Cropsey: The True Story

The urban legend of an insane murderer known as Cropsey has been shared around Staten Island NY for decades. Cropsey was said to be a deranged man that had escaped from an old mental asylum, who was prowling around at the edges of playgrounds and in the tunnels beneath Staten Island’s abandoned Seaview Hospital and Tuberculosis Ward. They say Cropsey comes out at night to hunt children and snatch them off the streets. Some legends claim he has a sharp hook for a hand, others say he wields a bloody axe. Regardless his weapon of choice, he was always out there and his motives were the same - to drag children back to the ruins of Seaview and hack them to pieces. The stories were meant to scare children to behave, for if they did not, Cropsey was going to get them. As it was discovered years later, Staten Island’s boogeyman was very real.

Andre Rand (born Frank Rushan) was born in 1944 in Manhattan, New York. Rand had a history of abducting and endangering children. Using the last name "Bruchette," Rand worked as a custodian at Staten Island’s Willowbrook State School from 1966 to 1968, an institution for children with disabilities, funded by New York State. Through the years after Verrazzano Bridge was built in 1964, Staten Island had become a dumping ground: for the bodies from mob hits, for sufferers of tuberculosis, for literal garbage dumps, and for the mentally challenged and misunderstood. Willowbrook was eventually closed due to its hazardous environment and for the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of disabled children living there. Rand would become homeless, drifting around on Staten Island and living in a series of makeshift campsites, with one of his outposts being built in the woods behind Willowbrook.

In 1969, he was arrested in the South Bronx after attempting to rape a 9-year old girl, pleading guilty to lesser charge of sexual misconduct, was sentenced to 4 years but only serving 16 months in jail. Back on the street, he legally changed his name to "Rand," logging three more arrests by the end of the decade for "minor" offenses, including burglary. Then, between the school’s closing and the early 1970s, several young girls in the area went missing. The first was in 1972 when five-year-old Alice Pereira seemed to vanish into thin air while playing in her neighborhood with her brother, just a few miles southeast of Willowbrook. However, officers were short on solid evidence required for an indictment. Then in 1981, seven-year-old Holly Ann Hughes went missing and several witnesses claimed to have seen the girl with Rand on the day of her disappearance. Once more, he was released for lack of evidence.

In 1979, he was accused of raping a young woman and a 15-year-old girl, but neither pressed charges. In 1981, Rand offered a 9-year-old girl a lollipop and tried to entice her to ride in his Volkswagen. When she refused his offer, Rand followed her to her home and searched for her while she hid under a rug. In 1983, while working for a Staten Island school bus company, he abducted 11 children, bought them lunch and drove them to New Jersey’s Newark International Airport for no apparent reason. He was never convicted of kidnapping, as none of the kids were harmed, but he did serve time on charges of unlawful imprisonment and was sentenced to ten months in jail. Later that same year, Rand became a primary suspect again shortly after he was released from prison when 11-year-old Tiahease Jackson disappeared. In 1984, 21-year-old Hank Gafforio, who was said to have had a low IQ, vanished after being last seen with Rand at a diner. These unnerving incidents left the town in terror, especially as the bodies of the victims were never recovered.

Then in 1987, Jennifer Schweiger — a 12-year-old girl born with Down syndrome — was reported missing and her body was found 35 days later in a shallow grave on the former property of the Willowbrook State School, within sight of Rand's lean-to. At the time, Rand had already been arrested in connection with Schweiger’s kidnapping and was also caught lying to reporters about never having met the girl before. Rand changed his story only after his defense lawyer learned there were several witnesses who saw Rand with his bicycle leading Schweiger by the hand away from her house toward the woods at Willowbrook. Though the jury couldn’t come to a verdict on the murder charge, they did convict him of first-degree kidnapping in 1988, and as there is no statute of limitations in New York for first-degree kidnapping, Rand was also later found guilty of Hughes’ kidnapping in 2004.

They were never able to prove he committed the murders but were able to convict him of kidnapping. He was sentenced to 25 years in 1988 for Jennifer Schweiger, then another 25 years in 2004 for the kidnapping of Holly Hughes. Rand is currently service consecutive 25-years-to-life sentences for two kidnapping conviction, eligible for parole in 2037, at 93 years old. To this day he still refuses to reveal the locations of the other missing children.