Tuesday, November 4, 2003
On Halloween night, revelers sought out a local legend with as many twists as curvy Fairfax Station Road itself, the only passage to a railroad underpass loosely named "Bunny Man Bridge."
A Fairfax County Police barricade blocked the Colchester Road segment off Fairfax Station Road on Friday, Oct. 31, in an attempt to protect area residents from Halloween revelers seeking a paranormal experience at Bunny Man Bridge. Technically, revelers were allowed to walk down to the bridge, but police wouldn't allow anyone to park cars on the roadside anywhere in the area.
Woodbridge resident Matt McAdams arrived with a car full of revelers that wanted to see the bridge. McAdams heard about the bridge on a television special highlighting 10 of the scariest places. The show said 21 people had been killed near the bridge, according to McAdams. Two girls in the car were disappointed.
"They were always hung from the bridge," McAdams said of the bodies. "I wanted to see the Bunny Man," he said, before driving away.
One version of the story dates back to 1904, according to historian-archivist Brian Conley of the Virginia Room in the Fairfax County Library in the City of Fairfax. For more than 10 years, he researched the Bunny Man and sorted out the lore. One story involves a prison bus that broke down in the woods of Fairfax Station and convicts escaped the wreckage, fleeing into the night. Most were caught except two — Marcus A. Wallster and Douglas J. Grifon — who remained at large. A search through the woods turned up half-eaten, dismembered rabbits that finally led to the Wallster's body by the Fairfax Station bridge. From then on, Grifon was known as the "Bunny Man."
Other versions of the lore include children hanging from the bridge, a hobo dressed like a bunny, someone dressed in clothes made from rabbit pelts and a man that lived near the bridge who didn't like children, killing them and hanging them from the bridge.
LEE HIGH SCHOOL junior Megan Thornton heard about Bunny Man Bridge from her driving instructor during a behind-the-wheel lesson. That version involved a crazy man that broke out of a mental institution, dressed like a bunny and killed children. Megan remembered that particular driving lesson as being spooky.
"I've been there," she said. "It was right when the sun was setting."
The version Lee student Courtney Tidwell heard involved children from a broken-down school bus around Halloween.
"They found the bodies [turned] inside out," she said.
West Springfield junior Ashley Stern heard another version. She knew some people that went to the bridge at midnight.
"Some guy that escaped from jail, he eats bunnies to survive," she said. Ashley's story involves children's bodies hanging from that bridge, as well.
"I heard he hung them by the intestines," she said.
Fellow student Angelo Tan heard about a girl that went exploring by the bridge.
"I heard this girl went there around Easter, and she got freaked out when she saw a bunny," he said.
The legend even made its way into the West Springfield High School yearbook one year. Brian Simcox, Class of '99, heard about it originally when he was in eighth grade.
"It was a big page in our yearbook," Simcox said. "I think it's a crock."
"I used to go there all the time, all the time but Halloween," West Springfield student Vanessa Leger of area by the bridge. "I think there was less houses back there. It made for a creepier scene,"
The story Annandale High School senior Katie Stanton heard involved a crazy guy, too. His story involved children that taunted him to the point that he killed them.
"He was mentally unstable. He would wear the bunny suit. They [children] would make fun of him," she said.
Katie went there as well.
"It was creepy in the dark," she said.
THE LEGEND has gone on like that through the years, and in 1992, Conley started his research.
"We started getting a lot of questions about it. I wanted to put it to bed once and for all," Conley said.
He summed it up in a 11-page document, "The Bunny Man Unmasked: The Real Life Origins of an Urban Legend." Conley used old news accounts and police investigative reports of murders in Fairfax County, but nothing remotely related to a bunny until his first solid lead in a collection of stories called the "Maryland Folklore Archive."
Around Halloween 1970, Fairfax County Police were searching for a man in a white bunny suit who found people on his property and threw a hatchet through their car window in an attempt to scare them off. No one was injured. A few weeks later, the man in the bunny suit reemerged a few weeks later off Guinea Road, on the porch of a new, unoccupied house, according to Conley's account.
"There really was some guy doing strange things in a bunny suit," Conley said.
Somehow the legends got connected to that particular bridge going under the railroad tracks on Colchester Road. The 1904 event was connected to Lorton Prison, but the prison had not been built at that time, and there was never an insane asylum in the area. Conley thinks the secluded spot added to it.
"It's a spooky looking spot," he said.
Fairfax County Police office Sgt. Jeff Gossett said that this Halloween the police were trying to protect the residents’ property on Colchester Road by blocking off that dead end street leading to the bridge. The closest driveway to the bridge has a hand-painted sign reading, "No Parking in Driveway."
"Every Halloween people do venture down there in large groups," Gossett said. "It's a concern to the neighbors."
Gossett realizes the attraction of the tale, though.
"This is an urban legend," he said. "It's Fairfax County's 'Blair Witch Project.'"