A FILM BY RYAN KATZENBACH

SHATTERED HOPES: THE TRUE STORY OF THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Left, the block that once housed Brigante-Karl Buick at 800 Coney Island Avenue. Today, the property retains its heritage, housing automotive repair garages and parts stores as well as a used car lot on the same block. From the 1950's to the mid 70's, the block was dominated by Brigante-Karl Buick operations.
HORROR IN AMITYVILLE:

THE STORY

PART I: BUTCH, BRIGANTES & BUICKS

It was just before seven a.m.

Vito D'Aurio stepped from his car into the briskly cold, grey morning, which had dawned over Brooklyn. D'Aurio, in his 60's, and despite suffering from a heart condition, had made it his duty to arrive early at work each and every morning, and well before any of the other twenty-plus employees. For just under two decades, D'Aurio had worked for one of several Brooklyn Buick dealers, Brigante-Karl Buick, at Coney Island Avenue and Cortelyou Road, nestled right in the heart of the borough.


D'Aurio was a service manager for the dealership and had been with Brigante practically from the start of the store's operation in the late 1950's. Upon opening the doors and turning on the lights each morning, he fired up the shop and set the heart of the operation beating long before clerical and sales employees arrived. There were repair orders to review, jobs to be scheduled, parts to be ordered, and of course, those early customers to greet who would drop their Buicks off for repair or service before heading to work. Today would be no exception to those days before it; it was the idle Wednesday morning of what would likely be another ordinary workday at the dealership. The weather was growing colder; the holidays were not so far in the future. There were cars to sell. There were cars to service, and these must have been among the many thoughts going through Vito D'Aurio's mind as he set out to open the dealership that morning. It was November 13, 1974.

Approaching the service drive fronting a busy Coney Island Avenue, D'Aurio recognized a particular dark blue Buick parked before the still-closed garage door. It was a 1970 Buick Electra 225 4-door sedan with a black vinyl top. The hood of the car was pointed inward, toward the roll-up door. D'Aurio smiled as he rounded the car and approached the driver's side door. Peering in, he saw fellow dealership employee Ronald Joseph DeFeo, Jr., slumping in the driver's seat, dozing peacefully. DeFeo was the son of his co-service manager Ronald DeFeo "Big Ronnie" Sr., and he was also the grandson of D'Aurio's boss, Buick dealer Michael S. Brigante Sr., one of the partners of Brigante-Karl Buick.

Above, Ronald Joseph "Butch" DeFeo's 1970 Blue Buick Electra 225 Sedan with black vinyl top. This was the car, pictured in Suffolk County Police impound that Vito D'Aurio would find parked in front of the dealership on Coney Island Avenue in the early morning hours of November 13, 1974. Butch DeFeo was napping behind the wheel of the car waiting for the dealership to open. [Suffolk County Police Crime Scene Photo]

Above, Michael S. Brigante, the father of Louise Brigante-DeFeo and paternal grandfather of Ronald "Butch" DeFeo

"Wake up, Butch," D'Aurio yelled, rapping on the window again. This caused DeFeo, whose nickname was Butch, to emerge from his nap. DeFeo acknowledged, smiled, and came to as D'Aurio unlocked the building and opened the overhead door admitting Butch into the dealership.


Butch DeFeo, 23, had worked for his grandfather's operation for several years. He worked directly for his father and grandfather, though the young DeFeo had no real designated job responsibilities by all accounts. He worked, almost exclusively, at the will of his family, doing odd jobs for them around the store as well as various other errands and tasks. Despite such responsibilities, he would still come and go as he pleased. In recent years, Butch had been in trouble with the law over the theft of some outboard boat motors for which he was still on probation. To some, it might have seemed like the job was a gratuity from his grandfather as Butch had not been too successful at holding down a job outside of his family's dealership, and had been fired from several previous positions for tardiness or absenteeism.

The same lackluster job performance was rumored to be true about his father, Ronald Sr., who, it was alleged, made more than any three area GM-dealership service managers put together. This was yet another gratuity from Michael Brigante Sr., since, apparently, Ronald's extremely well compensated service to the dealership was in the best interest of Brigante's daughter, Louise, to whom Ronald was married and with which he had five children ranging from Butch, 23, to the youngest John Matthew, 9.
THE DEFEO FAMILY

RONALD DEFEO SR., 43

RONALD "BUTCH" DEFEO JR., 23
LOUISE BRIGANTE-DEFEO, 42
DAWN DEFEO, 18
ALLISON DEFEO, 13
MARC GREGORY DEFEO, 11
JOHN MATTHEW DEFEO, 9
Ronald DeFeo's financial success, be it his own, or that of his father-in-law, was extremely apparent to those at the dealership. The DeFeos lived out on the south shore of Long Island in the quiet seaside village of Amityville. Amityville was, and remains today, a very upscale community. The DeFeos had, as of 1974, lived on the island for nine years in a stately three-story Dutch Colonial at 112 Ocean Avenue----a house that was valued at well over $120,000 at that time.
The DeFeo's stately Dutch Colonial house at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville. The house had been a gift from Louise DeFeo's father, Michael S. Brigante, for the family in 1965. Accordingly, Brigante paid $65,000 for the home in 1965. The DeFeos had lived there for nine years at the time of their death. The house is pictured here, from the sky, in official crime scene photgraphs taken by the Suffolk County Police Department.
More than a few of the employees at the dealership had been invited to the DeFeo's home for various parties or social gatherings over the years, and it was apparent that, based on the house itself, the family's cars, their in-ground swimming pool, and their elegant furniture and contemporary plush carpets and decor, that this was a family living well beyond the means of even slightly above-average dealership pay scales. One set of possessions, a series of oil portraits, must have clearly stood out to anyone who entered the DeFeo's marble-floored foyer and looked up the first-floor stairwell.
Left, looking up the red carpeted stairwell of the DeFeo home. The portraits hung up the stairwell and into the landing. Right, the marble foyer of the DeFeo home. Note the dog bowl at the back of the house, which was typically close to where the family's Sheepdog Shaggy was tied. The dog was confined, primarily, to the kitchen area because he wasn't properly potty trained. [Suffolk County Crime Scene Photos]


