One of the problems with scarce resources is the desire not to squander any of them. Time is so rare these days that I keep multiple writing projects going (and growing) and when they’re ripe I pluck them and take them to market. One of my writing projects had me read Hans Holzer’s Murder in Amityville. Why? Fair question. It was the “inspiration” behind Amityville II: The Possession. I discuss this film in Nightmares with the Bible, and I’ve been going back and reading those period pieces from the 1970s that formed so much of our culture through the end of the last century.
In case you didn’t grow up with an interest in parapsychology, Hans Holzer was a pretty big name then. I can assert that with some confidence because I grew up in a small town without access to big city resources (where fame is made) and I knew about him. Holzer wrote well over 100 books, which might give you a hint regarding their quality. He was an interesting person. Like Ed and Lorraine Warren he made a living by investigating, writing, and lecturing. (I can’t seem to break into that cycle—times have changed!) A firm believer in ghosts and demons, Holzer was naturally drawn, like other moths around the candle, to Amityville. Murder in Amityville is his summation of his investigation and all I can say is it’s a good thing he wasn’t a lawyer. Apart from containing lengthy transcripts of Ronald DeFeo’s trial, the book also contains interviews conducted by Holzer. Full of leading questions and lacking evidence, it fails to convince even a sympathetic reader.
Still, you’ve got to give Holzer credit for including interviews where his loaded questions get him nowhere. In interviewing a town historian for Amityville, Holzer kept bringing up allegations about the house at 112 Ocean Avenue only to have the nonplussed historian tell him point blank that his (Holzer’s) allegations are incorrect. His assertions of an “Indian burial ground” are taken for granted, although no historical records substantiate it. His interview with DeFeo demonstrates Holzer’s irrepressible faith. After being told by DeFeo that he’d heard no voices—something he made up for a failed insanity plea—Holzer keeps coming back to what the voices told him to do. Not only that, when Holzer does stumble upon a good question he fails to follow up, chasing some other notion down another rabbit hole. There was clearly enough material here to work into a horror movie, but for sorting out the troubled home life of the DeFeo family the critical reader finds her or himself being asked to take a lot on faith.