If you grew up in Staten Island up in New York, you might have heard the stories of Cropsey, an urban legend of a monstrous boogieman who kidnapped children. Imagine the shock of two documentary filmmakers who returned to their Staten Island home to find there was more truth than legend to the story. Meet me after the jump for my review of Cropsey.
Every community has stories like this. The boogie man in the woods, the hook, the molester, the hermit, even down to the creepy old house that everyone thinks is haunted – there is always that human monster that will, when you’re a kid, get you if you don’t listen to your parents or are out too late. In one area of Staten Island, it was Cropsey.
Cropsey was an escaped mental patient still living in the old abandoned Willowbrook Hospital, a place kids were forbidden to play. Sometimes Cropsey had a hook for a hand and sometimes just an old fashioned bloody axe, either way he stole children right off the streets and God knows what to them – maybe killed them, ate them, or worse – who knew? But what if he was real?
Before he was known as a pop culture joke, before he was known as a Fox commentator, and before he was known as a talk show host, Geraldo Rivera was an investigative reporter. And he was not just any investigative reporter, he was the investigative reporter, and Willowbrook may well have been his greatest achievement.
Riviera’s research into this Staten Island mental institution and special school revealed neglect and abuse of its patients and children on the level of the legendary snake pits from the turn of the last century. His reports led to hearings, lawsuits, and eventually the closing of Willowbrook. As horrible as these abuses may have been, there was something more sinister hiding in the shadows of the institution.
Andre Rand, born Frank Rushan, worked as a custodian at Willowbrook during its decline, and was often seen walking the grounds after hours and in the Greenbelt, the forest that surrounded the institution. He had a criminal record of molesting a young girl, raping a teenage girl, and later kidnapping a vanload of children (who were unharmed) to the airport. He served time for all of these crimes, but always returned to Willowbrook.
When children in the area again began to disappear, because of his record, Rand was a prime suspect. Most of the evidence was circumstantial, so only kidnapping charges could be proven. The stretch of time with no disappearances of children corresponded with the time Rand spent in prison. He has always maintained his innocence and he’ll be up for parole again in 2037.
When documentary filmmakers Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio returned to their Staten Island homes and began to discuss the idea of doing a film about the Cropsey legend, they soon found out that the details of their region and this legend were far more real than they ever believed, and that both Willowbrook and Andre Rand were involved. They had memories of vanishing children and neighbors and family members scouring the woods for clues, or bodies. And once they started their investigation, the connections began to get more frightening.
I won’t give away their journey into the past, their discoveries, or the pure evil Zeman and Brancaccio uncovered but this award-winning documentary will mesmerize you and keep you up at night. The real horror is that this is not a movie, this is not a fiction, this evil is real. You should definitely check out Cropsey.