Bricks discovered in the bottom of the Amityville Canal during the search for a pistol believed to be connected to the DeFeo crime.
PSYCHIC ASSISTANCE ON THE CANAL

BY RYAN KATZENBACH • I'm not a big believer in the supernatural. I don't freak when a black cat crosses my path. I've broke my share of mirrors, with minimal change, good or bad, to my "luck," and I do, on occasion, walk under ladders with careless disregard. I am not a believer in Ouija boards, tarot cards, or psychics.

Having said this, it should be no surprise that I don't believe that the infamous Amityville Horror house was ever haunted by anything other than the overactive imagination of George Lutz and Jay Anson---a fire fanned by a publisher who ultimately wanted to sell books.

For those of you who have read Seth Porges article "Return To Amityville" in the May 2012 issue of Maxim, you might find my above statement a bit peculiar wherein Seth penned "When it came time to look for the weapon [the pistol recovered from the Amityville canal by our team in January], Katzenbach consulted with two different psychics. According to Katzenbach, both said that a gun was in the canal."

I felt that this could use a little clarification. It is, indeed, true that I did "consult" with two different psychics over the course of several conversations. But, to expound upon this beyond those space confines that Seth had when he scribed his article, I must note that BOTH of them are personal friends. As producers, we certainly didn't go out seeking a for-payola psychic and dole out cash for what we wanted to hear. Nonetheless, the story, I felt, might be interesting to our fans as to how it became a sort of "ancillary" avenue of research which I initially took with a grain of salt.

Intuitive Numero-Uno......my pal for the past few years Alexandra Holzer. Alex appears in our film, in the third installment, to talk about her father's research into the Amityville case. Alexandra is the daughter of pioneer-ghost-hunting-guru Hans Holzer. Hans investigated the Amityville case in 1977 with medium Ethel Johnson-Meyers and concluded that the Ocean Avenue property was plagued with the menacing spirit of a dead Indian chief who was rife with ferocity that people had the audacity to build houses on HIS land and disturb his gravesite. While, again, I am not a huge believer in psychics, I do believe that Hans Holzer believed in his research and did a great deal of historical background on Amityville. He was also the first author to really spend time with Ronnie DeFeo Jr., interviewing him extensively right after being incarcerated for the slaughter of his family. Coincidentally, Hans, on audiotape before his passing, also acknowledged that he met Geraldine Gates, the former wife of DeFeo, during the 1970's.

Dr. Holzer and daughter Alexandra. (Photo courtesy Alexandra Holzer; All Rights Reserved)

While Alex and I met in her living room for a formal interview for the film, it didn't take long before we became pals. I met her husband, her kids....her dogs....and I must say, all are delightful people.....and, uhm, well, dogs. As the friendship grew more comfortable, Alex would often tell me things via our often insanely funny email and phone conversations.....intuitive signals that she picked up...and, as I said, not being a believer, I was skeptical but her reads were nonetheless entertaining. However, there came one conversation wherein Alexandra relayed to me certain details about a relationship I had with someone that NO ONE, excepting maybe some of my closest friends in California, actually knew about. I was somewhat dumbfounded when she brought this individual up and described her in detail. Alex, I must state, would have no way of knowing this...I had told only a couple of people.

Dr. Hans Holzer poses for a portrait in front of 112 Ocean Avenue. (Photo courtesy Alexandra Holzer; All rights reserved.)

Intuitive Numero Dos: Lonni Roberts. Lonni and I go back to when I was an art student in her school at the age of 11....maybe 12. She put up with me in these years when my ADHD was at its often-caffeine-driven peak. Lonni resides in Ohio, and despite the years and distance between us, she and I, as friends, are as close as ever. I say, "close as ever" excluding one factor: Amityville, and most things associated with my professional life other than the passing mention of this project or that. This facet of my life is not something we've talked about in great detail or with any length. Lonni is aware that I am producing a documentary on the Amityville subject, but, frankly, I think her interest stops right around this topical level. Like Alex, Lonni often tells me things that also shock me. One particular memory stands out. Several years ago, my brother, in his late 20's, is buying his first house and she says, out of the blue to me, "your brother is worried about money, I'm not sure why....but tell him it will all work out just fine and he's making very good decisions." Lonni and I had never talked about my brother, and, at that moment, she had no idea that he was FACTUALLY buying a house. And she also did not know that he and I had had a conversation regarding money but a day or two before.

