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Due to the graphic nature of this urban legend, listener discretion is advised, this episode includes descriptions of ableism and harm against minors and mentions of child sexual abuse and eugenics. We advise extreme caution for children under 13. You have the most beautiful child in the whole universe. She's sweet and kind, and she sees the world the way you wish you could see it. She's trusting, too trusting. Sometimes it makes you worry. Her age 12 isn't quite other people's age 12, but you're blessed that everyone in the neighborhood cares for and looks out for her.


One night she can't sleep, she holds you close, inconsolable as she tells you that someone is going to take her away. A man in the woods, she says his name is Cropsey.


He has a hook for a hand and he wants to kill children like her. You hold her till morning telling her it's just a story.


You heard a similar one about a hook handed man who hunted teenagers when you were younger. None of these legends were real. Some people just like to scare and be scared. It's strange, but they do. She seems all right knowing that you were scared to was comforting. If she decides to go to the corner store to pick up some things for the house, you say that's fine.


Relieved that the nightmare is over, but she never comes back and the nightmare is only beginning.


Welcome to Haunted Places, a podcast original. I'm Greg Polson. Today's episode is part of our Urban Legends series. Every Tuesday, we explore those chilling stories you'll hear second hand, the kind that seem made up but contain a kernel of truth. Urban legends is only on Spotify. So keep listening here to never miss an episode. But don't forget to come back each Thursday for a classic episode of Haunted Places, covering yet another ghost filled book, How You Can Find Episodes of Haunted Places and all other podcast originals for free on Spotify to stream haunted places for free on Spotify just opened the app and type haunted places in the search bar.


Today we examine an urban legend that may seem familiar until you look closer. The mysterious maniac known as Cropsey has been haunting the dreams of Hudson Valley children for over 30 years. But the terrifying truth is that the legend is based on a real person or people who may still roam the woods of Staten Island today. Up next, we peer into the dumping grounds of crops, he's home. Cropsey is a campfire story that has been passed around the Hudson Valley for decades, he's always a mental patient who escaped from a local institution and is now hell bent on snatching children.


Sometimes he wheeled Xanax, other times a hook.


But on New York's Staten Island, the story became far more specific. Cropsey, the rumor went live down in the tunnels beneath the abandoned Willowbrook State School, which closed down after a Peabody winning exposé by Geraldo Rivera in 1972.


Nestled in the woods of the Staten Island greenbelt, Willowbrook was meant to be a refuge for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. But it was a sight for horrible medical, physical and sexual abuse. From its very start in 1947, both these issues were reported. From 1965 onwards, it wasn't fully shuttered until 1987. Most of the so-called Willowbrook class were moved to group homes. But whispers began to circulate that some former patients and staff who had fallen on hard times were living in the tunnels beneath the school.


One or several of them local kids said, would emerge from the woods to kidnap and kill children. It read like a legend, a shadow of the community shared guilt. But it was true.


Leah didn't like to talk about what happened six years ago. She'd seen the way people's faces changed around her. They'd frown and their eyes would go soft with sympathy. Their hands would hover. Unsure of a hug was appropriate. It was a cruel twist of fate that the only summer job Leah could get was as a camp counselor in Staten Island's greenbelt near Willowbrook. The head of the program was new to the Hudson Valley. He didn't recognize his last name.


If he had told her the exact location of the camp and the interview, she would have begged off. The whole goal had been to escape the home of her horror. But it was too late to find something else. Leah needed the money, and 16 year olds didn't have a lot of full time employment options that took them out of town.


Her first day was spent walking the perimeter of camp with Michael, a slick Manhattanite who was slumming it over the bridge as a teen counselor to. He made a fast paced conversation about the greenbelts creepy history, the ominously named Fresh Kills landfill, the supposed dumping ground for mob bodies, the old tuberculosis hospital, the horrible abuse at Willowbrook State School. But Leah's heart stopped when he mentioned one more piece of history, Cropsey.


She swallowed hard and glared at him. Leah told him he needed to watch what he said here. This wasn't some random patch of woods Cropsey lived here. The tunnels under the school were his home. Michael laughed and made a crack about kooky local superstitions. Leah resisted the urge to slap him. It was time to set the record straight, to open herself up to the choking crush of sympathy that would fall over his brow. Leah took a deep breath and looked out into the woods in the calmest voice she could manage.


She told Michael her dark truth. Cropsey took her sister. Michael's brow furrowed and Leah continued her dark tale. Leila's tan and her sister, Hannah, was 12. Hannah was the sweetest kid in their neighborhood. Everyone wanted to be her friend. Their parents had worried that ableism would rear its ugly head, but nobody cared that she had Down syndrome. Instead, they embraced Hannah's welcoming nature and warm smile. She was the neighborhood's own burst of sunshine.


Leah was in their apartment when it happened. Hannah was outside on the porch, probably talking to people she loved to talk to people, other kids, the mailman, anyone who walked by. She was gregarious, unlikely. She knew them all. It was what made what happened next. So horrifying. Leah was the first one to notice the sudden silence. She heard a car wreck attention and then looked out the window. Hannah was gone. Michael placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, she shrugged it off.


He said he was sorry for her loss. Leah shook her head. The problem with a missing relative, she told him, was that you never actually knew if they were still alive or not. No closure, just questions. Michael abruptly cut her off again. He was sorry, but what did all this have to do with Cropsey? Leah, he couldn't even let her tell her tragedy the way she wanted to. She took a breath to calm her nerves and continued.


The entire neighborhood searched for Hannah. They spent months canvassing the island and searching every dumping ground they could find. The Cropsey legend had existed then. The police didn't give it much credence, but they were running out of places to look. So they went into the woods surrounding Willowbrook again. Leah did too, and she had been the one to find something. Ten year old Leia's foot stuck in a soft patch of dirt.


She yanked it out and saw something vaguely gray underneath. She yelled for an adult, but she wasn't going to wait for one to show up.


She dug into the soil with her bare hands, clawing at the earth to take back what belonged to her family.


A foot appeared first crawling with worms, green bruises ran up and down the leg, the skin felt almost like gel against his fingers as she uncovered it. Moving up the body, a pair of adults noticed and quickly pulled her away. She tried to push through them, but they were too strong. She heard gasps and gags as they dug into the earth. Continuing, Malia had left off. Leah screamed for them to let her through. She had a right to see her sister.


Everyone ignored her. One of the volunteers, a former fireman, twisted his broad torso to turn his shovel, leaving a gap between him and the housewife holding her mother for an instant.


Leah got a glimpse of the buried girl. The back half of her head was missing, the face, however, was still somewhat intact, fresh.


It wasn't just some other poor dead girl. Leah's mother wailed in frustration as the police arrived, Leopold free of her captors and ran into the woods.


She had to get away from that sound. She tripped as she entered a clearing sliding in the Bromley's, her chin bleeding. She lifted her head to find the stone skeleton of what had been a three story building. The empty window frames watched her like the eyes of some horrible monster willowbrook.


Leah braced her arms to stand up, but her hand closed around a piece of fabric, half buried in the dark. She lifted it up and lost her breath. The pink wool sweater had been hand knitted by Leah's mother last Christmas. Hannah's name was stitched inside. She had been here. She might still be here. The leaves rustled.


She heard a small, dark laugh. Leah looked up. There was a man in the doorway of the stone facade. His eyebrows were heavy, his lips thin, his jaw square. He put a finger to his lips. Leah scrambled up screaming for help as she ran back toward the searchers when she rejoined the crowd. She gave the sweater to the police and told them that he was real. Cropsey was real, and he had Hannah. They didn't believe her, but they still searched hour after hour, day after day.


They never found him or Hannah. But Leah vowed that one day she would.


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Now back to the story. Michael hadn't said a word since Lisa, stop talking. She waited for him to break the silence. He didn't. Maybe Julia should have kept Cropsey out of it, but it had always been clear to her that he had taken her disabled sister. Everyone had heard of crops, his command of the tunnels beneath the ruins of Willowbrook State School. Her own parents had jokingly warned her that he loved to steal disobedient little children, and Leah saw him standing inside Willowbrook.


It didn't matter for parents thought she'd made it up. It didn't matter that the police hadn't found him. Cropsey was there. Leah had found part of her sister's sweater in front of the ruins. Six years had passed, but she knew what she saw. Michael finally cleared his throat. He smirked and said the answer was clear they needed to find Cropsey so Leah could get rid of him and get over it. He didn't want a bummer.


