Here's Why 'Cropsey' Is One Of The Most Horrifying Documentaries Ever Made

One of the scariest documentaries in recent memory tells the legend of Cropsey through the eyes of the people who lived through the nightmare of an urban legend come to life. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, mentally handicapped children systematically started going missing on Staten Island and no one knew what was happening to them. At least, not until the police were able to track down a man named Andre Rand, a vagrant and former custodian at the Willowbrook State School, who they believed was responsible for the disappearances.

The 2009 film by Staten Island locals Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio is an examination into the fear of a boogeyman monster named "Cropsey" that follows kids through their youth and how in many ways that fear is entirely warranted. 

If you enjoy true crime documentaries like Dear Zachary (2008), then you'll be glued to the edge of your seat throughout Cropsey as it attempts to unravel the mystery of a group of missing children and exposes the truth behind a gruesome urban legend.

  • Cropsey Is A Shadowy Figure Who Is Probably An Escaped Mental Patient

    The opening of the documentary explains who Cropsey is: a shadowy figure described as an escaped mental patient who lives in the tunnels beneath the former Willowbrook State School on Staten Island. He comes out late at night to snatch children from the streets. Depending on who you ask, Cropsey has a hook for a hand, he carries a bloody ax, or he's a literal ghoul who haunts the woods at night in service of Satan.

    Though the story mutates throughout the documentary, the initial presentation of the frightening Cropsey urban legend portrays the realistic fear residents of Staten Island - old and young alike - experience.


  • The Disappearance Of 12-Year-Old Jennifer Schweiger Horrified Her Community

    The Disappearance Of 12-Year-Old Jennifer Schweiger Horrified Her Community
    Video: YouTube

    On July 9, 1987, Jennifer Schweiger, a 12-year-old girl born with Down syndrome, went missing from her Staten Island neighborhood. The last person she was reported being seen with was 43-year-old Andre Rand, an alleged mentally ill drifter. After an intense 35-day search through the woods near the Willowbrook State School, Jennifer's body was found in a shallow grave.

    In Cropsey, the audience actually sees the size of the search for the girl, and it's immediately apparent how much Jennifer's disappearance affected the borough. Jennifer was the fourth known missing girl, and the small island community banded together to help the girl's parents in the search. Mr. Schweiger commented: ''I really can't fathom the amount of support, civilian and official."

  • Andre Rand Was The First Person Suspected Of Being The Cropsey

    In 1988, the monster of Staten Island was finally brought to life when Andre Rand was arrested in connection with the disappearance and passing of Jennifer Schweiger. Throughout the film, Rand is described as being a mentally unstable transient. He was allegedly seen with Jennifer before her disappearance, and her body was found near a place where he slept in the woods.

    After his arrest, Rand was suspected of having lured other children away, but no one was able to actually provide evidence that he was complicit in the disappearances. Most of the people who testified against him claimed that he just looked like he was someone who would take their children.

    Rand was only convicted of abducting Jennifer. The murder charge was dismissed because jurors couldn't agree on whether he actually took her life. He received a sentence of 25 years to life. Then, in 2004, 23 years after Holly Ann Hughes's disappearance, Rand was charged due to no statue limitations. He received an additional 25 years.

  • Rand Squatted At The Willowbrook State School - A Gruesome Place Of Filth And Neglect

    Rand Squatted At The Willowbrook State School - A Gruesome Place Of Filth And Neglect
    Video: YouTube

    In the mid-1960s, Rand worked as a custodian at the Willowbrook State School, putting him in the middle of one of the ugliest blights on Staten Island and giving him direct access to mentally disabled children. In 1970, Rand reportedly pleaded guilty to assaulting a 9-year-old Bronx girl and paroled in 1972.

    In that same year, a young Geraldo Rivera filmed an exposé on building number 6 of the Willowbrook institution, which had formerly housed a large group of mental patients. What he found was deeply disturbing to the public. The building had been filled with severely neglected children living in squalid conditions.

    After filming in the institution, Rivera noted that the hardest thing to describe was the institution's smell. It would take until 1987 for Willowbrook to shut down after Rivera's exposé, and while some patients were transferred to units where they could be looked after, many were abandoned without care or supervision. It's believed that they simply stayed at the institution because that was the only life they knew. 

    Among these transient squatters included Rand, who had taken up residence on the institution's grounds


  • The Tunnels Beneath The Institution Were A Creepy Complex

    The Willowbrook State School itself may have seemed like a portal to hell for its inhabitants - Robert Kennedy referred to the institution as a "snake pit" - but the tunnels beneath the institution would go on to provide a whole new level of terror for the people of Staten Island. The Willowbrook tunnels are set up as a hub with spokes that stretch beneath the grounds, and while in operation, the tunnels were used as a way for workers to move around quickly without physically moving through the hospital.

    In the film, they're described as "a city under a city." The access tunnels were necessary while the hospital was up and running, but after it closed, many abandoned patients and former staff members allegedly moved into them, below the surface of the former institution. Locals later speculated that "Cropsey" committed acts of Satanism in the tunnels.

  • Was Andre Rand Actually Guilty, Or Is The Real Cropsey Still Out There?

    While most of the citizens of Staten Island believe that Andre Rand was a monster who nabbed and harmed numerous children, there are a lot of people who believe that he was set up to take the fall. Not only is there no physical evidence tying Rand to Jennifer, but it's possible that someone else is responsible for her disappearance and passing. However, he was the last person seen with the girl, and he had a noted history of related charges.

    Some criminal scholars believe that Rand was simply the first person to be arrested and that by bringing him in quickly the police were able to provide closure for the Schweiger family. It may be an unkind theory to the families of the missing children, but it's entirely possible that the real-life Cropsey is still wandering Staten Island.