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.
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.
Many Children Of Staten Island Went Missing Whose Bodies Were Never Recovered
Jennifer Schweiger isn't the only child that went missing while Rand was roaming the forests of Staten Island: 5-year-old Alice Pereira disappeared in July 1972; 7-year-old Holly Ann Hughes disappeared in July 1981; and 10-year-old Tiahease Jackson disappeared in August 1983. Rand was allegedly responsible - although never formally charged - for abducting a series of children with mental disabilities, as well as one young man with an extremely low IQ - 22-year-old Henry Gafforio, who disappeared June 1984.
No bodies were ever found in connection to these missing persons.
The Ghosts Of Missing Children Reportedly Still Haunt Staten Island
Something that hangs over the documentary like a dense fog is the series of unsolved disappearances of the children of Staten Island. Throughout the film, there are parents still holding on to the hope that their kids are going to turn up alive and well, and there are others who believe that the children are likely gone and just want to provide closure for the families.
Donna Cutugno, the founder of volunteer search group Friends of Jennifer, appears in the film as someone who is doing her best to not completely break down while she searches for the bodies of children who went missing in the '70s and '80s. According to the New York Times, Cutuagno maintains: "We still have those other missing children. The boogeyman wasn't a myth."