In the annals of strange phenomena, weird events, and unsolved crimes, sometimes there are cases that are hard to categorize. Some cases just seem to cross over from merely odd to come bursting into the realm of the almost absurd. These are the cases that are hard to really classify; are they pure urban legend, a genuine unexplained event, a haunting, a cryptid, or just something poking into our realm from some parallel goblin universe? One case that exudes so much creepiness and bizarreness that it has become unfettered from all attempts to classify it is the case of the Clifton Bunny Man, a demented figure with the appearance of a man-sized bunny that has purportedly terrorized the wooded Virginian countryside for years. It is an eerie story that precariously toes the line between unexplained phenomena, urban legend, unsolved crime, and haunting; teetering on the precipitous edge between reality and madness.
The tale of the Bunny Man started with a series of unsolved, brutal murders that allegedly originated with an insane asylum that existed buried in the wilderness of Clifton, Virginia in the early 1900s. When people started moving into Fairfax County, it is said that they did not take kindly to an asylum full of raving lunatics so close to their peaceful haven and they petitioned to have it shut down. In response to the petition, a new facility, which was known as Lorton Prison, was supposedly built and the inmates were prepared for transport to be relocated to their new quarters.
According to the tale, in the autumn of 1904 the inmates were packed into 15 transports to be moved to the new facility. It is said that sometime during the journey to Lorton Prison, the driver of one of the vehicles violently swerved for the purpose of avoiding something in the road and the transport careened off of the road to spectacularly crash into the dark wilderness. Most of the inmates aboard, including the driver, were killed in the crash, but some survived and escaped into the surrounding landscape, melting into the black of night. The very next day the police were hard at work scouring the area to hunt down the escaped mental patients. After an exhaustive and intensive manhunt that lasted for months, the authorities are said to have apprehended all but two of the estimated 10 convicts that had escaped; a Marcus A. Wallster and Douglas J. Grifon.
The search would prove to offer eery, sadistic little clues along the way. Police and locals claimed that they found many mutilated carcasses of rabbits, some of them hanging from trees, which had been partially dismembered, had had their skins completely removed, and were half-eaten, as well as scattered rabbit body parts. Police would go on to find the body of Wallster hanging under a bridge along the railroad tracks at Colchester Road, with a knife-like tool fashioned from a sharp rock blade and a branch handle in its death grip. Allegedly there was a note attached to the dead man’s foot which read “ You’ll never find me no matter how hard you try! Signed, The Bunny Man” The police now knew the fate of one of the escaped lunatics, but another was lurking out there somewhere in the wilderness.
As the police searched for the still missing Grifon, they continued to find the mutilated, half-eaten corpses of skinned rabbits scattered haphazardly about, which they surmised had been killed by the escaped convict, and so because of these carcasses, plus the cryptic note that had been found, the fugitive became known as the “Bunny Man.” By April 7th 1905, after an intensive search of the wilderness, the police gave up on the manhunt for the Bunny Man, considering him to be dead or long gone, but he would continue to menacingly haunt the area.
Supposedly, on Halloween night of 1905, a group of teenagers went to the Colchester Overpass, near Clifton Virginia, which was now known as the Bunny Man Bridge; the very one from which Wallster’s lifeless corpse had been found hanging. It is said that three of the teens would later be found dead, their throats slashed, and with long cuts up their abdomens as if they’d been gutted like a rabbit. The story apparently caused quite the uproar at the time, with parents warning their kids not to go anywhere near the bridge.
On Halloween of 1906, the Bunny Man allegedly struck again. This time, seven teens were said to be partying under the bridge while one, a young woman by the name of Adrian Hatala, was still spooked by the stories and keeping her distance. According to her account, there was a dim light which approached the bridge, followed by a blindingly bright flash of light emanating from under it at around midnight, after which she could hear the anguished screams of her companions wafting towards her through the chilly night air. When she went running to investigate, she found the bodies of all of her friends hanging under the bridge, mutilated in a similar manner to the teens that had been found the previous Halloween. According to the story, she would apparently eventually be charged with the murders and locked away in a mental institution.
More murders would take place in the ensuing years. In 1913, 1949, and again in 1976 the bodies of several teenagers were allegedly found hanging under the bridge, murdered and mutilated in a similar brutal manner. Throughout this madness, investigations into the killings turned up nothing. During all of this time, a series of strange sightings was starting to crop up around the area, that of an adult-sized person wandering the wilderness near the Bunny Man Bridge dressed in some kind of bunny outfit, often reported as wielding an axe or long knife and often vandalizing property or threatening people. The figure was also seen in surrounding areas as far flung as Maryland and the District of Columbia.
Two of the most intriguing and bizarre accounts of the Bunny Man surfaced in 1970. The first incident occurred on October 19, 1970, when an Air Force Academy cadet by the name of Bob Bennett was allegedly with his fiancée and parked his car on Guinea Road in Burke, Virginia, so that the couple could talk. It was at this time that they noticed a white figure moving outside of the vehicle. Moments later, the front window was smashed into a cascade of glass, and an ominous voice warned "You're on private property and I have your tag number.” The horrified couple sped away and as they screamed down the road they noticed a small hatchet on the floor of the car. When questioned later by the police, Bennett would insist that the attacker had been decked out in a full bunny suit, and he told his superiors at the Air Force base the same thing. As ridiculous as the story sounded, Bennett would continue to insist it was true long after the incident.
