Tag Archives: supernatural

From the Halloween Files:The Amityville Horror

 

It is that time of year when supernatural tales abound. Most are fiction but sometimes stories come along that purport to be true. A very long time ago while in a bookstore I came across a book called The Amityville Horror by Jan Anson. Being into things supernatural back then, I bought and read it eagerly of the tale of people living in a house being tormented by demons. It scared me and the original movie had its scary moments as well. At the time the book came out, there were some who said the story was not true but they were barely heard at the time. The book claimed many things occurred and even witnesses to them. Yet when patient investigators began following up on the sensational claims, things just did not add up. And later it would be learned that a defense attorney worked to create the story so that his client, who killed his family in that home, be judged insane.

The story begins on 13 Nov 1974 when Ronald DeFeo, Jr. killed his parents, brothers, and sisters by shooting them in the beds they slept in. It was a horrific crime and DeFeo was arrested, tried, and convicted of the murders. The defense claimed insanity stating he had heard voices telling him to kill his family. A prosecution witness countered that he suffered an antisocial personality disorder making him sane at the time the murders were committed. The jury found him guilty of six counts of second degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison in 1975. That normally would end the story, except for the usual appeals by defense counsel.

In 1977 the book The Amityville Horror was released (to become a 1979 movie of the same name). It told the tale of the Lutz family that lived in the DeFeo house for 28 days between December 1975 and January 1976. The family consisted of George and Kathy Lutz with their three children. The book related tales of poltergeist and demonic activity that would drive the Lutz family out of the house. Doors opened and closed on their own, mysterious voices and hooded figures, green slime appearing on walls, mysterious stenches and insect infestation, supernatural attacks on George and Kathy Lutz, and even demonic possession, and a priest driven from the house.  And there were even demon footprints in the snow.

The problem was that many things they either saw, heard, felt or smelled had no independent witnesses. And the physical damage (doors, hinges, windows etc)claimed were not found when the building was inspected. Many other details when more closely looked into proved to be dubious, questionable or false. Joe Nickell notes that at no time while the Lutzes lived in the house they never called the police (both the book and original film said this happened but official records have no record of any calls from the Lutzes). The so-called snow demon footprints could not have happened as there was no snowfall during the time in question.

So then the next question is why they would make up such a story. To make money from a sensational story? That is certainly plausible but there appears another motive as well. William Weber, who was the defense lawyer for Ronald DeFeo Jr., said in People magazine (17 September 1979) that “We created this horror story over many bottles of wine.” It would be a win-win for both. The Lutzes would have a sensational story they could market (which they did) and Weber would be able to use it on DeFeo’s appeal and get a new trial.

What they did not count on, it seems, were people who began to look seriously at the claims and start exposing the fabrication. The Lutzes never fully retracted their claims though had to pull back on some of them. Lawsuits began to fly as well between the Lutzes, Weber and other parties in 1977 claiming invasion of privacy, defamation, and sought damages of $4.5 million. Weber countersued claiming breach of contract. The underlying issue was whether the book was true or not. The Lutzes argued that it was. U.S. Federal District Jack B. Weinstein heard the case. He dismissed the corporate defendants for lack of proof. In September 1977 he would dismiss their claims entirely concluding that “Based on what I have heard, it appears to me that to a large extent the book is a work of fiction, relying in a large part upon the suggestions of Mr. Weber.” He also questioned the ethics of defense attorney Weber and recommended an investigation by the New York State Bar Association.

A 2005 remake of the 1979 movie brought a lawsuit from George Lutz against the film company, producers and directors in 2005 alleging defamation and breach of contract. However the judge dismissed his claim saying that the film was a work of fiction protected by the First Amendment and that Lutz had signed a release agreement many years ago giving them the right to use the story and agreeing not to sue for defamation. His other claims of being denied profits from the original movie went forward but was apparently settled before he died in May 2006.

The Story Today

While the Lutzes story has been largely debunked, some in the paranormal community (psychics, clairvoyants, and others)continue to say the house has an evil presence. This despite the fact no one else who has lived in the house since then has reported anything unusual. In fact, to protect the homeowners its address was changed and was  extensively remodeled so it looks nothing like it did in 1975 when the Lutzes moved in.

