Sunday, October 23, 2016
Cropsey is a documentary that covers a Staten Island urban legend that comes to life. Cropsey is supposedly a patient from a local defunct insane asylum Willowbrook Mental Institution that still lives in the abandoned building while he kidnaps and kills kids. His method of killing and weapon differ depending on who's telling it, but it's a typical story told around campfires that everyone in the neighborhood seems to know. Young people still go to the mental hospital hoping to find some sign that he's real, but mostly find graffiti and the homeless. When seven children went missing over decades in close to the same place, the neighborhood feels as if Cropsey has come alive.
Joshua Zeeman and Barbara Branaccio put the myth and the child disappearances in a larger historical context. Staten Island was known in the past as a dumping ground for garbage, sporting a large landfill, and bodies for the mob in the past. Willowbrook Mental Institution was open until 1987 where it was shut down due to unsanitary and barbaric treatment of mentally ill children. It was viewed as a dumping ground for imperfect children with extreme overcrowding, not enough employees, all types of abuse, and other inhumane conditions. The children that disappeared all had some sort of disability, which most likely had significance for whoever took them.
The most likely suspect that has been identified is Andre Rand, a past employee of Willowbrook. He has been in jail since the 80's and was on trial for the kidnapping of Holly Ann Hughes in 2004 when the documentary was filmed. It's truly inconclusive if he kidnapped or murdered anyone and there are solid arguments for both sides. On one hand, he's a homeless person who lives in Willowbrook and acts in a strange manner. No concrete evidence has surfaced. Eyewitnesses have come forward decades after the original events claiming to have seen him with her even though he was masked. Some people who knew Rand suggested that he was the scapegoat and sacrifice to avenge the probable deaths of the children that disappeared. Officials and residents make wild claims of Satan worship and necrophilia, comparing him to Son of Sam. The real life events and the myth of Cropsey seem to have merged in the minds of the Staten Island residents and they are certain that he is guilty.
On the other hand, Rand shows himself to be an incredibly manipulative person. He wrote Joshua and Barbara long notes annotating his thoughts in past testimony. As time goes on, his notes get less and less coherent. He finally agrees to an interview after some time going back and forth only to refuse them when they get to the jail. This was proven to be a pattern with past reporters. He seems to like having control over people interested in the case and refuses to say anything to them directly except claiming his innocence. In the past, Rand picked up a bus full of children and bought them food without the consent of their parents, a very odd and possibly telling event. He was also convicted of attempting to sexually assault a child (which was omitted from the film). Rand in any case is a troubled person and a criminal, but it's unclear whether he committed these kidnappings.
Cropsey is a compelling documentary that raises more questions than it answers. The majority of the seven disappearances are still unsolved and no one really knows what happened. Whether Rand did or did not commit these crimes, the families of these children will probably never know what happened. It was heartbreaking to watch these families hope that Rand would at least reveal the location of the children's bodies so the families could have some closure. I highly recommend this documentary even if it isn't your usual fare. Real life can be even more chilling and disturbing than fiction.
My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins