I am only 23 years old, so i wasn't aware of this story growing up on Staten Island. I have heard about just about every other story this island has to offer, I mean this is said to be the most haunted borough. We have Richmond Town, Sea View, The Farm Colony... I could keep going.. and I will get to these stories sooner or later, but what got me was the story of cropsey. I was flicking through the channels and came across a commercial about a documentary that's to be aired on channel 23 (if you have timeWarner cable) on Friday at 9 pm. I figured if they were making a whole documentary about this then it may be worth exploring. So i googled it, of course. And so here is what i came across.
It was the 1980's, at the time, the island was much less populated then it currently is. It was a very family oriented place with more wooded areas then the other 4 boroughs. There was an urban legend called cropsey about an escaped mental patient ( no surprise there) that lived in the woods and would pray on little kids. This was mostly passed along by kids trying to scare each other or parents trying to keep their children close by and keep them from wandering out of the neighborhood. But in the 80's an urban legend took on its own real life antics when children around the island started going missing. Enter Andre Rand, who worked as an orderly in the Willowbrook State School in the 1960's. As it turns out he actually lived on the grounds after the closing of the Willowbrook school at various make shift camp sites he set up in abandoned buildings and also in the under ground tunnels that ran under the institution.
The 1st girl to grab attention but no the 1st to go missing, and the only one who's body was recovered was 12 year old Westerleigh girl Jennifer Schweiger, who had down syndrome. She disappeared on July 9th 1987 and was found later in August of that same year. She was found in a shallow grave near the abandoned building. Andre Rand was the last person to be seen with her alive for whatever reason a 42 year old homeless guy is the only one with a 12 year old not to mention a young girl with down syndrome is beyond me. It took over 30 days of searching and combing the island to find this girl. He was arrested but only convicted of kidnapping, not for murder and is currently serving 25 years to life. But if you thought it ended there it doesn't. In 2004 Andre took the stand again facing charges on kidnapping and murder charges in the case of 7 year old Holly Ann Hughes who went missing in 1981, before Jennifer was taken. She was playing with her friends near a local Port Richmond deli. A witness saw a green Volkswagen shadowing her. Witness Elsie Caban, says she saw this car about 6 times over a 2 hour span moving closer to Holly and her friends. "The Volkswagen moved next to the tracks on Park Ave.," Caban said, recalling how she had previously seen the car up the street.
"Now, the car was on the other side of the street with the children around down by the trestle." Caban said she first saw the car parked outside her Park Ave. home in Port Richmond and across the street from where her children were playing with Holly Ann outside the child's home. A short while later, as Caban walked to a deli to buy soap, she saw the car parked near the railroad tracks. Caban testified that the last time she saw Holly Ann was between 9:30 and 9:45 p.m. as the child strolled alone on Ann St. toward Port Richmond Ave. Caban, who was on her porch, said she noticed several minutes later the Volkswagen was gone. Perhaps the strangest twist in this story is that the sales clerk that was working that night at the deli remembered Holly come in and bought a bar of ivory soap. He said she came in at about 9:30 pm to buy a bar of soap and she was a nickle short. Why is this strange? Well because Elsie Caban stated that she too went into that same deli and bought a bar of soap, and according to the clerk she too was a nickle short. Andre has admitted to being there and states that he actually gave the girl money and told her to go buy a bar of soap because she was dirty. Oh no it doesnt end there, Rand is also likely connected to the kidnappings of additional girls: Tiahease Jackson, 10, who disappeared Aug. 13, 1983, out of The Mariner's Harbor Hotel where she was staying with her family. Her mother was asleep around 1:30 pm and a neighboor asked her to run to the store for her. She was never seen again after buying chicken wings at Crown Supermarket, 900 Richmond Ave.; and Alice Pereira, 5, who disappeared on July 10, 1972, near her apartment in the Tysens Ln area of the New Dorp section, several miles southeast of Willowbrook. She vanished after her brother left her alone for all of 5 minutes. Audrey Lyn Nerenberg is another girl about the age of 18 although she had the mentality of a 14 year old when she was taken. She lived in Flatbush, Brooklyn but was at a theater on Staten Island the day before her disappearance on July 5th 1977. The theater is the former Jerry Lewis Theater that was on Forest Ave., not far from Rand's makeshift campsites. Audrey was last seen at her house in Brooklyn where she told her mother she was going two blocks away for a pack of cigarettes. Though her father received a call claiming to be the abductor, and demanding ransom, she was never seen or heard from again. He has also been linked to the disappearance of Ethel Atwell and the rape and murder of Shin Lee, both Willowbrook aides.
Andre Rand has not given cops any extra information to help solve any of the cases, and to this day no body knows exactly what happened in the events leading up to the death of little Jennifer and the others. Few speculate that he passed some of the girls around among his friends, who knows if this is true. What really gets me is that this could have all been stopped before it all started. His first encounter with the law was May 25, 1969, when he some how got a 9-year-old Bronx girl into his car and drove to a vacant lot. He took off his clothes and hers, but a passing police car interrupted the crime. Charged with attempted rape, Rand pleaded guilty to sexual abuse and was sentenced to four years. He served 16 months. In 1979, he was accused of raping a young woman and a 15-year-old girl, but neither pressed charges. In 1981, he offered a 9-year-old girl a lollipop and tried to lure her to ride in his Volkswagen. When she refused, Rand followed her to her home and searched for her while she hid under a rug. No charges were filed. And in January 1983, he drove to a Staten Island YMCA, lured 11 children into his van and drove to Elizabeth, N.J., where he bought them White Castle. He then took them to Newark Airport, where they watched planes arrive and depart. When he brought them back to the YMCA five hours later, Rand was charged with unlawful imprisonment and served 10 months in jail. Of course he and his lawyer maintain his innocence saying that Rand was "thoroughly investigated at the time. . . . His photograph was shown to persons who had seen Holly Ann Hughes shortly before her disappearance and none of them have identified [him] as having been near or with the child on July 15, 1981."
In a letter Rand wrote he said that that he has been the victim of "a slanderous/scapegoat article resurrecting [so-called] 'notoriety,' thus encouraging hostility against plaintiff. Focusing and arousing public attention toward plaintiff from so-called 'missing persons' old cases - such persons plaintiff has never met!" In a jailhouse interview with The News in 1987, Rand repeatedly lied to a reporter, saying he had never met Jennifer Schweiger. Though he changed his story real quick at trial, after his defense lawyer learned there were several witnesses who saw him with his bicycle leading the trusting little girl with Down syndrome by the hand away from her house toward the woods at Willowbrook. And inmates have said that Rand in his own words referred to him self as similar to Ted Bundy notorious women killer. "You know me and [Ted] Bundy are alike in many ways. We both used Volkswagens. Bundy's thing was women. My thing is kids. . . . Do you think the police could figure that out?" Andre also boasted to inmates that no one will ever find Holly's remains. He also asked a prison mate where he could find a porn magazine similar to his but with children instead.
|The search for Jennifer|
Even 20 years later Friends of Jennifer, a group of people that dedicated much efforts to the recovery of Jennifer, still search the Willowbrook area once a year in hopes to recover anything that would help any of the cases against Rand.