The Terrifying Urban Legend That Blurred Into A Paranormal Killing!

Marcus Lowth
Published Date
July 23, 2023
Estimated Reading Time
14 min read
Posted in
Supernatural, Folklore

The legends of The Bunny Man are not only some of the strangest to come out of the American northeast, specifically Fairfax County in Virginia, but the entirety of the United States. Indeed, not only do they appear to be a blurring of brutal murders and urban legend, but there are distinct suggestions of a paranormal element to this strange and curious figure.

A depiction of a man with a rabbit's head

Just who, or what, was the Bunny Man?

Indeed, beginning in the early 1970s, the legends of the Bunny Man turned from a strange person sighted wearing bunny ears to, with the arrival of the Internet, claims of deranged murderers on the run from authorities, slaughtered animals, and even brutally murdered children. And while it might be tempting, to some, to dismissively lay the blame of telling tall tales at the door of the world wide web, we should perhaps attempt to unstitch the fact from the reality of such legends, at least as best we can.

Before we examine some of the apparent backstories to the Bunny Man and where the legends might have stemmed from, we will turn our attention to the first time, at least in the contemporary era of the second half of the twentieth century is concerned, the Bunny Man was brought to the attention of the wider general public.

“You’re On Private Property – I Have Your Tag Number!”

Historian and archivist for the Fairfax County Public Library, Brian Conley, has perhaps researched the legends of the Bunny Man more than anyone else. [1] Arguably the first appearance of the Bunny Man, at least in the local media, at around midnight on the evening of 19th October 1970, when a United States Air Force cadet, Robert Bennett, along with his fiancé, was driving through Burke, Virginia after attending a local football game.

However, shortly after parking his car near a field near Guinea Road in order to call in at his uncle’s house who lived over the road, they saw something flash across the window screen. The next thing the pair realized, the glass of the passenger window shattered with a loud smash. Once Bennett could look outside, he saw a strange and menacing man standing outside. The man shouted at them, “You’re on private property – I have your tag number!”

Before he could listen to anything else, Bennett started the car and drove off as fast as he could. By the time he parked the car at home, he discovered what he believed had smashed the window on the floor of the car – a small hatchet. Horrified that the weapon could have struck either himself or his fiancé,  he reported the incident to the authorities.

Bennett would describe the man as wearing a bizarre white suit, but even stranger, he had bunny ears on his head. It is perhaps interesting to point out that his fiancé recalled the stranger wearing a white pointed hood. Whatever the man was wearing, the mention of bunny ears in the newspaper reports was about to fuse urban legends and horrific crimes.

More Encounters Reported

At around 10 pm on the evening of 29th October, just 10 days after the first incident involving Robert Bennett, another strikingly similar event unfolded. [2] This time, a security guard for the King’s Park West subdivision, Paul Phillips, was patrolling a housing construction site when he claimed to have seen a bizarre-looking man in a grey, white, and black bunny suit standing on the porch of one of the unfinished homes.

In very similar dialogue as had been used with Bennett when the figure called out that Phillips was “trespassing” and that if he came any closer he would “chop his head off”. As if to make his point, he began swinging a hatchet he was carrying at one of the porch posts.

Phillips immediately backed up, intent on heading back to his office to get his gun and then returning to confront the intruder once more. However, by the time had made his way back to the porch, the figure dressed in the rabbit suit was nowhere to be seen.

It is perhaps worth noting that the hatchet Bennett discovered on the floor of his car following his run-in with the assailant was returned to him by the police. This means, then, that if this was the same person who confronted Philips, he had obtained another, or already owned several hatchets, or that it was a different person altogether – some kind of bizarre copycat incident.

Whatever the truth of the matter, over the following weeks, more and more newspapers carried reports of the incidents. And during that time, local police departments recorded in excess of 50 incidents from people who had witnessed or had a run-in with what the media and community alike were calling, The Bunny Man.

The Growing Of A Legend

As the years turned into decades, urban legends of the Bunny Man continued and grew. However, it wasn’t really until the late 1990s with the mass rolling out of the Internet that it became apparent just how much. [3] And what’s more, it is hard to tell how much is fact, how much is actually connected or is just coincidence, and how much has been elaborated or outright manufactured.

The legends of the Bunny Man had now connected to many murders. And what’s more, these murders stretched back decades, at least according to the accounts, to the start of the twentieth century. Arguably one of the most comprehensive retellings of these accounts comes courtesy of Timothy C. Forbes.

According to Forbes’ research, the story of the Bunny Man goes all the way back to 1903 and a criminal asylum that was “buried deep within the wilderness of Clifton”. However, while it was wilderness when it was built and operational, many more people had moved to the region following the civil war and as the population grew, there was an increasing sentiment about the asylum’s presence so close to their community. This sentiment grew so much that a petition was eventually raised for a new asylum to be built further away and the prisoners to be transferred there.

