Cropsey: Staten Island’s Boogeyman?

I first heard that a movie was being made about suspected Staten Island serial killer Andre Rand about 6 months ago. I had all but forgotten until I visited the Ghost Theory blog about 2 weeks ago, and they had the trailer posted. The movie is called “Cropsey,” and I was able to catch it this weekend at the IFC Center in Manhattan.

cropsey, staten island, andre rand, willowbrook, seaview, csiSo why am I blogging, on a paranormal blog, about a documentary based on a serial killer? Well for one thing, the mystery is still unsolved, at least in my mind. But we’ll get to that in a bit. But the movie also examines these child murders from the point of view of urban legend, the myth of the boogeyman who lives in the woods, and how these myths and legends can sometimes be based on fact, or sometimes even come true. In this case, a series of child disappearances and murders was taking place on Staten Island, New York, starting in the late ’70s and into the ’80s. “Cropsey” is the name of an urban legend on the east coast, usually told at summer camp, of a deranged man in the woods who kills children. Sometimes he has a hook for a hand, sometimes a bloody axe. The story is a little different depending on who tells it. The filmmakers tie this urban legend to what actually happened with these child murders. Lastly, the movie deals with the old Willowbrook School and Seaview Hospital, and I want to talk about the stories of hauntings that we heard as paranormal investigators about these killings and these locations.

First the movie itself. If you have a chance to see it, I strongly suggest you do. It’s an interesting story, and I think one that will cause a lot of controversy. The movie tells the story of some missing children, who started disappearing on Staten Island beginning in the early 1970s and continuing until the 1980s. In all, police suspected 7 children were the victims of the same serial killer. Only one body, that of Jennifer Schweiger, was ever found. Her nude body was found in a shallow grave in the general vicinity of the camp of a homeless man named Andre Rand, on the grounds where the Willowbrook State School used to stand. It is now home to the College of Staten Island, of which I am a graduate.

The Willowbrook State School, for those who may not have heard of it, was a “school” for mentally retarded children back in the ’60s through the early ’80s.  In 1972, Geraldo Rivera got his big break by doing an exposé on the school, showing its deplorable conditions (you can view the report here). Overcrowding, neglect, physical and sexual abuse, and illegal experiments were just some of the things that went on at Willowbrook.  It was finally closed in 1987.

Back to Andre Rand. He actually worked at Willowbrook, and once the institution closed, he lived on the grounds in makeshift campsites and shelters, possibly even living in the tunnels underneath the facility. He was arrested in 1969 of kidnapping and attempted rape of a 9-year-old girl. He was working in a complex where Alice Pereira vanished in 1972. Witnesses saw him with Holly Ann Hughes when she disappeared in 1981. And of course, the body of Jennifer Schweiger was found in the vicinity of his camp in Willowbrook in 1987. After that, he was arrested, charged and convicted of Jennifer’s murder. Just recently, he was convicted in a second murder, that of Holly Ann Hughes.

The film uses lots of archival footage as well as recent interviews with detectives, witnesses and community leaders who were involved in the initial investigation of the crimes. The filmmakers, Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio, present an interesting film, part urban legend, part crime drama, and it works well. It is thought provoking, it is sad, and it is creepy.

andre rand, cropsey, staten island, seaview, willowbrook, serial killer
Andre Rand

And it is frightening just how easily Andre Rand was convicted. Granted, this is a man who probably should not be allowed to roam the streets. But all of the evidence against him was circumstantial. Yes, he had prior charges against him, and while that doesn’t mean he should be around children, it doesn’t prove he committed these specific murders. Some witnesses did place him at the scenes of some crimes, but it is revealed in the film that most of these eyewitnesses were alcoholics or drug addicts who couldn’t give specific details at the time, but now 20 years later and after drug and alcohol rehabilitation, can miraculously “remember” seeing Andre Rand, in great detail, with these girls. The film even shows a witness in the Holly Hughes trial, a woman who claims that she saw Rand, in a mask, kidnapping Holly. Not sure how she knew it was him if he was in a mask. She also claims to have known most of the other victims of this series of crimes. Her eyes are bloodshot and sunken in. She looked like she was smoking crack moments before being interviewed. And yes, the body was discovered near Rand’s campsite, but it should be noted that there were many other homeless men living in the same area, and no forensic or DNA evidence has ever been found to link Rand to the one body they did find.

Do I think he’s innocent? Not necessarily. But is he guilty of all these murders? Nobody really knows. There is a lot of reasonable doubt. Yet he is serving jail time, 25 years to life. Not only that, but he has been convicted twice. Because a body was found near where he lived and some drug addicts said it was him. And because he looks crazy. That’s like any of us being convicted of the murder of the tenant in the apartment below ours, just because they live close to us and people have seen us talking in the past. There is no evidence, and save one, no bodies. Are we better off without him on our streets? Undoubtedly. But did he commit these murders? Nobody knows except for Andre Rand and/or the real murderer(s).

seaview hospital, pennace photography, laura pennace, staten island
Seaview Hospital

There was some mention in the movie as well that Rand may have been involved with a Satanic cult, which supposedly held its meetings in the abandoned Seaview Hospital, which at one time held tuberculosis patients. There are many rumors on Staten Island about the old Seaview facility and what goes on there, and perhaps the biggest rumor is that it’s the home of Satanic cults and their grisly rituals. I’ve been there, and while it’s definitely creepy, there’s no sign of anything going on there besides some kids playing paintball and scaring each other at night, as well as some homeless people spending some nights there. The filmmakers even venture there one night in the flm, with some humorous results.

