“What becomes of a Legend when the truth outruns fiction?”
Everyone has their Boogeyman, and in New York, he goes by the name of Cropsey. In this 2009 documentary, Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio take a look at how the Cropsey archetype fits into NY urban legend, then shift to how the Legends came to life in Staten Island thanks to Andre Rand.
According to on camera interviews with several Staten Island residents, “Growing up in that area, EVERYONE had heard the stories of Cropsey”. The term “Cropsey” originally was a generic term referring to a psychotically violent criminal. Factor in the presence of the infamous Willowbrook State School, at the time the largest state-run mental health facility in the country. Questionable medical practices, barbaric care conditions and rampant over crowding only contributed to the local legend. Suddenly the idea of a raving mad excaped mental patient in showing up on your doorstep becomes a very real and very frightening possibility. Stories of Cropsey would vary slightly from person to person, what drove him mad, what weapon he carried, where he currently roamed…but what remained the same is that he was insane, and he preyed on children. And then, we meet the real life Cropsey.
In the wake of the disappearance of a young girl named Jennifer Schweiger, the Staten Island community is stunned and terrified. After a 35 day search, her mutilated body is found in a shallow grave in the shadows of the dilapitated Willowbrook school, suspicion is quickly turned to Andre Rand. Rand is a man of disturbing demeanor who not only was seen with the missing girl around the time that she disappeared, but has a prior history of sexual assault and kidnappings, as well as heavy ties to Willowbrook.
In the midst of their retrospective, we learn that in the years since Rands conviction and imprisonment, he has become linked to the disappearances of 4 other children in the area. Our documentarians follow the events of Rands trial for the kidnapping of Holly Anne Hughes, and as we learn more about Andre Rand, we are left with even more questions and fewer answers. Possible ties to cult activity, allegations of several attempted kidnappings, odd coincidences surrounding the alleged victims, possible ties to David Berkowitz (the famous .44 caliber killer of New York, aka the Son of Sam), only add more eerie uncertainty and intrigue to this story.
If you are a fan of true crime documentaries, such as Paradise Lost, or are fans of “The Burning” and “American Horror Story:Asylum”, and want to learn about some of the true events that influenced them, then I highly recommend checking this doc out.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from an interviewee, “Whenever people don’t want something, they throw it away, and when you throw something away, you gotta put it somewhere. That’s why we have landfills, and they seem to stick those on Staten Island. They do the same with people. We’ve got Mental hospitals, reform schools, Tuberculosis wards…a lot of them, all close together. Landfills and human landfills. Eventually every landfill is going to fester…to rot and become worse and then spill out to contaminate the surrounding area. Eventually all those things you didn’t want to deal with are going to get out of our control, and then what? I think that’s what happened here…”