Cropsey: The Urban Legend That Came To Life

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Most small communities have a fun urban legend that they like to spread around. It’s a part of small-town culture! What happens when an urban legend who steals children suddenly becomes real?

The Urban Legend

Parents living in Staten Island would tell their kids the spooky tale of Cropsey, an escaped mental patient who lived in the nearby woods. In the 60s and 70s, kids really believed it because of how believable it was…

Be Careful, Kids

After Cropsey escaped from Willowbrook State School, eerily close to the Staten Island neighborhood. Cropsey would prowl around for children to drag them into the ruins of Seaview hospital… Parents told the kids that Cropsey would get them if they stayed out too late or misbehaved.

Scary Cropsey

Some stories say that Crospey wields a bloody ax. Others say that he had a hook for a hand, which made it easier to steal the kids by the ends of their clothes. Some would even say that Cropsey was the demonic soul of the mental patient who wanted to wreak havoc on the living.

Not Just A Story Anymore…

Cropsey was basically a household name. Older kids would try and scare their younger siblings, and teens would swap stories around a campfire. After years and years of this story, it was like they spoke Cropsey into existence…

A Real Monster

In the early 1970s, it became evident in the Staten Island community that they had a real monster living among them. This is when things got real.

The First Victim

In 1972, 5-year-old Alice Pereira was playing in the lobby of her parent’s apartment building with her brother. He left her alone just for a moment to run to the restroom. When he got back, she was gone. It was very unlike her.

No Leads

Witnesses told police that they saw Alice wandering in the park later in the evening, but that was it. There was no concrete evidence to find out what happened to Alice. To this day, her body was never found. It doesn’t end there…

Eerily Similar…

The community was wrecked. The loss of such a young life was hard to handle, and they were suspicious of any outsiders. In 1981, 7-year-old Holly Ann Hughes was buying some soap with a friend. That was the last anyone had ever seen her.

Holly’s Disappearance

She never came back from that trip. Her parents reported her missing that night and they immediately began to search for her. Some witnesses said they might have seen someone pull up next to Holly and drive off with her…

And Another One…

Just like the case before it, nothing ever came of Holly’s case. Two years after, on August 16th, 1983, 10-year-old Tiahease Jackson left her mothers apartment to go pick up some food. She never made it back.

She Was With Someone…

Her mother reported her missing, and the police tried their best to waste no time. This case was too similar to the ones before it. This time, witnesses said that they saw Tiahease exiting the Mariner’s Harbor Motel. She was with a man…

They Saw Him

Apparently, she was seen leaving with a man whose description was very similar to the man in Holly’s case. They had a suspect from Holly’s case who they couldn’t quite pin him to…

It’s Not a Coincidence

The suspect in Holly’s case had just been released from prison for a separate offense. It had only been days that he had been free, and then Tiahease had gone missing… Still, no concrete evidence connected this suspect to the crime.

He Just Won’t Quit

Just a year later, 22-year-old Hank Gafforio went missing. Although he was older than the other missing kids, his IQ was in the low 70s which made him much more vulnerable. People last saw Hank sitting at a diner with an older man.

Lack of Evidence

In a shocking twist, this older man was described by witnesses with strikingly similar features. Hank’s body was also never found, and this suspect could still not be linked to any of these murders. He knew he was going to continue getting away with it…

The Final Victim

The community faced another kidnapping on July 9th, 1987. This time, 12-year-old Jennifer Schweiger, who had Down Syndrome, went out for a walk as she usually liked to do…

Starting the Search

When Jennifer didn’t come back from her walk, her parents reported her missing. Once again, witnesses saw Jennifer with the same man. The community jumped to action, they couldn’t let another one slip by…

35 Days Later

No one found anything. Things were coming to a close, until 35 days later… A retired NYC firefighter named George Kramer was searching around in the woods of Willowbrook State School. That’s when he saw something.

Finding Jennifer

He felt sick. He saw a child’s foot sticking out of the ground. “It’s something that’s going to stick with you the rest of your life,” said Bob Devine, a volunteer at the scene.

It Was a Grave

He called in a crew. They worked carefully to uncover the body, which was in a shallow grave. It was undeniable: They found Jennifer. They ordered an all-out search of the grounds.

His Campsite

The police decided to search all around the school. That’s when they found a makeshift campsite not too far away from Jennifer’s grave. That’s where they found their main suspect over the years, Andre Rand…

The Face of Cropsey

Andre Rand was currently working as a custodian at the Willowbrook State School. This was a school mainly for disabled children open from 1947 until 1987, when it closed down due to the “Cropsey” case as well as other allegations of neglect and abuse towards the students.

Connecting the Dots

Rand had been the mystery suspect they’ve had their eyes on for the last 10 or so years. They never announced who their suspect was to make it easier for them to target him… Finally, they made ends meet and were able to connect him to the murder of Jennifer, but what about everyone else?

He Matches the Descriptions

Rand matched all of the descriptions of the man that was seen with most of the victims. He was seen pulling Holly into his car, sitting with Hank at dinner, and walking with Jennifer… Plus, he had been let out of prison just a couple of weeks before Tiahease went missing. It all made sense…

His Criminal Past

Rand was arrested in 1969 for the attempted rape of a young girl. In 1983, he kidnapped a group of eleven children from the Staten Island YMCA and drove them to the airport, but luckily wasn’t successful in abducting them. He only served ten months in prison for that crime, which was obviously a huge mistake…

Why Would He Do This?

Some believed that he was a Satanist and killed the children as a sacrifice to the devil. That wasn’t the only suspicion…

Willowbrook Tunnels

Others believed that Rand was passing the children around in the underground network of the homeless and disabled who live in a tunnel system that’s deep under the school. That could have been an easy motivation for drugs or money…

Arresting “Cropsey”

Finally, Andre Rand was formally charged with the kidnapping of Jennifer in 1988. He was sentenced 25 to life in prison. With this sentence, he would have been eligible for parole in 2008, but it didn’t end there…

Two Trials

Rand was tried for the kidnapping of Holly Ann Hughes in 2004. He was then sentenced to another 25 to life and will be eligible for parole in 2037… He’ll be 93 years old.

“Cropsey” Documentary

There’s a thrilling documentary investigating the killings. It was released in 2009, after everything had settled. They take a deep dive into the disappearances and how this urban legend became real…

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