|The Shattered Hopes portraits of the DeFeo family, recreated from the slides provided by Geraldine Gates. (Photo by Ryan Katzenbach, KatcoMedia; Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved)|
|IMMORTALIZED: THE DEFEO PORTRAITS|
BY RYAN KATZENBACH • Prior to the turn of the new millennium, there was scant imagery of the DeFeo family available for public view. There were some school pictures of Marc, John and Allison from St. Martin of Tours. There was a senior picture of Dawn DeFeo, in black and white. There was a picture of Big Ronnie DeFeo from an official New York license. All of these photos were of moderate to poor quality, and few really captured the essence of the DeFeo family.
However, around 2000, nearly 26 years after the DeFeo murders, circumstances were changing and the DeFeos were to, once again, be seen by the public.
Ric Osuna, author of the book The Night The DeFeos Died was among the first producers to lay his hands on a complete set of DeFeo crime scene photos, which had, for the most part, been hidden away from public view. Ric had acquired these photos from a relative of the late Betty Carrington. Carrington, during the 1970's and through the 80's, had been a legal secretary to William E. Weber who had served as Ronnie "Butch" DeFeo's defense counsel in the 1975 People of New York vs. DeFeo mass murder trial.* Allegedly, when the professional relationship between Carrington and Weber ended, Ms. Carrington swiped the crime scene photos from Weber's files and took them with her when she relocated to Arizona. A relative had generously shared the prints with Ric Osuna when he was working as a historian/producer on the History Channel's History's Mysteries documentaries on Amityville. Thus, for the first time, the grisly DeFeo crime scene would emerge into a public arena. And, for the first time, we now caught a better glimpse of the infamous DeFeo portraits as they appeared in some of the crime scene shots.
Later, after Ric Osuna met the very controversial Geraldine Gates, the former wife of Ronald DeFeo, the DeFeos would be brought into a clearer focus. Gates held, in her possession, a series of slides. On these slides were professional shots of the DeFeo portraits. She also still retained several shots of the house that had, prior to this, never been seen, as well as a picture of a young Dawn DeFeo with the school band. Sharing these with Ric Osuna, the world would come to see the DeFeos like they never had before --- all thanks to Geraldine Gates.
The portraits are, in a word, regal.
They, unintentional of the artist when they were painted, have come to immortalize the DeFeos in a way few photographs could, and I would guess that when people think or speak of the family, it's these visuals that they first see in their mind's eye. The stunning Louise DeFeo posed by herself. One would have a hard time believing that this woman was the mother of five given her immaculate appearance. Big Ronnie DeFeo and Butch shared a portrait wherein the elder Senior pours a drink for his son. Butch DeFeo is all smiles as he and his father are frozen in time in a scene that depicts a father-son bonding moment and rite of passage. Marc and John were pictured together, as were Allison and Dawn. Dominating the foyer wall and the wall up the stairs, the portraits were not only regal, but they also served as a reminder that the DeFeos came from money and privilege. After all -- how many common, middle-class families were immortalized with a series of original oil paintings that graced the center-hall stairway of a very stately, distinguished and handsome Dutch Colonial home?
But what do we know about the DeFeo portraits? Who was the artist who painted them? When were they done? What did they cost? Given the fact that each of the youngest DeFeo children looked considerably younger, the portraits, it would seem, were painted at least two, maybe three years earlier?
Speaking to Geraldine, she believed that the portraits were done around 1972, and that they carried a cost of $15,000 each, totalling the healthy sum of $75,000 for all five.
In the portrait of Marc and John Matthew, John looks to be as old as six or seven, and he is much smaller than his older brother. At the time of their deaths in November 1974, John had apparently hit a bit of a growth spurt prior. The autopsy records indicate that John Matthew DeFeo, 9, was 4'3" to Marc's 4'8.5" and John Matthew outweighed his brother by one pound at 81. Obviously, based on this, some significant time had obviously passed between the time the portrait was painted and the time of the murders.
