For decades, storytellers have claimed an ax-wielding “Bunny Man” has terrorized northern Virginia, but the truth might be stranger than fiction.
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The year was 1904. A bus carrying inmates from the county asylum swerved along darkened country back roads towards Lorton Prison. One of the buses took a sharp turn and crashed in a particularly remote area, killing all but ten patients. Most were recaptured, except for Douglas J. Grifon, convicted of murdering his family on Easter. Since then, the carcasses of helpless teenagers and bunnies alike have been found hanging from a nearby bridge, slain at the hands of a deranged man wearing a rabbit-eared costume.
This ax-wielding bunnyman has reportedly appeared to startled onlookers as far away as Maryland, Washington, DC, and Culpepper, Virginia, but if he has a home, it’s in rural Fairfax County, Virginia near an old railroad bridge over Colchester Road. The bridge, variously known as Fairfax Station Bridge or Colchester Overpass, has become known as “Bunny Man Bridge” in popular imagination. It’s even labeled as such on Google Maps.
A remote, creepy bridge used during the 1950s and ’60s as a make out spot is like a magnet for urban legends and folklore, and Bunny Man Bridge is no exception. Though variations of common legends have taken root here, Bunny Man Bridge is unique in that at least part of the legend is based on real events.
According to Fairfax County Archivist Brian Conley, there were a series of documented encounters with an ax-wielding man dressed in a bunny suit around Fairfax in 1970, and the fact these encounters took place in late October probably added fuel to the fire. The original sighting, on the 5400 block of Guinea Road, was approximately six miles east of the Fairfax Station Bridge. An enraged man threw a hatchet through the car window of a young couple parked alongside the road.
Every other element–murdered teens, a bus crash, escaped asylum patients, and even discarded bunny carcasses–are all fiction, and the author of the earliest version of the tale to appear online left clues for careful readers. Fairfax Station Bridge wasn’t built until 1906, Lorton Prison didn’t open until 1910, and there was never an “insane asylum” in Fairfax County. Inmates would likely be transported by horse-drawn wagons in 1906, not motorized buses.
The story of a passenger bus crashing near a bridge is a migrating legend, one that retains a basic story line but is assigned to various localities. The tale has even shown up in Illinois (this one involving a clown and a bus full of special needs students) near a bridge along Blood’s Point Road. The original bunnyman legend was far less gruesome but was embellished over time, attracting common elements from other urban legends. Of 54 variations on the story recorded by University of Maryland student Patricia Johnson in 1973, only three mentioned a murder.
Never-the-less, Bunny Man Bridge has captured the public’s imagination, especially after it was featured on Season 2, Episode 1 of Fox Family’s Scariest Places on Earth in 2001. The legend was even adapted into an indie horror film in 2011, and hundreds of visitors attempt to see the bridge around Halloween each year. Police have actively turned them away.
Recently, fictional horror set the stage for real-life tragedy. In April 2018, a 30-year-old man was found dead approximately 900 feet from the bridge. Three men were later indicted for his murder stemming from a marijuana trafficking dispute. The victim’s alleged killer drove him to this remote section of woods and shot him in the chest. Was this dead end road near Bunny Man Bridge just a convenient spot for murder, or did the killer choose it because of its sinister reputation?
While the real “bunny man” put away his hatchet decades ago, the legend he spawned has taken on a life of its own, and its popularity doesn’t seem to be abating. If you’re ever in this remote section of northern Virginia, don’t linger for long.
Bunny Man Bridge (38.789800, -77.362334) is located along Colchester Road north of Popes Head Creek. It is 2.1 miles east of nearby Clifton, Virginia and 5.1 miles southwest of George Mason University. Visitors can only approach the bridge by car from the north. Colchester Road dead-ends in Stonecrest Lane south of the bridge. There is no established parking, not even a gravel pull-off, so park at your own risk.