These plans were put into motion in 1904 when the Lorton Prison was constructed and the prisoners were prepared to be moved to the new facility. However, as the bus made its way to their new destination, it is claimed that something appeared in the middle of the road – likely a wild animal – which caused the driver to swerve out of the way. However, this swerve caused the bus to tip to one side and crash to the ground.

Although most of the prisoners onboard were severely injured, some managed to free themselves from the carnage and escape into the surrounding areas. Eventually, all of the escapees were captured – all, that is, except for two.

A Temporary Resolve

Both Marcus Wallster and Douglas Grifon remained at large. And what made this prospect even more concerning for the local communities was the repeated discoveries of dead rabbits, often half-eaten and mauled.

Eventually, Wallster was discovered dead under the Fairfax Station Bridge (now called the Colchester Overpass). According to legend, he was found with a homemade hatchet in his hand and it was soon put forward that the Bunny Man had been found and he was no more. Incidentally, the bridge where Wallster was discovered began being referred to as Bunny Man’s Bridge soon after.

However, even though they were still searching for Douglas Grifon, it seemingly didn’t occur to the authorities – at least publicly – that the Wallster might not have been the person they were looking for. That was until they began discovering dead, half-eaten rabbits once more a short time later, and several months later, word got around that Grifon was the Bunny Man. And of more concern, he was still out there.

Officially, though, by the spring of 1905, the search for Grifon was called off by police and he was presumed dead. However, as Halloween approached later that year, sightings of the strange rabbit-like figure began once more. Then, on Halloween, at least according to local folklore, the legend of the Bunny Man intensified even more.

Death At Bunny Man’s Bridge

According to most versions of the account, on Halloween night 1905, a group of local teenagers had gathered at the bridge in order to enjoy a beer or two they had managed to sneak out from their parents or manage to purchase themselves. However, as midnight approached, most of the youngsters had made their way home. Only three of them remained, unaware that their evening was about to turn all the more disturbing.

Almost at the stroke of midnight, a bright light appeared under the bridge. Several seconds later, each of the teenagers was dead from having their throats cut. Reports also suggest that each of the teenagers had several hack-like wounds to their torsos. Perhaps most unsettling of all, however, was how the killer had left his grim prizes – hanging by their necks from the edge of the bridge.

Later examinations suggested a hatchet of sorts had been used to inflict the wounds – one that matched closely the one discovered in Wallster’s hand near this same bridge.

As much as the murders rocked the small community, sightings of the Bunny Man stopped immediately following that brutal evening. However, a year later, with Halloween 1906 only several weeks away, sightings of this ominous figure began to be reported once more. Once more, on Halloween night, many of the town’s teenagers had gathered once more at the bridge. Once more, most had left as midnight approached.

Bunny Man's Bridge

Bunny Man’s Bridge

This time, seven of the group remained. One of them, though, Adrian Hatala, had separated herself from the group, deciding to stand a short distance from the bridge in case something did appear and so giving her time to escape the presumed carnage that would follow. When midnight approached, she noticed a strange light – like a flashlight – moving along the rail track. When it got to the bridge, it came to a stop. Then, it disappeared while at the very same time, a bright flash appeared under the bridge.

The next thing that hit her ears was the distressing sounds of screams and horrified cries. Then, seconds later, there was just silence. She looked on in horror as she saw the silhouettes of their corpses being hanged from the edge of the bridge by some invisible force.

She ran from the scene and reported that several teenagers had been murdered at the bridge, although she didn’t tell of anything else she had witnessed. In a bizarre twist, Adrian herself was soon charged with the murders and sent to Lorton Asylum as criminally insane.

The killings indeed stopped for several years. However, on Halloween night in 1913, nine teenagers were killed in the exact same fashion at the bridge. This caused the authorities to overturn Adrian’s sentence but she had now mentally deteriorated so much that she remained in mental facilities until her death in 1953.

One Final Murder (And Close Call) At Bunny Man’s Bridge?

Following the 1913 killings, teenagers stayed away from the bridge, something the local authorities, to begin with at least, enforced. However, random suspect murders still occurred in the area in the immediate run-up to respective Halloweens over the years. On the rare occasions when adventure seekers ventured out to Bunny Man’s Bridge – in 1943 and 1976 – all were killed and discovered in the same fashion as the groups of teenagers in the early years of the 1900s.

However, an incident in the late 1980s appears to stand out a little more than the others.