In the course of researching Shattered Hopes, I believed throughout the process of making the film that information would emerge pertaining to the portraits that would put the details into clearer focus. This documentary project has never ceased to amaze me as to how information suddenly just "shows up" as if on cue. (On cue from WHOM or WHAT I have no idea, but without fail, it just somehow always has.) As a student of this case, I've become particularly fascinated with the "behind-the-scenes." Sure, we know the DeFeo portraits existed....but how did they come to exist? And while this is purely trivial, it's interesting and worth knowing. So....without fail, the details did eventually emerge.
Another rumor that bothered me was that of an alleged extramarital affair on the part of Louise DeFeo. It has been said, throughout the years, that Louise had had a sexual relationship with the artist who painted the portraits. Beyond this very vague assertion, little else was known as to whether or not this was an unsubstantiated rumor or whether it had factual traction.
In early 2008, I was in a state of unrest due to some loose ends left by Ric Osuna when he wrote his book The Night The DeFeos Died. There were a number of "dead" participants to this story who were of interest to me, starting with Dr. Howard Adelman. Ric Osuna had been told on several occasions that Dr. Adelman was dead, having passed many years before. Because this came from numerous sources within Suffolk County during Ric's research, he accepted this. And, after all, why would he doubt these repeated assertions made by various officials?
I, however, discovered that Adelman was very much alive......AND well. I placed a phone call to Adelman. My message, on his voice mail, was that I understood that he was "deceased" and that, after hearing his voice on the machine, I was now questioning this conclusion. An hour or so later, Adelman, very much alive, returns the call while I was in a meeting. The message went to voicemail wherein Dr. Adelman simply quoted Mark Twain's famous line: 'the rumors of my demise are premature.' Later, Dr. Adelman and I would share a good laugh over this. Months beyond this, we would share the most comprehensive interview I believe that Adelman ever gave concerning the DeFeo murders before he REALLY did, sadly, pass away at the end of 2009.
After I had interviewed Adelman extensively, in early 2008, I began to worry about Herman Race. Race was another "dead" figure from the DeFeo story. Was he really dead?
Both Ric and Geraldine had told me that, during the course of research into The Night The DeFeos Died, Ric had reached out to Robert Race, a New York attorney. (Geraldine also insisted that Herman Race was deceased.) Robert, the son of Herman, had rejected Ric's attempts to learn more about his father's investigation. According to both Ric and Geraldine, Robert Race had dismissed Ric's phone query by saying that his father was dead and his file on the case no longer existed. End of story. With this, Robert Race disconnected the call.
However, there was something that, in the back of my mind, nagged me to go further. I have NO idea WHY, but something said to me "you don't have the whole story."
In early 2009, I pressed on with my Herman Race investigation. Using some "connections" I had, the indicators were coming back that one Herman Race of Oceanside, New York was, indeed, deceased. In knowing this, and knowing that the dates of birth and death for the Herman Race I was seeking matched up with those facts I knew of OUR Herman Race, I STILL didn't feel satisfied.
Around this time, I ran across some articles in the New York Times archive about a retired detective named Michael Race. Race was a homicide detective, and he was now retired and had taken up private investigation. As a result, he was now involved in several active investigations wherein various suspects had been wrongly convicted of murder. Mike Race had been instrumental in the reversal of their convictions after independent analysis of the case.
What caught my attention, in the articles, was the mention that Michael Race was a "second generation" homicide detective who had, as a private investigator, "followed in his father's footsteps." WHO, I thought, was his father? Second generation? Homicide investigator with NYPD? All of this was sounding a bit familiar, and it all sounded like it was a bit reminiscent of HERMAN RACE based on what I had learned. Was it possible that MIKE RACE was ANOTHER SON of Herman Race, aside from the Robert Race that had dismissively waved Ric Osuna on?
Through some digging, I found Michael Race's daughter who was far removed from New York. I placed a phone call to her only to receive her answering machine. After explaining who I was and what I was doing, I asked that, if indeed she was the daughter of Michael Race, that she kindly forward my info to her father. Two hours later ---- the phone rang. It was Michael Race.
"What case are you working on for your documentary?" Michael asked.
"DeFeo," I replied.
"Ah," chuckled Michael without hesitation, "the Amityville Horror murders. You know, that case didn't go down the way they said it did."
I grinned from ear to ear and, without hesitation, used Bill Paxton's Brock Lovett line from Titanic to Gloria Stuart's Rose character: "and that makes you my NEW best friend."
