In the early evening hours of November 13, 1974, the patrons of Henry’s Bar, a tavern located at the corner of Merrick Road and Ocean Avenue in Amityville, chatted while sipping their beers and cocktails. To them, the start of the evening seemed just like a typical one in Amityville: calm and uneventful. By night’s end, however, life in Amityville would never again be the same.
At 6:30 p.m., Ronald DeFeo Jr., known by the locals as “Butch,” opened the door to the bar and yelled, “You got to help me! I think my mother and father are shot.”
One of the patrons seated at the bar was Robert “Bobby” Kelske, an out‑of‑work brick mason and Butch’s best friend. Bobby raced to his friend, who had fallen to his knees. Crying hysterically, Butch again pleaded for help, “Bobby, you got to help me. Somebody shot my mother and father.”
“Are you sure they’re not asleep?” Bobby offered.
“No, I saw them up there.”
“Come on then; let’s go.”
Butch got to his feet and called for others at the bar to follow Bobby and him back to the house. Answering Butch’s call was John Altieri, Joey Yeswoit, Al Saxton and William Scordamaglia, owner of Henry’s Bar. The six men piled into Butch’s 1970 blue Buick Electra 225. Butch climbed in the back while Bobby took the wheel.
Although the DeFeo house was only a block away, Bobby drove frantically down the street. One of the men yelled out for him to slow down, but Bobby ignored the comment, arriving at 112 Ocean Avenue in a matter of seconds.
The DeFeo residence was a large, rambling, three‑story Dutch Colonial home built in 1925. Because the property was long and narrow, the dark‑shingled house sat sideways with the front door facing the elongated driveway. At the end of the DeFeos’ 237‑foot‑long lot sat their boathouse, right at the edge of the Amityville Creek.
But the most distinguishable characteristic of 112 Ocean Avenue was its dramatic front yard. Overlooking the street were two quarter‑moon windows that looked like eyes, a feature common in Dutch Colonial homes. On the front lawn stood a lamp post with a sign attached that read “High Hopes,” a symbolic title of the family’s life in suburbia. Kneeling behind the sign were three figurines of children praying to a larger statue of St. Joseph holding the baby Jesus.
Bobby pulled the car to a quick halt and climbed out. As he climbed up the front‑porch steps, one of the other men cautioned, “Be careful! Somebody might be in there!”
“I don’t care,” Bobby yelled as he opened the unlocked door to the DeFeo home.
The house was quiet, except for the barking of Shaggy, the DeFeos’ sheepdog, who was tied up to the inside of the kitchen’s back door. Because the dog was not totally housebroken, the family routinely tied the animal there.
The interior of the DeFeo home was just as impressive as the exterior. To the right of the marble‑covered foyer was the formal dining room with red, velvet‑textured wallpaper lining the walls. In the center of the room, over the Dutch‑style table seating six, hung a crystal chandelier. A textbook belonging to one of Butch’s younger siblings sat, unopened, on the table next to a bouquet of wilting red roses.
Across the foyer was the living room, which contained a baby grand piano. Fronting the large fireplace was a pair of white satin‑cushioned chairs. Lavish paintings and statues were scattered throughout the room. It was evident that Butch’s parents insisted on the most expensive items for their house.
With Bobby Kelske in the lead, the five men hurried up the stairs to the second floor. Bobby, a regular visitor to the DeFeo household, knew exactly where the master bedroom was located. As they reached the second floor, they were overwhelmed with the stench of death.
Bobby stopped at the doorway to the master bedroom and hit the light switch. Before him lay Ronald Joseph DeFeo Sr., 43, and his wife Louise DeFeo, 42. A hole in the center of DeFeo Sr.’s bare back was the first indication the couple was not sleeping. Dried blood had trickled out of the wound, disappearing beneath the obese man’s blue boxer shorts.
In contrast, Louise DeFeo’s wounds were not clearly ascertainable because her body was buried beneath an orange blanket as if she were protecting herself against the evening chill. Behind the bed was a mirrored wall, which eerily reflected the macabre scene.
Seeing that Bobby was ready to pass out, the other men led him downstairs, past the life‑size portraits of family members that hung on the staircase wall.
John Altieri remained on the second floor and checked out the northeast bedroom. Clipper ships, cannons and eagles dotted the room’s wallpaper. On the dresser, to the left of the door, lay several statues and figurines that one would expect to find in a devout Catholic home. Strewn across the floor were athletic shoes and toys signaling that the bedroom belonged to a boy, two boys to be exact.