On Halloween evening 1987, Janet Charletier and four friends were driving along the quiet roads of the town following conducting their own raids on some of the younger children’s hauls of sweets and candy. At around 11 pm, they brought their car to a close near Bunny Man’s Bridge. Once there, they made the decision to stay where they were until midnight and see what might happen. None of them believed there was any truth to the legends, and fully expected to be the first to have braved the infamous bridge and live to tell about it.

By the time midnight was almost upon the group, though, Janet suddenly began to feel afraid and questioned whether they shouldn’t just leave. The others, however, wished to stay, leaving Janet to make her way from the bridge. Before she was out of the bridge, though, she noticed a bright flash of light appear out of nowhere.

Then, to her horror and shock, she noticed a cut marking appear on her torso, as if being made by an invisible weapon. She remained still for a second or two before suddenly running as fast as she could away from this invisible assailant. As she was just about to reach the road out of the bridge, she collided with a dead body that was hanging from the edge above.

She stumbled out from the underpass and collapsed at the roadside a short distance away. When she was discovered, not only had she lost a lot of blood, but her hair had seemingly turned completely white. Ultimately, she would make a full recovery, physically, at least. She wouldn’t, however, ever speak of the encounter after initially telling what happened, and is often said to have been seen sitting on a swinging bench outside her family home, staring blankly into space.

According to Forbes’ research, although local youngsters still gathered around the bridge on Halloween in the years that followed the 1987 murders, all had enough sense to make sure they were well away from the area before midnight.

Of course, the legends of the Bunny Man continue. And as the Internet began to creep into every aspect of the modern world, that legend only grew.

Murky Waters And Blurred Lines Of Legend

Over the years that followed, reports of the Bunny Man began to exceed the limits of Fairfax County, with some incidents happening as far as Maryland and the District of Columbia. [4] Most of these sightings and encounters, as noted by Conley, often happened in “secluded locations” and almost all spoke of a “figure clad in a white bunny suit” who would often threaten children with an ax or hatchet. It was, according to Forbes research, at some time in the 1980s when several murders had been credited to the Bunny Man, most of which were at the infamous bridge in Fairfax.

We mentioned earlier how by the time the legends had arrived on the Internet it had changed dramatically from the early local legends that still had some grounding in factual accounts of the early 1970s.

Indeed, while the Slenderman legends morphed and grew in full view of the Internet allowing those who study such matters to document them in real-time and keep, for the most part, a record of how those legends grew, the Bunny Man legends suddenly arrived to the masses as an already established fusion of different versions and details.

What is also interesting is the notion that should a person begin committing horrific crimes under the guise of the Bunny Man, as much as we know such a figure doesn’t exist, for their victims, and indeed the perpetrator themselves, the Bunny Man is suddenly all too real. Essentially, the belief of one person can sometimes be strong enough to make such figures a part of everyone else’s reality.

So, does the Bunny Man exist or is he nothing but a combination of legends, myths, and partial truths?

False But With Potential Truths?

Conley would conclude that a quick examination of Forbes’ account shows it to be “false”, with numerous details such as the location of the asylum, the date that Lorton Prison was built, as well as the two missing prisoners – Marcus Wallster and Douglas Grifon – who can’t be found anywhere in the official court records, which they undoubtedly would have if they had been charged and sentenced.

Does this mean that Forbes outright manufactured the account? Or is it a case of him retelling it as he himself learned it? Indeed, this is very much how legends spread, and being able to determine where a general version of a story changes is as important as knowing it has changed. Even Conley states that although it is easy to dismiss the legends of the Bunny Man as fictitious nonsense, it is true that “many legends do have some basis in factual events”.

Conley would begin researching all of the murders from the early 1870s to the early 1970s when the Bunny Man stories began appearing in newspapers in an effort to try to discover any brutal murders that had taken place in the region that might have given birth to the legend of the Bunny Man.

However, despite there being three that matched closest to the legends of the Bunny Man, the first two, at least in Conley’s opinion could be dismissed entirely, and the third was hardly watertight and most definitely unlikely at best.

However, it was when Conley came across a paper titled The Bunny Man written by a University of Maryland student, Patricia Johnson, that he uncovered more apparent origins of the Bunny Man legend.

Over 50 Versions Of The Bunny Man Accounts

According to the paper, Patricia Johnson put forward that one of the things that qualified the Bunny Man legends as an “Urban Belief Tale” was that it had “appeared in print as truth”. As Conley relayed, she had written in her paper that “included in this collection is an article from the Washington Post which verifies the story as truth”. Much to Conley’s frustration, and indeed ours, that newspaper clipping was missing from the paper itself.

Further according to Johnson’s paper, she had spoken to multiple local residents who had accounts of the Bunny Man to tell. She would ultimately state that she had gathered 54 different versions of the Bunny Man legends. There were, though, many details that matched across them.

