The Story of Cropsey, The Monster of Staten Island

Kids growing up on Staten Island are often warned of the dangers of Cropsey in order to keep them well behaved.

Cropsey was the escaped mental patient who lived in the old abandoned Willowbrook Mental Institution, who would come out late at night and snatch children off the streets. Sometimes Cropsey had a hook for a hand, other times he wielded a bloody axe, but it didn’t matter, Cropsey was always out there, lurking in the shadows, waiting to get them. Cropsey is the creature that lurks at the end of your block. It’s the shadowy figure that prowls the edge of the playground. Cropsey is Staten Island’s personal boogeyman.

It's origins of the name are mostly unknown but were certainly more along the lines of the boogeyman than an actual person. This all changed in the 1970's though, when a drifter named Andre Rand began kidnapping children.

The first youth to go missing in the string of disappearances was 5-year-old Alice Pereira, who vanished in 1972 after playing with her brother. The second was 7-year-old Holly Ann Hughes, who according to witnesses, was spotted with Rand on the day of her disappearance in 1981. The third was 11-year-old Tiahease Jackson, who disappeared shortly after Rand was released from prison in 1983. The fourth was Hank Gafforio, a 22-year-old with a low IQ who was last seen with Rand at a diner in 1984.

These disappearances were horrible, but a massive community search for the person responsible only commenced after the disappearance of a disabled girl in 1986.

The final child was Jennifer Schweiger in the summer of 1987. A 12-year-old with Down Syndrome, Jennifer told her parents she was going for a walk but never returned. A massive search party commenced. Neighbors combed the empty lots and wooded parks of Staten Island. By this time Rand was homeless and living in a series of makeshift campsites. One of his outposts was built in the woods behind his old stomping grounds – Willowbrook State School.

When authorities searched in the woods surrounding the premises, they found a shallow grave containing Jennifer's remains. Rand was immediately charged with kidnapping and murder, but the murder charges did not stick. The bodies of the first four children were never found and prosecutors could not tie Rand to the body, leading to a hung-jury on the murder charge. The 4 kidnapping convictions stuck though, and Rand is currently serving multiple 25 year sentences back-to-back. He will become eligible for parole in 2037, when he is 93 years old.

The full story is pretty interesting, and the subject of a 2009 documentary entitled Cropsey which screened at the Tribeca Film Festival that year.

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