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.