|Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Gerard Sullivan is portrayed in Shattered Hopes by actor Josh Bower.|
of a PROSECUTOR
Shattered Hopes is, as most of you are aware, based on Ric Osuna's 2001 book The Night The DeFeos Died: Reinvestigating the Amityville Murders. While the book serves as a baseline for this film, with another 5 additional years of research conducted by myself and my producers, it must be pointed out that other books, films and documentaries were consulted as well. During the course of this film, Jay Anson's The Amityville Horror was in close reach on my desk. So was Stephen & Roxanne Kaplan's The Amityville Horror Conspiracy, Hans Holzer's Murder In Amityville, and Betty Carrington's Judicial Carousel, to name but a few. There were also countless reference books, documents from the Department of Justice, emails and correspondence with The FBI, the files obtained from Suffolk County Police, and Herman Race's accordian file that he produced on the case, to identify but a few more of the sources. This is not counting the personal letters written by Butch DeFeo to other people, thousands of pages of ancillary materials, such as court transcripts, probate files and other materials. Herman Race, Neal Hirschfeld and Bill Weber's unpublished manuscript and book proposal, also entitled Murder In Amityville was consulted. Then, aside from all of this, there were the several dozens of hours of interviews and recordings that I made with the various players involved in the story. However, there was one book that I regarded as a sort of holy-grail in the process of putting this film together. It was one book that was kept just as close as Ric Osuna's own title. It was a book by Gerard Sullivan and Harvey Aaronson entitled High Hopes: The Amityville Murders.
Most of the people reading this website need no formal introduction to High Hopes. To many, this 1981 book written by Sullivan is considered to be the definitive volume on the DeFeo case. Gerard Sullivan was the Assistant District Attorney in Suffolk County at the time of the DeFeo slaughter. Sullivan wrangled his way through the politics of the DA's office to garner the DeFeo case as his own. To those familiar with the volume, they know that Sullivan talks extensively about how he maneuvered to get the case from a more senior prosecutor. Sullivan desperately wanted the DeFeo case for the notoriety that he was sure it would bring to his career.
When Sullivan partnered his book endeavor with Harvey Aaronson, a well known Newsday journalist, it seemed then, and is still the case today, that their book High Hopes would come to be the be-all-end-all book on the case. I know that, as a researcher of the case, I certainly accepted much of what was said as being gospel truth. It wasn't until I read Ric Osuna's book for the first time that I began to question some of the assertions made in Sullivan's book. Throughout my paperback copy, I have sticky notes wherein there's questions or comments I've scribbled to myself.
In the course of 2010 as we obtained the documents relevant to Shattered Hopes and the case, I began to revisit High Hopes more and more. I began to make mental notes of certain inconsistencies which I was then able to crosscheck against various documents now in our possession. The results of this were interesting.
A lot of serious researchers have thrown High Hopes at myself or Ric Osuna religiously, quoting the book to debunk something that we have publicly stated or asserted. They have quoted Sullivan in their efforts to dispell certain witnesses in our film or to refute research that we've completed. I decided, therefore, that given the stack of materials in our possession, a further, more comprehensive examination of Sullivan's book would be a compelling study.
What I did not anticipate when I started to examine the book was the extent of inconsistency and, in some cases, what I believe are outright fabrications made by Sullivan. In some cases, I see High Hopes: The Amityville Murders as a revisionist history book. Sullivan, at times, bends the real facts to the threshold of their breaking point. Overall, the book is not about Ronald DeFeo Jr. or the tragedy and court case that ensued. It is, frankly, and put bluntly, the resume of an egomaniacal prosecutor more focused on furthering his career and explaining how HE was great than the telling of one of America's most infamous true-crime stories.
I think that's it time, as the release of Shattered Hopes approaches, to explain why High Hopes just, frankly, isn't the definitive volume that Sullivan and, eventually, a great deal of Amityville "scholars" hold it out to be.
PART I: CHAPTERS 1-5
(NOTE: For reference, I am working out of the Dell Paperback pictured herein)
PART ONE - CRIME AND ARREST
HIGH HOPES: P28 - Regarding Butch DeFeo's movements on the morning of November 13, 1974: "By the time Ronnie was finished eating, a Brigante-Karl employee had opened the service department..."
