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The True Story Behind ‘The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker’

Caleb McGillivary became known as internet celeb "Kai the hatchet-wielding hitchhiker" before being convicted for the murder of New Jersey lawyer.

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“The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker” takes an investigative look at a hitchhiker who went from internet hero to convicted killer. The documentary, which hit Netflix on Jan. 10, revisits the man's strange history before his murder conviction.

So who is the so-called hatchet-wielding hitchhiker?

Known as Kai Lawrence and "Kai the hatchet-wielding hitchhiker," Canadian Caleb McGillivary achieved internet fame in 2013 after claiming that he beat a man with a hatchet to save two women. In the interview with a California news station, the bandana-wearing man claimed that the two women were at risk of being attacked by a man who had given him a ride through Fresno, California. 

“So I f---ing ran up behind him with a hatchet,” McGillivary said to Fox affiliate KMPH. “Smash! Smash! Smash!”

With his scruffy and charming demeanor, the foul-mouthed drifter conjured up millions of YouTube views and even made an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! days later, according to a 2019 NJ.com story. In the parking lot of the show, he apparently urinated on a poster of Kimmel. While Kimmel apparently tried to give the houseless man cash, McGillivary gave it to a security guard for the show, citing the urination trouble he caused, NJ.com reported.

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The trailer for “The Hatchet WIelding Hitchhiker” includes a snippet of one of McGillivary’s interviews: When asked about his viral fame, he responds, “I’m not a virus.” Others in the trailer speak to his charisma and endearing qualities.

McGillivary’s life took a much darker turn from there, as he was sentenced to 57 years in prison in 2019 for the murder of 73-year-old New Jersey lawyer Joseph Galfy. Prosecutors claim he met the attorney in Times Square months after he had gone viral. 

During the trial, the internet-famous hitchhiker claimed Galfy, whom he was staying with temporarily, drugged and raped him in May 2013. He maintained that the killing was done in self-defense, though prosecutors said that the violent nature of the murder — Galfy had suffered "numerous serious blunt-force injuries to his face, head, neck, chest, and arms, including multiple fractures to the neck, skull, and ribs, plus severe contusions, abrasions, and bleeding," according to an Office of the Union County Prosecutor press release.

McGillivary also claimed that evidence was covered up or destroyed. McGillivary told Oxygen.com in a 2019 interview that his defense attorney John Cito, sabotaged his case.

“He threw my case,” McGillivary told Oxygen.com. “That is not somebody who is representing me.”

McGillivary’s paralegal Ashely Bignault told Oxygen.com that the four-week trial was an “unfair one.”

“The trial, conviction, and sentence are a travesty of justice,” she said.

McGillivary told Oxygen.com in 2019 that he was hoping to retain the counsel of Kathleen Zellner, most famously known for being "Making a Murderer" subject Steven Avery’s post-conviction lawyer.

 He lost a bid to overturn his murder conviction in 2021, according to the Associated Press. The appeals court noted that Galfy’s injuries were severe, “far more than just an effort to thwart a sexual advance,” in the opinion of the trial judge, in their decision. McGillivary is still serving his sentence.

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