Father Ralph Pecararo was the Catholic priest involved in the story. He initially stated that his only involvement as what was going on was a telephone call. Nor was his relationship close to them either. He would curiously alter his testimony when he testified (by phone) and said he did go to the house and heard the word’s “Get Out!” but ascribed no meaning to them (meaning no supernatural element). He would later give an account in 1979 to the television show In Search Of which seemed to back up the original book account of what happened. However the discrepancy between his original statement and later statements cannot be resolved. The contradiction has caused many to believe he became part of the hoax. The official position of the local diocese however is(as detailed in 2002 letter to Ric Osuna):

The Diocese maintains that the story was a false report. In November of 1977, Diocesan attorneys prepared a substantial list, to be submitted to the publisher [of The Amityville Horror], of numerous inaccuracies, factually incorrect references and untrue statements regarding events, persons and occurrences that never happened.

Since Father Pecararo has passed away, we will likely never know why his testimony changed. His superiors in the church, who asked him to detail what happened, have not altered their position since 1977 on the matter. And they were in the best position to ask the obvious questions that arose later when he changed his statements that more closely followed the book sequence of events.

Finally Ronald DeFeo Jr. did try various appeals; none of them worked and at last check was still serving out six life sentences.

The real evil was not supernatural but Ronald DeFeo Jr who killed his family while they slept in their beds.

Sources
1. Books
Kaplan, Stephen and Roxanne Kaplan. The Amityville Horror Conspiracy. Laceyville, PA: Toad Hall Inc., 1995. ISBN 0-963-74980-3.
Nickell, Joe. Entities: Angels, Spirits, Demons, and Other Alien Beings. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1995. ISBN 0-879-75961-5.

2. Articles
Moran, Rick and Peter Jordan. “The Amityville Horror Hoax.” (Fate magazine,May 1978)
Moran, Rick. “Amityville Revisited.”(Fortean Times, January 2005)
Nickell, Joe. “Amityville: The Horror of It All.”(Skeptical Inquirer,January 2003.)

3. Websites
Ronald DeFeo,Jr. (Biography)
Ronald DeFeo,Jr.(Wikipedia)
The Amityville Horror (Snopes.com)
The Amityville Horror: A Scam Debunked(Decodedpast.com)
The Amityville Murders (Ric Osuna’s site)
The Amityville Horror (Wikipedia)

Premier Exhibitions Will Have Haunted Ghost Tours at Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition in Las Vegas

Every year when the calendar turns to autumn, I always look for the
first Titanic themed Halloween story. Sometimes it is stories of ghosts at Titanic exhibits or other such things. Well Premier Exhibitions has decided to capitalize on this interest by offering their own Haunted Ghost Tours at the Luxor Hotel exhibition in Las Vegas this Halloween season. According to the press release:

One of the most interesting spirit stories told is the “Lady in Black”
who is often seen on the Grand Staircase crying for her famous friend, Margaret Brown. Visitors will also get the chance to feel the presence of Frederick Fleet, Titanic’s look-out on the ill-fated night, who watches over the Exhibition’s Promenade Deck as he attempts to make up for his unfortunate late sighting of the iceberg. Additionally, guests will learn about the passenger who prophesied the sinking of the Ship of Dreams by writing to a friend just a few days before perishing in the North Atlantic, “Right now I wish the ‘Titanic’ were lying at the bottom of the ocean.

These special tours are only on Saturday nights at 8pm in October. I am surprised they will not have a special midnight tour on Halloween itself since it will be a Saturday (they will have the 8pm one though). Perhaps those ghost hunter guys will show up with those gizmos that detect ghosts to add an air of authority and perhaps a special on the History Channel (real Ghosts of Titanic!). Or just send in that poor sidekick from Muppet Labs. The last time he visited a haunted house, it was quite memorable.