Lonni often delves into REAL DETAIL when she has something she wants me to know. This is beyond the crap that the sidewalk psychics will tell you: "you lost someone close to you in your past," or "you have a relative who has the letter "B" in their name." What has always impressed me is that she is also very reserved out of respect for the fact that she knows I don't necessarily believe in this stuff. I get the impression that Lonni would only repeat something to me if she thought it was something I absolutely needed to know, or, frankly, if I just asked her for her advice.

So, having set the scene and introduced the players....here's what went down with regards the "psychic guidance" I received as it pertains to Amityville. I have to admit, when I started, I engaged Alexandra and Lonni for my own personal amusement, of sorts.

In a phone conversation with Alexandra I say "hey, Alex, I got a picture I want you to look at."

"What kind of picture?" Alexandra replies.

"It's just a picture, I'm not going to tell you what it is, I just want you to look at it and tell me the first thing that comes to mind."

What follows: I email Alexandra a picture of the water off the Coles Avenue bulkhead in Amityville. This was a totally non-descript photo showing NO location markings. It was simply water....some colonial houses on the opposite side of the canal.

Now, sure, Alexandra is familiar, obviously, with the Amityville case, so some will likely disqualify what comes next based on her predisposal to the case. BUT, I must note, Alex and I have never talked about my belief that a gun in the canal. In all candor, at this point in early 2011, I still was not certain as to my own beliefs and whether or not my research was leading me in the right direction. I was sort of "testing" my own faith in my research by even asking Alexandra, the intuitive for a read of the photo.

Almost immediately, Alexandra comes up on my instant messenger. "There's a gun in the water,” reads her only words. The sentence was simple, matter-of-fact.

Stunned at her immediate, adamant reply, I type "really? What kind of gun?"

Alex replies that she is not sure....big....small....long....short....she can't see it in great detail, BUT, "there is a gun out there in the water," she assures, and then adds: "it could even be a plastic toy gun for all I know, but I am definitely seeing something."

After a few more lines of conversation, we leave it at that and I never break into conversation as to specifically what I am, or am not, pursuing. I maintained a tight lip just in case I had to go back to Alexandra with follow-up questions.

Lonni is a little different story. I hadn't even really thought of Lonni until she and I were talking on the phone one evening, and it suddenly hit me. I asked her if she was interested in taking a look at a picture, and she says, enthusiastically, "sure!"

When I sent Lonni the picture, we were still on the phone, and while on the phone, she opens the same picture I sent to Alex. There is but a brief pause and Lonni, without delay says, "there's a gun in the water."

Now, like Alexandra Holzer, Lonni can't tell me much about the gun.

"I can't tell what it is....it could be a handgun....it could be a rifle....I can't tell, but there is a gun in the water."

Lonni grows silent....there is stammering on the other end as she studies the picture and clamors over her own words as she seems to be getting some sort of "signal" that seems to be rushing at her faster than she can articulate.

"Brick, brick...brick.....red brick," Lonni says.

"Okay.....red brick....you mean, like building brick?"

"Yeah.....what is near the water that is made out of brick? Is there a house or something?"

With this, I have pulled up my iPhoto library on the Mac. In all honesty, I didn't know what was there that might be made of brick, but off the top of my head, nothing stood out from memory. But every visit to the canal, thus far, had been focused on the canal and not necessarily the surroundings, and certainly not the finite details like this.

I start scanning through photos that I had shot in all directions of Coles Avenue. After perusing like 20 pictures, I tell her "based on what I can see there is nothing made of brick surrounding this place, Lonni." The neighboring structures --- a house to the left of the bulkhead, and a right bordering boathouse --- were your classic wood-frame structures. Across the canal -- more Colonial homes -- and nothing that stood out as being brick. Based on my recollections, and the pictures, I tell Lonni that there is nothing made of brick.

Lonni is adamant. "Red brick....there are red bricks. They might be on the bottom....but there are bricks. I am getting bricks."

"Bottom, you mean the canal bottom?" I ask.

"Yeah..." she replies, and it seems like she is off in distant thought as if trying, herself, to figure out where this signal is coming from.

At this point, I am somewhat disengaged from this conversation, I must admit. There is nothing....not even the foundation of a boat house in any of the pictures that are made of brick.

"What's the bulkhead made out of," Lonni asks.

