Ronald DeFeo died in prison last week. He was 69 years old. You may not know the name, but you heard about what he did back in 1974. Or you’ve seen the tabloid articles, and the movie series which fictionalized those events. If you don’t know the name DeFeo, you know the name, “Amityville Horror.”
DeFeo was convicted of murdering his parents and his four brothers and sisters. Before confessing, he said a mob hitman did it. A subsequent owner of the home claimed it was haunted by demons.
After the murder and especially after the first movie, the murder scene, a house in Amityville NY became a tourist attraction, much to the chagrin of people who subsequently owned it and to people who lived in the neighborhood.
I was once a reporter. I’ve always known where the house is. Neither the house nor the people who live there now had anything to do with the murder of six people that took place there almost five decades ago. Subsequent owners of what’s become known as the horror house have painted it a different color, changed the building’s distinctive fenestration and even gotten the post office to assign a different house number in an effort to reduce the building’s attractiveness to oddball curiosity seekers. Maybe the results are different if you live farther away, but I just entered the current three-digit house number and only the number into Google maps and that house is the first thing that came up. If you use the old house number, the same thing happens. In fact, if you’re curious enough to look for it, you can easily find the complete address on Google yourself. So, without any additional publicity, the house remains very well known.
Still, the NY Post this week has seen fit to publish the current address of the house and pictures of what it looks like after it’s been remodeled. Since I think the Post should be criticized for this, that’s what I’m doing here. And the Post isn’t the only newspaper to do it now or ever before. Newsday has also joined the chorus, and not for the first time. This week, Newsday ran an article about what it’s like to live near the house with all the curiosity seekers abounding.
Both articles are clear and unwarranted invasions of privacy for the people who now own the horror house and those who live nearby. Any news that happened here happened 47 years ago. You may argue, and I’m sure the two newspapers I just cited would argue that their articles are just repeating information that I’ve already agreed is widely available. So, what’s the problem? The problem is that the internet helps people who are actively looking. The newspapers aren’t waiting for people to look. They’re shouting, “Hey, it’s over here!”