The Bunny Man Unmasked
The Bunny Man Unmasked:
The Real Life Origins of an Urban Legend
Brian A. Conley, Historian-Archivist
Fairfax County Public Library
There is a story that a man dressed as a bunny haunts the residential neighborhoods around our nation's capital. Silly as this may sound at first, the Bunny Man has been a fixture of local legend for at least 30 years. By 1973 the so-called "Bunny Man" had been reported in Maryland, and the District of Columbia. His infrequent and widespread appearances tended to occur in secluded locations and usually tell of a figure clad in a white bunny suit armed with an ax threatening children or vandalizing property. By the 1980s the Bunny Man had become an even more sinister figure with several gruesome murders to his credit. Although he has been reported as far south as Culpepper, Virginia. his main haunt has been the area surrounding a railroad overpass near Fairfax Station, Virginia frequented by party goers, the now infamous "Bunny Man Bridge."
For more than 25 years stories of the Bunny Man have been kept alive primarily amongst our teenage population. Over the years the story has evolved into a ghost story suitable for parties, camp outs, and any occasion that such tales are exchanged. It was at one such gathering in 1976 that the author first heard it told. The Bunny Man was said to be responsible for the deaths of two disobedient children in the Clifton area. Others were rumored to have disappeared, and there was talk of animals found horribly mutilated. I never saw the Bunny Man myself, but then I never strayed into the woods at night, especially not near the Bridge...
Most childhood ghost stories are forgotten as one gets older. However, the Bunny Man followed me. After graduating from college, I accepted a position with the Fairfax County Public Library, eventually becoming an Information Specialist in the Virginia Room. One day around 1992 a very well-spoken young lady came into the Virginia Room with a question. She wanted to know how she could find information on a murder that was supposed to have taken place near her home. As I interviewed the patron to ascertain what hard facts she had to go on, some vague memory nagged at me. Two children were allegedly murdered by a local hermit for trespassing, and their bodies left hanging from a covered bridge. She had no names and only a vague idea of a time frame. The whole story seemed a little fantastic, but the thing that really bothered her was the guy was supposed to be an escaped inmate dressed in a bunny suit. At this point, even though the story had evolved a bit, I recognized the tale from my own youth. We were unable to confirm any of the elements of the story as she or I had first heard it, and I put it down in my mind as a story fabricated to scare children.
I likely would have forgotten about the Bunny Man again if the questions didn't begin coming on a regular basis. The Bunny Man has actually begun appearing in print in recent years, having been mentioned in several high school newspapers,1 and more recently, on the Internet. The various Internet versions have carried the story to new heights. The most widely circulated written version entitled The Clifton Bunny Man and signed by Timothy C. Forbes, Virginia, was posted on a Web site called Castle of Spirits around 1999.2 This version of the tale is actually quite notable because of the number of specific facts given. Forbes claims that in 1904 inmates from an insane asylum escaped while being transferred to Lorton Prison. One of these escapees, Douglas J. Grifon, murdered fellow escapee Marcus Wallster and eventually became the Bunny Man. Not only is the location identified, but also the names of several victims and the dates of their murders. The story ends with a challenge for the reader to check with the Clifton Town Library for verification of the facts.
Little effort was required to show that all of the specifics given in the Forbes version are false. First, there has never been an asylum for the insane in Fairfax County. Second, Lorton Prison didn't come into existence until 1910, and even then it was an arm of the District of Columbia Corrections system, not Virginia's. Third, neither Grifon nor Wallster appear in the court records of Fairfax County. Lastly, there is not and never has been a Clifton Town Library.
The story also received wide recognition after being featured on national television. The program called Scariest Places on Earth, broadcast on the Fox Family Channel, included a segment entitled "Terror on Bunnyman's Bridge" in the 2001 broadcast season.3
Even though these fictional tales of spectacular crimes are easy to dismiss as fiction, the question of the story's origin is not. Was the Bunny Man real? At first I was content to dismiss the Bunny Man as completely fictitious, however I have learned that many legends do have some basis in factual events. At the urging of a fellow employee I finally began a more serious search for the Bunny Man. I began with a few basic assumptions. First, although the tale is told in jurisdictions all around the Washington, D. C. area, the bulk of them take place in Fairfax County. Second, any event that gains as much notoriety as this one must have been originally reported to the public. Third, the original event was probably criminal in nature.
1A-Blast, Annandale High School, Mar. 14, 1997 & Orange Peal, Hayfield Secondary School, Oct. 17, 1997.
3Scariest Places on Earth. Episode 7. 2001.