The mysterious "7th body." For a decade a mystery has persisted as to why this photo is in the middle of the DeFeo crime scene negatives and the identity of the body.

 

MYSTERYBODY

In 2001, while Ric Osuna was writing The Night The DeFeos Died, he visited the Suffolk County Police Department. He had lobbied the department on several occasions to see the DeFeo crime scene photos for himself only to be denied. Osuna already had copies of the photos, but his goal was to crosscheck what he had against what was in the file. Finally, Suffolk County relented and Ric Osuna was granted access.

In the company of Geraldine Gates, Butch DeFeo's ex-wife, both Osuna and Gates examined the negative strips which were given to them by the clerk one at a time for examination. Pouring over the negatives, Ric Osuna made a discovery that has become, in the last decade, a significant controversy surrounding the Amityville case.

While going through pictures of Dawn DeFeo, Osuna saw a picture that clearly stood out from the rest. Passing the negative to Geraldine Gates, she too looked at the negative and was dumbfounded.

In the picture there appeared to be a body in a bed. While we know that the DeFeo crime scene had six victims, all found in their beds, this picture was very curious. The bed, nor the room, matched any of the rooms or furniture known to the DeFeo house based on the eleven rolls of crime scene photos that had been shot in the residence on the evening of November 13, 1974. The room was paneled with a dark wood paneling --- and paneling had been used very sparingly in the DeFeo home, mainly in the basement. The body was that of what appeared to be a female. The victim was lying on her back, her face somewhat bloodied. It appeared that, like the DeFeo victims, this female had been asleep at the time of her death. It further appeared, in studying the picture, that she had been turned over, likely to be photographed, by the Suffolk Police.

This negative was not at the end of the DeFeo filmstrip. Instead, it was in the middle, positioned between pictures of Dawn DeFeo. This struck Ric Osuna and Geraldine Gates as particularly odd. Leaving the department, Ric Osuna felt like he had found something that needed further investigation, and as a result, he ordered prints of the picture.

Knowing how 35mm film was shot in the age before digital cameras became a daily fixture in our lives, it seemed bizarre that a photo from another crime scene would be mixed into the DeFeo photos --- particularly in the middle of a negative strip. It suggested to Ric Osuna, and later Ryan Katzenbach, that perhaps a detective had left the DeFeo house, ventured to another homicide call, shot a picture or two, came back, finished the DeFeo photos, and then went and shot another picture or two from the other crime scene. But even this logical assessment seemed absolutely illogical. WHY would a detective leave a scene, shoot a picture or two, and then return only to leave again?


Ric Osuna and Ryan Katzenbach spent hours discussing the "seventh" body. Who was this young-looking female? What did she have to do with the DeFeo crime scene? Is it possible that she was another victim from another homicide? And if so, HOW did her photos get mixed into the DeFeo photos?

Ric Osuna did due-diligence. He contacted Suffolk County Police and inquired about other homicides that might have transpired under the purview of SCPD Homicide at the time the DeFeos had been killed. Katzenbach and Osuna thought it logical that if there was another homicide that evening, or even within a day or two before or after the killings, perhaps this would explain how the pictures came to be intermingled. After conducting his investigation, Ric Osuna relayed to Ryan Katzenbach that there had been no other homicides in the immediate days before or following the DeFeo case. The mystery grew.

Ruling out another homicide on the heels of the DeFeo case, the discussions turned from that of a "seventh body" into that of the "repositioning of one of the DeFeo victims. BUT WHY?

At this point, Geraldine Gates was offering a possibility supporting the notion that perhaps one of the original DeFeo victims had been repositioned.

According to Gates, the DeFeos had stored an old bed in the basement from their move 9 years earlier. The bed, according to Gates, had been Ronald and Louise DeFeo's old bed. She felt, in looking at the photo, that perhaps the bed had been assembled and put together in the basement of the DeFeo house where this body had then been repositioned.

But WHY would a body be repositioned?

A side-by-side comparrison of the photo of Allison DeFeo, left, and the "mystery body," right demonstrates why there was belief that the mystery body could have been that of Allison DeFeo. The arm is positioned similar; and both girls appear to have similar injuries and marks to the face. This photo was compiled by Ric Osuna during his investigation of the issue.

Osuna and Katzenbach, again, kicked the issue around. Was it possible that a body had been brought back into the house for the sake of some sort of forensic investigation? It was possible, especially since there had been rumors that a large object in a black bag had been carried into the house by the SCPD cops sometime in the days after the murders. Osuna and Katzenbach, in their conversations, weighed the possibility that because the original mattresses belonging to each victim had been mangled by SCPD, perhaps this was why the extra bed was used? In the course of the evening of November 13th, the SCPD detectives cut into each mattress and dissected them to retrieve the spent bullets. Therefore, if they had to do any measurements, crime scene recreations, or other forensic evaluations, maybe it was necessary to use an extra bed? It seemed ridiculous to both Ric Osuna and Ryan Katzenbach, but yet it was, at that point, the only logical explanation that seemed feasible.