"Concrete as best I can tell," I reply. She seems stumped, unable to offer further explanation as to what she is seeing which must have been frustrating for her. After all, she's talking to a non-believer and I am telling her that there is nothing present to support her vision.

Lonni then asks me: "is there something in the water, like a man made structure or something?"

Now, in the picture that I sent to Lonni, the POV was one from the bulkhead that stared straight ahead and in a somewhat southeasterly direction. Thus, Lonni would have no way of knowing that, to the right of our POV, there was a dark, aging wood piling sticking out of the water.

Testing her, I said, "like, what kind of structure?"

"Like a pier, or an old dock, or something along those lines?" Lonni hesitantly asked.

Close enough for me. "Well, Lonni, there is a piling that is sticking out of the water, just a lone piling....does it mean something?"

"I don't know," she replies, "but I see it, and I am not sure if the gun is in the proximity of the piling or what, but I get the general feeling that you're not going to find it too far from this piling....it's in that direction...and it's not going to the extreme opposite direction," she says, which I take to read north of this general area in the picture.

And this raised yet another question.

"How far out?"

"Not far, I don't believe," she replies. "I don't think whomever threw the gun got a great distance....and I am going to guess right around thirty feet or so."

Alexandra Holzer would later agree that, she too, didn't feel like subject that had tossed the gun got a great distance. And, in quizzing Alex about the proximity, she too felt that the angle was "straight" off the bulkhead.'

• THE FIRST EXPEDITION

Friday, July, 22, 2011. The hottest, stickiest day of that Long Island summer. The heat index placed the temperature somewhere around 110. It was stifling, at best, and completely unlike our California summers wherein the heat is hot, indeed, but far more arid and dry versus the typical humidity of New York. Within an hour of arriving at the Coles Avenue bulkhead, I was already sunburnt and my red-glow would increase as the day would unfold.

On this day, July 22, 2011, the electromagnetic survey of the canal was to begin, and recovery diver and Dive Team Leader Bill Pfeiffer and I had spent months preparing for this day. Since Shattered Producer Gail Bleckman had made her initial contact with Pfeiffer in March 2011, Pfeiffer and I had been in direct communication discussing the logistics throughout the planning stages. Pfeiffer, a search and rescue diver with over 30 years of experience, had advocated the hiring of AquaSurvey, Inc., because, simply put, they are the best at what they do----locating buried items underwater. ASI would map the metallic targets of the canal floor and provide us with targets that would, potentially, match the metallic qualities of a handgun assuming it was in the canal. Pfeiffer and I had met in the first few days of May 2011 at the canal to survey the scene. The following month, Pfeiffer put his team of volunteer divers in the water to do an initial survey of the canal floor conditions. All of this had been in preparation for AquaSurvey's arrival in July, on this day.

I touched bases with Pfeiffer on the morning of July 21 as soon as my red-eye from California touched down. Things on the California side had become screwed up and I missed my flight. The airline rerouted me to New York on a flight that actually arrived earlier than my original flight. Despite this, my ground transportation from John F. Kennedy International had been yet another debacle and I was now, an hour late, catching the Long Island Rail Road train to Amityville, and on top of it, there are two trains (and likely more) that traverse Long Island on an easterly course. One of the trains stops at the Amityville station, the other does not and goes right by the village. Just my luck, when I arrived at the Jamaica platform, of course, I had just missed the Amityville train and would have to wait another hour for the next one.

In the course of this, Maxim was already arriving on the scene, I would learn via telly. "Well, screw it," I said to myself, and I hopped the next easterly Babylon bound train. The conductor frowns when he looks at my ticket a few minutes out of NYC and opens his mouth when I then, in unison, say his very words: "this train doesn't go to Amityville." He smirks. "I know, I've done this before....I'll take it short of Amityville into Massapequa Park and cab it from there."

Now, as I spoke to Pfeiffer during the 40-minute commute, fortunately, things on his end weren't going any smoother, which, as I commented to him, is par for the course when you're making a film. Nothing ever happens on time.

