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 '80s, 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 Mental Institution, who they believed was responsible for the disappearances. Cropsey is an examination into the fear of a "boogeyman" monster (in this case, "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 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 movie explains who Cropsey is: a shadowy figure described as an escaped mental patient who lives beneath the tunnels of the old Willowbrook Mental Institution 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 axe, or he's a literal ghoul who haunts the woods at night in service of Satan. The Cropsey story mutates throughout the documentary but the initial presentation of a character as an urban legend come to life is frightening enough that it could have its own movie.
The Disappearance Of 12-Year-Old Jennifer Schweiger Horrified Her Community
In the summer of 1987 Jennifer Schweiger, a 12-year-old girl born with Down syndrome, went missing from her Staten Island home. The last person she was reported being seen with was Andre Rand, a mentally ill drifter. After an intense 35-day search through the woods near the Willowbrook Hospital, Schweiger's body was found in a shallow grave. In Cropsey you actually see the size of the search for the girl and it's immediately apparent how much Schweiger's disappearance affected the borough. It's bad enough that Schweiger was a young girl, but the fact that she was mentally impaired makes her kidnapping and murder so much worse. Who could do that to a child other than the boogeyman of Staten Island?
Building Number 6 Was A Gruesome Place Of Filth And Neglect
The horror that most of the people of Staten Island seem to completely ignore is that of the Willowbrook Institution, specifically building number 6. In 1972 a young Geraldo Rivera filmed an exposé on the building that had formerly housed a large group of mental patients and what he found was disgusting. The building had been filled with patients left to their own devices. They were rarely monitored and probably barely fed. After filming in the institution, Rivera noted that the hardest thing to describe about the scenario was the smell. It would take ten years for Willowbrook to shutdown after Rivera's expose, and while some patients were transferred to units where they could be looked after, many patients were continually left to their own devices. It's believed that they simply stayed at the institution because that was the only life they knew.
The Tunnels Beneath The Institution Were A Creepy Complex
The Willowbrook Hospital itself seems like a portal to hell for its inhabitants, 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 city beneath the city must have been great while the hospital was up and running, but after it closed, many abandoned mental patients allegedly moved into the tunnels. If one of those mental patients did want to kidnap and murder children, this would be the place to do it. And even if there were no malicious mental patients - which there's no empirical evidence saying that there was - it's not out of the question for a child or teen to get lost below the hospital and die.