once I started, I just couldn’t stop. It went so fast.
DeFeo, Jr.

Ronald Joseph DeFeo, Jr. was an American mass murderer and family annihilator who, in the early morning hours of November 14, 1974, systematically shot each member of his family to death. He later confessed to the murders, was tried, found guilty, and incarcerated.

Background

Mark, Allison, John, Dawn and Ronald DeFeo, Jr.

DeFeo, Jr. was born in Brooklyn, New York City, the eldest son of Ronald, Sr. and Louise Brigante. His father worked as a Buick dealer, and was known as an authoritarian, hot-tempered and violent man, who would frequently argue with Louise. As a young, overweight boy, Ronald, Jr. was the victim of taunting at school, with his father encouraging him to defend himself, while at the same time being domineering at home. As a teenager, Ronald, Jr. would often come to blows with his father, to the point that the latter and Louise arranged for their son to visit a psychiatrist. This was to no avail largely because of Ronald, Sr.'s refusal to admit that he himself needed psychiatric help. In order to manage their challenging son, the DeFeos started to spoil him, buying him anything he wanted.

At the age of 17, Ronald, Jr. was forced to leave his parochial school because of his tendencies to drug consumption (he took heroin, speed, and LSD), thievery, and violent behavior. One one occasion, while on a hunting trip, Ronald, Jr. aimed a loaded rifle at one of his friends, scaring the latter away. One year later, he was employed by his father to work as an employee of the latter's dealership. However, it was a gravy job for him, since he always received an amount of cash every week, regardless wether or not he showed up for work. During this period, fights with his father became even more violent, to the extent that he once attempted to shot him with a rifle, which, ironically, did not go off.

Two weeks before the murders, the relationship with his father had reached a breaking point. Ronald, Jr., dissatisfied with the money he received from Ronald, Sr., arranged to be "robbed" (with help from an accomplice, with which he later shared the loot) on his way to a bank where he should have deposited twenty-thousand dollars on behalf of another dealership staff member. When questioned on the event by the authorities, he refused to cooperate, prompting his father, on the Friday before the murders, to scream at him "you've got the devil on your back", to which Ronald, Jr. answered "you fat prick, I'll kill you".

Murders, Arrest, and Trial

The DeFeos' residence in the 70s.

The rifle Ronald, Jr. employed to systematically shot each member of his family to death, in the early morning hours of November 14, 1974, was one of the many guns he kept in a closet in his room. After the massacre, he calmly showered, trimmed his bear, and changed his dress. He later put the murder weapon and the bloodstained clothes inside a pillowcase, which he later casted inside a Brooklyn storm drain. At 6:00 a.m., he went to work at the Buick dealership, called his home several times, called his girlfriend, 19-year-old Sherry Klein, and went to her home in the afternoon, where he again called his parents. After taking Sherry shopping, he payed a visit to Bobby Kelske, a friend of his, to whom he gave the same report he had previously given to Sherry, that he could not contact his family, though they appeared to be at home. Ronald, Jr. spent the remainder of the afternoon visiting friends, drinking, and taking heroin. In the evening, he again met with Bobby at a local bar, before going back to his home, where he finally feigned discovering the horror he had perpetrated earlier that day.

When the authorities interrogated Ronald, Jr., asking him who could have done such a thing, he attempted to divert the investigation, linking the murder to a mob hitman named Louis Falini, who allegedly held a grudge against the DeFeos. Due to the recovery of .35 caliber rounds in Ronald's room, along with inconsistencies in Ronald's recall of the events, detectives working on the case came to the conclusion that Ronald was actually implicated in the murders. He eventually confessed the very next day, "it all started so fast", he said, "once I started, I just couldn’t stop. It went so fast".

DeFeo, Jr. defense line at his trial, which started on October 14, 1975, was based on insanity, which was supported by psychiatrist Daniel Schwartz. Nonetheless, On November 21, he was found guilty of six counts of second-degree murder, and condemned to six concurrent sentences of 25 years of imprisonment to life.

Aftermath

A recent photo of Ronald DeFeo, Jr.

He is currently incarcerated at the Sullivan Correctional Facility of Fallsburg, New York, and all of his appeals and requests to the parole board to date have been denied.

Since his conviction, DeFeo has given several varying accounts of how the killings were carried out, in one instance even implicating his own sister, Dawn, in the murders.

The murders inspired several works of fiction, including the Amityville Horror franchise, a series of books and films depicting the murders, also with a supernatural and horrorific connotation.

DeFeo died on March 12, 2021.

Modus Operandi

The Marlin 336C lever action rifle employed by DeFeo, Jr. to kill his family.

DeFeo, Jr. shot each member of his family with a .35 caliber lever action Marlin 336C rifle that he later discarded, along with his own bloodstained clothes, by casting them into a storm drain.

Profile

DeFeo, Jr. claimed in court that he was "possessed by Satan" while committing the murders, and that he acted "in self defense", as he had heard his family's voices plotting against him. His alleged insanity was indeed supported by the defense psychiatrist, Daniel Schwartz.

On the other hand, Dr. Harold Zolan, the psychiatrist for the prosecution, concluded that DeFeo, Jr., although suffering from Antisocial Personality Disorder, worsened by drug consumption, was well aware of his actions, as he deliberately disposed of the evidence, fabricated an alibi for himself, and tried to mislead the authorities. Moreover, he asked to a policeman what he had to do in order to collect his father's life insurance, which the prosecution argued was his primary motive. Ultimately, the murders were instrumental to freeing himself of the nuisance which his family, most of all his father, had come to represent to him.

Known Victims

On top: Ronald DeFeo, Sr. and Louise DeFeo. Dawn DeFeo, Allison DeFeo, Mark DeFeo, and John DeFeo.

  • November 14, 1974: 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville, Long Island, New York:
    • Ronald DeFeo, Sr., 44 (his father; shot twice in the back)
    • Louise DeFeo, 42 (his mother; shot twice)
    • Mark DeFeo, 12 (his older brother; shot once)
    • John DeFeo, 7 (his younger brother; shot once)
    • Allison DeFeo, 13 (his younger sister; shot once)
    • Dawn DeFeo, 18 (his older sister; shot once in the head)

On Criminal Minds

While DeFeo was never directly mentioned or referenced on the show, he appears to have been an inspiration for the following unsubs:

  • Season Ten
    • Jerry Tidwell ("Beyond Borders") - Both were family annihilators who were physically abused by their fathers, turned to familicide because of strong hatred towards them and their family, used a firearm, and were also immediately caught after their crimes (although Tidwell started killing after his release).  
    • Marc Clifford ("A Place at the Table") - Both were family annihilators who were in their 20s who were prompted by a strong hatred towards their respective fathers, shot most of their victims (though Clifford strangled one), and were caught the very next day after the murders. Also Clifford's psychosis could be a slight nod to DeFeo's claims of insanity and psychosis.

Notes

  • Ronald DeFeo, Sr.'s uncle was Pete DeFeo, a Genovese crime family caporegime. 

Sources

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