The Amityville Horror house (image in the public domain)
The Amityville Horror and the dozens of subsequent related books and movies are about a real house at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, Long Island, where Ronald DeFeo, Jr. shot and killed his parents and four siblings. At Topic, Michelle Deanwalks us through the whole story: the crime, the subsequent owners who claimed the house was haunted, and the more recent tenants who didn’t buy into the tale of terror.
Instead of spirits, the Cromartys complained, they were haunted by what could only be called paranormal tourists, who knocked on the door at all hours of the day and night. These people sometimes called themselves witches. Sometimes they cursed out the Cromartys and told them they would die. Sometimes they were drunk. And sometimes, as the family told Newsday in 1978, they were just odd: “I think one of the funniest things was when we woke up at three o’clock and heard this guy with a bugle playing ‘Taps’ on the front lawn. I opened the window and applauded and said, ‘Kid, you’ve got a real good sense of humor,’” said Jim Cromarty.
In case you were thinking of digging your bugle out of the attic and paying the current owners a visit, the address has since been changed to discourage tourism. Sorry!
Officials remove a shackled Richard Craig Smith from an Alexandria, Va., courthouse, April 4, 1984. Smith was arrested on charges of selling to the Soviets information about a U.S. double agent operation aimed at penetrating the Soviet KGB spy agency. (AP Photo/Lana Harris)
This story is co-funded by Longreads Members and published in collaboration with Topic, which publishes an original story, every other week. Sign up for Topic’s newsletter now. Sarah Laskow’s story is part of Topic’s State of the Union issue.
Ronald Rewald and Richard Craig Smith did not appear to have much in common. The founder of an investment firm in Hawai’i, Rewald lived like a Master of the Universe, traveling the world in expensive cars, staying in expensive hotels and throwing expensive parties. Smith, by contrast, lived in Utah, with a wife and four children. A former case officer in intelligence with the United States Army, he had resigned from his job at the start of the 1980s to spend more time with his family. He sought to make a new life for himself as an entrepreneur; when VHS tapes were still cutting-edge, he began a service to make video diaries and testimonials for families to pass down from one generation to the next.
What brought Rewald and Smith together was espionage. In the early 1980s, legal troubles tangled the two men in a similar narrative of spying and betrayal. First charged in August 1983 in state court with two counts of theft, Rewald was eventually indicted, a year later, on 100 counts of fraud, tax evasion, perjury and other federal crimes. In April 1984, Smith was accused of much more serious offenses—conspiracy, espionage, and transmission of secret material, charges that, were he convicted, could lead to a death sentence. The two men were represented the same lawyer, the bombastic Brent Carruth, and they had the same defense for their alleged crimes: The CIA made me them do it.
Rewald and Smith’s assertions sometimes seemed preposterous, as if lifted from a convoluted spy novel. The cartoonish stories they told involved fake names, fear of assassination, and envelopes full of cash. (They certainly seemed fictional to government prosecutors, who dismissed the tales as fabrications.) But in the Reagan era, as now, the news was full of undisclosed meetings and clandestine plots to swing elections. Americans were being inundated with reports about the secrets of the intelligence community: the Watergate revelations about the CIA’s domestic surveillance, the assassination attempts on foreign leaders, and the Iran-Contra scandal, for starters.
Suddenly, anything seemed possible.
On paper, the government’s success in Smith’s case was all but assured. Americans have little tolerance for disloyalty. There have been more than 110 Americans arrested on espionage charges since the 1950s and those who didn’t defect before they were sentenced to years, sometimes decades, in prison.
But though Rewald and Smith’s stories sounded wild, their juries weren’t entirely willing to trust the veracity of the government’s narrative, either. In the end, one of the two men would be sent to jail, the other set free. Read more…
Our latest Exclusive is an essay by Namwali Serpell with illustrations by Lauren Tamaki. This story is co-funded by Longreads Members and published in collaboration with Topic, which publishes an original story, every other week. Sign up for Topic’s newsletter now.
White men, white men, white men. They’re everywhere these days. Young ones leering, old ones Lear-ing. A white man sent me a message on a dating app the other day—an initial parry, if you will, a hello—about his penis, my fully-clothed photo, and my presumed “submissiveness.” An older white male colleague once told me he didn’t understand the “ontological difference” I had experienced in being a brown woman. The same man sexually harassed me for three years. There are white men to kill left and right. It would be so much easier to hate them if I hadn’t loved one from birth.
My father is a white man. In my country Zambia, where he moved as a young Brit eager to conduct research, he’s called a muzungu. He met and married my black mother there in the sixties. They made brown me, and my two brown sisters. We moved to the States in 1989. Maybe it’s because my family was already mixed, or because we now lived in the American suburbs, but it never felt weird to me to date white guys. Read more…