Source: Experience R.M.S. Titanic’s Haunted Legacy this October with Haunted Ghost Tours at Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition (Press
release-Premiere Exhibitions, 21 Sep 2015)

The Ghosts of YouTube

Halloween season is a good time to check out the ghosts of YouTube, which is really watching videos that claim to show supernatural activity. There are a lot of these videos, some first person and others presented in a documentary style. Some are spooky and sometimes scary. Sometimes a ghost is seen and other times is of the poltergeist variety. Since we are limited by what is shown, and cannot verify the circumstances of the incident, one must be cautious in accepting them as truth. It is very easy to post images that look real but are not.

Consider Slender Man , a fictional character created by Eric Knudsen who posted them under the name of  Victor Surge in the Something Awful forum. It became wildly popular and fed into the Shadow Men stories that you read in ghost forums or hear on radio shows like Coast To Coast AM with George Noory. Another one I viewed appeared to have an office being ransacked by an invisible entity. Chairs were moved, file cabinets opened and closed, in basket contents tossed on floor and doors being closed. Except nothing shown could be proven as supernatural. Special effects people have been doing this stuff for years in movies and tv shows.

One of the more popular videos concerns a screaming ghost at a hotel. Our point of view are security cameras and we hear the voice of someone talking to another party about screaming sounds coming from a room no one is occupying. So a man is dispatched to check it out. We see him exit the elevator and head towards the room. Not only does he hear the screams, but we do as well. Which is odd since the security cameras have no microphones, so we must be hearing them from the man outside the room. His communication device looks like a standard hand-held device which requires you to press a button to talk. He might be pushing the button to allow us to listen but we cannot really hear what he is saying as the dispatcher is relaying what the person is saying to another party. The room is supposed to be empty and screams are coming from it. At this point you have no idea what is on the other side of the door. It could be someone depressed, in a state of inebriation, or someone high on drugs. The dispatcher advises the man to wait and call the police, which is the sensible course of action here.

For reasons unexplained, the man enters the room anyway using a flashlight. Now why did he not turn on the lights? Some speculate he could not do that as the room key activates the lights. Even if that were true, that would be reason to wait for the police to arrive. You have no idea what is in there. The reason he enters the room is obvious: there is nothing in the room nor any sounds to frighten him. If he felt threatened in any way, he would wait for police. As it turns out the room has been trashed: carpets slashed, furniture tossed, and a shower running. We see a silhouette of something that could be a ghost exit the room and turn left. A light flickers on the right but not in the corridor where the entity is moving down. It looks like someone used the room for an illegal party, something hotels and motels deal with a lot.  And why would a ghost bother to rip up a room in the first place? In the end you are left with more questions than answers and likely the film is an amateur attempt at showing a ghost (a grade d production) on film.

There is another that claims a poltergeist has scared a dog and man. The man finds one of his dogs cowering under the bed and later hears a crashing noise coming from the attic. He investigates and finds something or someone has been going through his stuff. He puts down his camera and walks around. A large can sitting on luggage topples over and he runs away leaving his camera behind. The lights go out and then we see a motion, likely a gloved hand, striking the can. Poltergeist? Not likely. Using night vision is popular too since it allows you to see things that cannot normally be seen in the dark because it amplifies light from the lower end of the spectrum. So naturally a ghost might be seen except the one I saw appeared as a black object (an image of a woman in 19th or early 20th century clothes). While everything else was amplified, the apparition appeared as a black image being superimposed on the night vision image, which made me suspect it was a fraud.

Not everything is a fraud, some purported images can be nothing more than tricks of light, dust particles, and sometimes our desire to find a ghost. In other words we see something we do not understand and think it might be ghostly. Perhaps it or is not. I have no idea whether ghosts are real or not but one must carefully examine evidence and exclude everything plausible to end up believing it was a ghost. Ghost hunters love to go to houses, cemeteries, and other places to find ghosts. And they often claim they do. Except as Paul McCaffrey notes in Skeptical Briefs*, most do not use the proper scientific method. In his study of an alleged haunted Harper’s Mansion in Australia, the team spent a lot of time examining the environmental conditions over a longer period of time than most ghost hunters do. This allowed them to have a baseline of what is normal for the house and what would stand out. They had teams check out everything, cameras to record movement, sensors to detect changes in temperature. The house was made secure so no one could enter or leave during the tests and drapes closed. They did this for four months. And while there were times that could have shown something out of the ordinary, examination of the audio and video data did not find evidence of supernatural activity. There were no unexplained disturbances on the audio or visual recordings, Unusual noise often turned out to be something outside like a car, dog, people talking, footsteps, or wood cracking.

