He calls himself Kai, but his real name is Caleb McGillivary, and in 2013, he became an unlikely hero. After a video of him being interviewed by a news reporter on the side of a highway went viral, the hitchhiker from Alberta became something of a celebrity. And if you’ve seen the clip, you can see why; he’s definitely a character.
After going viral, there were TV appearances, concerts, women, the promise of money, and his own reality show. The sky was the limit for Kai, but instead of reaching stardom and contracts with his unique personality, he found himself facing life in prison for murder. The murder itself isn’t up for debate. Kai admits to the murder; what he doesn’t admit to is intent. According to Kai, it was committed in self-defense.
This is the very real story of Kai, the “hatchet-wielding hitchhiker,” who was only later convicted for murder.
In the morning of February 1, 2013, Caleb Lawrence McGillivary (the spelling his mother claims is the correct one), aka Kai, met a man who claimed to be none other than Jesus Christ on a highway outside Bakersfield. The then 24-year-old had already been on the road for a while, having left his home in Alberta when he was a teenager. His goal was to find his own way in the world.
He had gone back home a few times to see his family, study, or work a bit. But that kind of stuff never fulfilled him for long. By the early months of 2013, he was drifting again. He wasn’t homeless, though, as he would tell people. He was home-free.
Kai hitchhiked through the Canadian provinces and the United States; he walked over mountains and crossed borders. He went to the beat of his own drum, sleeping under bridges, in vans, boats, and on couches. He worked when he needed to and found friends, parties and beaches to surf on along the way. He introduced himself as Kai.
But if the authorities were asking, he called himself Edward Carl Nicodemus, or whatever other random name came to mind. He had just spent the night sleeping on Route 99 in California, which heads north toward Fresno. He was standing by the highway when a black Oldsmobile rolled up to him and came to a stop. The driver signaled him to come inside the car.
On that February morning, a man named Jett Simmons McBride was on a mission of his own. He was going to thwart a terrorist attack (that he learned of from conspiracy theories on the Internet as well as his own calculations) which was about to occur at the Super Bowl. McBride was 54, over six feet tall, and 300 pounds.
After barely sleeping or eating for weeks, he had come to the conclusion that he was Jesus Christ. He threw away his cellphone and left his dog, Zoe, by the side of the road. Why? So neither object nor animal could be traced back to him. As he drove, he tired to ignore the white trucks whizzing by – which were driven by members of the Illuminati following him.
Then, McBride saw a hitchhiker. Kai joined him on the ride to Fresno, and it was going smoothly. They talked about God, Walmart, and numerology. When they reached the city, McBride gave Kai $40 to buy some pot. The two smoked a joint while Kai poured water into the radiator (the car was overheated). Even after everything that was about to go down in the moments that followed, McBride still said Kai was the “coolest son-of-a-b**** he ever met.”
Soon enough, Jessob Reisbeck, a sports turned breaking news reporter, arrived at a chaotic scene. He understood that a man had steered his car into a group of Pacific Gas & Electric workers. One worker was thrown several feet into the air while another was pinned against a truck.
Witnesses reported that the driver, McBride, got out of his car and yell out, “I’m Jesus Christ!” among death threats and racial slurs. A former nurse who saw it all from across the street ran over to try and help the injured man pinned against the truck. Witnesses then saw McBride grab her in a bear hug, kissing and hitting her at the same time.
That’s when a young man was seen running toward them with what looked like a hammer. Reisbeck, the reporter, was talking to a witness as the young man walked up nonchalantly across the street. Reisbeck ran over to him, asking, “Are you the hero?” as he stuffed the KMPH News microphone in front of Kai’s face.
“I’m one of the heroes,” Kai said, holding a cigarette. He was wearing a red sweatshirt, a bandana with peace signs on it, and had a hikers’ backpack on. “What happened today?” Reisbeck asked him. “Well, it went straight out of Dogtown,” Kai replied. He then turned to the camera and began: “Before I say anything else, I want to say no matter what you done, you deserve respect.”
“Even if you make mistakes, you lovable. And it doesn’t matter your looks, skills or age, your size, or anything, you’re worthwhile. No one can ever take that away from you.” After he finished his spiel, he faced the reporter again and continued his story.
According to Kai, McBride intentionally drove into the workers. Kai said he took the keys out of the car so McBride couldn’t hurt them any further or harm anyone else. Referring to the nurse that McBride grabbed, he said, “A man that big can snap a woman’s neck like a pencil stick.” That’s why he ran up behind McBride with a hatchet – not a hammer.
