Monroe students get first hand account of Cropsey kidnapping case

by BRITTANY HASTABA Co-Editor-in-Chief

Growing up in Staten Island, the urban legend of “Cropsey” lurked in the shadows of many neighborhoods. Children listened to the mysterious tales of Cropsey, an escaped mental patient who lived in the old abandoned Willowbrook Mental Institution, who would come out late at night and snatch children off the streets. Most people assumed that this legend was just a cautionary story to keep teens out of these abandoned buildings, but when a series of kidnappings began to occur in the 1970s and ’80s, people soon discovered the terrifying reality of this innocent campfire tale. The real-life boogeyman linked to the disappearances of several Staten Island children is Andre Rand, a former physical therapist at Willowbrook and drifter who returned to live on the grounds and in the vast underground tunnels in the woods after the facility had closed down. He is currently serving consecutive 25-years-to-life sentences for the kidnappings of seven-year-old Holly Ann Hughes in 1981 and 12-year-old Jennifer Schweiger in 1987. On Thursday, March 22, the lead detectives of the case, Ralph Aquino and Bobby Jensen, visited Mr. Calella’s Constitutional Law classes. Mr Certo, former lieutenant of the NYPD and colleague of Jensen and Aquino, helped arrange the visit and lead the discussion. The students had the great opportunity to hear from the very detectives who worked on the case and apply the information learned in class to a real life incident. Detectives Aquino and Jensen chronologically discussed the kidnappings and how they all tied back to Rand, describing the complex aspects involved while investigating the case, how they personally perceived the events that occurred and the people they interacted with. “This was one of the biggest cases that Staten Island had ever seen. It was played up on the radio and TV. It was a big deal and still is a big deal,” said Certo. As they explained the investigation, Aquino and Jensen brought in and shared old photographs, documents, and newspapers regarding Rand and the kidnappings, showing the students how the disappearances of these children truly affected people’s lives living in the neighborhoods at the time. There was no direct evidence to definitively convict Rand of murder. Instead, the detectives relied heavily on eyewitnesses, neighbors and family members to amass enough circumstantial evidence to twice convict Rand of kidnapping. During the case, Aquino and Jensen had developed strong, close relationships with the families of the missing children. They sympathized with them and became a part of their emotional support system, giving hope to loved ones when new facts and traces brought them closer to a resolution. “It disturbs us to this day. We talk about it all the time. ‘I wonder if…I wonder if…’ I wonder if we didn’t bring him in what would have happened,” said Aquino. The detectives worked long hours and dedicated themselves completely to convict Rand and bring justice to the unfortunate, grieving families. This significant case affected the detectives in more ways than one, as every moment of the investigation brought light to the harsh reality of society and the many horrifying truths of a seemingly safe world. Listening to the case from a first hand account, the students were able to gain a better perspective in comparison to the sensationalized documentary on the case watched in class. Students interested in pursuing law in the future felt that this experience was truly eye opening, as the explanations and information discussed helped them gain a lot of insight into the processes of the criminal justice system. Aquino and Jensen are still bothered by the unsolved cases to this day. They really hope to find out where the kids are buried and that Rand will finally open up to them and confess everything he did. Yet, the families never really felt relieved when Rand was sentenced to jail. They still do not have their children. Without any closure, they will always be haunted, wondering, “Where’s my child?”

#ralphaquino #BrittanyHastaba #andrerand #Cropsey #bobbyjensen #case #kidnapping

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