We talked for quite a while about the case and what his father, Herman, who was indeed deceased, had told him. His father, he explained, in 1984, thought he was being plagued with an ongoing sinus infection. When it persisted and grew worse, he went for medical consultation wherein his ailment was diagnosed as that of a brain tumor. The cancer killed him in a space of six-weeks following diagnosis. Hence, Herman Race, the independent private investigator on the DeFeo case WAS, indeed, dead and had been for nearly 25 years at this point. This, in my mind, was resolved to complete satisfaction.
YES, Mike confirmed --- he did have a brother named Robert who was a New York City attorney, and his dismissal of Ric Osuna did not surprise Mike in the slightest. As we talked, I asked Michael Race if he believed that his father's file on DeFeo could possibly be in existence given the passage of time.
"My mother," explained Mike, "is an Alzheimer's patient and she has in-home care, and she still lives in the same house that she and my father shared for decades," Mike explained. "And my mother never throws anything away. She still has my letterman jacket," Mike sighed. Therefore, based on Mike's beliefs, his father's file on DeFeo was likely still in existence. Mike assured me that, if he had an opportunity, he would be traveling north from his current Washington D.C. locale to see his mother. When he got to the house, he would look for his father's file.
Fast forward. Weeks later.
It's around 6:30 in the morning when my cell phone rang. I was in the process of leaving for the office, and I answered the phone. It was Mike Race.
"I know it's really early on the west coast, but I couldn't resist making this phone call and being the first person to talk to you this morning," Mike said. "I have my father's file. It was in his file cabinet in the basement of my parent's house."
I was blown away. Completely blown away --- this news was beyond extraordinary to anyone investigating this case. This WAS the file of the private investigator who had worked for Weber and testified to the Suffolk Court, before Judge Stark, that multiple perpetrators were involved in the DeFeo homicides. What secrets did it contain? What facts did it hold? We were tantalizingly close to finding out.
Within weeks, we had the file. Though the file raised some questions, it answered a lot more, and it became apparent that Michael S. Brigante, Louise DeFeo's father, and Herman, had been very good friends through the years. Contained in the file were numerous notes from Mike Brigante to Herman Race in the aftermath of the murders. Interestingly, Mike Brigante was sending correspondence received from his grandson, convicted murderer Ronnie DeFeo Jr., to Race quite regularly.
With so many statements and materials to look through, I knew it would take months to fully digest Race's file. After all, these notes, in many cases, were in the shorthand of a seasoned, veteran detective; they were written in a manner that Herman would understand. To anyone else, they might not make much sense. Nor did they have to. But, after months of pouring over the notes, clues began to emerge and the shorthand was entirely understandable.
• FINDING THE ARTIST
One of the things present in Herman Race's file were legal-sized lists of witnesses and accompanying notes. I had looked at it countless times and there was nothing about the chicken-scratch-esque handwriting on the list that really grabbed my attention.** The names, scattered over 9 pages, were familiar to the case --- Bobby Kelske, Lucy Burkin, Frank Boyde, Chuck Tewksbury, the Nonnewitzes, and Augie DeGennaro, ["Mindy knows Augie DeGennaro"] among many others. The pages were filled with notes in the margins, phone numbers and various details, like "Sgt. Comarato [sic] knows Ronnie, Jr. as a "nut""
In early 2010, I had begun to compile the narrative script for our Narrator, Edward Asner. In combing through various files, I was doing a "final check" to make sure I had everything noted that I would need Ed Asner to record in our upcoming narrative sessions. I didn't want to miss anything, and my plan was to "over-record" Asner's narrative with more voice-overs than what I would need. If you have ever heard the expression "less is more" I am here to tell you that it doesn't apply to the film business from any production standpoint. "More is more," period. In fact, "more is not enough." Overshoot, over script....over do the number of angles you record because inevitably, they will save you in post every single time.
This time, as I went through boxes of files, pouring over the notes at my kitchen table, something caught my attention that I hadn't noticed before.