Kai then acted out how he wielded the hatchet, lifting his hand above his head and bringing it down, saying, “Smash, smash, suh-mash.” He told Reisbeck that his name was Kai: “Straight outta Dogtown. K-A-I.” When he was asked his age, he answered, “I can’t call it.” When asked where he was from, he said “Sophia, West Virginia,” with an obvious wink, indicating that it wasn’t true.
When Reisbeck asked him if he had a last name, the hitchhiker smiled, saying, “No, bro. I don’t have anything.” Reisbeck’s interview with Kai went online that night, and by the following morning, the reporter woke to a flood of emails and texts. Kai, “the Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker,” was born.
It was a strange video to go viral, seeing that the interview was long – about six minutes – and while Kai was an interesting, charming and funny character, the story itself was anything but. There was a mentally ill man who seriously injured two workers and harassed a nurse and a hitchhiker who repeatedly hit McBride in the head with a hatchet. It wasn’t clear from the footage if McBride even survived.
He did, though…
Kai divulged what he and McBride spoke about in the ride that led up to the attack – violent and sad things. McBride apparently told him about harassing a girl in the Virgin Islands. As Kai described it all in the video, his expression went between amusement, anger, and sadness, and back again. Something about it connected with people.
His colorful language, carefree vibe, and the idea of an unlikely hero all added to the appeal, making the video go viral. Overnight, the video was viewed 400,000 times. The versions of the video posted by the station and Reisbeck himself racked up thousands, then millions, of views within hours. One video posted by a man got five million views in little more than a day until the station ordered him to take it down.
Kai himself was a mystery. He spoke with no one else at the scene, let alone any other reporters. He had no cellphone, no address, and didn’t give out his real name or where he was actually from. Reisbeck, at that point, was the only known contact, and all he had was Kai’s e-mail address. Reisbeck was getting constant messages from people looking for Kai.
As the video spread, it went national and eventually international, finally reaching Alberta, where it was shared between Kai’s siblings and parents. At first, it popped up as just another notice from his travels: “If you’re curious what Caleb is up to…” Just a few months earlier, Kai had seen his family at a wedding in Red Deer.
It wasn’t surprising to his parents that their son was helping people. But it was clear that he’d been through something traumatic. As his mother watched the video spread and grow, she grew increasingly disturbed. Kai’s teenage sister saw her friends post the video, not knowing that Kai was her brother. And it wasn’t funny to her at all.
Kai said in the video, “I don’t have any family. As far as anybody I grew up with is concerned, I’m already dead.” Of course, that was hurtful for his family to hear. Kai was the second of four children and held treaty status with the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Manitoba. He was always smart, creative, and full of energy. But he struggled.
He had been hospitalized more than once for mental health issues. As a teen, he was traumatized by a serious sexual assault that occurred while he was hitchhiking through British Colombia, Canada, for which the attacker was charged but never convicted. By his late teens, Kai was already speaking three languages.
After some schooling, it was clear that he was destined for the road, and so his family let him go. As his younger sister said, “One of the things with loving a free spirit is understanding that you’ve got to let them be a free spirit.” Meanwhile, in California, Reisbeck e-mailed Kai to tell him about the interview going viral – something the off-the-grid nomad couldn’t have known about.
By the time the two met up for a follow-up interview, Reisbeck was the unofficial contact between Kai and the masses of people trying to get in touch with him. Reisbeck was even worried about the young hitchhiker turned celebrity. Kai was intelligent and had street smarts, but there was also something vulnerable about him, and Reisbeck wanted to protect him.
Just about every news program and talk show was trying to get in touch with him. The most remarkable interest came from the producers of Keeping up with the Kardashians, who were interested in doing a reality show about Kai.
Three or four days after the video went viral, Reisbeck and Kai met at a fast-food restaurant in San Jose. Kai ate burger after burger while Reisbeck laid out the offers of fame, money, and celebrity. The American dream was dangling in front of him, all thanks to an insane event and a six-minute video. Once he heard the offers, he threw a pencil in the air.
“If it landed one way, he was going to go and potentially make millions of dollars… He was going to be a reality TV show star,” Reisbeck recalled. “Or, he was going to go smoke weed in San Francisco.” Then, as he saw the pencil fall onto the table, Kai said, “Well, I’m going to go smoke weed.’”