COMMENT: Perhaps trivial, but based on the statement of Vito D'Aurio, an 18-year employee of Brigante-Karl Buick, this is not consistent with what D'Aurio told Detectives investigating the case. When D'Aurio arrived at the dealership at 6:45 a.m., which was his normal routine, he found Butch napping in his car in front of the dealership's service department. D'Aurio unlocked the building and went inside, Butch came in approximately five minutes later. As stated, this may be insignificant, but obviously Gerard Sullivan, in writing the book, had the same witness statements in his possession that we have in ours; there was no reason for Sullivan to not get these details correct and accurate.
HIGH HOPES: P28 - Regarding the time that Butch DeFeo left the dealership that day: "Around noon, he [Butch] figured the hell with it, and took off."
COMMENT: This is factually wrong when weighed against TWO separate witness statements. (See the Pre-Discovery timeline on this website for a more detailed analysis.) Vito D'Aurio stated that he had lunch at 12:30 p.m. in the service office and that Butch was present in the office at this time. Further statements from D'Aurio place Butch at the dealership at between 2-2:30 p.m., and the statement of 14-year employee Lucy Burkin places Butch in her office at 2:30 p.m., which clearly indicates that at 2:30 he had not left the Brooklyn facility. Again, Sullivan surely had these witness statements.
Additionally, in the alleged 8-page statement given by Butch DeFeo himself, DeFeo states that he left the dealership at 1 p.m. Therefore, even though Butch DeFeo's own credibility is miniscule, even his account doesn't support Sullivan's written passage that he "figured the hell with it and took off" at noon.
HIGH HOPES: P28 - "Forty-five minutes later, Ronnie's blue Buick came off the eastbound lane of the Southern State Parkway and headed south on County Line Road in Amityville. A black Volvo going in the opposite direction slowed and made a U-turn behind Ronnie, and both cars parked along the curb. The driver of the Volvo was Robert William Kelske, a twenty-four-year-old stone mason who, over the past few years, had become Ronnie's closest friend."
COMMENT: Sullivan's book places Butch in Amityville on County Line Road at 12:45 P.M., Nov. 13, where he rendezvous with Bobby Kelske. As demonstrated in the PreDiscovery Timeline on this website, and weighing the witness statements of D'Aurio and Burkin, this was impossible given the fact that Butch didn't leave the Brigante dealership until right at 2:30 or very shortly thereafter. Gerard Sullivan must have known that there was inconsistency in the statements, and the reasons why he went with the veracity of Kelske's statement is unclear. But, as discussed in the timeline, between Vito D'Aurio and Lucy Burkin who have two seperate statements at two distinctly different times that matched in consistency, Kelske's statement is questionable at best, especially when considering the facts presented herein and on our PreDiscovery Timeline. It's curious as to why Sullivan followed certain witness statements, such as Kelske, with exact precision and loyalty to what was said, yet, as demonstrated herein, deviated significantly from others.
HIGH HOPES: P30-31 - Sullivan recounts, at times verbatim, the witness statement given by Butch's on-again/off-again "girlfriend" Mindy Weiss, which he has given the pseudonym of "Sherry Klein" in his book. Sullivan writes that Butch arrived at Mindy's house at 1:30; that at 2:30 they went to nearby Sunrise Mall where Mindy dropped of the cigarette lighter for engraving.
COMMENT: See the PreDiscovery Timeline. As we note in the timeline, first, Butch DeFeo could not have been at Mindy Weiss' house at 1:30 as he did not leave his grandfather's Brooklyn dealership until approximately 2:30. Not only was his rendezvous with Kelske physically impossible, but so was this encounter with Mindy Weiss. Why did Sullivan not question this and present this account as a factual account in his book?
HIGH HOPES: P31 - Regarding Mindy Weiss and Butch DeFeo's return from the Sunrise Mall and his departure: "He left but didn't tell Sherry where he was going."
"Around 3 P.M., Bobby Kelske's dogs made a racket that woke him from a nap..."