Race's "Order of Proof" notes were broken down day by day, and given the dates, these days were from the DeFeo trial, which was now underway. It is not clear to me whether the lists of people, by date, are the witnesses as they appeared or whether they were people that Race was simply trying to catch up with on a daily basis to question for Weber.*** There are addresses and phone numbers next to most of the names, and brief notes as to what type of witness they are - i.e., "character witness." There are also directional notes like "East" or "West" as if Race were grouping these people into categories to coordinate his travel -- i.e., all the people he needed to see on one particular day appear to be from Long Island, while other groups appear to be closer to the city. Whether this is actually the case will likely never be known.
On October 31, 1975, Race had nine people on his list. In order: Mindy Weiss, Dr. Kaufman, Dr. Qualban, Roger & Lynn [sic] Nonnewitz, Frank Boyd, Vinnie Mitchell, Mr. Horwitz, and, last, at number nine -- Mr. Van Pansalleer. Next to Pansalleer was a hyphen followed by another word that was hard to decipher -- it looked like "avhst" which had no meaning to myself. Also, notably, Pansalleer had a line crossed through it but there was no accompanying witness statement in the file. Had Race not been able to interview Pansalleer? Did he decide that this witness was irrelevant? Given the fact that this name has never appeared before, it is my opinion that this individual did not participate in the DeFeo proceedings.
I kept staring at the word, and pouring over the list. It made no more sense to me an hour later than what it did when I originally looked at it.
Later, on another page, as I am going "line by line" through Herman Race's notes, I discover the name "Mr. Van Rinsellan-antst."
Rinsellan.....Pansalleer........Rinsellan.....Panselleer.....flipping back and forth through the pages, I started to wonder if this person was one in the same. And then it hit me: the words "antst" and "avhst" --- upon closer examination: A R T I S T. It was Race's "R" that was throwing me, and my eyes now began to scan the page for every "r" that was contained on the page. It was, indeed, a match --- they looked like, in some cases, "v's" and in some cases "n's" but there was no doubt about it --- it was an "r." It was, indeed, the word "ARTIST." I knew in an instant, though it was but MY hunch, I had the identity of the man who had painted the DeFeo portraits though, at this point, I still hadn't deciphered his name.
With this, I went and got a magnifying glass. Sitting at the pub table, in the kitchen, at what was by now some un-Godly hour, the pieces were emerging, which, as I said, were pieces of trivia that I knew would eventually surface.
Rinsellan.....Pansalleer.....the "P" in Panselleer was, under magnifying glass, becoming an "R"....the "a" was becoming an "e" and phonetically, the name was becoming "REN-SA-LEER." But not just "REN-SA-LEER." There was a "Van" in front of it, unmistakebly present from both of the pages I was examining. I believed, slowly but surely that the artist was a man by the name of Van Rensaleer.
When confronted with any great mystery, there a number of sources and places that one can go, as a researcher or documentarian, to sift out the greater details. First, it always pays to have some private investigators on your side. A licensed P.I. can obtain information for you in a flash. Occassionally, you need someone in the Department of Corrections to assist. The FBI doesn't hurt, either, nor does the Department of Justice. But, in this particular case, there was only source I could think of that could help with my immediate late-night investigation: Google.
Entering the name "Van Rensaleer - Artist" Google immediately corrects me and says: "Do you mean - Van Rensselaer - Artist?" Well, just maybe I did...damned if I knew. BUT, what was promising was that Google had found an "artist" with this name. Perhaps we were getting closer? I jotted the spelling down in my legal pad with a question mark -- "Van Rensselaer?"
The name "Van Rensselaer" is obviously unique. Thankfully, the artist wasn't named "Smith" or "Brown." Within about 20 minutes of searching, I came to attach the name "Kenneth" to "Van Rensselaer," and then Googling this name, the results were a bit more abundant.
By the time I was blurry eyed and tired, I had come up with more than a few references to an artist from New Hyde Park, New York named Kenneth Van Rensselaer. While this sounded promising, my search would have to wait until the next day.
• THE SLAPO'S
Trotting into the office, in usual fashion, with a bucket of material under my arm, my previous night's search for Kenneth Van Rensselaer would resume as I made a beeline from my GMC to my office.
The day was fruitful.
