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The tale of the Amityville murders is one known by just
about anyone. Whether you’re a horror-movie fan, a history buff, intrigued by
outlandish and sensational cases of murder and mayhem or just someone who read
the newspaper that day, you know the story: On a November night in 1974, Ronnie
DeFeo woke up one night, went for a shotgun he had in his house and
systematically killed off his parents, two brothers and two sisters.
DeFeo claimed at trial that he heard their voices in his
head, conspiring to kill him. The defense tried to push insanity, the judge
didn’t fall for it and DeFeo is now serving six consecutive 25-year sentences
for the murders he committed that fateful night. He has never had a concrete and
stable story of what happened that night. Did he kill them? Was their another
gunman? Was there something more sinister at work? The questions that needed
answers were getting none…
Then, years later while in prison, psychic and author Jackie
Barrett made contact with DeFeo, claiming that a presence made her aware of him
and that she wanted to talk to him, get to know him and learn more about the
case. Barrett began conducting multiple interviews and conversations with DeFeo
over a period of time, facts that had never come up before began to simmer to
the surface and long-needed answers seemed to finally be emerging. The result
of her work and discoveries, THE DEVIL I KNOW (Berkley), is now in bookstores,
and if you have ever been curious about what might really have happened that
night in Long Island, this is a must-read on every level.
I was reluctant to actually enjoy reading this book; it
addresses a sad and terrible case that has been glorified in print, TV and film
for over 30 years now, and the prospect of yet another rehashing of the
Amityville murders was not very alluring. However, the detailed interviews with
DeFeo and the fact that, of all people, a psychic was able to have multiple
conversations with this man years down the road, after all the attention died
down, hooked me on the first page, and I never looked back.
Barrett has crafted a fast-moving, detailed and altogether
well-written piece of documentary literature about a case that, honestly, has
been beaten to death by various documentarians, news groups and anyone else who
decided to add their two cents on the matter. It’s surprisingly intriguing to
learn just a little more in depth about the mind of a man who may or may not be
a mass murderer, especially given the brisk 337-page length. Barrett actually
has a good feel for the interview process, and for asking the necessary
questions to elicit the answers people want to hear—or the answer the
interviewer wants to reveal. Some aspects of this book are actually quite
chilling, even though this case has been written about in detail so often
before. The revelation of a letter DeFeo sent to Barrett in 2011, containing a
tooth that fell out of his mouth on his mother’s anniversary, is unsettling and
cryptic in terms of the details of its contents.
In the end, this book may have not been necessary, but the
way Barrett briskly and concisely takes us through her whirlwind connection and
interactions with DeFeo offers a fresh take on the case. We may never truly,
honestly, without equivocation know what happened that fateful night on Ocean
Drive, but if this is the final word on the matter straight from the killer’s mouth, it has ended the only way it could have. Barrett has given us one last
look at the case that engulfed New York, and does not disappoint.
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