Summer with a skittish counselor, Leah bristled and rolled her eyes.


Pity and doubt she could handle, but outright mockery was beyond the pale. She moved to walk away, but Michael stopped her. He pointed out that hundreds of young campers would be there in a few days. If Cropsey did actually live here, he would have too much access to pray. The Green Greenbelt was a real life camp. Crystal Lake just waiting to happen. Leah knew Michael was just egging her on. But through the warped lens of her trauma, his words felt like a terrifying premonition.


If property was still there, he would take more children. And if he wasn't, Leah would spend her entire summer haunted by the ghosts of her past. Michael was right. She couldn't go on like this. Leah shut her eyes, her anger giving way to a strange sort of clarity. They could search Cropsey out. They could keep these children safe. She wasn't ten anymore and she wasn't helpless. She could do this. She even had backup, foolhardy and insensitive.


Back up, but back up nonetheless. Leah opened her eyes.


She told Michael she was ready and she knew exactly where to go.


But they jogged across the wide expanse of leaves towards the dilapidated willowbrook, climbing over fallen equipment. They read the spray paint on the walls for clues crops. His name was written over and over again. It was almost like he was being summoned to this place rather than living there. They passed out of the sunlight and into the shadowy skeleton of the main building. Rotten leaves and animal droppings lay throughout, but some areas were swept clear. If Cropsey wasn't sleeping here, someone else clearly was.


They pulled flashlights from their packs and crept down into the tunnel system, water dripped from the cracked concrete ceiling in an unsteady rhythm, goosebumps lifted on their arms as the darkness closed in the sound of each footstep, each drip echoing around them. Leah tried not to let her fear show. They were two teenagers who had forgotten to bring any weapons. Cropsey had already killed at least one child. There were probably more bodies here. Maybe this was a terrible idea.


Michael broke the silence, asking if she could see the shape further down the tunnel. His words carried down the corridor louder than the water or their footsteps. Leah kept quiet, hoping to keep some element of surprise. She started walking toward the strange form. It was small, no bigger than three feet. There wasn't enough light down here to see what it was made of at this distance. Leah prayed that it wasn't a pile of sewage runoff as she got closer.


Sharp, sour notes burned the inside of her nose, her stomach twisted as acid pushed up her throat. She pulled her camp T-shirt up to cover part of her face. It barely helped. Leah's flashlight was picking something up now, but she was still too far away. She could make out a mess of colors. Blue, gray, green, purple. A rat scurried toward her.


Leah nearly dropped her light as she jumped to the side to let it go by. She stopped for a moment, resting her hands on her knees. Her breaths came out in short puffs. Michael asked if she was OK. She nodded, not remembering that he couldn't see her face in the darkness. He started to ask again, but his words suddenly trailed off. Leah paid no mind. She was too focused on the strange shape. She stepped forward and shown her flashlight on it.


For a moment. Her eyes struggled to understand what was there. It was a small, misshapen mass with liquid oozing from underneath it. The patchwork colors carried over the entire thing, and a smile stared up from a face that was partially rotted away. Leah knew that smile.


She walked past her parents shrine to it every day before she left the house. Her sister, Hannah, was beaming up at her a ray of sunshine. Even in this dark place, Leah's voice trembled as she called back to Michael. He didn't answer. She heard footsteps behind her, then felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. Maybe Michael wasn't as callous as she thought. He squeezed her arm soft and reassuring, then tighter, then too tight.


A rounded blade tore through the side of Leah's abdomen, she looked down to see an axe lodged within her adrenaline, swarmed through her system. That same old dark laugh echoed behind her Cropsey.


Michael's words had given their position away, and he snuck up on them from some hiding spot in these tunnels, his tunnels now. It was too late. The axe was pulled out of his side and blood sprayed out onto her sister's corpse. Leah heard that dark laugh again and wheeled around to face her worst fear. Cropsey hadn't aged today since he began haunting her nightmares is thick framed glasses glinting in her flashlights beam turning the lenses into funhouse mirrors. She saw her own terrified countenance.


Gazing back at her, he smiled and stepped forward. She kicked out his shin. Cropsey swung the axe again. Leah ducked, but the motion made her lightheaded. She didn't have much time. There was too much blood. Leah tried to run, but she tripped and tumbled into something solid and wet. She popped the small buttons of Michael's polo shirt, slide between her fingers, slick with blood. She brought her hand up towards his mouth, hoping to feel breath.