When KatcoMedia published Ric Osuna's second edition of his book in October of 2002, the "seventh body" was included in the revised text. Ric Osuna wrote at the time that this was but yet another mystery of the DeFeo crime that may never be solved. The mystery has remained but yet another elusive fold in the DeFeo's strange and sad story in the 9 years since the publication of the book.

The issue has lingered, throughout the making of Shattered, in the back of Ryan Katzenbach's mind.

"I always felt like the answer to the seventh body riddle was out there," says Ryan Katzenbach, "and I figured that if we stayed on it, we could find it."

After four years of being entrenched in interviews, repeated trips to New York, the filming of recreations for the film, Katzenbach finally came back to the 7th body.

"As we were entering into 2010, and I knew we were going to be done with the film soon, the seventh body became a sort of priority at that point and I knew we had to circle back around and reinvestigate."

There were numerous elements about the photographs of the "seventh body" that bothered Katzenbach.

"The very first thing that bothered me about the photo was the placement of what appears to be a window shade in the background of the photo behind the bed that this victim is lying in," explained Katzenbach, "that blind is too low for this to be a basement window like Ric, myself and Geraldine have discussed, and I think that they have problems with that, too, but we're absent a logical explanation as to what it means."

Katzenbach grew up in the midwest where basements were common.

"The assumption behind the photo is that this is the DeFeo basement where this photo was taken. And that's a logical conclusion because my own aunt and uncle, when I was growing up, had a finished basement that looked just like the one in the DeFeo home, and as kids, when we'd visit and myself and my cousins couldn't play outside due to rain or whatever, we'd be relegated to the finished basement, so based on my recollections as a kid, I thought there were problems with the photo from the beginning."

"Out here on the west coast, it seems no one has a basement, and even if they have an old house, they don't have a basement like the ones I was used to growing up in the midwest and midwest houses are very akin to the one on Ocean Avenue," explains Katzenbach. "In these houses with basements, basement windows are usually narrow, small windows positioned right at the top of a concrete basement wall just above ground level. The windows are really there for only one reason and that is to let light into the basement through the foundation. In the picture Ric and I were examining, it appeared that there was a blind hanging behind the bed. People who have finished basements, from my knowledge, never hang curtains or blinds over basement windows....it's completely unnecessary and defeats the purpose of a basement window which is to allow light in."

Furthermore, Katzenbach went hunting, in the crime scene photos for pictures of the bed frame that Geraldine referenced. There were no head or footboards, or any other evidence of a bedframe to be found in the crime scene pictures.

In the early part of 2010, the investigation by Shattered Hopes into the seventh body took hold, and by the end of summer 2010, the producers had, finally, found a resolution to the mystery.

• ENTER GAIL BLECKMAN

Shattered Producer Gail Bleckman came aboard the project in early Summer 2010. A resident of Long Island, Bleckman had been in Los Angeles working on a pilot for a television show focusing on cancer survivors. She had been in L.A. since the first of the year when she met Shattered Exec Producer Diana Maiocco. Diana introduced her to Ryan Katzenbach.

Over a long dinner in May 2010, Katzenbach and Maiocco made the decision to bring Bleckman aboard the project. Bleckman was planning a move to Los Angeles permanently, and thus had to go back to close up her home and affairs on Long Island. Originally, she planned to be on the Island for a month, which Katzenbach felt was enough time to achieve some of the research goals.

"The problem with this case is sometimes you just need to be on the ground back there and able to go to the various agencies and departments," says Katzenbach, "and the problem I had was that I could never be away long enough to really get that done, and now, with Gail already planning to go back to New York, it really presented a great opportunity to get some work done while I would be able to remain in L.A., get my work done, and at the same time run Gail's expedition via remote control."

Eventually, Bleckman's one-month research endeavor would come to last the betterment of 7 months and it would be February 2011 before Bleckman returned to Los Angeles. "We had no idea that it would take 7 months to get what we wanted done complete. It was a frustrating period for both Gail and myself as we got the constant run-around from the departments we were requesting documentation from."

Surprisingly, the "seventh body" mystery was solved first and it was the fastest element of the 2010 research expedition.

In May 2007 while Ryan Katzenbach was searching through microfilmed newspaper archives in New York and pulling copies of articles on the DeFeo case, he had run across a couple of articles on a murder that transpired in Lake Ronkonkoma, New York, November 19th, 1974. The articles seemed irrelevant at the time, but Katzenbach printed copies anyway since the murder had taken place in Suffolk County jurisdiction.