Reisbeck said producers pushed hard to at least get him an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! They even sweetened the deal by promising him a limo filled with weed and a drive around L.A. doing whatever he wanted. This was an offer Kai accepted. Viewers later watched as Jimmy Kimmel did a sketch from behind the dashboard of a car.
It was February 11, 10 days into Kai’s viral fame, and he was sitting next to Jimmy Kimmel in the passenger seat of a car. The studio roared with laughter as Kai answered questions about his life and philosophies, describing his plan to build a house made of willow hoops and moss. Kimmel gave him a surfboard and a wet suit, and the two hugged. “Thanks for not killing me with a hatchet,” Kimmel said.
Soon enough, the Kai memes, gifs, Facebook fan pages, and Twitter accounts, such as @DogtownKai and @HatchetGuyKai, began. There were even “Kai the hitchhiker” posters and T-shirts for sale. One woman knitted his face on a tiny, hatchet-wielding doll. Suddenly, those who ran into him wanted to get him stoned or buy him a meal.
“How many nights should I offer my couch to Kai for?” someone asked in a Facebook poll. “He’s kinda famous.” On The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert remarked: “For the first time in human history, people are saying, ‘Boy, we sure are lucky that homeless hitchhiker was carrying a hatchet.’” But, aside from his eccentricity and likeability, Kai was unpredictable, even disrespectful at times.
In B.C., where Kai lived on and off, people remembered him as outgoing enough to plant himself down at a table full of strangers, but also as the guy to get kicked out of “every drinking establishment in this town.” Reisbeck quickly learned that Kai was impossible to control or predict. He also had the ability to suddenly turn dark, as though a switch had been flipped.
He went from kind and generous to crude and profane, and vice versa. In California, he rode his skateboard through the lobby of a hotel, ate a fancy lunch with TV executives, and smashed a plate on the floor, yelling “Opa!” He also left his backpack with everything he owned inside of it in front of the hotel for someone to take. He told Reisbeck: “Look where I’m staying tonight. Someone definitely needs that more than me.”
Reisbeck would tell people: “You don’t understand what it’s like to hang out with this guy.” He worried about the kid’s mental health. Where do you draw the line between uninhibited and unbalanced? Weeks later, as he was riding the wave of viral celebrity, Kai got a large tattoo on the side of his face and neck. By that point, public attention was already starting to turn.
While some people defended him, others concluded that he was mentally ill or just seeking attention. By the end of March 2013, a Facebook page that was hosting concerts and events with him in Fresno was shutting it down. An announcement was made: “WE CANNOT VOUCH FOR KAI’S INTEGRITY TOWARDS PEOPLE ANYMORE.”
“Kai has worn out his welcome in Fresno to people’s kind hearts and good graces,” one administrator wrote. “Kai was fun for his fifteen minutes of fame,” one woman wrote. “And then he became old before his time!” On May 14, 2013, over three months into his viral fame, a disturbing post appeared on Kai’s personal Facebook page, which seemed to have been written by him.
“What would you do if you woke up with a groggy head, metallic taste in your mouth, in a stranger’s house…,” it read. “What if you realized you had been drugged and sexually assaulted?” he asked. “What would you do?” It was difficult to tell whether or not Kai was serious when he made posts about his troubled past and his desires to injure people.
Reisbeck, too, wondered what to make of it all. In their follow-up interview, titled Getting to Know Kai: The Truth Behind the Hero, Kai recalled experiences that Reisbeck described as “darker and more gut-wrenching than you can imagine.” It became clear to the reporter that Kai had a particular animosity for people who take advantage of others. He spoke about being a vigilante and going after pedophiles.
Joseph Galfy Jr. met Kai in Times Square one day in May that same year. Galfy was a 73-year-old well-known and respected lawyer and a former military man from Clark, New Jersey. “You look lost,” is what Kai recalled the man saying to him. They left New York City together in Galfy’s car, headed to his suburban home.
Galfy picked up food and a pack of cigarettes, offering Kai beer and a place to stay. Kai’s Facebook friend, Kim Conley, texted him: “You need to be very careful, Kai.” The two had plans to meet up that weekend. “I’m carefree and brave. I’ll be fine,” he assured her. “I found a good person who put me up for the night.”
