You sit in your car, your date by your side, wondering just what you’re doing here. This place is bad; everyone says so. You’ve heard the tales of death and spectral madmen that leap from the bushes and separate people’s heads from their necks. Yet, you are here, hoping that the crickets that chirp like nervous heartbeats and echoes that sound like whispers will bring her closer to you. And you don’t believe the stories anyway, right? They’re just made up to scare kids away from here. But then, why is your heart racing in time with hers? Why do the echoes sound more like whispers? And why do the shadows move like inky wraiths across the walls toward your car? Surely it couldn’t be real. None of it could be true. Could it?
Tales of terror, believed almost without question, are passed around from friend to friend to friend of a friend, all with the insistence that they are true. Everyone seems to know someone who has a cousin whose boyfriend’s sister knows where any given event really happened. We call such stories urban legends, and more often than not, they’re not true. But once in a while, the truth rears its head, and that is often the most bizarre part of the story. It becomes something of a widespread practical joke. Therefore, in honor of April Fool?s Day, we present one of the greatest urban legends in the United States today: The Bunnyman Bridge.
Sometime around 1905 near the Fairfax County town of Clifton, Virginia, there was a mental institution that housed the severely disturbed and criminally insane. The citizens of the county wanted no part in such a facility being so close to their homes and protested, prompting the facility to shut down and transfer the inmates to another facility in another county. The bus containing all the inmates, however, never made it to its destination. It was struck by a train, killing several of the inmates and freeing others. It took the wardens and police a few days, but in the end they managed to round up all but two.
In the weeks that followed it became obvious that the two escapees were still hanging around the vicinity as dozens, and soon hundreds, of carcasses of half-eaten rabbits were found strewn about the bridge and the surrounding areas. Another search was ordered, this one widening the search area into the woods. There, hanging in a tree, officers found Marcus Walster, one of the two escapees. He’d been gutted and dressed like a deer in much the same way the rabbits had been. It was then that they began referring to the second escapee, Douglas J. Grifon, as the “Bunnyman.”
When they finally found Grifon, he was in a feral state, clawing and biting at the guards, covered in the blood of both rabbits and Walster. As they moved in to apprehend him, he climbed the embankment to the train tracks and leaped in front of an oncoming train. It seemed to be the end of the Bunnyman.
From the time of his death Grifon was sighted on or near the bridge, sometimes hiding inside the tunnel beneath. Whatever his motive, his intention was clear. He was still looking for victims. Between the years of 1905 and 1980, there were dozens of unexplained deaths at the bridge, all with a chilling modus operandi. Disobedient children and vagrants, mostly, have met with a terrible demise, found later gutted and strung up around the entrance to the bridge. Often the victims were amorous teen-agers who were going off for some alone time.
In the late 1980’s tragedy struck again as a group of four teens went to The Bunnyman Bridge, trying to scare their dates into more intimate encounters. Two split off from the group and traveled farther down the tracks for some privacy, and when they didn’t return for quite some time, the other two decided they’d found a good spot and were enjoying themselves. They left, deciding it would be funny to make their friends walk home. The next day their friends’ lifeless corpses hung, gutted, from the trees around The Bunnyman Bridge. Around their feet lay the tattered remains of several rabbits.
The legend takes a strange turn as the Bunnyman made more appearances. During this phase of the legend, he appeared in the middle of the night, dressed in a large bunny costume, and threw hatchets at passing cars before shouting at them and disappearing into the woods. Rumor made this "Bunnyman" out to be a crazed man who murdered his own children on Easter Sunday with an axe.
Over the past twenty years The Bunnyman Bridge has become a hot spot for teens looking for a thrill and amateur ghost hunters alike, and the death toll continues to rise. The bridge is such a trouble spot that local police have installed security cameras in hopes of warding off anyone foolhardy enough to hang around the place at night.
So what is the truth of The Bunnyman Bridge? As already stated, truth is much stranger than fiction, but could any part of such a wild tale be true?
To begin with, there has never been a home for the criminally insane in Fairfax County. Furthermore, the facility to which the inmates were to be moved was not even built until the 1920’s, so it would have been impossible to incarcerate the inmates at such a place if it did not even exist. Also, there are no records anywhere of inmates named Marcus Walster or Douglas J. Grifon from that time period, either at the receiving facility or in county birth records. Where these names came from is anyone’s guess, but Walster was not butchered and hung in a tree, and it certainly wasn’t a man named Grifon who did the butchering.
Meticulous research by Fairfax County Historian Brian A. Conley reveals even more curious inconsistencies. Though there are supposedly more than thirty deaths attributed to the Bunnyman and the bridge that bears his name, no corresponding police reports of any reported deaths exist.
The “bridge” itself is more of a single-lane tunnel with a railroad overpass running on top of it. Even the claims that the bridge is wired with security cameras and other surveillance equipment seem to be grossly exaggerated as there is no electrical power available for nearly 600 yards around the place.
So what part of this legend is true? Again, reality beats fiction in this bizarre tale as the only factual and verified accounts were, in fact, of a man in a bunny suit throwing hatchets at passing cars. Honestly.
According to newspaper reports published in 1970, an Air Force recruit was driving down a road in Fairfax County when a man in a white rabbit suit leaped out of the bushes in front of his car and shouted that he was trespassing. The big bunny then hurled a hatchet through the car window before running off into the bushes again. A week later the Bunnyman was spotted again, this time with an axe, chopping away at the roof support beams of a new structure going up on the same road. By the time police got there, he was already gone, his work done. Still a third attack happened when the Bunnyman, again armed with an axe, chopped away at the roof of a car, terrifying those inside. In all cases the victims escaped unharmed.
Investigation into the incidents concluded that the man committing these offences probably lived in the area as a land developer had been receiving harassing telephone calls about how his company was messing up the caller’s property. His identity, however, was never discovered.
The Bunnyman Bridge Today:
Though widely exposed as an urban legend, there are those who still claim the one-lane tunnel is haunted. Reports still come in to the police station of strange things happening there ? from phantom assaults to people claiming to have seen Grifon’s ghost. On Halloween the police department closes off the area around The Bunnyman Bridge to keep the curious and pranksters away.
See you in two weeks!
**Photo of Bunnyman taken by Scott A. Johnson while hunting for Bigfoot.
Original artwork by Bill "Splat" Johnson