As an avid consumer of the true crime genre, I obviously read about a whole spate of sad things. An occurrence that I find particularly sad, though, is when certain people who have been harmed seem to slip through the cracks, fading into obscurity over time as if they never existed. Society attributes greater or lesser value to human beings; if one happens to land on the “lesser” end of the spectrum, it can be very difficult to garner attention or sympathy for their misfortune.
This happens for several reasons. Race often plays a clear role, as there are glaring differences in the level of media coverage of missing persons between white people and people of color. For example, studies have shown that missing white women receive far more media coverage than missing women of color. Additional studies suggest that coverage of missing women of color is more likely to be framed as though the victims played a role in their own disappearance (essentially “victim blaming”), while missing white women are portrayed as hapless victims. Economic class plays a role as well; more money, more coverage, as it were. Even one’s level of attractiveness, appallingly, can affect the level of media coverage they receive.
Adult men are also likely to receive less coverage than middle-to-upper-class, attractive, white women. This NBC article asserts that, “Most of the missing adults tracked by the FBI are men. More than one-in-five of those abducted or kidnapped are black.” Further, it is stated that,
Plainly evident is “Missing White Woman” syndrome, where young, pretty, upper-class women are considered to be more “interesting” in terms of coverage, essentially because media outlets feel that their disappearance would not be “expected.” Any true crime fan will tell you how many stories begin with a crime occurring somewhere that “this sort of thing just doesn’t happen.” Wealth and whiteness are associated with safety, purity, and goodness, whereas lower economic status and persons of color are relegated to the arena where crime is “expected.” In other words, not newsworthy.
I do not have data for this, but to offer my two-cents on the gender disparity; I think it is partially related to our concepts of masculinity versus femininity. Males are seen as having greater strength and independence, therefore disappearances will not always initially be looked upon with grave concern. Females, often looked upon as “the weaker sex,” are more likely to be worried about more quickly, almost as if they were children. (Although, tragically, the racial disparity applies to children as well.)
When taking these disparities into consideration, it is sadly unsurprising that the 1984 disappearance of Henry “Hank” Gafforio, featured in the documentary film Cropsey, did not garner much publicity prior to the film. The fact that he is a.) male, b.) an adult, and c.) not in any sort of prominent position (i.e. from a working class neighborhood/family) did not work in his favor. If not for Cropsey, I find it unlikely that most people outside of his geographic area, even within the true crime/missing persons communities, would know much about him or his disappearance.
Hank was a 22 year old man who was considered to be somewhat developmentally disabled; he was said to have had “the emotional and mental maturity of a 15 year old” (Cropsey). He lived in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Staten Island with his family.
I will briefly go over the circumstances of his disappearance, but if you are looking for more details I would watch the aforementioned film Cropsey. You can also find his case details here, here, and here.
He was out the night he disappeared, at a bar called the “Spa Lounge.” He had been at another bar called “Mugs Away,” but was apparently denied service.
Now, I did a bit of cursory google research to come up with the locations of these places. I think I found them, but please, know that I could be mistaken, as I have no way to verify this (other than the sources I am sharing with you here).
Below I’m going to include some screen shots so that it is easier to picture Hank’s last known movements.
Where the “Spa Lounge” once was appears to have remained a bar, but with a different name. I found this information here and here. If anyone from Staten Island happens to read this, maybe you can let me know if I am right or wrong?
As far as “Mugs Away;” when I googled it, I came up with a database of payphone numbers; one attached to an address labeled as such.
This location also appears to still be a bar, but with a different name.
The prevailing theory put forth by law enforcement seems to be that Hank may have been the victim of suspected serial killer Andre Rand. Andre Rand is currently serving time in prison, having been convicted of kidnapping Jennifer Schweiger (1988) and Holly Ann Hughes (2004). It helps to see a little chronological list to get an idea of what the theory is. So, Rand’s suspected victims are as follows:
- Alice Pereira, 5 years old, who disappeared in 1972 from the lobby of a building on Staten Island.
- Holly Ann Hughes, 7 years old, who disappeared in 1981 from Staten Island on a trip to a corner store; her friend reported that Holly was pulled into a car. Witnesses also reported seeing her with Rand.
- Tiahease Jackson, 11 years old, who disappeared on a shopping trip in 1983. She was last seen exiting Mariner’s Harbor Motel in Staten Island shortly following Rand’s release from prison.
- Hank Gafforio disappeared from Staten Island in 1984. I will get into the circumstances and why he is linked to Rand in more detail below.
- Jennifer Schweiger, 12 years old, disappeared in 1987. She is reported to have been seen with Rand, and her body was later found in the woods near the Staten Island Development Center, formerly the infamous Willowbrook State School. Rand had worked there from 1966 to 1968 as an aide, and had a campsite in the woods nearby.
Rand had a record prior to the events on Staten Island, including an attempted rape of a 9 year old girl, taking a bus full of children that he did not know out for burgers without the consent of parents, and more misdeeds that were mainly related to sexual abuse. He is also potentially linked to the disappearance of Ethel Atwell and the rape/murder of Shin Lee, former aides at Willowbrook.
It is evident that the man is a pedophilic, potentially murderous creep. What remains a curious question mark, though, is why he would be suspected of killing Hank, who was an adult and a man.