So in the end the ghosts of YouTube can be fun and scary too watch, just remember that a lot of it is just entertainment. Especially the ones that say they are true.

*The Harper’s Mansion Ghost Study (Paul McCaffrey, Skeptical Briefs, Newsletter of the Committer For Skeptical Inquiry,Vol. 24 No. 3, Fall 2014)


Halloween Titanic: Is Titanic Attraction Haunted?

Ghost Stories
Photo: Public Domain

Pumpkins are starting to appear along with scary and sometimes funny Halloween décor. And to go along with the season we have a Titanic themed Halloween story. Now this is something we hear about regularly here at Titanic News Channel. Stories of Titanic ghosts have been around a long time. Sometimes connected to things once owned by Titanic victims, hauntings where they once lived. One person claimed that spectral voices would be heard out in the area where Titanic sank. Titanic exhibitions are also places where ghosts, possibly of Titanic victims, seem to hang out.

And one such place is Titanic:The Experience in Orlando, Florida. Using artifacts and storytellers in costume, it sets a wonderful stage for people to enjoy learning about Titanic. Now according to one news article, they are adding ghost tours in October for those wanting to find out about the supernatural aspects of the exhibit. On a few select days at 5 p.m. in October, people will be guided through the exhibit by actors who portray passengers. They will note areas where alleged supernatural events have occurred.

Jac LeDoux, floor manager and director of the exhibit, reports he has had many ghostly encounters. He does not call them spirits and does not believe they are evil or violent (good to know!). He says a little girl called Catherine haunts the attraction. A Raggedy Ann doll was even put on the shelves behind the register to amuse her by staff members. Most of the ghostly encounters occur in the grand staircase, engine room and outside deck areas of the exhibit. Kimberly Button, writing for Attractions Magazine, said there was a spooky feeling in some of the rooms though nothing was seen or heard by them. One person on the media tour did report feeling like moving on water while on the outside deck area.

Titanic: The Experience is promoting the ghost tours this way(taken from their website):

DO YOU BELIEVE IN GHOSTS?

AT TITANIC THE EXPERIENCE WE DO… COME EXPERIENCE THEM FOR YOURSELF

For the past few years staff members at Titanic The Experience have encountered some strange and unanswerable events within the Exhibition. Some say it is the spirits of passengers and crew of Titanic reaching out from “the other side,” while others speculate it’s their minds playing tricks on them.

To put the debate to rest and finally find answers to these unusual events, Titanic The Experience hosted a paranormal investigation which claimed to find conclusive evidence of paranormal activity generated by those who sailed on the legendary Ship on the evening she met her fate.

Experience these spirits and hear the stories yourself by taking a Titanic The Experience Ghost Tour on Oct. 17th, 24thand 31st at 5pm. Beware of wandering ghosts, whispers, howling winds, shadows and bizarre noises. Reservations are required as attendance is limited.

They are advertising their version of a haunted house, only that instead of manufactured scares, chills, and thrills they are offering the possibility of the real thing. Notice they do not actually promise you will see something supernatural, just that you might. They give a disclaimer of sorts by saying “some say it is the spirits of passengers and crew of Titanic reaching out from “the other side,” while others speculate it’s their minds playing tricks on them.” As for an investigation, one wonders who conducted it.They do not say but if history is any guide, it likely is one of those ghost teams armed with fancy looking devices that measure changes in temperature, fluctuations in energy nearby, infrared cameras to pick up spectral movements, and possibly digital voice recorders to pick up voices from beyond. Perhaps they were accompanied by psychic, who being sensitive to such things could tell them if their exhibit was haunted or not.

Of course some will wonder whether this is just something manufactured to draw in visitors.The article concludes with:

Guests and staff often see and hear weird occurrences during normally scheduled tours. The ghost tour is a chance, though, to learn about the staff’s long-time interactions with the spirits of passengers who sailed on the Titanic and seem to have never left.

