This week Netflix offered another true crime documentary, “The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker.” It tells the weird tale of Kai Lawrence (his real name is Caleb McGillvary) who went from viral celebrity to convicted murderer in less than a year. It is a very disturbing story, and not just because of the murder. What I found most illuminating if not surprising was the eager exploitation of an obviously disturbed young man with violent tendencies by media types who gave no thought to the likely consequences of their actions.
In 2013, McGillvary, aka “Kai” was a homeless pot-smoking vagrant, living on the streets and depending on the kindness of strangers. Hitchhiking in the Fresno (California) area, he was picked up by Jett McBride, who, Kai revealed later, he had given a cigarette laced with a hallucinogenic drug. Perhaps as a result, McBride ran down a pedestrian When a woman rushed to the pedestrian’s aid, McBride, apparently bonkers, assaulted her. This is where “hatchet-wielding” comes in: Kai got out of the car and stopped McBride’s attack by hitting him three times over the head with a hatchet he had in his bag.
Yes, he became a hero by striking a man with a hatchet. The woman felt Kai had saved her life, and a local reporter on the scene quickly grabbed the long-haired, handsome young man for an interview. The reporter was obviously amused and delighted by Kai’s spontaneity and affinity for the camera. At one point McGillvary turned directly to viewers and delivered a well-rehearsed call for all human beings to be “respected for who they are.” The reporter was charmed, even though anyone with open eyes should have known then that they were witnessing the act of seasoned grifter.
The reporter tells the documentary-maker that he had never met anyone with such energy and natural charisma. Ugh. People who are mentally ill and emotionally disturbed frequently display great energy, and sociopaths are usually charismatic. But the interview got the reporter’s YouTube channel a half-million views, so he was sold. He had discovered a true media star, a phenomenon! No, the reporte had discovered a dangerous, angry, manipulative and opportunistic outcast with a good routine. A young, physically fit and intelligent young man who chooses to live on the streets is not normal, psychologically sound or trustworthy.
Never mind though; after he became a sensation in California, Jimmy Kimmel booked him as a guest on his show. This is a prefect match, since Kimmel is also a sociopath: that’s the clip from the documentary covering the Kimmel appearance above. I would take me maybe three minutes with Kai to figure out that he was a few sandwiches short of a picnic, and I’m sure this was obvious to many on Kimmel’s staff, if not Kimmel himself. They just didn’t care.
Kai sang and played the guitar—you know, like John Hinckley Jr.—and he had performed one of his own compositions in one interview, so Justin Bieber’s team reached out to him and the reality show producer to blame for “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” wanted him to star in a TV reality show. That’s the tip-off right there: reality shows are the modern day equivalents of carnival freak shows. Kai was a freak, and ruthless media types wanted to squeeze as much money out of using him as they could before he wore out his extended 15 minutes of fame.
There were many clues that Kai was ticking time bomb. His attention span was fractured; he sometimes flipped into dark tales about being abused a child; he had a habit of urinating in public. The media exposure gave him power, and giving power to a troubled man like Kai is like giving a pistol to a six-year-old. He was, after all, famous for hitting a man with an axe, an episode that McGillvary re-entacted with gusto and apparent glee whenever asked
Eventually, and quickly, the inevitable happened. Seventy-three-year old lawyer Joseph Galfy was found dead in his home in New Jersey, wearing only his socks and underwear. His head was bashed in. Police found a note in Galfy’s home with Kai’s name and number on it, as well as a train ticket receipt.Surveillance footage from a local train station showed Galfy buying Kai a train ticket and the pair hugging goodbye. Kai also published a strange social media post asking “what would you do” if you woke up after being drugged to discover you had been sexually molested by someone. Apparently what Kai did was leave the home of Galfy, who had let him sleep there, then returned to beat him to death.
Kai is now serving a 57-year sentence for murder in a New Jersey prison. I’m sure Jimmy Kimmel, who refused to be interviewed for the documentary, has already forgotten his name. The local reporter and the reality show producer, for their part, profess to be stunned that Kai’s story ended the way it did.
After all, who could have predicted it?