“Kai the Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker” Suspected of Murdering New Jersey Man, Possibly With a Hatchet

A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
May 16 2013 3:33 PM

“Kai the Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker” Suspected of Murdering New Jersey Man, Possibly With a Hatchet

Screen Shot 2013-05-16 at 3.26.06 PM
Caleb McGillvary, aka "Kai the hatchet wielding hitchhiker"

Screen capture from YouTube

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In February, a Fox affiliate in Fresno, Calif., sent a camera crew to the scene of a roadside crime. Upon arrival, the TV reporter had the good fortune to interview the key witness: an enthusiastically profane hitchhiker named Kai, who energetically told the tale of how he had stopped a delusional fat man from attacking a woman by coming up behind him and bludgeoning him with a hatchet. “People say don’t hitchhike, this is what happens,” Kai said in the clip. “Well, at least I was here.”

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The clip made its way onto YouTube, and “Kai the hatchet-wielding hitchhiker” became an unintentional celebrity of the “That guy is crazy and he has no filter! But also awesome, because he has no filter! I work at a desk job, and my life is so boring!” variety. He went on Jimmy Kimmel Live, of course. He was interviewed by Vice, of course. Now he’s wanted for murder in New Jersey. Of course?

WABC-TV reports that Kai the Hitchhiker, real name Caleb Lawrence McGillvary, is suspected in the murder of Clark, N.J., resident Joseph Galfy, Jr. “The victim, Joseph Galfy, was found inside his home on Starlite Drive on May 13, 2013 after officers received a call to check on his well-being,” WABC reports. “An autopsy performed the following day determined that Galfy died as a result of blunt force trauma.” McGillvary was last seen at a nearby train station, and has cut his hair in an attempt to disguise his identity. The piece also notes that while McGillvary is currently homeless, he considers himself “homefree,” which, according to the aforementioned Vice interview, apparently means that he has a history of discarding all identifying documents and going off the grid. So, um, good luck finding him, Union County Homicide Task Force!

Kai is the second viral video hero this month to be revealed to have a dark side. The other is Charles Ramsey, the Cleveland man who helped rescue Amanda Berry and later became nationally famous for his colorful account of his actions. On May 8, The Smoking Gun reported that Ramsey was “a convicted felon whose rap sheet includes three separate domestic violence convictions that resulted in prison terms.” As Joan Walsh argued in Salon, Ramsey’s checkered past doesn’t necessarily negate his later heroism; in fact, you could say it makes his actions more inspiring.

But it’s worth noting that Ramsey, McGillvary, and all the other viral video stars who have caught our attention because of their unfiltered statements do have pasts, and that their transgressive behavior could extend beyond what’s in a brief YouTube snippet. I’m not saying McGillvary did it. I sort of hope he didn’t. But in retrospect, it’s no big surprise that a guy who became famous for recounting how he hit a dude with an axe may turn out to be an axe murderer.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.

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