But an interesting note. While we were ghost hunters, we were told by many of the staff at the College of Staten Island that the grounds were haunted. Not too hard to believe, as the facility had a very tragic and turbulent past (even before Willowbrook, the facility was used as a World War II hospital and there are rumors that POWs were also held there, and probably not treated well). Most of the stories were of children crying, appearing as apparitions, things like that. But one security guard told us of a girl who had been found dead on the grounds, the victim of a serial killer. We were shown the location, and it was said that the first floor women’s bathroom in the building adjacent to where the body was found was haunted by her. We never found any solid evidence when we went to check it out, but we did encounter very strange and very high EMF spikes. We also heard footsteps, voices and chairs being moved on the second floor, in classrooms that were locked, when we were the only ones on campus late at night (with the security guards). Was it a ghost? The boogeyman? We’ll never know for sure. Just like we may never know who took these children from us.

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30 comments on “Cropsey: Staten Island’s Boogeyman?

  1. Watched the show last night. Agree that Rand is not an innocent but evidence was very flimsy. Also wondered how “George” found Jennifer’s body so easily – was he ever investigated? It sounded as if there was evidence the body had been moved; perhaps someone was taking advantage of the situation.

  2. Andre rand is guilty as sin. He killed many children in ways that at the time were thought to be wild animals. Evidence might have been flimsy but he was a monster who needed to be stopped. He was evil.

    IS72 Rocco Laurie graduate.

    1. While I agree that he probably should be kept off the streets, saying he is “guilty as sin” is a bit much. In this country, we are all supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. There was never any proof that he committed any of the murders, except for public opinion and mob rule. It’s scary how easily witch hunts can still happen in this country.

  3. Still seems like he was framed. It’s quite sad, even if he did do it, all anyone has gone by was knee jerk reactions. Just because they are children, it doesn’t mean you should dismiss proper forensics and evidence. A hunch doesn’t always mean it’s right. Same with Manson, he never killed anybody, he had influence on the people that did carry out the murders, but he never physically took someones life. It almost feels as if this is the same thing that happened to “Cropsey” / Rand.
    I just wish cases like this would get proper evidence and judgment before they are completely dismissed and closed. The real killer could still be out there, we may never know. If it was Rand, then at least he’s put away. If it’s not, I feel sorry for Rand.
    It’s hard to say. Hopefully the bodies will be found someday and maybe we can find out the real truth to the case instead of just hearsay.

  4. Thanks for all the great comments! It’s fun to see people discussing their perspectives on the film, especially the ending, and doing their own research on Rand and the legend of Cropsey! Like us on Facebook (http://on.fb.me/j3qBQn) and follow us on Twitter (@cropseylegend) to get more info on the film!
    Cropsey is out on DVD now and available on iTunes so if you haven’t seen it you should definitely check it out! Or else!

  5. @Jill
    Thanks Jill for commenting! There was no DNA profiling in 1987 to see if Rand was involved. IF there was, I don’t know if there would be all these looming questions. It’s called the CSI Effect – the idea that juries want conclusive physical evidence to prove innocence or guilt.

    Like us on Facebook (http://on.fb.me/j3qBQn) and follow us on Twitter (@cropseylegend) to get more info on the film! Cropsey is out on DVD now and available on iTunes so if you haven’t seen it you should definitely check it out!

  6. @Mary
    Thanks for commenting Mary, there was a lot of suspicion surrounding George finding a body in an area that had been covered by people, dogs etc. He said it was luck, and that his wife had a “feeling” Again, there were numerous rumors that Jennifer had been found somewhere else and then reburied near Rand’s campsite.

    Like us on Facebook (http://on.fb.me/j3qBQn) and follow us on Twitter (@cropseylegend) to get more info on the film! Cropsey is out on DVD now and available on iTunes so if you haven’t seen it you should definitely check it out! Or else!

  7. @Killy
    Rand definitely was a menacing character. Have you seen the documentary, yet? It kind of lets the audience make up their mind about Rand, I think you’d really enjoy it!

    Like us on Facebook (http://on.fb.me/j3qBQn) and follow us on Twitter (@cropseylegend) to get more info on the film! Cropsey is out on DVD now and available on iTunes!

  8. @Jason Stroming
    Thanks for giving your opinion on the matter, it’s always interesting to see people who have very different thoughts on Andre Rand. Have you seen the documentary, yet? There was definitely a lot of circumstantial evidence pointing to him, which is valid in a court of law. But everyone should make up their own minds about the case!

    Like us on Facebook (http://on.fb.me/j3qBQn) and follow us on Twitter (@cropseylegend) to get more info on the film! Cropsey is out on DVD now and available on iTunes!