Despite the feel of being merely a creepy ghost story or urban myth, the initial story of an unidentified maniac stalking the area was enough to be taken fairly seriously by police. Just two weeks after the Bennet incident, the Bunny Man struck again. Paul Phillips, a private security guard for a construction company, reported that he had seen a man-sized rabbit in front of a house under construction. When approached by Phillips, the rabbit was reported to have said “All you people trespass around here. If you don't get out of here, I'm going to bust you on the head,” after which it started to furiously hack away at the unoccupied house with an axe. Allegedly, when the startled Phillips went back to his car to get a firearm, the “bunny” swiftly escaped into the woods and disappeared.
After that, reports started to pour in of a man-sized bunny roaming the night near the Colchester Overpass, harassing or even attacking people who ventured there. In total, nearly 50 such reports were apparently logged by people claiming to have seen or been confronted by the Bunny Man. The pattern that the mysterious intruder followed was eerily consistent, with couples in cars accounting for the most reports, most of them mentioning the use of a hatchet of some sort, and all describing the same bunny-costumed freakish appearance. The Bunny Man was also said to have a propensity for vandalizing homes, buildings, or pretty much wherever he felt like, so it seems. Numerous mysterious, unsolved murders around the area were also attributed to the Bunny Man, although this is a murky area that lacks any definitive reports or evidence to link a man in a bunny costume to the crimes. Newspapers and TV shows also featured the strange tale of the Bunny Man, mostly referring to the Bennet case.
Additional reports of a maniac dressed as a bunny prowling around the area got so numerous that the tale of the Bunny Man began to take on the air of a spooky urban legend, especially among teenagers out on Halloween Night. One such account allegedly occurred in 1987, when a young woman by the name of Janet Charletier was out with four of her friends on Halloween Night under the Colchester Overpass and they were all messing around trying to scare each other by talking about the spooky Bunny Man legend. Janet didn’t really believe all of the stories, but at around midnight, there was a sudden flash of bright light under the bridge and she felt that she had been cut on her chest. In her panicked efforts to escape, she allegedly smacked her head into something hanging there, presumably a body. The story goes that she knocked herself out on the hanging body and when she woke up she found she had been bleeding and that her hair had turned white. Such stories around the Colchester Overpass are so notorious that it is still known to many as the “Bunny Man Bridge.”
Another account claimed that police responded to a report that a man in a rabbit costume was roaming around wielding an axe, who was then referred to as the “axe man.” A unit sent to investigate turned up no sign of the intruder, but shortly after there was a call to police from a mysterious man who said:
You have been messing up my property, by dumping tree stumps, limbs and brush, and other things on the property. You can make everything right, by meeting me tonight and talking about the situation.
In light of such a threat, a police stakeout was launched, but nothing came of it and the alleged Bunny Man failed to show. The head of the investigation, W. L. Johnson, was intrigued by the various reports of man-sized white rabbits roaming about attacking people, but in the end said:
After a very extensive investigation into this and all other cases of this same nature, it is still unsubstantiated as to whether or not there really is a white rabbit. The only people who have seen this so-called white rabbit have been children of rather young ages, and the complainant in this case. Upon interviewing everyone in this case that may have had any knowledge of any incidents concerning a white rabbit, there has been no significant information uncovered that would lead to the identity of the person or persons that were posing as a white rabbit. This case will be marked as inactive.
All police investigations into these sightings came up cold, and in the absence of any leads or evidence, the whole story started to truly take on a renewed life of its own as an urban legend. Tales such as these have since congealed into a full explanation of what supposedly happens at the bridge. The legend goes that if one visits the bridge at around midnight, especially on Halloween night, then the spirit of the Bunny Man will kill them, gut them, and hang them under the bridge. This spirit supposedly starts out as a dim light walking along the tracks above the bridge and then when the kill is near it materializes under the bridge and becomes a blinding flash, during which the ominous Bunny Man will slaughter anyone present nearly instantaneously, typically by slashing their chests and throats. The Colchester Overpass has become rather famous for the Bunny Man, and draws people from all over with a macabre fascination with the stories. Occasional sightings of the alleged Bunny Man continue to this day, and in 2001, 6 local students went out looking for him with a guide. The group purportedly found mutilated rabbit carcasses in the area and were scared off when they claimed to have seen shadowy figures prowling about the surrounding woods.
It is hard to connect these sorts of urban legends and alleged sightings to any sort of solid evidence to show that the incidents ever really happened and are not the fevered imaginings of spooked teenagers out for a good yarn. The original reports seem sound, but are this just a case of a weird case spiraling out of control to take on the form of a creepy urban legend, or is there more to it? Who, or what, is the Bunny Man? Is this a case of a ghost, an unsolved crime, a psycho on the loose, some mystery animal, or merely the delusional human psyche working upon its inner fears to create a phantom construct in the real world in the form of scary stories and myth? The story of a man-sized bunny running around terrorizing, even murdering, people seems to cross over the line from mystery into preposterousness, but many urban legends doubtlessly have their origins in some grain of truth, so who really knows? For the case of the Bunny Man, no matter how ludicrous it may sound, it might be a good idea to stay away from the Colchester Overpass at night, just in case.