If the goal is to learn about Titanic, I applaud the effort. But not with gimmick like this. I doubt they called up anyone like Joe Nickell* to come and examine the stories and determine if there really is any supernatural activity going on.

*Joe Nickell works with a skeptics society and often investigates paranormal claims. He has written books on his investigations and collaborated with Robert Baker on Missing Pieces: How To Investigate Ghosts, UFOs, Psychics, & Other Mysteries (Prometheus Books, 1992)

Source: Is Titanic – The Experience Actually Haunted? Ghost Tours Offer A Chance To Hear Staff Tales(15 Oct 2013,attractionsmagazine.com)

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Carnival Curse Or Just Something To Write About?

Carnival Triumph
Wikimedia Commons (Scott L.)

Years ago while on tour of a naval vessel a question was asked about whether it was rougher at sea or when docked in port. The officer cocked his head slightly and responded it was worse in port. He explained tides going in and out shift the ship and cause it to move unpredictably at times. Having been aboard craft when tides change, I learned exactly what he meant. And something like that happened to the Carnival Triumph.

While moored and undergoing repairs in Mobile, Alabama, it became adrift when near hurricane force winds and stormy waters snapped its moorings. Off it went downriver until it a cargo ship where it incurred more damage. This was the same ship that weeks ago was stranded to a major power failure requiring it be towed back. The horror stories were pretty ghastly and Carnival has refunded their money back plus some free trips in the future.

There were 600 crew members and 200 contractors aboard when it went adrift but they are okay. A guard shack was toppled into the water with two men inside. One has been rescued and the other has not been found and now presumed dead. Now the work order will be altered with fixing a 20-foot gash in the stern with two levels of broken rail. Also the power lines connected to Triumph were broken with possible damage to that system. So it means more work for the repair team.

Now some out there, either jokingly or somewhat seriously, speak of a Carnival curse. The cruise line has certainly had its share of problems from illnesses, ship handling problems, and one very serious incident where the captain got to close to rocks causing the ship to founder resulting in passenger deaths (Costa Concordia). Some of these, like with the Costa Concordia, are rare. Most ship captains are a pretty serious lot who prefer to not to take great risks that will endanger the ship or passengers. However it is a fact that things are going to go wrong. Someone comes on with an virus that has not yet done anything more than a sniffle but later spreads like an epidemic in the close quarters of a ship. Or it could be bacteria that gets into the air filtration system spreading an airborne virus. Unexpected high seas might tumble a ship around causing damage to property and people. A fire in the engineering area, perhaps electrical, knocks out the power for the entire ship. All of those things have happened to cruise ships.

There are a lot cruise ships out there, actually thousands that traverse the oceans, seas, and rivers of our planet. And most of the time, nothing eventful happens except the usual gripes and complaints that arise when you have lots of people aboard a ship. Yet when something does, we act like this is something that never happens. As if they can never happen. This is something out of whack. Complaints arise from politicians (of course), that something must be done as if this has not happened before. Even with the most sophisticated safety and shipbuilding techniques, a ship is hostage to nature and when things go bad like when an engine is knocked out of commission. It is not like the old days where you could hoist a sail and hope for the wind. You cannot do that with most cruise ships and it probably would do little good owing to its massive size.

Curses are convenient in that they answer why things happen badly. The legendary big daddy of all, the one about King Tut, is that many involved in its finding died. Yet that is not true. Some notable deaths did occur but nothing to suggest a curse was reaching out and killing everyone responsible. Howard Carter lived a long life as did others. And the curse was invented by the press and encouraged, it is believed, by Carter to keep people away. Yet people want to believe in it and connect all kinds of bad things when the mummy was on tour around the United States. Titanic has its mummy curse as well but that is also fiction. No mummy was aboard Titanic. Some people argued any president of the U.S. who was elected in a year ending in a zero, would die in office by assassination. Yet while some presidents were killed (Lincoln, McKinley, Kennedy), Reagan was not ending that notion.

What happened to Carnival is nothing mystical or supernatural. It all has a rational explanation. Each incident has it own explanation but when we string them all together some want to believe a hand is at work. What kind of hand? Fate or supernatural or just plain bad timing, I take the bad timing.