Cinepub


Documental: Cropsey by Jamie

It seems that every town has an urban legend involving some kind of scary maniac, weirdo or boogeyman who lives away from the rest of society doing untoward things like kidnapping or murder. The one we had growing up was Bill, a homeless man who lived down by the river. Admittedly ours was an actual person though the legend that grew up around him was probably somewhat exaggerated. There were those who said he was an eccentric billionaire who actually owned a rather nice house but decided to live down by the river instead because he was mental. I don’t really remember any tales of murder but I do remember that our parents would warn us of him when ever we were going down that way.

I remember one day when a few of us were walking across the Cow Pipe (a pipe elevated of the ground that ran from one part of the river to a cow field next to it) and Bill came round the corner. My friend fell and I grabbed him. Unfortuantely he took me with him and I landed in a big pile of stinging nettles. Bill sat there on the pipe laughing at us for a few minute before wandering off. It was one of the times that I remember being really and truly afraid.

The urban legend that circled amongst the kids on Staten Island was of Cropsey and that’s kind of what the film of the same name deals with. The interesting thing about this case is that something happened after the establisment of the legend that gave the story further credence.

On Staten Island there used to be a mental institution called Willowbrook. It was originally designed for 4,000 residents but by 1965 it had over 6,000 and was the biggest state-run institution for the mentally handicapped. In 1972 the institution was visited by the admirably mustachioed Geraldo Rivera in a report he called ‘Willowbrook: The Last Disgrace”. His footage, some of which is shown in ‘Cropsey’ showed scenes of overcrowding, children screeching naked and covered in filth. The report caused a public outcry but Willowbrook would remain open until 1987.

After it’s closure a few of the former residents and even staff members returned, living for periods in the woods around the institution of in the labyrinthine tunnels beneath the old building. One of these people was a former employee, Andre Rand.

Whilst all this was going on, children were going missing on Staten Island and this just helped to feed the Cropsey legend further. In 1987 a young girl with Down’s Syndrome called Jennifer Schwiezer went missing. Searches were carried out around the island and eventually her body was found close to Willowbrook. Attention turned towards Rand especially when witnesses came forward claiming that Jennifer had last been seen with a man fitting his description. He was brought in for questioning, charged and convicted receiving twenty -five years to life.

The film itself investigates all aspects of the legends and facts around Staten Island and Willowbrook. First it traces the legened of Cropsey before getting more and more involved in the case of Rand, going so far as to contact him and ask for interviews as a new trial is about to begin involving the disappearance of another little girl from 1981.

Overall it’s a pretty fascinating documentary and one which honestly gets more than a little creepy at times, particularly when the film makers are going through the ruins of Willowbrook at night, discovering all the old sleeping places of people who used to live there. It also handles the question of whether or not Rand is guilty quite well early on although as the film progresses I certainly found myself thinking he was probably guilty not so much because of any slant in the film but because of the actions of Rand himself which also ties into things. Is Rand being declared guilty because of any concrete evidence or because he seems like the kind of person who might do horrible things and therefore makes a convenient boogeyman for the community of Staten Island?

In closing the only real problem I had was that the film seemed a little all over the place at times but I’ll put this down to the nature of the story rather than any real fault of the film itself. Four pints out of five. Laterz.

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