It started as an urban legend. But the chilling tale of Andre Rand turned out to be much more than myth.
Andre Rand was actually born as Frank Rushan, but he may be better be known as “Cropsey.” His name isn’t relevant though. It’s the man behind the name that’s important, and that man is terrifying.
Born on March 11, 1944, Rand is now considered the most notorious criminal Staten Island’s history. A convicted kidnapper and suspected child serial killer, he is currently serving consecutive 25 years to life sentences.
The story of Rand began as something of a spooky urban legend on New York City’s Staten Island. Across the community, there were stories of a boogeyman-like creature called “Cropsey,” who had a hook for a hand and would drag children to an abandoned hospital. But fact and fiction started to meld when kids in the area actually started disappearing.
In the 1960s, Rand worked as a custodian at Staten Island’s Willowbrook State School, a state-funded institution for children with disabilities. The institution operated until 1987 when questionable conditions and medical practices led to its closure.
Between the early 1970s and the closing of the Willowbrook State School, several young girls went missing.
On July 10, 1972, five-year-old Alice Pereira disappeared in her neighborhood just a few miles southeast of Willowbrook. As he had already served sixteen months in prison for the abduction of a nine-year-old girl, Rand was the prime suspect. However, there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him in the case of Pereira.
On July 15, 1981, seven-year-old Holly Ann Hughes went missing too. Her parents filed a missing person report and several witnesses reported seeing the girl with Rand, who also later suspected in the 1983 disappearance of 11-year-old Tiahease Jackson and the 1984 disappearance of 21-year-old Hank Gafforio.
It was the disappearance of 12-year-old Jennifer Schweiger, however, that finally nailed Rand. Schweiger, who was born with Down syndrome, was reported missing on July 9, 1987. After a search that lasted 35 days, Schweiger’s body was found in a shallow grave on the property of the former Willowbrook State School.
“When we dug it up and found a little foot there,” said Bob Devine, a volunteer on the search committee for Schweiger. “It’s something that’s going to stick with you the rest of your life.”
Before Schweiger’s body was found, Rand had already been arrested for her kidnapping. He also repeatedly lied to reporters saying he had never met her before. After his defense lawyer learned some witnesses saw him holding the girl’s hand and leading her away from her house, Rand changed his story at trial.
When her body was found, Rand was charged with Schweiger’s murder as well. While the jury couldn’t come to a verdict on the murder charge, they did convict him of first-degree kidnapping.
Though there wasn’t enough evidence at the time, Rand was found guilty of Hughes’ kidnapping in 2004, over two decades after she went missing. Since there is no statute of limitations in New York for first-degree kidnapping, it was possible to charge and convict Rand. He was given another 25 years to life sentence on top of the one he was already serving.
For the kidnappings of Holly Ann Hughes and Jennifer Schweiger, Andre Rand is not eligible for parole until 2037, when he’ll be 93 years old.
In 2009, the documentary Cropsey was released. It began as an exploration of urban legends based on the missing Staten Island children and morphed into the story of Andre Rand.
“I call him the Hannibal Lecter of Staten Island,” said Donna Cutugno, the president of Friends of Jennifer for Missing Children, a volunteer group that still searches Willowbrook’s 385 acres twice a year in search of the other missing girls.
“He terrified a whole community. He still haunts us.”