Podcast 51: CROPSEY

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

What if the bogeyman turns out to be real?

That’s the premise of the 2009 documentary film called Cropsey, written and directed by Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio.  The filmmakers, who grew up on Staten Island, NY, explore the origins of the urban legend they heard about as children, only discover that there may, in fact, be some truth behind the tale.

And the truth, as they say, is… terrifying.

Two filmmakers explore an urban legend from their own childhoods: a rash of abductions that struck Staten Island, N.Y., in the 1970s and 80s. Numerous kids vanished, setting off theories, frightening the residents and tripping up the legal system.

WHAT DID WE THINK?

Behind every myth or legend is a kernel of truth.  The problem is in sussing out where one ends and the other begins.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the film Cropsey, which examines a series of child disappearances in the 1980’s, and a community’s search for answers and justice for the victims.

Andre Rand under arrest.

The film’s central antagonist is a man named Andre Rand, a former custodian for the Willowbrook State School, a state-sponsored institution for children with developmental disabilities located on Staten Island.  This institution, by the way, was the subject of damning expose of the sickening and deplorable conditions these poor children were subjected to, and can still be seen here.   It’s truly infuriating how we as a society used to treat people with disabilities and, in many ways, just as horrific as anything alleged in the film, imagined or otherwise.

That said, if there ever was a perfect candidate for a depraved monster, then Rand certainly fit the role, what with his drooling and deranged demeanor. And, of course, just as in the classic film Frankenstein, the townsfolk brandished their metaphorical pitchforks and demanded the creature be caught.  Rand was subsequently convicted of kidnapping two of the missing children and is currently serving 50 years to life.

The problem is, only circumstantial evidence points to Rand as the culprit, as to this day no definitive proof of his guilt has been found.  In fact, the jury in the first case couldn’t reach a verdict on the murder charge due to lack of evidence.

Several theories have been put forth as to what Rand’s actual role was in the crimes, the most intriguing one being that he was deeply involved in Satanism and merely a pawn who provided children to groups unknown for sacrifice.  This is a theory promoted by other writers to explain the Son of Sam murders and Manson cases as well, most notably in Maury Terry’s The Ultimate Evil and Ed Sanders’ The Family.

Was Andre Rand part of a larger conspiracy?  Or did he, as some suggest, abduct and murder these children to save them from a life of misery?

The simple is answer is that we don’t know, and Rand isn’t talking.  Whatever the truth is, the blending of fact and fiction are sometimes so intertwined that distinguishing what’s real and what isn’t becomes impossible to untangle.  In other words, the myth becomes reality, and the reality becomes the myth.

The filmmakers try to unravel this mystery, but do so only superficially.  It’s a good film, being both disturbing and entertaining, however we felt that the premise needed a more thorough and in-depth investigation into these speculative and fascinating connections.  Hopefully, they’ll revisit the case some time in the future and actually get Rand’s side of the story.

We give the film 3.5/5 stars, so definitely check it out, especially if you’re into true crime.

Available on Netflix and Amazon.