COMMENT: Again, referring to the PreDiscovery timeline, it's interesting to see that Gerard Sullivan, dismisses specific times when they are not advantageous to his position. On page 30, Sullivan states "At about 1:30 P.M. Ronnie appeared at the home of his girlfriend..." and then at 3 P.M. he states that Butch arrived at Kelske's house. What he fails to mention is the 2:30 time that Mindy gives for their departure to Sunrise Mall, which is absent the consideration of Lucy Burkin and Vito D'Aurio's statements that Butch was still at the dealership. Sullivan coolly and casually dismisses the fact that Mindy states that they returned from the Sunrise Mall at 3:15 p.m., despite the fact that Kelske places Butch at his house at 3:00. Sullivan clearly dodged the consistency issues by simply omitting key times not advantageous to his own version of events -- or in the case of D'Aurio and Burkin, not making a mention of them at all, which leads me to another point pertaining to High Hopes OVERALL...
High Hopes specifically omits the presence anywhere in the book of the defense-retained private investigator Herman Race. Race testified during pre-trial that he believed there were multiple guns and shooters involved in the DeFeo crime. From all the various sources used in the making of this film, Herman Race carries an irrefutable presence. Yet there not ONE WORD as to Herman Race ever presented to the reader of this book which is regarded as the definitive volume on the DeFeo crime and trial. Why? We assert that it is because any discussion of the possibility that Ronald DeFeo could have had an accomplice had to be scrubbed from the record in favor of a successful outcome at trial.
HIGH HOPES: P31 - "After leaving Kelske, Ronnie dropped in at Henry's, sitting at the long, dark bar as the afternoon lengthened toward dusk. He had four or five drinks, all of them vodka-and-7Up. He stayed for an hour and a half until he decided to visit friends who lived nearby..."
COMMENT: Gerard Sullivan fails to account for John Bello's statement. Bello states that at approximately 3:30 Butch came into the bar, told him that he had been locked out of his house and asks Bello for a loan of a "few bucks" since he didn't have any cash on him. Bello reports, via his written statement, that Butch left a few minutes later. It appears that Sullivan relied more on Butch DeFeo's 8-page statement given to the police than any of the other witness statements given which is curious since a man like Sullivan, one would think, given his profession of prosecuting criminals, would shy away from reliance upon the written word of the very man that he convicted----a word that has been questionable at best. DeFeo is the only one, via his statement, that asserts that he spent several hours at the bar drinking Vodka-7Ups. And as demonstrated, Butch DeFeo's statement is inconsistent with other bar patrons.
Furthermore, Bello places Butch back in the bar again at 4:30 for "a few minutes." At no point does Bello state that Butch took a seat at the bar; that Butch DeFeo whiled away the afternoon drinking Vodka and 7-Ups. Instead, Butch left, and based upon Bello's statements and the timeline, it seems unclear for brief periods as to exactly WHERE Butch went. Sullivan maintains that Butch left Henry's "an hour and half until he decided to visit friends who lived nearby." This is presumably, based on our timeline around 4:30-4:40 when Robert Geiger (dubbed the "Reimer's" in Sullivan's book) says that Butch arrived at his house. Strangely enough, while Sullivan is very specific at various points about exact times, he has, throughout this sequence failed to address any of the actual times in any of the witness statements. Why? Because if he had, it would have become clear that there were very serious problems with the testimony and an overlapping of events that would have to be explained. And to explain those, it would call into question the credibility of certain witnesses in his case, namely Bobby Kelske and Mindy Weiss which was not advantageous to Sullivan's tidy account of the daylight hours of November 13, 1974.
Additionally, Joseph Yeswoit's statement to police was as interesting as Bello's. Yeswoit told the police that he arrived at the bar at 1 p.m. that afternoon. The first mention that he ever makes of Butch DeFeo is at 6:30 p.m. when Butch came running into the bar and proclaimed that he had found his parent's shot. While Yeswoit didn't note the few times that Butch popped into the bar during the day as Bello did, he also certainly did not note that Butch whiled away the afternoon drinking Vodka, either. For a full account, based on witness statements, please see the PreDiscovery timeline on this website.