"When I read the articles, I noted that the chief suspect in the case was being retained in the same detention facility with Butch DeFeo, so I thought, for a mere 10¢ copy, why not print it and who knows, maybe this guy is still alive and might be able to offer some insight on DeFeo if he was detained in the same cellblock? Little did I know I was holding an answer to the seventh mystery body riddle in my hands," says Katzenbach.

Vito Coscia, 21, of Queens was arrested for the murder of 11-year old Karen Marie DeGennaro. The murder occurred after her mother, Carol DeGennaro, and a friend left Coscia at her Ronkonkoma residence and went to the store. When the two women returned a half-hour later, they found Coscia in the bathroom washing his hands. Karen DeGennaro had apparently been stabbed in her bed by Coscia during the short time Carol DeGennaro and her friend were out. Her younger brother was also stabbed, but survived the incident. Sadly, Karen did not.

Gail Bleckman was armed with a copy of this article, and she began the process, once returning to Long Island, of filing the necessary Freedom of Information Act papers congruent with New York law. A week or two later, Gail Bleckman called Ryan Katzenbach to inform him that she had obtained the DeGennaro crime scene pictures.

"Gail was flying back from a short trip she had made to Florida, so when she found out the photos had arrived, she called me," says Ryan Katzenbach, "and I had to wait for her to get back to New York that night before she could scan the contact sheets and send them. And the minute that they arrived and I opened them, I knew in 2 seconds that we had closed the file on this. The 'mystery body' picture was that of Karen Marie DeGennaro."

 

A sample of the multiple sheets of contact sheets turned over by the Suffolk County Police Department from the Karen Marie DeGennaro case. From these contact sheets, the producers were able to order the specific prints. None of the DeFeo crime scene pictures were intermingled in the DeGennaro negatives.

Karen DeGennaro's physical features were somewhat similar to those of Allison DeFeo. Karen had dark hair, as did Allison, and both girls were within 2 years of age from each other which is one of the reasons why both Katzenbach and Osuna felt that the picture was likely that of Allison if in fact as repositioning of a body had transpired.

Based on information received by the producers, Suffolk County uses a chronological filing system for crime scene photos. Apparently, though not 100% confirmed, all photos are lumped together by year and alphabetically. "This is apparently why the DeGennaro pictures were intermixed in the negatives with the DeFeo photos....D-E-G, D-E-F, obviously they're alphabetical neighbors, so it turned out to be a clerical mistake. But, regardless, those photos were mixed together," explains Katzenbach. "The operating and logical assumption was that these negatives were from one continuous strip of film, and obviously, they weren't. They had been reprocessed at some point."

 

Karen Marie DeGennaro's bed after the removal of her body, blankets and sheets.

The Lake Ronkonkoma residence of Carol DeGennaro, where she resided with her 2 children.

Vito Coscia, 21, pictured during his booking by Suffolk County Police.

Like Katzenbach, author Ric Osuna was pleased to hear the mystery had been solved. "I think this really bugged both of us because it didn't make much sense, and even the most logical answers seemed unsatisfying. Ric was really intrigued to hear the story of how we'd obtained the pictures while also verifying his statements that these pictures were, indeed, mixed up in the DeFeo negatives."

Katzenbach made the decision to reveal the findings because the "seventh body" discussion is being dropped from the body of Shattered Hopes: The True Story of the Amityville Murders.

"The issue doesn't seem relevant in light of the info uncovered months ago, and I think the running time of the film is better spent focusing on the real mysteries and issues of Amityville....such as the forensic discussion, and who was involved in the murders. I had kicked around leaving the segment in the film, but it seemed pointless past the discussion of how Suffolk County bumbled their filing. I think it's best to put the issue to rest." The decision to drop the "7th body" has been on the table since August of last year. However, with Shattered creeping past the 6 hour-mark and a screening of the film approaching in May, the decision was made in favor of the cut this week, in addition to other cuts. "The goal is to keep us at 6 hours in 3 very tight, very cohesive, very focused 2 hour segments," says Katzenbach. The rough cut will be complete at the end of the month. "The first drafts we made of the film were about getting the story on the page and seeing it come to life. This last pass has been about making it concise and giving it a terrific, smooth pace. I definitely think we're there."

It is the hopes of the producers that Karen Marie DeGennaro can rest in peace now that the facts are known. "Karen's death, like that of Allison DeFeo and the entire DeFeo family is a senseless tragedy and a complete waste of human life," says Katzenbach.

Editor's Note - Vito Coscia was found guilty of the murder of Karen DeGennaro and sentenced in the Suffolk Courts to 15-life. He died, in prison, on September 16, 2006.

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