A lot of people don’t know, but the scene in the American Horror Story: Asylum season finale titled “Madness Ends” gives a little nod to Geraldo Rivera. See, back in 1972, Geraldo was a fledgling reporter for WABC-TV in New York looking for his big break. He found it through the Willowbrook State School, state-supported institution for children with intellectual disabilities in Staten Island, NY. It was open from the 1930s until 1987 when the doors were finally closed.
Geraldo’s exposé entitled “Willowbrook: The Last Disgrace” revealed the grotesque conditions ranging from overcrowding (the facility was built to hold 4,000 but by 1965 held over 6,000) to neglect to physical and sexual abuse of patients.
The scene in AHS: Asylum in which Lana sneaks into Briarcliff with a camera crew to expose the conditions there and find sister Jude is almost identical to Geraldo’s 1972 exposure of Willowbrook, right down to the dialogue about the conditions and the smell.
Willowbrook also had its own story of an employee turned murderer, only in this case it was a physical therapy aide and the victims weren’t women but helpless children. A documentary film called Cropsey discusses not only Willowbrook but also Andre Rand, a.k.a The Pied Piper of Staten Island, who from 1972-1987 (oddly the year Willowbrook was exposed and the year it was shuttered) allegedly abducted and murdered four children with ages ranging from 5 to 12 years old. Rand was suspected in the disappearance of Holly Ann Hughes in 1981, but the charges against him in that case were dropped due to lack of evidence.
This video shows two clips from Cropsey showing both the Willowbrook exposé and a discussion of Andre Rand.