Well, this question is addressed in Cropsey, and there are a couple of facets to this theory. First off, Rand likely knew of Hank, since he had at some point lived in the same neighborhood. There were also reports that Rand was seen at a diner with Hank in the early morning hours of the day he disappeared.
Additionally, it is suggested that Rand may have harbored some strange proclivities when it came to the developmentally disabled. Law enforcement who were interviewed in Cropsey described Rand’s reaction to being shown footage from the 1972 documentary by Geraldo Rivera, Willowbrook: The Last Great Disgrace, which chronicled egregious abuse of patients. He seemed to be deeply disturbed by the footage, lapsing into a semi-catatonic state, drooling, and blankly staring off. Perhaps Rand harbored negative views about the disabled due to the horrible treatment he likely witnessed (or perhaps participated in) during his time employed at Willowbrook. He may have felt that he was doing them and the world a favor by getting rid of “imperfect” children; playing god, in a sense.
Furthering this theory is the fact that Willowbrook was not Rand’s first contact with a large institution; his mother had suffered from mental/emotional problems and had been institutionalized when Rand was young. Perhaps these experiences had instilled negative feelings toward the disabled within him before he was even employed at Willowbrook.
No further trace of Hank has ever been found.
I cannot help but wonder if perhaps there were other investigative avenues at the time that simply did not pan out. While there was, apparently, a witness who saw Rand with Hank that morning, it is difficult for me to come to a conclusion about it, as a layman who did not speak to this person, or hear exactly what they said.
I would be interested to find out if this witness knew Rand and/or Hank personally; if it was someone who knew who they were, I would be far less likely to believe they were mistaken. I would also be curious about when this tip was received, since memories, of course, fade over time, in addition to the power of suggestion when Rand was prominently featured in the news a few years later.
It is difficult to find this type of information on a case from the 80’s when your main tool is the internet, and the victim did not receive extensive media coverage at the time.
So, as a spectator without the knowledge or connections to get information like this, I can only speculate. My opinion is that if Rand was indeed with Hank at a diner that morning…well, that is quite incriminating when he a.) has an extensive criminal history, b.) had no prior friendship or association with Hank other than once living in close proximity, and c.) would be the last person seen with him.
If there are any reasons to believe the tip could be dicey, I would question other avenues, since Rand’s criminal history mainly involved female children.
On the other hand, an acquaintance of Hank’s from his neighborhood related an interesting bit of information: one of Hank’s brothers was very adamant that Rand had killed him. We don’t know his specific reasons for thinking that, but it certainly counts for something to me, especially since there’s been little else in the way of comments from his family.
!!!PURE SPECULATION AHEAD!!!
Either way, I find it interesting that the location of the Spa Lounge (where I think it was located…remember, google is not gospel!) is very close to water (see maps above). This could be relevant if considering the possibility of accidental death, especially coupled with a late night of drinking. It could be relevant in terms of foul play as well, if we imagine the scenario that he could have ended up in the water against his will.
I suppose the likelihood of this would depend on the effect of currents and such on where and when things would normally wash ashore around that location. If one were purposely put there, of course, the killer could take measures to make sure they would not be found. But, again, this is just one hundred percent speculation of my own mind; I know of no proof of this.
The Bleak Reality of Missing Persons
Back to my point from the beginning. After I watched Cropsey, I was, of course, sad for all of the purported victims of Rand. I found myself a bit fixated on Hank, though, because I just cannot come to peace with the idea that we will never know what happened to him while there was less of a drive to find out from the public. I do not know anything about his family, and I am not casting any aspersions on them; if they are still around, they must not be able to get a consistent platform for publicity for all of the reasons laid out in the beginning of this post. I’m sure they are also told by authorities that the case is open but nothing can be done unless “more evidence comes to light.”
I understand why this is. I really do. There are countless more missing people every day; there aren’t enough police in the entire country to devote full-time attention to every case. But I still feel the nagging sense in my gut that it is wrong for a human being to vanish, and for the whole world to keep going as if nothing happened. If you didn’t win the genetic and circumstantial lottery of being born into the correct race, gender, and economic background, you are so much less likely to grab that sorely needed media spotlight. I am so grateful to the makers of Cropsey for telling Hank’s story as well as it could be told, along with the rest of Rand’s purported victims; children who’s lives were cut short.
I don’t know much about who Hank was. What I gleaned from Cropsey was that he apparently went out often with his brothers, so I imagine he liked to have a good time. Hank’s acquaintance from the neighborhood said he looked just like Mick Jagger.
Hauntingly, Hank appears standing behind a reporter in news footage regarding the disappearance of Holly Hughes, who had lived just down the street from him (and from Andre Rand, for that matter). He looks into the camera from behind the reporter with an almost-smile, seeming enamored of the fact that he would be seen on TV. Maybe I’m reading into it, but I feel like this is more evidence of a fun-loving spirit.
Whether it was Rand or not, it is tragic that whoever hurt him likely took advantage of his naiveté.
It is infuriating that they will likely not be held accountable for it.
This is why I often think of Hank Gafforio.
If you would like to hear from someone who champions the cause of missing people (even those that would otherwise fall by the wayside), check out The Vanished podcast. Marissa provides much needed exposure for missing people, regardless of demographics or other factors. You also get to hear the perspective of the families of the missing.
Jeanis M.N., Powers R.A. (2017) Newsworthiness of missing persons cases: an analysis of selection bias, disparities in coverage, and the narrative framework of news reports. Deviant Behavior. 38(6): 668-683.