Indeed, Kenneth Van Rensselaer was an artist. He was from New Hyde Park. He did paint portraits. The information, though scant, was useful, and with every variation of the search I did, I found but a bit more information. Though they were but mere slivers of info....tiny crumbs...they were, indeed, placing Rensselaer in New York and Long Island vicinity around the 1970's. I learned that Rensselaer signed his paintings with a simple "KVR," and I even managed to find a few pieces of work attributed to this artist. One painting, a nude of a woman, stood out to me because when I looked at it, the color and lighting seemed rather familiar and in a style that was consistent with the DeFeo portraits. The more I learned, the more positive I became that THIS Kenneth Van Rensselaer was, absolutely, the artist who had painted the DeFeo portraits.
In the course of my numerous searches, a name emerged that would become one of the most substantial clues. Herb Slapo could have easily been overlooked as irrelevant. His name was connected to the Pastel Society of America wherein he had been a past president. Clicking on the link, I got a short snippet of a bio on Slapo. Upon reading it, I now saw, rather clearly why he was connected to Van Rensselaer. Both he and his brother, Daniel Slapo, had been understudies of Van Rensselaer during the 1970's at his studio in New York. While there wasn't much more information available, this was significant. And this clue helped connect the dots on yet another piece of information.
When I ran a background check on Kenneth Van Rensselaer, it was my operating assumption that he was dead. Van Rensselaer had been born around 1918, which would have placed him in his fifties at the time the DeFeo portraits were painted. Obviously, if he were alive today, he would be well into his nineties. And while it was not impossible to think he could still be alive, one death record turned up from North Carolina in 1994 suggesting the contrary. Up until now, I had made the operating assumption that Van Rensselaer had possibly lived his life and died in the State of New York. However, in reading Herb Slapo's biography, I saw that he was a resident of North Carolina. NOW, I had a death record for Van Rensselaer from North Carolina. Coincidence? Possibly, but again, I felt positive that I had the right guy.
I picked up the phone and I called the number for Herbert Slapo that I had obtained from simple searches. An older gentleman answered the phone.
"Hi....my name is Ryan Katzenbach..." began my speel. I told him about our film, and I told him specifically WHY I was calling. By now, after what felt like a million of these cold calls, I had it down to a succinct science. Herb Slapo was cordial, friendly.
"Mr. Slapo, the reason I am calling you, specifically, is because I think you might have known an artist by the name of Ken Van Rensselaer back during the 1970's?"
"I did," he replied, lamenting with a light chuckle that he was amazed that I had found this trivial information. "It was just for a short while," Slapo told me, "and my brother knew him better and worked with him longer than I did."
There were a few moments of idle chat about our common interests in art and various media we liked to use, but the conversation, for the most part, stayed focused on Ken Van Rensselaer.
Herb Slapo explained to me that he and his wife had moved to North Carolina later in life. Kenneth Van Rensselaer and his wife, later in life, had done the same. Thus, my hunch that there was some form of connection to North Carolina had been solid. Based on the things that Herb Slapo was saying, the Van Rensselaers had maintained a contact and had been friends for a number of years.
"They moved down here and Ken came down with Alzheimers," Herbert Slapo told me, "and he passed away years ago." Thus, the "1994" I had discovered prior to the call was most likely an accurate date, and though he couldn't remember specifically, Slapo indicated that he thought this sounded accurate as well.
In the course of the conversation, Slapo confirmed that Kenneth Van Rensselaer had been a successful portrait artist in New York during the 1970's and regularly took commissions for portraits.
"Do you recall the DeFeo portraits? Do you recall him ever talking about them? Did you see him painting them in the studio?" I asked.
Slapo explained, in response, that he and his brother had worked with Van Rensselaer in and around 1977 and after, so thus, this was four to five years removed from the time when I believe the DeFeo portraits were painted. According to Slapo, Van Rensselaer never said anything, that he could recall, about the DeFeos. I had been hoping that, perhaps, during the time they worked together in passing conversation, that Kenneth Van Rensselaer had spoke of this, but apparently he did not.
• EXTRAMARITAL AFFAIR?
"Herb, one of the things that I have heard repeatedly, and it's not just hearsay because it has been written about in various articles and books...Louise DeFeo had had an affair with Ken Van Rensselaer, it is said, if he was the portrait artist that did these paintings. Do you have any insight or thoughts on this?" I asked.