HIGH HOPES: P.42 - "Early in the evening a priest arrived and administered the last rites. He was the Reverend James McNamara, an assistant pastor at St. Martin of Tours Church in Amityville."
COMMENT: It is against Catholic protocol to administer Last Rites to the already-deceased. The DeFeo victims were never given Last Rites. These are reserved for those who are near death but still alive. What is true is that Fr. McNamara did respond to the DeFeo house; he did see the individual crime scenes very briefly, and he did console Butch DeFeo in the kitchen of the DeFeo house.
HIGH HOPES: P.55- Sullivan, discussing the crime scene on November 13, 1974 states at the opening of the chapter "His maternal grandfather, Michael Brigante Sr. came in from Brooklyn at 9:15 with his wife and son..."
COMMENT: Sullivan is wrong on several counts with regards to Brigante.
First, Brigante arrived ONLY with his son, Michael Jr., who drove the senior Brigante from Brooklyn. Angela Brigante did not come to the scene, as was also the case with Butch's paternal grandmother, Antoinette "Nettie" DeFeo.
Second, Brigante did not arrive at 9:15 p.m. on the evening of November 13, 1974. Brigante and his son arrived at 7:20 p.m. where they met Det. Gaspar Randazzo. See Randazzo's report below:
As can be seen from Det. Randazzo's narrative, he and Brigante had quite an exchange of information whereupon Brigante pointed him to the dealership's personnel manager, Vincent Mitchell, but he also identified Vito D'Aurio as an employee who could provide dealership personnel information for the SCPD. (See the Chronology Page 7-8PM for more information.)
HIGH HOPES: Sullivan writes that Brigante was kept out of the DeFeo home, which infuriated Brigante. "Incensed at being kept out of the home, he tried to overlay anger with authority. "Just two weeks ago, I saw a cop with both arms and both legs off in Chinatown," he shouted. "A month before that , I saw another sergeant dead on a parkway. I've seen many a homicide. I've seen many people dead. I've seen autopsies performed. I want to see my daughter.""
Sullivan goes on to write that an hour later, Brigante who was still outside of the house, vented by telling reporters to 'leave people alone' while standing on the Ireland's front yard.
COMMENT: I believe there is a strong hint of contempt on the part of ADA Gerard Sullivan toward Michael Brigante Sr.. In later chapters, Sullivan seems to paint Brigante as an emotionally charged neurotic. Sullivan states, in the first paragraph of Chapter 5 that Brigante was "A garrulous, excitable man." He was also a man who had just been informed that had lost his ENTIRE family -- a daughter and four grandchildren in one unimaginable event. Of course the man was excitable.
Secondly, given Gerard Sullivan's twisting of facts and overt embellishment of what was REALLY said in previous instances, I have a hard time believing that Michael Brigante -- a man connected to La Cosa Nostra, Carlo Gambino and other figures -- was as vocal and garrulous as Sullivan paints him to be. By the accounts that I have heard from others, Michael Brigante Sr. was a very good, very generous man. There is to be no doubt that he was "gruff" and perhaps as Reporter Joel Martin described him "rough around the edges" but based on the testimony I have taped for the film, Michael Brigante was not the type of man that Sullivan painted him to be. A bit unsophisticated, yes. A man who could display emotion, yes. An unmitigated circus act as Sullivan painted him - NO.