Hanging up the stairs and into the landing of the second floor, a series of portraits, rumored to have cost in excess of $15,000 each, adorned the walls. The first portrait depicted the DeFeo daughters, Allison and Dawn. The next portrait, a couple of steps further up, was that of Butch and his father, the latter Senior pouring Junior a glass of liquor. Above this, sons Marc and John. In the landing hung an elaborately detailed vertical portrait of the beautiful Louise Marie Brigante-DeFeo seated in an elegant chair. Adjacent this, on an opposite wall hung a portrait of Michael Brigante. While clad in a sleek black suit and donning a warm smile, he was none-the-less imposing. Clearly, this series of portraits, hand painted by an artist and expensively framed, was not a household accessory found in the home of the average middle-class American.


While Butch's own arrival on this grey November morning even preceded D'Aurio's morning ritual of arriving ahead of anyone else, Butch's sporadic schedule was hardly enough to make anyone believe that anything could be amiss. Butch, accordingly, often arrived very early and left all the earlier in the afternoon, sometimes well before the closing hours for his fellow clerical and service department workers. Regardless, Butch's early arrival must have surely triggered thoughts of his father, Ronald DeFeo Sr., for Vito D'Aurio. Big Ronnie had, in recent weeks, told D'Aurio of some particularly troubling phone calls that he was receiving. The conversation occurred in the presence of service department employee Lucy Burkin who later recalled the conversation saying "...He [Ronald Sr.] would not go into specifics...but he was very worried as the family had been receiving mysterious telephone calls which contained threats." Burkin, like D'Aurio, had been told in the service department office that the series of calls had been taking place over the month of October and November 1974, and according to Big Ronnie Sr., he was at a loss as to who the calls were from. "...It was enough to make him worry," Burkin said.


Lucy Burkin had worked for Mike Brigante for 14 years in November 1974. Like D'Aurio, she was an employee of the service department, and worked in a clerical position within the office. Her direct supervisor was Ronald DeFeo Sr.. Apparently, the relationship went beyond just that of being co-workers based on statements that Mrs. Burkin made to others. From her account, it seemed that the DeFeos and the Burkins had become friends.


Lucy Burkin and her husband were guests at the DeFeo house for a New Year's Eve party just 11 months earlier. Lucy, speaking of the party, recalled, "Ronnie Sr. had at least 35 to 40 youths there, plus a number of adults. He was very good natured and there was loads of food and drink." Lucy recalled later that Big Ronnie DeFeo had practically insisted that the Burkins stay over at the house rather than drive back to Brooklyn that night when the party wrapped.


Burkin's fondness didn't end with Big Ronnie DeFeo, however. It carried over to Butch. She felt that Butch was exceptionally "polite and kind." Knowing that Burkin liked grape soda, he went out of his way to make sure that there was always a can of such on her desk. Whenever Butch DeFeo left for lunch or to pick up a sandwich, he would go out of his way to ask Burkin if he could get something for her. Lucy Burkin was described as a "matronly" type of woman, so the love and admiration that Butch allegedly had for his mother most likely carried over to Burkin.


Burkin always felt that Butch was "very neat and clean." One of her duties at Brigante included the coordination of uniforms for the mechanics and service personnel from an outside launderer and uniform provider. Each employee got one set of uniforms at a time, to be worn between the designated drop off and pick-up times. In most cases, such services provide enough uniforms for one week. For Butch, Lucy Burkin always ordered three sets at a time so that Butch would always have an abundance of clean uniforms to work in.


On this 13th day of November, Big Ronnie DeFeo was nowhere to found at the Brigante operation. He hadn't reported for work that day. To Vito D'Aurio and Lucy Burkin, however, this was no surprise.


Butch DeFeo's next-to-youngest brother, Marc Gregory, 11, had been injured in September during a local football game. He was a member of the Massapequa Mustangs, and the injury had rendered him almost paralyzed. He was reliant upon crutches and a wheelchair for mobility, but the doctors had assured Ronald and Louise DeFeo that he would get better. As a result, Marc was undergoing physical therapy treatments. On 13 November, Marc DeFeo had such a treatment. In the days before, Big Ronnie had advised his coworkers of such and told them that he would not be in the shop that day. Big Ronnie distinctly told Lucy Burkin that if anyone from the shop needed to speak to him, he "would probably be home by 3:00 p.m."


When Butch DeFeo came into the service department office at approximately 2:30 p.m., Lucy Burkin reminded him of these facts when Butch picked up the phone and told her he was going to call home.


"No one is going to be home until probably after three, Butch," she said.


Butch considered it for a moment, and then went ahead and dialed the number to the DeFeo residence anyway. Standing but a few feet away from her, Butch paced as the phone rang. There, as Lucy had warned, was no answer.


Shortly after making this phone call, Butch DeFeo left the dealership to make the drive back to his parent's house in Amityville. Vito D'Aurio nor Lucy Burkin realized that this would be the last time that they would see Butch DeFeo at the dealership.

THE STORY • PART II

The True Story of the Amityville Murders

 

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