L-R, Victoria and Roxanne Kaplan at the survey of the canal, July 20, 2011. (Copyright 2011, Ryan Katzenbach; All Rights Reserved)

Arriving in Amityville an hour or so later, I was met with a three-ring circus at the Coles Avenue Bulkhead just down the street from the infamous Amityville Horror house. Documentary interviewee Roxanne Kaplan, and her daughter, Victoria,were there as guests of mine who wanted to come watch the operation; Pfeiffer's full team was there; the Maxim magazine crew, including Senior Editor Seth Porges and two of his camera guys, Zach and Ambrose, were there; ASI's team was present. Maureen and Stephen Langevin, the underwater cinematographers were there as was my videographer John Collins. I'd be manning one camera today, but I had the Langevin's as my underwater crew and John, like myself, would be topside to make sure we never missed a moment. A little while later, Kenny Hayes, the owner of AquaSurvey would show up. All of this was happening just as the EM sleds were being deployed into the water and the canal survey was finally getting underway.

Captain Maureen Langevin follows the activity with her underwater high definition camera unit. (Copyright 2011, Ryan Katzenbach, All Rights Reserved)

It must be noted that, under the original plan, the survey would be completed on this Friday by the end of the business day. It would be a simple process of towing the sled over the target area --- an area approaching, roughly, 7,500 - 8,000 square feet. However, as fate would have it, there would be complications later in the day that would cut the survey short and, thus, it wouldn't get finished for another week or two and I would be unable to return for the wrap of the survey. Late in the afternoon, with approximately 70-80% of the canal floor logged, Mark Padover, of AquaSurvey suddenly lost signal from their military-grade GPS system. The system went completely down. Electromagnetic signal remained strong, however. Upon a quick check, it was discovered that something, obviously very sharp, on the canal floor, had physically cut through the heavy, thick insulated GPS cable connected to the EM sled. Without GPS, it didn't matter what the EM system was seeing, we had no ability to log the location into the computer. Hence, we were done. But, before this happened, late in the day, we had had an otherwise productive day.

The EM sleds had presented some brief trouble because they, initially, wanted to sink deep into the silt of the canal floor as the boat was towing them. Bill Pfeiffer devised a series of inflatable floats that he tied to the sled rectified the problem rather innovatively. They would provide just enough lift that the sled would stay planted on the bottom, but in a "hovering" sort of fashion.

With no time to waste, I shot some preliminary video of my own, and began a series of still pictures with my Nikon. Throughout the morning, Seth would grab me and we'd do a series of interviews, talking about all facets of the Amityville case, and in particular, what led me to the canal and conclusions that there might be a gun. I had stepped away, with Seth and his crew for a few moments sometime around the noon-hour and we had been gone 20....30 minutes tops.

Interviewed by Maxim Magazine's Senior Editor Seth Porges. (Courtesy Ken Hayes, AquaSurvey Inc., All Rights Reserved)

I came back to the bulkhead and Bill Pfeiffer is grinning from ear to ear. I had, prior to this, told Bill of the "psychic guidance" I had received and I had told him that we were looking for bricks on the canal floor. Bill, not believing in this hocus pocus, chuckled....made some dismissive comment, and went about his business. But now, Bill says something to me along the lines of "check it out, we got your bricks."

"What?" I reply, rather dumbfounded. Bill points.

Lying on bulkhead, TWO WET RED BRICKS. The word "Nassau" was embossed into the face of one of the bricks, and at first glance, the first thing that came to my mind was that these reminded me of the bricks that were used, hundreds of years ago, in the streets of most American cities. I was stunned to see these, and then I smirked. I turned to Bill Pfeiffer. "You aaaassssshole," I quipped to Pfeiffer.

The infamous Nassau Bricks. (Copyright 2011, Ryan Katzenbach, All Rights Reserved)

Pfeiffer gets this serious look on his face and throws back an incredulous "WHAT!?"

"You went and got some bricks and threw them in the canal just to tease me about the psychic," I grinned widely, waiting for him to cave and give up his joke with a big smile and a facial expression that proclaimed, "you got me!"

Instead, Pfeiffer's serious facial expression clicked up a notch. "Dude, I am dead serious, they found those on the bottom.....we didn't put them there!" Pfeiffer was serious.

Now, I was really shocked as Seth Porges interjects "what's the significance of the bricks."

"Who found the bricks!?" Bill Pfeiffer yells into the water to all the divers milling about.

Maureen Langevin immediately spoke up. "I did....they were right here on the bottom," she says. I can't remember exactly what she said after that, but the gist was that while she was holding her camera and stirring in the very shallow water next to the bulkhead while waiting for the next actions of the dive team, she had managed to step on them in the mud. Upon digging, she discovered that they were bricks and brought them out of the water and tossed them on the edge of the bulkhead.