Slapo's response was strong and pristine.
"I can't believe that for a minute," he said. "Ken was devoutly religious, and any type of affair would have been against everything that he believed, and secondly, Ken was very devoted to his wife. I don't think, based on what I know, that there is any basis for that at all."
The problem with allegations like this (though they are entirely trivial to our project) is that it becomes impossible some four decades later to prove the veracity of them or to even determine WHO and WHERE the rumor originated. People think they know people all the time, but as I have learned so many times over, you never really know anyone. On the surface, Van Rensselaer might have been religious and devoted to his wife --- but do we know for sure that he didn't have an extramarital affair with Louise DeFeo? It seems highly unlikely, but to say, conclusively, one way or the other, is virtually impossible.
Herb Slapo, in the course of our conversation, told me that his brother Daniel was closer to Van Rensselaer and had worked with him longer than he had. Slapo suggested that I contact his brother who still lived on the northern shore of Long Island. I jotted down the number and assured Herbert Slapo that I would call him.
When I spoke to Daniel Slapo, he told me, primarily, the same things that his brother had said. He, too, had no direct knowledge of the DeFeo portraits. He was also adamant that he didn't believe that an affair between Louise DeFeo and Van Rensselaer was culpable.
Backing up to the things Geraldine had told me about the portraits, there were some details that were starting to make sense.
Geraldine told me, in our general conversations, that Big Ronnie DeFeo had been unhappy with the finish on the portraits. "It had something to do.....God, Ryan, I don't know....with a sealer or something that was on the portraits and he was unhappy with the way it had turned out." Thus, she said, as a result, Van Rensselaer had returned to the DeFeo house multiple times to correct and address these problems.
I found this assertion very interesting on the part of Geraldine Gates. While Geraldine has a musical background, she does NOT have an art background. However, I do. I went to school for art. I have worked oil, watercolor and acrylic and I have accepted, during my course of being an artist many commissions. While her account was rather unsophisticated in her understanding of "sealer" applied to portraits, it revealed, in my mind, that she had been privy to what was going on. The "sealer" in question is actually a varnish typically applied to oil paintings when they are complete. This varnish is applied to protect the painting. And, from time to time, oil paintings are stripped of their varnish and a new varnish applied. Based on what Geraldine told me, though she couldn't remember specifically, there was some issue with the varnish cracking or a clouding/yellowing. Hence, Van Rensselaer was summoned to return to the DeFeo house to address the problem. Everything that Geraldine was claimed was entirely feasible.
Geraldine also said that the kids, including Ronnie Jr., had, in an attempt to be funny, "picked" Louise DeFeo's nose, and as a result, damaged the painting.
As a result of this damage, Van Rensselaer had been called back to do touch-up, which according to Geraldine "Mike [Brigante] bitched about this because he had to pay the artist to fix the portrait."
I began to put together a thesis regarding the allegation of an extramarital affair. While this is my own supposition, I believe it fits the situation. Big Ronnie, whom we know had paranoid delusions and a case of hyperreligiosity, most likely made an allegation based on Van Rensselaer's repeated visits to the house which, seem to be, of a purely platonic and professional nature. Was he being serious? Was he joking, or "half-kidding?" Perhaps, and we'll never know. But in order for a rumor to start, there had to be an origin for it, and it's culpable that this might have been a statement made in the presence of someone else by the insecure Big Ronnie DeFeo. With the seed planted, it thus grew into a rumor that has, likely unjustly, afflicated Louise DeFeo's character for nearly four decades.
Interestingly, for all the of the "Confidential" witness statements in Herman Race's file, including those of friends, Brigante dealership employees, and others who knew the family or had some involvement in the case, a statement from Kenneth Van Rensselaer is absent. I learned of the artist's identity from Herman Race's own file, and thus, clearly, Race knew about Van Rensselaer. Why did he not pursue a statement?
