Kai the Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker is a nickname given to Kai Lawrence (real name Caleb Lawrence McGillvary), a man who saved a woman from an attacker by hitting him repeatedly with a hatchet. On the internet, he was largely hailed as a hero early on after a local news station uploaded a video of his eyewitness account to YouTube in February 2013. In June 2013, Kai was then charged with the murder of Joseph Galfy and sentenced in June 2019 after a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder. In January 2023, Netflix released a documentary titled The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker, which notably caused a resurgence of interest in Kai and his murder case.
On February 2nd, 2013, YouTuber Jessob Reisbeck uploaded a video featuring an interview with a homeless man named Kai from a local Fox affiliate KMPH in Fresno, California. In the video, Kai recounted saving a woman from a deranged man who had just rammed a man with his car (shown below, left). The same day, Reisbeck uploaded an extended version of the KMPH news report as it was aired, including several other eyewitness accounts insisting that the man rammed his car into a PG&E worker because he was black (shown below, right).
On the following day, Redditor Kickass_Cajun submitted the YouTube video to the /r/videos subreddit, where it received over 6,400 upvotes and 1,000 comments within the first 48 hours. Shortly after the video was submitted to Reddit, it was made private by the original uploader. That same day, Redditor JakeDeLaPlaya submitted a mirror version hosted on WorldStarHipHop to the /r/justiceporn subreddit, where it received more than 1,600 upvotes and 250 comments within the next two days.
Also on February 3rd, The News Tribune reported that the PG&E worker was sent to a hospital with a broken leg and the attacker had been identified as Jett Simmons McBride, a 54-year-old man from Tacoma, Washington. Meanwhile, a Facebook group called Kai the Homefree Hitchhiker was launched by an anonymous fan. On February 4th, the video was picked up by Uproxx, The FW, and Metafilter, where it earned more than 120 comments. Later that day, YouTuber MrDamageGames uploaded the first musical remix based on the news report. The video has since been removed. On February 5th, Kai's interview was featured on TIME, the Daily Kos, Perez Hilton, Boing Boing, and Buzzfeed. A Wikipedia page was submitted for Kai, but it was promptly deleted.
Kai's Face Tattoo
On March 7th, McGillvary posted pictures of his new face tattoo, comprised of more than a dozen mystical symbols. Shortly after McGillvary's post went live on Facebook, Lost Coast Outpost picked up on the story and challenged its readers to identify the meanings behind the symbols.
On February 7th, KMPH re-interviewed Kai in a more serious manner (shown below, left), asking him about his life and the past that led him to his home-free lifestyle. He noted that he was fluent in three languages and shared his passions for skateboarding and music. Five days later, Kai appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live where he explained his lifestyle. Kimmel confirmed that he did pay Kai in cash for his appearance, which he promptly handed out to homeless people in the area.
In early April, Vice caught up with Kai, who was staying with an artist in Venice Beach at the time. During the interview, Kai noted that he had gotten into a fight in a bar bathroom sometime after the incident in February, beating a man to a point where he may have needed surgery. He also spoke about testifying at Jett McBride's trial and dealing with verbal confrontations from the defense lawyer.
Arrest for Murder
On May 14th, 2013, Kai posted a mysterious status update to his Facebook profile rhetorically asking what his followers would do if they had woken up in a stranger's home and realized they had been "drugged and raped."
On May 16th, law enforcement authorities in Union County, New Jersey issued an arrest warrant for the 34-year-old Caleb Lawrence McGillvary in connection to the homicide of Joseph Galfy, Jr. According to the local news station WABC, the 73-year-old Galfy was found bludgeoned to death in his home in Clark, New Jersey on May 13th. Authorities revealed McGillvary had met Galfy in Times Square on May 12th and stayed with a fan in Glassboro, New Jersey after the murder. By the time the warrant was issued, he was reportedly last seen with short hair at a light rail station in Haddonfield but had since fled New Jersey and was considered to be armed and dangerous. Later that same day at 7 p.m. (ET), he was arrested by the police at a bus terminal in Philadelphia after a Starbucks employee identified him.
On June 3rd, McGillvary was formally charged with the murder of Joseph Galfy, and his bail was set at $3 million, to which he responded with “Oh, fine. Cool" and entered a "not guilty" plea. In addition, he requested the judge additional time to secure a private attorney. On the following day, McGillvary's public defender confirmed that his friends have been trying to raise a legal defense fund to have him represented by New Jersey attorney Miles Feinstein Stanley.
When New Jersey news site The Star-Ledger reached out to Feinstein, he acknowledged that he had been contacted about McGillivary's case and would decide whether to take the case after talking to the defendant. The Star-Ledger article also reported that the contact was arranged by Georgia resident Terry Radliff, who launched a website to raise funds for his legal defense. As of June 4th, sympathizers and supporters of McGillivary have donated $1,467.
“My original intent was to help him have a fair trial,” Radliff said in telephone interview today. “There’s a chance he could be telling the truth,” Radliff said, referring to a May 14 Facebook post where McGillivary intimated he was drugged and sexually assaulted, but did not say where or when. Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow has called those comments “self-serving.”
On April 24th, a jury found McGillvary guilty of first-degree murder, with sentencing scheduled for June 13th, 2019. That day, the Office of the Union County Prosecutor issued a press release, stating "we are pleased that the interests of justice have been served":
“[Galfy] sustained numerous serious blunt-force injuries to his face, head, neck, chest, and arms, including three skull fractures, four broken ribs, and severe contusions, abrasions, and bleeding -- injuries that contradicted McGillvary’s self-defense claim. This was a brutal, vicious, senseless crime, and we are pleased that the interests of justice have been served.”
On April 26th, the news site Oxygen published an article about the verdict, which included a statement from McGillvary’s father:
"I’m really upset with how they handled his case, especially with the police not taking the evidence, and destroying the evidence. It’s sloppy police work to me and I think there’s a lot of collusion with the prosecutors and the lawyers."
On January 10th, 2023, Netflix released a documentary about Kai called The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker (trailer shown below).
Following its release, the documentary reignited sympathy for Kai among some online, as many expressed they felt he was unfairly treated in the trial. For example, on January 10th, Twitter user @jenkiessss wrote, "they’re not talking enough about how they clearly saw he had mental issues from the beginning but wanted to leech off him going viral," gaining over 300 retweets and 2,200 likes in two weeks (shown below, left). On January 13th, user @highsandl0ws raised several questions about Kai's case, gaining over 70 retweets and 480 likes in 10 days (shown below, right).
The documentary also caused a resurgence of interest in the viral video in January 2023. Comedian Bill Burr notably discussed Kai on his podcast shortly after the film's debut (shown below, left). On January 5th, the YouTube channel The Behavior Panel posted an analysis of Kai's original viral video and his behavior in court, gaining over 200,000 views in three weeks (shown below, right).
 The South Jersey Sun – UPDATE: Haddonfield Police Chief confirms murder suspect has left state
 The Star Ledger – Kai The Hitchhiker's fans may pay for attorney in murder case