On opposite sides of the room lay the bodies of two young boys, face down like their parents. In the bed on the left lay the body of John DeFeo, nine. Altieri could not pinpoint the bullet hole in John’s back since the “Knicks” sweatshirt he was wearing was covered in blood.
In the other bed lay John’s brother, Marc DeFeo, 12. Next to Marc’s bed was a pair of crutches and a plain, gray wheel chair. The boy had recently suffered a football injury and needed their assistance to get around. At the foot of his bed lay a crumpled‑up green and yellow bedspread and an orange blanket. This time, Altieri could make out the wound: a single bullet hole in the center of the boy’s back.
Seeing more than he had wanted, Altieri left the room and rejoined the others on the ground floor. There, Joe Yeswoit called 911, giving details to an emergency operator.
–The preceding was taken from Chapter One of The Night the DeFeos Died.
Operator: "Suffolk County Police. May I help you?"
Man: "Hah?" Operator: This is Suffolk County Police. May I help you?"
Man: "We have a shooting here. Uh, DeFeo."
Operator: "Sir, what is your name?" Man: "Joey Yeswit."
Operator: "Can you spell that?"
Man: "Yeah. Y-E-S W I T." Operator: "Y-E-S-W. .
Operator: "Y-E-S . .
Operator: ". . . W-I-T. Your phone number?"
Man: "I don't even know if it's here. There's, uh, I don't have a phone number here."
Operator: "Okay, where you calling from?"
Man: "It's in Amityville. Call up the Amityville Police, and it's right off, uh . . ."
Man: "Ocean Avenue in Amityville."
Man: "Ocean Avenue. What the ... ?"
Operator: "Ocean ... Avenue? Offa where?"
Man: "It's right off Merrick Road. Ocean Avenue."
Operator: "Merrick Poad. What's ... what's the problem, Sir?"
Man: "It's a shooting!"
Operator: "There's a shooting. Anybody hurt?"
Operator: "Anybody hurt?"
Man: "Yeah, it's uh, uh-everybody's dead."
Operator: "Whattaya mean, everybody's dead?"
Man: "I don't know what happened. Kid come running in the bar. He says everybody in the family was killed, and we came down here."
Operator: "Hold on a second, Sir." (Police Officer now takes over call)
Police Officer: "Hello."
Police Officer: "What's your name?"
Man: "My name is Joe Yeswit."
Police Officer: "George Edwards?"
Man: "Joe Yeswit."
Police Officer: "How do you spell it?"
Man: "What? I just ... How many times do I have to tell you? Y-E-S-W-I-T."
Police Officer: "Where're you at?"
Man: "I'm on Ocean Avenue.
Police Officer: "What number?"
Man: "I don't have a number here. There's no number on the phone. "
Police Officer: "What number on the house?"
Man: "I don't even know that."
Police Officer: "Where're you at? Ocean Avenue and what?"
Man: "In Amityville. Call up the Amityville Police and have someone come down here. They know the family."
Police Officer: "Amityville."
Man: "Yeah. Amityville."
Police Officer: "Okay. Now, tell me what's wrong."
Man: "I don't know. Guy come running in the bar. Guy come running in the bar and said there-his mother and father are shot. We ran down to his house and everybody in the house is shot. I don't know how long, you know. So, uh . . ."
Police Officer: "Uh, what's the add ... what's the address of the house?"
Man: "Uh, hold on. Let me go look up the number. All right. Hold on."
Man: "Hello. Hello?"
Police Officer: "Yes."
Man: "One-twelve Ocean Avenue, Amityville."
Police Officer: "One-what?"
Man: "One-twelve Ocean Avenue, Amityville."
Police Officer: "Is that Amityville or North Amityville?"
Man: "Amityville. Right on ... south of Merrick Road."
Police Officer: "Is it right in the village limits?"
Man: "No, it's uh ... you know where the high school is?"
Police Officer: "Yeah."
Man: "It's in the village limits, yeah."
Police Officer: "Yeah. That's the village hmits, right?"
Police Officer: "Eh, okay, what's your phone number?"
Man: "I don't even have one. There's no number on the phone. "
Police Officer: "All right, where're you calhng from? Pubhc phone?"
Man: "No, I'm calling right from the house, because I don't see a number on the phone."
Police Officer: "You're at the house itself?"
Police Officer: "How many bodies are there?"
Man: "I think, uh, I don't know-uh, I think they said four."
Police Officer: "There's four?" (They hadn't found the girls, yet)
Police Officer: "Alright, you stay right there at the house, and I'll call the Amityville Village P.D., and they'll come down."