Race was a very good friend of Louise's father, Michael Brigante Sr., and their relationship likely went back to the days when Race worked not far from where Brigante worked at Kings County Buick. We also know that Brigante was very active in various police benevolent organizations. How they became friends is unclear, but as Herman's son, Michael Race, would attest -- "they were very good friends going back a long ways." Mike even purchased his first brand new car, a Pontiac Grand Prix, from Brigante's leasing/brokering company out on Long Island. Perhaps Herman Race didn't pursue the Van Rensselaer avenue out of respect for Michael Brigante whether there was or was not validity to the rumor?
Or, perhaps Herman Race came to learn that there was, definitively, no merit to the affair and thus decided it would be a waste of time to interview the artist.
Either way, we'll probably never know for sure what transpired, but based on those who knew Kenneth Van Rensselaer, it's highly out of character for a religious man who is described as being extremely faithful to his wife.
There is but another reason that an extramarital affair is out of character for Louise DeFeo, too. As a woman who was likely living in the shadow of an abusive husband, she would have likely been terrified of the consequences of having an affair outside of her marriage. This was something that our team of forensic psychologists agreed with.
• COST OF THE PORTRAITS?
Another element I discussed with Herbert and Dan Slapo was the reported $15,000 cost per portrait.
Herb Slapo commented to me that while Ken Van Rensselaer was a successful working artist, he didn't believe he was THAT successful. Based on my notes, at the time I pen this, Dan Slapo had said the same thing.
The $15,000 per portrait, which was reported by Geraldine Gates, upon discussing it with the Slapos seemed more like a figure that we speculate was the TOTAL price for all five of the portraits. This seemed more consistent with the amount that Van Rensselaer would have commanded during this timeframe --- around $3,000 per portrait, which was still pricey for the era.
These details, however, we may never know.
Overall, the DeFeo portraits had little to no bearing on the narrative that was presented in Shattered Part I, or the forthcoming installments of the film. They constitute, however, an interesting side note to the story that became a compelling "investigation" and thus revealed the name and identity of the artist who---without knowing it at the time --- immortalized the DeFeo family in a way that even he couldn't have imagined in 1974.
* Betty Carrington wrote a book in 1994. This self-published title, Judicial Carousel, was about her years working with William Weber and her personal experiences with the Suffolk County courts. In the book, long out of print, Carrington would validate the claims made by Geraldine Gates when she stated that in the mid-1970's, while working for Weber [post-DeFeo trial, c. 1976], a woman came into Weber's office. With a child-in-tow, this woman came into the office asking to see Weber. The woman stated that she was DeFeo's wife and that the child was that of DeFeo. While Carrington wrote about this, she passed away a few years after the book was published and, sadly, unable to be questioned by the producers of Shattered Hopes to learn more about this rendezvous with "Mrs. DeFeo" in Weber's office.
** After more documents, names and materials would surface in 2011, even more excerpts of Herman Race's file would become relevant to our project. However, it wasn't until AFTER this stuff surfaced that notes that made little sense suddenly snapped into perspective. I wonder if, in the 1970's, Herman Race ever realized that his file would become a tangential volume in solving some of the mysteries surrounding this case, and, more importantly, in deciphering what witnesses said exactly what nearly 40 years after the fact?
*** There was a portrait, in my mind, emerging of Herman Race's involvement in this case. I almost saw Race as Weber's "co-counsel." As we know, Sullivan had the crew of the Suffolk District Attorney's Office, including current Suffolk County D.A. Thomas Spota who worked as his assistant. His resources, one can imagine, would have been unlimited. Weber, by contrast, had no one. I could, in my mind, see Weber indoctrinating Race as his "assistant counsel" of sorts and sending him out on a daily basis to seek clarification pertaining to various questioning....especially where a witness was to return for cross exam the next day. I have nothing to substantiate my feelings other than Herman Race's various notes, but it becomes apparent, given the dates, that Race was by Weber's side a large portion of the time even though he didn't testify at the ultimate trial. And, from these notes, it seems that Race was a vital part of 'Team Weber.' If I am wrong, William Weber is welcome to come forward and correct me since these are questions I wanted to ask him had he not refused to interview for our film. Also, in support of this, there were monies paid by the DeFeo estate directly to Herman Race, which seems to suggest that Race was expending considerable hours and burning through the fund allocated by Judge Signorelli and Suffolk County.
The True Story of the Amityville Murders
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