"Are you shitting me?" I asked Maureen, "just like that, they were right there by the bulkhead?"

"Yeah," Maureen replies, "they were within inches of the bulkhead."

At the same time, I am telling Seth about what Lonni and Alex had told me, and explained that Lonni had said that there would be bricks present. With that, Seth motions Zach Goldstein, his camera guy, to turn on the camera as he tells me "I want you to tell the story on camera for our segment." I felt rather silly talking about speaking with a "psychic" about this, but, at the same time, there were bricks where it didn't make a great deal of sense that there would be.

Later that night, I finally had a chance to call Lonni at home. "We found something interesting," I tell her.

"You didn't find the gun did you?" she asks.

"No, we didn't find the gun, but then we weren't expecting to today....but I did find red bricks."

There was a stunned silence for a second on the other end of the line. "You did? They were there?"

What stumped her was that they were so close to the bulkhead. As she explained, she saw them a bit further out.

"They look old," I told her, "and by that I mean they don't look they came off the shelf at Home Depot yesterday. But, of course, we have no way of knowing how old they are or how long they have been in the canal."

This led to the discussion of WHY she picked up on their presence. "What do you think it means," I asked, "why could you see these?"

While there is no definite answer to this question, our speculation was that, perhaps, in some way, the bricks "marked the spot." Assuming the pistol that we later recovered, in January 2012, was connected to the DeFeo crime, she believed that perhaps the individual who threw it there may have been standing in relatively close proximity to where the bricks laid underwater when the pistol was tossed in the canal. In short, the bricks seemed to "record" a negative energy associated with the gun and the crime. It all sounds a little voodoo to me, personally, but the one thing we couldn't deny was, regardless, we had two bricks that she had said would be there.

While Alexandra and Lonni had been correct in their assertions that a gun was in the water, they had missed the distance that they felt it would be found within. Both agreed that it was a fairly short distance. The most surprising reality, however, was that whomever threw the pistol managed to get it clear to the our parameter of our search area -- approximately 75'. While off of their distance, they were correct about the direction -- straight off the canal in a somewhat southeasterly course.

The bricks came home to California with me, and today one of them still adorns the credenza in the office I maintain at home. (Within the picture of me in the print edition of Maxim, you can actually see the brick.) I am still humored and smile every time I catch a glimpse of it. The second brick was sent to Lonni in Ohio. I felt that it was as much her discovery as it was ours, and I know she has kept the brick in a special place, too.

One evening, after glancing at the brick, I began to wonder if there was any information available online that could shed light as to the origin of my Nassau clay-fired friend. As it would turn out, there are actually discussion forms for bricks by various brick collectors. And, just as interesting, there are entries for "Nassau" bricks. Apparently, the bricks we retrieved from the Amityville Canal at Coles Avenue were made by the Nassau Brick Company in Farmingdale, New York. The company was started as the Post Brick Company in 1865, because Nassau Brick in 1936, and eventually went out of business in 1981.

Do these dates mean anything? Well....yes, and no. They do confirm that, indeed, these bricks were not new, and at a minimum, they are three decades old. But, they could also be a hundred years old. They could have, indeed, been there at the time that this pistol was chucked from the bulkhead into the cold, dark waters of the Amityville Canal in November 1974. The only real certainty we'll ever have is that we'll never know.

While I continue to remain a skeptic of psychics and the supernatural, I will note that several months after the discovery of the first bricks, there was but another compelling development.

While making another series of dives in the late fall of 2011 and excavating potential targets, there were at least two more bricks discovered in the canal. Each of these two bricks were out FURTHER in the canal. They weren't in immediate proximity to where the pistol was eventually discovered, but they were definitely in the ballpark. When the diver broached the surface with the bricks, I just shook my head and grinned yet again. These particular bricks were tossed back to the canal floor after their discovery. After all, one needs but only so many souvenir bricks.

Again -- does this mean anything? Maybe, maybe not. But as a final note -- on the dive where we found these two latest bricks, we also came within inches of finding the pistol on that dive as would later be revealed in January. We had been on the target spot and the metallic object we were seeking stubbornly eluded our divers and our electromagnetic detection equipment. The canal floor would hold tight to her secret treasure until January, when we discovered, just as our psychic friends said, "there is a gun in the water."

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The True Story of the Amityville Murders

 

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