'Amityville Horror' Murderer Ronald DeFeo Jr. Dead at 69

Ronald DeFeo Jr., the serial killer whose crimes inspired the Amityville Horror movie franchise, died in custody on Friday, officials said. The 69-year-old was pronounced dead at 6:35 p.m. Friday at the Albany Medical Center, New York State corrections officials said Monday, reports NBC News. DeFeo was serving a 25-years-to-life sentence at Sullivan Correctional Facility.

Officials did not say why DeFeo was hospitalized. The cause of death is still being determined by the Albany County medical examiner's office, officials said. Health privacy laws prevent the corrections department from releasing further details.

DeFeo was convicted of killing his parents, two sisters, and two brothers at their home in Amityville, Long Island on Nov. 13, 1974. He was 23 at the time. He tried to use the insanity defense during the trial, claiming he heard voices telling him to commit the murders. In 1975, he was convicted on six counts of second-degree murder.

The murders famously inspired Jay Anson's novel, The Amityville Horror, which was published in 1977 after another family briefly lived in the DeFeo house. In 1979, the film adaptation featuring James Brolin, Margot Kidder and Rod Steiger hit theaters and was followed by countless sequels, with the most recent, The Amityville Harvest, being released in 2020. In 2005, Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George starred in a genuine remake of the original film. The DeFeo house still stands today and was listed for sale in 2016 for $850,000.

DeFeo asked for a retrial in 1992, claiming his 18-year-old sister killed their parents, brothers, and older sister before he shot her. The retrial attempt was unsuccessful. In 1999, he told officials he "loved my family very much" during a parole hearing and said he got married in prison.

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He began telling this different story of the murders during a 1986 interview with former Newsday reporter Bob Keeler. "People look in my eyes, that I'm possessed or something. I'm sick of it," he said at the time. Keeler told Newsday he did not believe DeFeo's new story. "It was a vicious crime, and it happened on quiet Long island," Keeler said of the national attention the case drew. "People didn't think of Long Island as a place where mass murder happens. It was maybe a combination of the suburban setting and the zeitgeist of that era, which was a little bit on the kooky side."