Johnson would highlight no less than 14 different locations where the Bunny Man was seen or encountered. What’s more, 18 accounts involved the Bunny Man physically chasing people, usually carrying a hatchet – and these groups were often children. Another 14 accounts spoke of people being attacked while sitting in cars, with nine of those encounters occurring when a person was in a parked vehicle. Five of these encounters involved the apparent Bunny Man damaging respective vehicles or property, while only three spoke directly about murders.

It was apparent that Johnson was also aware of the sightings of the Bunny Man in the 1970s. Indeed, it appeared that it was these sightings that sparked her interest in the mysterious creature. She also unveiled a further account that surfaced around the same time. And, as highlighted above, it involved many of the same details as other encounters on record.

Officially, The Bunny Man Doesn’t Exist

According to what 17-year-old “G Taylor” told Johnson, one afternoon in 1972 she had just arrived home from school and was listening to the news as she put away her belongings. She recalled hearing that a couple were sitting in a parked car when they had reported a “giant bunny” suddenly appearing in front of them out of the woods. In his hand was a rough-looking hatchet which he threw directly at the car as he ran past the front of it.

With that, the “large rabbit” turned and ran back into the woods. The couple sat there, shocked at what they had witnessed. Then, a moment or two later, an old man appeared from one of the houses nearby and told the couple to leave. They tried to inform him of what had just happened but he dismissed them and ordered them away from his property.

Needless to say, the young couple made a report of the incident to the local police. They would return to where the couple had seen the strange figure. However, despite speaking to multiple people who lived nearby – including the elderly gentleman – no one could recall seeing this strange bunny creature. That was, until several days later when many of those same residents began contacting police to say they too had seen this mysterious Bunny Man.

According to Taylor, police would discover that three Bunny costumes had been rented in the days leading to the sighting. However, all those costumes were returned, and all had “valid” reasons for renting them – in short, they weren’t suspected of being the Bunny Man. Sightings continued for several weeks in the immediate area before suddenly coming to a stop.

It is not clear if this was a retelling of the Robert Bennett encounter that had morphed slightly over the years, or another independent incident that should be treated as another authentic report.

It is also worth noting that the incident involving Paul Phillips is confirmed by a police report – at least his version of events – and it was this incident that appeared in the Washington Post as highlighted by Johnson.

Investigator W L Johnson of the Criminal Investigation Bureau did investigate the report of Paul Phillips. Rumors were seemingly circulating among the younger children of the town that the Bunny Man was actually an older teenager, possibly a recent high school leaver. However, none of them knew this mysterious person’s identity. He ultimately concluded that there was no Bunny Man – at least how the legends stated – and that the only people who claimed to have seen him with his own eyes were those of the (then) recent sightings of October 1970.

A Legend Made Real By Belief?

The legends of the Bunny Man, then, are a classic case of real factual events that have become twisted and added to over the course of many years. And like many legends, it is hard to tell where the blur between truth and folklore is. When elements of the paranormal are added – such as the sudden appearance of a flashing light under the bridge, for example – these waters become even murkier.

Research and investigation of such legends, though, are still very valid. Not least in case an individual did take it upon themselves to “bring the legends to life” as was seen in the legends of the Slenderman in the early 2000s. Just the fact that we are examining the figure, at least half a century since the early encounters of the 1970s, and over a hundred years since the apparent brutal murders under the bridge, shows that, to a certain degree and from a certain perspective, the Bunny Man is very real.

Indeed, even if we say that the Bunny Man, per se, isn’t real, that is not to say that those who have reported encounters with this mysterious figure were lying, or even outright mistaken. Once legends circulate enough in a community, once a person is put in a situation that is slightly out of the norm, those same legends suddenly become all the more possible and real.

The short video below examines the legends of the Bunny Man a little further.


1 Inside The Terrifying ‘Bunny Man’ Legend Of Northern Virginia — And The True Stories Behind It, All That’s Interesting
2 Antics Of Bunny Man Start Police Hopping, The Minneapolis Star, 31 Oct. 1970 (page 31)
3 The Clifton Bunny Man, Castle of Spirits
4 The Bunny Man Unmasked, Brian Conley, Research Fairfax County

Marcus Lowth

Marcus Lowth is a writer with a love for UFOs, aliens, and the Ancient Astronaut Theory, to the paranormal, general conspiracies, and unsolved mysteries. He has been writing and researching with over 20 years of experience.

Marcus has been Editor-in-Chief for several years due to his excellent knowledge in these fields. Marcus also regularly appears as an expert on radio talk shows including Troubled Minds and Unexplained Radio discussing these topics.

Read Marcus' full bio.

You can contact Marcus via email.

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