The Bunny Man legend has made its way through many states in the nation, but most people still don’t know how it started. Who was the “Bunny Man?” This staple of urban myth is a common tale in my state of Virginia. As a matter of fact, the Bunny Man originated in Fairfax County, Virginia, home of the Bunny Man Bridge. A simple internet search proves the legend has spread to other states. Many other states today have their own “Bunny Man Bridge,” despite fact. This original bridge is in Clifton, Virginia. Train tracks cross the top and passers-by travel through a long, narrow tunnel below.
The Bunny Man is either a lunatic or a vengeful ghost, depending on which variation of the tale you hear. Regardless of life or death, he’s always wielding a weapon. Most accounts state he has an axe, some a butcher knife, some a chainsaw or other brutal instrument. He’s always depicted as being at least 6 feet in height and in a white rabbit costume.
Occasionally, the Bunny Man defaces local buildings and sometimes he is said to murder. Parents have even harnessed the legend and tell naughty children the “Bunny Man will get them” if they misbehave.
There are nearly as many variations to the tale as there are states now hosting the lore. Here is one:
Marcus Wallster and another man, named Douglas Griffin, were patients in a Fairfax mental asylum in 1903. They were transporting all necessary patients to the Lorton Reformatory, the new prison. Griffin and Wallster escaped.
The Bunny Man was institutionalized for killing his entire family on Easter Sunday. Griffin is just a secondary character in most versions, who ends up being killed soon after. In some variations, Griffin is the Bunny Man and Wallster is the secondary character.
The authorities searched for the men, but only found the bodies of partially eaten rabbits. Sometimes the carcasses were skinned.
Some versions also state the men fashioned clothing out of the dead rabbits.
Some time later, one of the men is found hanging from the bridge. His corpse still clutches a crude axe that has been crafted from a branch and a sharpened rock. A note attached to the body says, “You’ll never find me no matter how hard you try! Signed, The Bunny Man.”
The Halloween after, three teenagers are found swinging from the old bridge. They’ve been gutted and strung up. The slaughter continued the next Halloween, when seven more teenagers gathered at the bridge. Six were hung in seconds while the seventh watched from a distance. The survivor of the attack was institutionalized in the asylum in Lorton.
The carnage continued as six more teens were killed at the bridge in Halloween of 1943. Another three died on Halloween of 1976. The last victim reported was Janet Charletier in 1987. She visited the famous bridge with 4 friends. Around midnight, as she walked through the tunnel under the bridge, the lights grew bright. She looked down and found the skin on her chest start to tear. She bolted out of the tunnel, but hit a hanging body and passed out.
When she woke, her hair had turned white. Now she spends her days just sitting on a bench in front of her house, staring towards the bridge.
The legend of the Bunny Man became publicly recognized in the 1970s, but evidently, the legend was far older. The first official police report involving a Bunny Man was in 1969. By 1970, there were 50 calls to the police in Fairfax County that reported Bunny Man incidents. This means that he was already a legend at that time.
Several legends also state the Bunny Man was responsible for the murder of 2 disobedient children. In this story, he’s a hermit who caught them trespassing and hung them from the bridge.
A version of the Wallster/Griffin tale was actually relayed on Fox’s Scariest Places on Earth in 2001. Unfortunately, the legend is wholly unsubstantiated. You must pick at the tale carefully to figure out what is true, and what isn’t.
None of the people listed in the account ever existed. There were no groups of murders at the bridge. The men from the asylum are not on record and there’s no record of any formal or organized mental facility in Clifton or Fairfax County. The Lorton Prison, where the inmates were allegedly transferred, didn’t actually open until 1916.
Now, we enter the gray area. There are places in the county that could have been used as a holding place for those on route to the asylum. There were also places that held individuals who could have belonged in an asylum. The first place is the Ivakota Farm, which opened in 1904 and lasted until the latter decades of the 20th Century. It was a farm for single and unwed mothers, female criminals or women who really belonged in an asylum. The individuals running such a place were often abusive and the Bunny Man could’ve easily been a guard or worker. The county also had a poor farm near the tracks and the area held a train station during the Civil War.
The victims could’ve been based upon very real crimes in the area. In 1918, a 14-year-old girl tended her father’s cattle. Eva Roy went out that morning to help with the herd, but didn’t return that evening. She was found the next morning, her body tied to a tree by her apron strings. The murder went unsolved.
In 1927, Minnie Ridgeway was at home with her two daughters, Loretta, 7, and Catherine, 5. A man broke into the home, beat Minnie into unconsciousness, and bludgeoned the two little girls. The girls both died, but Minnie recovered and identified the killer. The murderer was executed some months later.
In 1949, Frances Holober traveled with her 8-month-old baby girl, June. Their vehicle became stuck. They were found in shallow graves the next day. Frances had been beaten and shot in the chest and head. June had been buried alive and had suffocated. The husband was apprehended and confessed, but he was ruled insane. He spent the rest of his life in an asylum.
The lore probably started out with a grain of truth, but we may never know why he’s dressed as a rabbit or who he really was.
Trivia: Fans of Donnie Darko will be amused to see why the spirit named “Frank” was dressed as an evil rabbit. The writer and director, Richard Kelly, is a Virginia native.
- Pittsburgh Press – Oct 31, 1970. Bunny Man Has Police Hopping http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=JBIcAAAAIBAJ&sjid=bFAEAAAAIBAJ&pg=3514,5912557&dq=bunny+man&hl=en
- Williamson Daily News – Nov 2, 1970. Bunny Man’ Strikes Again In Virginia http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=fg1EAAAAIBAJ&sjid=o7AMAAAAIBAJ&dq=bunnyman%20virginia&pg=840%2C2057460