The Bunny Man Unmasked - Page 6

The Bunny Man Unmasked:
The Real Life Origins of an Urban Legend

~ continued ~

His Identity?

Who was the Bunny Man, and what was he trying to accomplish? Sadly, we will likely never know his identity. Likewise his true motivations are known only to himself, but there are a few clues contained in the foregoing sources. On October 18 the Bunny Man accused Robert Bennett of trespassing.42 On October 29 the Bunny Man told security guard Paul Phillips that "You all trespass around here."43, and on November 4, the self-styled "Axe Man" accused the unnamed representative of Kings Park West Subdivision of dumping debris on his property.44 If we assume that all three incidents involved the same individual, then it appears that this young man was disturbed by the development of the area. Said development was extensive in 1970, too. Until the second World War Fairfax County was a rural farming community. The build-up of Federal employment in the region fueled intensive residential development in the closer suburbs of Arlington and Fairfax Counties. The 1950s saw tract housing being built in Springfield, McLean, Annandale, and Fairfax. The somewhat modest developments of the early 1960s eventually gave rise to near town-size projects like Reston and Burke Centre.

Kings Park West is a subdivision of over 1500 homes, and was one of several such developments either built or under consideration for the Burke area at the time of the incidents. James W. Robinson Secondary45School opened the next year with nearly 3,900 students. While Fairfax County began to look seriously at land use planning issues in the 1950s, the first countywide Comprehensive Land Use Plan was not adopted until 1975. Many people living in Fairfax County in the 1960s and '70s were disturbed to see pastures and woods giving way to roads, subdivisions, and shopping centers. Being forced to watch helplessly while the face of your community changes around you can elicit strange behavior in some people.

And what was the significance of the bunny costume? I am not prepared to even hazard a guess.


Who the Bunny Man was and what motivated him to act in such a bizarre manner is still a mystery, however, the available evidence points to the October 1970 events as the genesis of the Bunny Man legend. Many of the tales collected by Patricia Johnson in 1973 clearly derive from the events as reported in the newspaper and the television news of that period. The official police report makes no mention of any pre-existing stories that this individual could have been copying. Furthermore, William L. Johnson specifically stated to the author that he found no indications of any earlier stories or criminal incidents involving an individual dressed as a rabbit.46

It is also plainly evident that the story began to take on the features of an urban legend quite soon after the events were reported. Investigator Johnson was following leads generated by school-yard rumors less than two weeks after the first appearance of the Bunny Man, and by the time Patricia Johnson began her work two-and-a-half years later, the story had mutated in location, frequency, and severity.

And there you have one interpretation of the story.

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42Man in Bunny Suit Sought in Fairfax. Washington Post. Oct 22, 1970, B2.

43The "Rabbit" Reappears. Washigton Post. Oct. 31, 1970. B1.

44Johnson, William L. Investigation Report 858-748. March 14, 1971. Fairfax County Police Department

45Fairfax Schools Bulletin, Sept./Oct. 1971. Vol. 8, No.1. P.2. NOTE: FCPS Secondary Schools accommodate grades 7 through 12. Robinson's enrollment would top 5000 students within 10 years.

46Telephone interview with William L. Johnson, December 5, 2001.



I wish to thank the following individuals for their assistance with this project:

Ruth M. Alvarez, Curator of Literary Manuscripts, University of Maryland Libraries
Warren Carmichael, Fairfax County Police Department (Retired)
William L. Johnson, Fairfax County Police Department (Retired)
Anita M. Ramos, Library Associate, Fairfax County Public Library
Sandy Rathbun, Archivist, Fairfax County Circuit Court
Malcolm L. Richardson, Volunteer, Fairfax County Public Library
Martha Robertson, Assistant County Archivist, Fairfax County, Virginia
Barbara Welch, Volunteer, Fairfax County Public Library

Additional thanks belongs to everyone who shared their personal recollections with the author.

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