NJ Firm Uses High-Tech Toys in Search for Murder Case Evidence

This past week, Flemington-based Aqua Survey participated in a forensic investigation that is looking for new evidence in a murder case that dates back to the mid-1970’s. On November 13th 1974, six members of the DeFeo family were found shot to death in their Amityville, Long Island, New York home.  The eldest son Butch DeFeo was tried and convicted for the murders.  The aftermath of the shootings served as the inspiration for the 1979 film, The Amityville Horror.

Aqua Survey was contracted by filmmaker Ryan Katzenbach to use its proprietary electromagnetic (EM) survey technology to look for a specific piece of evidence which is thought to have been discarded in the nearby Amityville Canal.  Katzenbach is currently producing a documentary entitled Shattered Hopes which will examine the DeFeo murder case with a strong focus on the family and the events leading up to the murders.

A specially designed EM metal detection device, designed by Aqua Survey, was maneuvered by divers over an area roughly a half acre in size.  Aqua Survey originally developed the technology to detect underwater unexploded ordnance (bombs) and treasure.
Aqua Survey president Ken Hayes said, “While unable to disclose what exactly we’re looking for, I can say that it’s a metallic object weighing in at roughly three pounds.  If it’s there, our team will find it.”

Aqua Survey’s Manager of Marine Operations, Mark Padover led the survey which concluded this past Thursday.  “Over 100 possible targets were identified in the survey area. It’s a heavily developed waterway so there’s bound to be a lot of metallic debris,” stated Padover.  “The next step will be to have divers examine each of these pinpointed anomalies to determine if any of them are in fact the sought after evidence.”

Accompanying Padover was Aqua Survey’s Senior Archeological Diver, Eric Wartenweiler Smith.  Smith is a veteran member of world renowned archeologist Franck Goddio’s dive team.  With Aqua Survey’s support Smith accompanies Goddio, who discovered Cleopatra’s sunken palace off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt, on his yearly expedition to continue excavation of the palace as well as search for new historical sites.

Smith commented on the EM equipment, “Aqua Survey’s new technology opens up a lot of exciting opportunities for undersea discovery. Working with these new tools has me switching from searching for historic shipwrecks, bombs, torpedoes, and crime evidence on a weekly basis. I can’t wait to see what we find next!” In regards to the Amityville project Smith remarked, “I’m looking forward to seeing the results of the finished dive-out. If we find what we’re looking for, it could have drastic ramifications for the verdict of this notorious murder case.”

Later this month Padover will be travelling to Walker Lake, Nevada to lead an Aqua Survey team of scientists.  Smith is also headed to Nevada to assist Padover and then to Egypt to resume his work with Goddio.  For the Nevada project, they will be putting the same EM coil technology to use for its original purpose of finding underwater bombs as well as using a variety of other advanced remote sensing geophysical tools, such as transverse gradient magnetometry, side scan sonar and bathymetry.  Over 50 square miles in size, Walker Lake is adjacent to the Hawthorne Army Depot, one of the largest ammunition storage depots of its kind in the world.

Aqua Survey, founded in 1975 by Hayes, characterizes sediments and shorelines by geophysical survey, sampling, contaminant studies and archeological investigations.  They pinpoint bombs/munitions, locate lost treasure and weapons, assess environmental toxicity and guide marine archeologists worldwide.  Aqua Survey is headquartered in Flemington, NJ.

“Whether we are locating bombs, ship wrecks, missing cargo, forensic evidence or profiling contaminants in water bodies, work is always an adventure,” said Hayes.  Next month Hayes heads to Southeast Asia to demonstrate a new Aqua Survey tool that can detect 500 pound Viet Nam War-era bombs that are deeply buried in the Laotian jungle.