The Bunny Man

As children in suburban Washington, D.C. in the 1970s, we were terrified by rumors of a bizarre serial killer known by the not-so-frightening name of “The Bunnyman.”

In our imaginations, he inhabited the woods and swamps around our homes, a large fat man wielding an axe, and wearing an Easter Bunny costume. He was a homicidal Peter Cottontail who preyed on kids and especially on teen couples parking their cars in isolated places.

Although we were convinced the Bunnyman lived in our Maryland suburbs, he actually seems to have had his origins in the nearby town of Clifton, Virginia. Fairfax County Library Historian Brian A Conley reportedly has identified two incidents of a threatening man in a bunny costume occurred in the last weeks of October 1970. According to Conley and Washington Post reports, on October 20, 1970, USAF Academy Cadet Bennett and his fiancee Dusty were sitting in their car on Guinea Road in Burke, Virginia when a white-clad figure smashed the front passenger window. The white figure shouted “You’re on private property and I have your tag number,” before Bennett turned the car around and headed down the road. Later, the couple discovered a hatchet on the floor of the car. A second incident occurred on October 29 of that same year. This time, a man in a white bunny suit was spotted by a security guard on the porch of an unfinished home. The Bunnyman was chopping on the home with an axe and ran into the woods when confronted.

Four articles on the incidents eventually were printed in the Washington Post.

Given the times and the location, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the “Bunny Suit” was in fact a Ku Klux Klan costume. I can clearly remember seeing a sign on a Virginia roadside in those days that said “Big Klan Rally Here Tonight.” But it’s been reported that Fairfax police reports specify that the man was wearing a bunny suit. On the other hand, it’s also not unreasonable that the Fairfax police would want to discount and deflect attention from a Klan presence.

Whatever the details, the story spread quickly. Local legend held that the Bunnyman not only attacked youngsters with a hatchet, but also left behind the bloody, skinned corpses of rabbits. And in an echo of the more widespread “hook” ghost story, couples reported finding hatchet scrapes on the sides of their cars after they had been parking in remote areas (and much of what is now suburban Maryland and Virginia were “remote” in those days).

The Bunnyman’s apparent aversion to outsiders trespassing on his land suggests that it was a local, perhaps upset by the encroachment of real estate developments on what was until then a relatively rural and isolated area.

A well-known variant of the story pegs the initial incidents as occurring much earlier — perhaps at the turn of the century. In that version, an inmate escaped from a local Virginia insane asylum, murdered several children and left their bodies hanging from a bridge. The murderer became known as the Bunny Man when the corpses of skinned and half-eaten rabbits began turned up in the area. The bridge, a single lane auto road passing under a railroad track, is located in Clifton, Virginia. Officially called the Fairfax Station Bridge, it’s now known as the Bunnyman Bridge.

Several published versions of this variant have appeared, but all have been discredited. There has never been a mental asylum in the Clifton area; investigations of newspaper and police reports have failed to turn up any documentary evidence for escaped, killer lunatic inmates.

Over the years, the story grew, and more murders were attributed to the Bunnyman, most ending with corpses hanging either from the bridge, or nearby. In our Southern Maryland suburbs, bodies supposedly were found among the ruins of old Fort Washington, a large fort dating to the early 1800s.

More fantastical stories claimed that the Bunnyman is actually a giant rabbit who killed family pets. These tales echo those told about the “Goat Man,” a satyr-like creature — half man and half goat — said to haunt Governor’s Bridge Road, Lottsford Road and Fletchertown Road in Prince Georges County, Maryland. Interestingly, unlike the Bunnyman’s haunts, those locations are near a state medical facility — the Glen Dale State Asylum, a tuberculosis facility whose name may have convinced some tale spinners that it was a mental institution.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 02:39:47.

The Maryland Goat Man

The Maryland Goatman is a hybrid beast who reportedly inhabits the Forestville and Upper Marlboro areas of Prince George’s County, Maryland. Generations of children (including this writer) grew up with tales of the Goatman’s series of horrific murders. The victims of the satyr-like creature were reportedly hacked to death with an axe and then eaten.