Furthermore, Brigante was FACTUALLY NOT kept out of the house that night despite the assertions that Sullivan made in writing in his book. First, Det. Randazzo was IN the house interviewing Ronald DeFeo at approximately the time that Brigante and his son arrived on the scene. Randazzo had already granted permission for Rocco DeFeo to enter and make a phone call. Having already established that, Randazzo, who clearly seemed to be in charge at this moment, had granted one DeFeo grandfather access, it seems entirely consistent that he would have granted Brigante access as well. Furthermore, the following clip is a brief excerpt of an interview by Det. Gerard Gozaloff for Shattered Hopes:
As can be seen, Det. Gozaloff attests to the fact that the relatives, along with Butch DeFeo and Bobby Kelske were ALL in the kitchen of the house. I made note of this when Gozaloff stated it because I had NOT heard this before, because, like so many others, I had the words of Gerard Sullivan emblazoned on my brain as if they were the gospel. I specifically asked Det. Gozaloff, sitting on the back porch of his home "they were all in the HOUSE?" Gozaloff, as can be seen, confirmed. Gozaloff further noted (see the 7-8 P.M. Chronology on our website) that Rocco DeFeo, Michael Brigante, and everyone else was chased out of the house and the scene was locked down to SCPD Homicide Detectives and lab/I.D. technicians only. Sullivan's book once again fails to present the facts in proper chronology and with the accuracy that an A.D.A should have delivered. Misstating the arrival of an individual like Michael Brigante by minutes is one thing -- in this particular case, he missed by nearly 2 full hours, said Brigante brought his wife when he did not, and stated that Brigante was kept out of the house the whole night. All of these when weighed against the real reports and narratives therein fail. Furthermore, Gozaloff also reveals that Brigante was pushing to get upstairs AFTER the bodies had been removed. It seems apparent that there was something in the house that Brigante was looking for, and it was likely not that of his daughter.
COMMENT - Factually incorrect. Sullivan surely had the ME100 reports, the SCPD autopsy narrative and the autopsies themselves, and he clearly and wrongly perpetuated the false impression that Dawn DeFeo's menstrual cycle had ANYTHING to do with the blood in the bed. The blood in the bed was of extensive coverage at the top of the mattress and in Dawn's pillows. The blood can only be attributed to Dawn's traumatic head wound.
The autopsy conducted by Dr. Irving Rappaport of the Medical Examiner's Office clearly rules out that a menstrual cycle had anything to do with the blood. Dawn DeFeo's autopsy specifically states under the "Clothing" section: "1. A medium sized, pink, synthetic nightgown stained with blood in the upper anterior region and left arm." It says nothing about stains in the middle region of her body; and furthermore, item 4 under clothing states: "4. A sanitary napkin without blood staining." Clearly, if the blood in Dawn's bed was attributed to her menstrual cycle, the sanitary napkin would have been soaked with blood. Why Sullivan makes these fact-wanting assertions is confusing.
HIGH HOPES: P.61 - Regarding the ballistics. We're going to go extensively into a ballistics analysis within the film, so we won't share all of our information here. This is a worthy discussion because Gerard Sullivan has asserted here, at page 61, that all 8 of the DeFeo bullets "...had twelve channels that turned slightly to the right" which he attributes as the conclusion of ballistics Det/Sgt. Alfred DellaPenna.
COMMENT: This is going to be debated in the film extensively. It is strongly believed that this is not the case. One of the shells that had gone through Louise DeFeo, we believe, was possibly of a different caliber. There is a widely debated report that discusses the expended bullet, which was identified as "Item 33" on the police inventory of evidential property removed from the scene. The report is as follows, and excerpts of this report have appeared on various Internet websites through the years:
The notable passage is that Item 33 "Failed to display a sufficient quantity of identifying striae to ascertain if it had been fired in Item 82." [Note, Item 82 is the Marlin rifle] In the passage below it, DellaPenna states conclusively, however, that the rest of the bullets "had been fired in the submitted Marlin .35 caliber rifle..."
Those who refuse to accept any suggestion of an accomplice or second gun cling tight to the paragraph just below this passage wherein it is stated "All the expended bullets and "jackets" displayed rifling impressions indicating (emphasis added by us) that they had been fired in a Marlin Firearms Co. .35 caliber rifle." Those who contend that there was not a second caliber of gun used claim that the bullet was so badly damaged and fragmented that it was not possible to obtain a clean "striae" off the bullet fragment which is why it doesn't show the exact rifling impressions. This is stated despite the fact that no where does it specifically state in any official report that the inconsistent or lack of "sufficient quantity of identifying striae" is the result of too much damage. The claim is pure supposition on the part of the armchair detectives out there.
