Thursday, February 11, 2010

Reflections on Amityville Part 2--Psychopathology

Well, we had the promised blizzard yesterday. I've put my back out shoveling a foot of wet, heavy snow. They closed my office again today, and I already had Friday off, so my weekend has begun early. I also got some good news today--John Foxx is doing a "30th anniversary of Metamatic" show in London in June, and I bought my ticket this morning. A nice start to a long weekend, shoveling casualties notwithstanding.

Today I want to finish up my remarks on the Amityville case, and take a break from the "paranormal" topics for a bit. One of the specials aired by Biography Channel this past weekend was a recent interview with Ronald DeFeo Jr., the man convicted of murdering his entire family in the Amityville house, before the Lutz's "horror" began. DeFeo was 55 years old in this interview, which would place it around 2006 or 2007--he was 23 when he was convicted of the murders.

DeFeo was interviewed by a forensic psychiatrist. I saw an earlier "City Confidential" episode on the DeFeo case, and Ronnie was clearly a troubled child. He was shooting heroin, and in constant trouble with the law. He dropped out of high school, and had difficulty keeping a job. He ended up working in his father's car dealership in Brooklyn, and his father gave him money and cars to support his lifestyle. Lest one think his bad behavior started in Amityville, there was an account from at least one Brooklyn schoolmate who said he was a bully--everyone was afraid of him. To be fair to DeFeo, he had an excessively dysfunctional family life. One woman gave an account of how his father smacked his son's head against a folding chair when he was crying at one and a half years of age. Abuse was common in the DeFeo household; there was an account of Ronald DeFeo Sr. punching his wife in the face as she came up the stairs with the laundry, sending her tumbling down the stairs. He then closed the door and walked away as if it were nothing. On another occasion, Ronnie dropped his napkin at the dinner table, and bent down to pick it up. When he sat up again, his father asked why he left the table. Ronnie said he hadn't, he'd just bent down to pick up his napkin. His father then grabbed him and beat the hell out of him for several minutes until he was bleeding, and then sat down at the table and ate again like nothing had happened. This was par for the course in the household, and it was known that the two older children, Ronnie and Dawn, hated their father enough to want to kill him.

DeFeo has now changed his story in prison, claiming he'd made up his mind to kill his father after he broke a pool stick over his head on the 4th of November 1974, but said he never meant to kill his whole family. He also claims his sister Dawn killed their two younger siblings, not himself, and that he hadn't really meant to kill his parents at that time--just to scare them. He supposedly killed Dawn after a struggle ensuing when he found their younger siblings dead. Psychiatrists and judges don't buy this new version of the murders; it seems more like a way of reasoning himself out of killing his younger siblings, who he apparently cared about on some level.

The forensic psychiatrist that interviewed DeFeo gave him a diagnosis of Anti-Social Personality Disorder. He probably didn't go so far as to label DeFeo a sociopath because of his violently abusive upbringing. DeFeo has no remorse about the killings, calling them "self-defense", and his manner of speaking suggests that he is a master manipulator. Again, because of his upbringing, it's not difficult to understand how he ended up developing that as a survival tactic. However, he doesn't seem to be entirely without conscience, which would be the case if he were a sociopath. But, he's still one of those people better off in jail, because he doesn't know how to appropriately deal with life on the outside, even if that isn't entirely his fault. He's still responsible for what happened.

One of the supposed stories that went around was that DeFeo was home the night of the murders, watching a show on TV, when suddenly a pair of black hands appeared and handed him the rifle he used to kill the family, and the idea came to him to do so at that moment. I don't really buy that story; it seems more like a fabrication of William Weber's to try to say his client wasn't responsible for his actions, and trying to piggyback on the Lutz's strange events. Indeed, Ronnie never even mentions the idea of a "force" in the house until 1979, well after the events, and around the time the first Amityville movie came out. He hated his father, wanted to kill him, and ended up killing everyone, whether that was his original intention or not. And there was nothing "demonic" about it, except that he was overtaken by his own inner demons (and there were clearly many of them) at that moment. Clearly there was already a motive and an explosive environment for those murders to occur; introducing the paranormal into the equation is unlikely and unnecessary.

So, enough talk of murder--tonight is Mahashivaratri, and though I won't be going to the temple for abhishekam, I will be visiting a friend for puja, and staying up all night as is customary. Om Namah Shivaya.

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