The first sightings of the Goatman occurred in the late 1950s or early 1960s. Certainly the legend was well-established in the area by the mid 1960s. The Goatman made appearances throughout Prince Georges County, usually alongside roads such as Lottsford and Fletchertown. These stories often seem to be a version of the “hook” urban legend, where young lovers are threatened in their parked cars.

The Goatman also was said to stalk the grounds of the Glenn Dale Hospital and Sanatorium, which was a state tuberculosis facility. Another story associates the Goatman with the Governor’s Bridge in nearby Anne Arundel County, Maryland. The bridge is said to be the haunt of either a) a young unmarried mother who committed suicide there, b) a baby who was flung off the bridge by a similarly desperate mother or c) both.

There is a similar legend of a Bunnyman in adjacent Northern Virginia, which is said to inhabit the area around the Colhester Overpass, a railroad bridge which spans the Colchester Road.

One Goatman legend says that the beast was the creation of an agricultural scientist at the United States Department of Agriculture research facilities in Beltsville, Maryland. This echoes the legends of the Chupacabra, which in some accounts was created by a US lab in Puerto Rico. It is interesting that Chupacabra means Goat Sucker.

Another make the more obvious witchcraft connection, claiming the Goatman is a summoned devil or demon.I had also heard that it was actually a hobo who lived in the woods and turned into a were-goat at night.

Indeed, the Goatman legend incorporates many broad horror themes.The beast was created by a Mad Scientist, and resembles nothing less than the devil of medieval witchcraft. The Goatman was a serial killer threatening teenagers long before Michael Meyers, Jason or Freddie. It is said to inhabit a bridge like a troll, and perhaps be an example of lycanthropy. Add to that cannibalism, and you have the perfect Halloween monster.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 02:37:36.

The Halloween Horror of Mad Slashers and Psychos

The Halloween Horror of Mad Slashers and Psychos

Another relative newcomer to the Halloween scene is the psycho / serial killer. Popularized by film series such as Halloween and Friday the 13th, they reflect any number of modern fears – just as ghost stories reflected the fears of times past. In a way, they ARE our ghost stories.

Consider the ghostlike qualities of Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s classic movie Halloween. He slips, unseen, from location to location. He’s always ready to manifest himself at the worst possible time. And, as it turns out in the innumerable sequels, he is just this side of immortal.

Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street take it even closer to the ghost story. Freddy is the spirit of a dead child killer who manifests himself in teen aged dreams.

The frightening qualities of these Halloween horror movie serial killers is made real by the knowledge that there there doesn’t seem to be any end to man’s inhumanity to man. And the media just serve to amplify those fears with their constant coverage of sensational crime.

The original media superstar killer was Jack The Ripper. In the year 1888 in London, the “Ripper” murdered at least six women in grisly fashion (some claim that he murdered as many as 15, but the other victims are not “official”). Some of the women were prostitutes – all were less than desirable denizens of the seedy Whitechapel neighborhood. Then, as soon as the murders started, they ended, leaving the police empty handed. The murders remain unsolved to this day.

The Ripper’s name comes from a letter that he sent to the police, taunting them and containing the signature “Jack The Ripper.”

In their time, the Ripper murders created a media storm, with newspapers covering every aspect of the gruesome killings. The social status of the victims just made the whole thing more salacious.

It’s probably not a coincidence that, in the Halloween horror slasher movies, the bad girls die early, and the good one generally is left standing – if somewhat bloodied – at the end.

Another famous slasher killer from history is Lizzie Borden. After her parents were hacked to death with an axe in August, 1892, Lizzie, a 32-year-old spinster was charged with the murder. The trial became a media circus; Lizzie was eventually exonerated. But not before she became enshrined in history with the rhyme:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty one.

Of all the historical serial killers, perhaps none has had as much of an influence on fiction as Ed Gein. In the 1950s, Gein, who lived in Plainfield, Wisconsin, committed a series of gruesome and bizarre murders at his rural farmhouse. His crimes eventually became – at least in part – the basis for the movies Psycho, the Texas Chainsaw Massacres and the character Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs. You can see photos of Ed Gein’s House of Horrors here.

Fear of the unknown. Fear of not being safe anywhere. Fear of those without “our” morals – or without any morals at all. All of these are why serial killers are such effective Halloween horror icons. While we know that ghost and vampires are figments of our imagination, we know that serial killers are all too real.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 03:00:28.