Lastly, and most importantly, the report we've referenced herein is but ONE document of a FEW documents that deals with ballistics. Some of those, before this project, I believe have never seen the light of day. These documents will be seen in Shattered Hopes. They demonstrate, clearly, that the "odd duck" in terms of bullets IS, factually, Item 33. The markings are different; the width of the bullet is different among other factors and the expended fragment is one of the heavier fragments removed from any of the victims.
In High Hopes Gerard Sullivan pawns off the idea that all 12 bullets were conclusively the "same" in their striae. Obviously, Sullivan knew this was not so cut-and-dried, but he skirted the issue instead of going into a comprehensive ballistics discussion. Such a discussion was a slippery slope for Sullivan whereupon he would have to address the possibility of another firearm being used in the commission of the crime. Obviously, this was not something Sullivan was willing to discuss.
HIGH HOPES: P.61: - "A thirteen year police veteran, Jack Shirvell had been a structural draftsman before he became an officer, and the department took advantage of his expertise. Shirvell was assigned to diagram the rooms at 112 Ocean Avenue, and he went through the house taking measurements and photographs. As other officers left after midnight, he continued to work on the diagrams. It was almost 2:30 a.m. when he went through the rooms for the last time to make sure no police equipment had been left behind. Checking over Ronnie's room, Shirvell spotted two tall cardboard boxes on the northwest wall along the chimney. The boxes had been overlooked in prior searches. What caught Shirvell's attention were the labels. Both boxes had contained Marlin rifles; a .22 and a .35."
COMMENT: We can only lightly touch upon this herein. Shattered promises a formal and extensive explanation of how this is factually not correct. These boxes were discovered by SCPD well before Jack Shirvell allegedly discovered them at 2:30 a.m.. The producers of this film feel that it is doubtful that these boxes were transported by Shirvell despite the fact the "official" version of the story states that they were.
One reason that Shattered producers are doubtful of this conclusion lies in a statement made by Det. Gerard Gozaloff in an interview with Shattered. Gozaloff, providing many details about how the crime scene was processed, specifically with regards to the spent bullets from the victims...see the clip below....
With this, even before ballistics Det/Sgt. Alfred DellaPenna had had a chance to examine the bullets or make a microscopic analysis of the striae, a conclusion as to the caliber had been reached visually.
Why is this important? Because it means that the detectives KNEW within a few hours of arrival at the scene as to the type of weapon they were dealing with. This is very significant when paired to documentation that is revealed in Shattered that calls Shirvell's veracity into question with regards to the discovery the boxes.
Records uncovered by our production PROVE that the homicide detectives knew about the rifle boxes at around 9:40 p.m. on November 13, 1974. Gerard Sullivan, in High Hopes asserted that it was 2:30 a.m. on November 14 when he discovered the boxes. It was allegedly, after this time that the detectives began to consider DeFeo a possible suspect. Up to this point, maintains High Hopes, the cops were simply keeping Butch in protective custody. However, if the boxes were discovered in Butch DeFeo's room approximately FIVE HOURS before they actually made it into the precinct with Det. Shirvell (as goes the "official" version), then one has to question the version of events set forth in Sullivan's book as to the overall interrogation. If the cops knew a .35 had been used while they were still processing the crime scene, based upon the statement made by Det. Gozaloff, it would stand to reason that when the boxes were discovered in Butch's room, there became an obvious connection between Butch and what was possibly the death weapon. We assert that the beating of Butch DeFeo likely began after 9:40 p.m., which is likely when the focus of the investigation shifted to him. Sullivan perpetuated an "official" version of the interrogation, in concert with the Suffolk Police to cover up Butch's claims of brutality. In the years since, there has been significant exposure of SCPD's "interrogation" techniques. Once again, Sullivan's book serves as a revisionist history, and this element of the story will be thoroughly dissected in our film.
NOTE: In conclusion of this installment, High Hopes is approximately 20+ chapters in length. In the weeks to follow, more installments will be added as we continue to put Gerard Sullivan's "authoritative" volume on the DeFeo murders under the microscope. Stay tuned...
The True Story of the Amityville Murders
ALL CONTENT ON THIS WEBSITE COPYRIGHT 2011 BY RYAN KATZENBACH & KATCO MEDIA; ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
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