    1. Yes, I’ve seen it a few times. This is my blog and I did the review! LOL I know people are often convicted on circumstantial evidence, but it’s usually a lot stronger than what Rand got convicted on. Especially as most of this evidence was provided by witnesses who were unreliable, as pointed out in the documentary. Former alcoholics and drug addicts are hardly good witnesses, especially 20 years later. Again, I’m not saying that he wasn’t involved, but in a criminal court of law, one is supposed to be convicted because evidence shows they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. There is too much doubt here to convict him of any of these crimes, in my opinion.

      By the way, are you Joshua or Barbara? Or someone else representing the Cropsey crew? Just curious :)

  9. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting evidence to prove innocence or guilt. Of course there isn’t always DNA or physical evidence, but being convicted because people felt he was creepy looking is not fair at all, and I’m ashamed of our justice system for convicting him. I know that the community was scared, but this whole thing amounted to nothing more than a witch hunt. Beyond that, there was really no evidence that he was involved at all, especially considering how George seemingly knew where to find a body, in a place that had already been searched.

  10. @ghostshadow
    Thanks for weighing in. Although there was no concrete evidence, there was definitely a lot of circumstantial evidence, along with asides from Rand saying that he did commit to murders. Of course, the latter could have been false, but the circumstantial evidence is strongly recognized in a court of law, so it wasn’t so much hunches as it was witnesses who saw him near some of the children.

    Like us on Facebook (http://on.fb.me/j3qBQn) and follow us on Twitter (@cropseylegend) to get more info on the film! Cropsey is out on DVD now and available on iTunes!

  11. Hey, thanks again for this great review! We just linked to it on our Twitter and Facebook pages! Always great to hear different perspectives on Cropsey, which is what we intended with the doc! Check out our pages!
    Twitter: @cropseylegend
    Facebook: http://on.fb.me/hfnOIB

    And to answer your question Jason, I am a representative of the Cropsey crew who works closely with the directors!

  12. My father was the lead investigator in these muderers and worked tirelessly for years to nail this guy. The ” old school” cop that he was even enlisted the help of a psychic to no avail. I remember her sending them on a wild goose chase looking for Holly. My dad has since passed. I wish I could remember the stories he had told. They were the topics of conversation at many a dinner. I remember him with tears in his eyes many a time as he worried about me being a little girl at the time.

  13. Just curious- you say that someone at the college showed you where Jennifer’s body was discovered. Where was that? I was always curious as to where exactly she was buried.

  14. Is this guy still alive ? And if so what prison is he in ? After all this time hasn’t anyone got any new clues as to what happen ?
    Sounds like he might have had some mental illness to a degree but, does not seem to be enough evidence to convict this person.
    Could a person with physic abilities be able to help ?

  15. @Belinda Diane Needler Yes, Andre Rand is still alive. And I agree, he is probably not fit to be on our streets, but there was hardly enough evidence to convict him. This was a modern day witch hunt. People figured looked crazy, so he must be guilty. And psychics have been used I believe, to no avail.

  16. I just want to give my opinion. My husband n I was looking for a movie to watch on Netflix and came acrods this crospy movie that took place in staten island and seeing that we live in staten island and been living here going on 5 yrs it’s interesting hearing what happened in the past. I watch the movise a couple of time and did some reasearch about and I honestly believe that maybe this guy might had not killed these kids… I mean I dnt agree that he should be in the street he should be lock up but somewhere, where he’s gets help like a mental hosiptal. I dnt believe that b/c he’s mentally disturbed we should point the finger a say he did it when there isn’t no real evidence… What about the girl who said that she was friend w/ all 3 kids n she seen a man w/ a mask how the freak does she knows that it was him? What about the guy who said he took him to some park he obviously didnt get killed it’s to funny the story if u asked me…

  17. I saw this movie a while ago now. Regardless whether or not Rand is guilty, concrete evidence was on the light side. However, as a commentary on the movie, I saw it on a PBS stations and it was riveting. I loved the non-judgmental approach of the producers. I felt pretty knowledgeable about the cases after watching the documentary. I think it was done brilliantly. I lived in upstate NY and had never heard about this so it was extremely interesting.

  18. I hope if it was him or someone else that those kids get put to rest.. I’m a mother too I can’t even think about ever being without my kid.. I feel so sorry for there lost… God bless those poor kids my heart goes out to them and if it was him or someone else shame on you… Just because there’s no DNA evidences does not mean it wasn’t him… Back in the days there was poor technology to tie him. To anything but now it’s different… If he had help don’t u think he won’t be living on the woods.. I just hope whoever did this just comes and tells how can a person sleep at night knowing they killed kids that are hopeless… God bless everyone this is a cold world u can’t even trust no one….

    1. @Vanessa No DNA evidence does not mean it wasn’t him, but it also doesn’t mean it was him. Just because he was mentally ill or near these kids at some point doesn’t mean he killed them. He may have done it, but there is no evidence aside from people believing he did it. Yet he was still convicted. That is a scary precedent to set.

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