But Michael's head wasn't there anymore. There was no help coming. There was only Leah in the monster. She paused, listening to the slide of crops, his shoes and the wet concrete echoing it gave her an idea.


Leah screamed and ran toward him, letting the sound pound against the walls. Cropsey raised his hands up to protect his ears. She kicked him in the chest. The axe clattered to the ground. Cropsey went to grab it, but Leah got their first burning with adrenaline and rage.


She lifted it and swung it down onto his neck. A small, bloody smile spread over her features a dark echo of her sisters. She pulled the axe out as Cropsey like gurgling and choking in his own blood, Leah stumbled to her sister. She finally let her legs give out and pulled the remains into her arms. It didn't matter how soggy or sticky they were, it was hard. After six torturous years, Leah had found her. They were together the way they were supposed to be, the way they should have been.


The day she was taken, Leah held Hannah for as long as she could. She closed her eyes finally at peace. The most potent tellings of urban legends are heavy with detail, a specific location, a victim's name, a date, a time residence of Staten Island received their own specific twist and the Cropsey tale after a horrific crime in the 1980s. On July 9th, 1987, 12 year old Jennifer Schweiger went for a walk. She had Down syndrome, but her mother wasn't worried about her safety.


Jennifer was beloved in her neighborhood, and everyone kept an eye out for her. But then she didn't come home. Police and volunteers searched for Jennifer around town and in the woods near the abandoned ruins of the Willowbrook State School. 35 days later, Jennifer's naked corpse was found in a shallow grave in an area of the woods that had been searched repeatedly. 43 year old sex offender Andre Rand had been arrested as a suspect a week before because he was the last person seen with Jennifer.


And the recovery of her body pushed the D.A. to move forward. Rand had a small encampment near Willowbrook, and Jennifer's body was discovered less than 150 yards from it. The police were familiar with Rande ever since he pleaded guilty to the sexual abuse of a nine year old girl in 1970. Throughout the 1980s, he was investigated for the disappearances of three other children and one developmentally disabled young adult whose bodies were never found. There wasn't enough physical evidence to tie him to Jennifer Schweigert death, but Rand was found guilty of kidnapping her in 1988.


He was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2004, just a few years before he would have a chance at parole. He was brought to trial for the kidnapping of Holly Ann Hughes. He was sentenced to another 25 years and will be eligible for parole in 2037. Ran had no diagnosable mental illness and wasn't an escaped patient, which is usually part of the Cropsey story, but he did work at Willowbrook State School for two years and was a suspect in child kidnappings from the 1970s.


Many believed he had a cult like control over some of the unpoliced who lived beneath Willowbrook, and some wondered if they had been holding Jennifer on Rantes Command. Maybe the imprisoned Rand was Cropsey, or maybe the real Cropsey still roams the woods today. Either way, Andre Rand's brand of evil may be worse than any Cropsey story. Rant allegedly told investigators that he believed developmentally disabled people weren't wanted by their families and deserved to die. It's a belief held by far too many people, and that is even more frightening than any local legend.


Thanks again for tuning into haunted places. We'll be back on Thursday with a new episode. And don't forget to come back on Tuesday for our Urban Legends series available only on Spotify. You can find more episodes of Haunted Places and all other podcast originals for free on Spotify, not only to Spotify, already have all of your favorite music, but now Spotify is making it easy for you to enjoy all of your favorite podcast originals like Haunted Places for free from your phone desktop or smart speaker to stream haunted places on Spotify.


Just open the app and type haunted places in the search bar until next time. Don't believe some of the things you here believe. All of them. Haunted Places was created by Max Cutler and as a podcast studio's original executive producers include Max and Ron Cutler, Sound Design by Kenny Hobbs with production assistance by Ron Shapiro, Carly Madden and Bruce Kaktovik. This episode of Haunted Places was written by Little Deridder and Jennifer Rachet with Writing Assistants by Greg Castro. I'm Greg Polson.


Don't forget to follow haunted places, ghost stories for the spookiest thrillers ever imagined, collected from all around the world and all throughout time. Alastair Murden brings a new story to life. Every Thursday, Bollo haunted places ghost stories free on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.