The 28 days Christopher Quaratino spent in a spooky-looking house in Amityville, New York, defined his life.
Quaratino was just 7 when he and his family moved into the 4,000-square-foot Dutch Colonial home on Ocean Avenue in the Long Island town in 1975.
Now, at 43, he's still creeped out.
And not just by the ghost he saw.
Quaratino, a Phoenix resident who changed his last name in 1989 from Lutz back to the name of his birth father, is disgusted by the Amityville Horror legend, which he estimates has generated about a half-billion dollars in the past 25 years. From the first book in 1977 by the late Jay Anson, who billed the family's experience as a true story, the retelling of America's best-known haunted-house story in print and at the movies has distorted and fictionalized events nearly beyond any semblance of truth, he says.
After the Lutz family famously fled the home in a rush and moved across the country to San Diego, Quaratino and his siblings "took a lot of flak" from other kids.
"Your mother's a liar!" Quaratino recalls one kid saying to his face at school.
His mother, Kathy Lutz, told him to avoid reading Anson's book or seeing the subsequent 1979 movie starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder. So he didn't, not for a long time.
"She wanted me to grow up and be a normal kid. That would have been my heart's desire. I never wanted to talk about it. But my privacy had already been breached," he says.
Quaratino set up a meeting for this story at Bistro 202, the restaurant at the San Carlos Hotel in downtown Phoenix. That would be the supposedly haunted San Carlos Hotel, which sports its own Ghost Lounge and Restaurant next to Bistro 202. His cousin, Bobby Sylvester, also was there on the sunny outdoor patio. Quaratino's a short man, dressed in shorts and an untucked T-shirt, with dark hair and a black beard dotted with white. He's an air-conditioner repairman and home renovator. He has an easy-going demeanor and speaks hesitantly at times, as if wary of burdening his great psychological weight on others. His cousin's taller, has a New York accent, and wears a polo shirt and an amulet of a dragon on a chain around his neck.
Quaratino has kept a relatively low profile most of his life, but this isn't the first time he's come out with concerns. Most of his media time has occurred since 2005, when the remake of the original film was getting promoted. One headline in Long Island's Newsday that year stated that he "debunks" much of the legend.
True, but he doesn't debunk everything.
Quaratino remains convinced that an evil presence stalked the family in the Amityville house. A deeply religious man who once considered becoming a Christian pastor, Quaratino believes his stepfather, George Lutz, invited demonic forces into the home through his dabbling in the occult.
He lived in the home when he was 7 and remembers the fear he felt there.
His parents had been informed by a real estate agent before they moved into the house in December 1975 that a ghastly mass murder had occurred there. About year earlier, a 23-year-old man had shot to death his parents and four siblings as they slept in their beds. Quaratino remembers standing in the dwelling's basement for the first time with his parents and asking where the "bodies" were.
Once, he and his older brother, Daniel (9 at the time), noticed that one of the signature quarter-circle windows on the second floor kept opening, even after they had latched it several times. The family dog seemed to sense malevolence from day one, he says, and tried to jump over a fence while still leashed. His dad rescued the spasming animal as it hung from its neck.
Then, one night, a dark, human-like figure appeared in his bedroom doorway. He could see what seemed like the outline of a head and body.
"It was as large as a man, as definite as a shadow, but not against the wall," he says. "I saw no feet, and it petrified me.
"I remember being so scared [that] I wanted to cry out, 'Mommy!' but I knew Mommy was too far away to get to me before it did."
He says the shape advanced toward his bed.
And faded away, leaving a lingering stench.
He's positive this was no dream.
Quaratino's turned out to be the second ghost story of the day.
Before leaving Bistro 202, a staff member behind the counter at the cafe is asked whether she's heard about any sightings of the hotel's ghost.
"Yes," says Laura Lechuga with an embarrassed smile. A worker retrieving some items from an upstairs storeroom heard someone whispering to her, she says. The worker couldn't make out any words but felt the hair over her ear move, as if blown by an invisible breath. There was no one else in the room, Lechuga says. She adds that a few weeks ago, another employee claimed to have seen an eerie figure in white moving up the stairs.