The documentary, Cropsey, by Joshua Zeman and Barbara Branaccio is, pardon the cliche, a rollercoaster ride. A vomit inducing one at that.
It begins as an investigation into the legend of “Cropsey”, a sort of boogeyman who, according to folklore, steals children on Staten Island, NY. Cropsey was believed to be a remaining inmate from a local mental institution for children, Willowbrook State School. Willowbrook was closed 1987 due medical malpractice, abuse, and various other charges.
Pretty quickly, the film is full of disturbing imagery, such as a video from a report that Geraldo Rivera did on Willowbrook before it was closed. The video depicts a building full of half dressed, and some nude, children with disabilities. They are covered in filth, moaning, and clearly in distress. The film explains that after the institution’s closure, many of the inmates were simply left to fend for themselves in the wilderness and adjoining towns.
This leads to a string of child kidnappings (and one official murder as one body was found). A man named Andre Rand was incarcerated for the missing children, including many others that he was later linked to.
Much of the evidence points to the fact that Rand passed the children around between various homeless (including some of the left over inmates of Willowbrook) for sexual or abusive reasons. Some even speculate that Rand was involved in the occult, and that the children may have been sold or given to local Satanic cults to be used in rituals.
During the documentary, Andre Rand corresponds with Zeman and Branaccio from prison with bizarre letters and photographs. Even calling them at one point when they don’t respond to his latest letter for two weeks. Rand still maintains his innocence.
The film is full of interviews with witnesses and others who have attempted to solve the disappearances. Some of those who were involved with the initial searches continue to search the grounds of Willowbrook for the bodies of the rest of the missing children. One woman in particular says they still come across shocking sights such as a mattress with men’s razor blades and a pair of little girl’s panties on top of it.
I won’t recap the whole film, it would almost be impossible with the amount of interviews and speculation that flows throughout. In the end, though, the film will truly haunt you. I found myself still thinking about it days later, just wondering what really happened to those poor kids…