He left Galfy’s house the next morning, only to return again that night. When Galfy didn’t show up for work on Monday morning and missed a scheduled appointment, his paralegal called his friends and neighbors, asking them to check on him. Robert Ellenport, the former mayor of Clark and a personal friend of Galfy’s, arrived to find his bungalow at 46 Starlite Drive dark and quiet.
That day’s New York Times sat outside, waiting to be collected. Galfy, who had heart problems and other health issues, lived alone since his “houseboy and employee” had died. It was eventually understood that he was actually his partner. When Ellenport saw the lack of life in the dark home, he expected the worst.
Once the police officer who responded to the call came out from the house looking grim, Ellenport understood that his friend was no longer alive. But he was speechless when he learned that he had, in fact, been murdered. He was even more shocked to hear that the suspect was a man he remembered seeing in a bizarre news story a few months earlier.
Kai was arrested three days later in a Greyhound bus station in Philadelphia. He had cut his long hair short with a knife, but thanks to the distinctive tattoo on his face, he was easily recognizable. When an officer tapped him on the shoulder, Kai thought it was a fan looking for an autograph. But it was more along the lines of fingerprints that this officer was planning to retrieve.
Galfy had been found face down on the floor of his bedroom, wearing only his underwear and socks. He was brutally beaten, with fractures in his bones and bleeding in his brain. One of his ears was practically torn off. The authorities were able to connect the two men through text messages on Galfy’s phone.
It didn’t take long for the story to hit the news, with headlines like “Hatchet Hitchhiker Arrested for Murder” and “Kai, a Killer?” Although the murder occurred in 2013, it was only in April of 2019 that the trial began in New Jersey. Kai had been held in jail for six years by then, mostly in solitary confinement.
He tried to take his life at least once. When he appeared in court for the first time, he was wearing a dark suit and tie, with dark hair hanging loose past his shoulders. A heavy chain was bound to his ankles. Union County Superior Court Judge Robert Kirsch refused any broadcasting in the court, and whenever Kai came close to mentioning the viral video or his Internet fame during the trial, Kirsch immediately shut it down.
Though the court heard that Kai had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, his lawyer didn’t want his mental health to be considered as a defense, except for the PTSD he experienced as a result of the assault on him when he was a teen. Judge Kirsch agreed that Kai is “quite clearly competent.”
Kirsch denied Kai’s request to fire his lawyer and represent himself. Kai kept repeating what he had told the police immediately after his arrest. His side of the story was that he blacked out after drinking a beer on both nights that he spent at Galfy’s home. He woke up on Sunday night to find the man on top of him, trying to sexually assault him.
He claimed he fought to get away and didn’t realize that Galfy was dead until after he was arrested. Kai’s lawyer questioned the police investigation. Why weren’t the drinking glasses ever examined for drug residue? He also wondered why blood from Galfy’s body wasn’t tested for DNA and why the police never performed a rape kit on Kai after his arrest.
Throughout the trial, Kai was making “eccentric facial expressions and constant eyebrow raising,” which the judge said were “reminiscent of the YouTube video that made him Internet famous.” If the jury believed Kai killed Galfy in self-defense, they could find him not guilty. It could also mean that he would be convicted of a lesser offence, such as manslaughter.
Jurors deliberated for two days. Their final verdict: first-degree murder. On May 30, 2019, Kirsch sentenced the hitchhiker to 57 years in prison. “You created this public image of a surfing free spirit… But underneath that free spirit, the jury saw another side of you,” Judge Kirsch stated, calling him “a cold-blooded, calculated, callous killer.” Kai will be eligible for parole in 2061 when he will be 72 or 73 years old, “Which, by complete coincidence, is still younger than Mr. Galfy was when you murdered him.”
When he was given a chance to speak, Kai said he was wrongfully convicted by a system both corrupt and stacked against him. “This has been nothing but a sham trial, and you have railroaded an innocent man,” he stated in court. “Shame on you.” After the sentencing, a number of people wanted to help. Donations for bail, pledges of support, and hashtags like #FREEKAI and #INNOCENT were made.
A psychological report filed with the court described Kai as displaying “serious anti-social behavior” ever since he was a toddler. He even admitted to killing hamsters and attempting to set the family home on fire when he was a child. In interviews, his mother, Shirley Stromberg, chose not to speak about her son’s mental health.
She did say, however, that he struggled with their divorce and the sexual assault he suffered as a teen. “Being a free spirit is not a mental health issue,” she said. “Because somebody doesn’t fit into a box isn’t a mental health issue,” Stromberg said that she and her son are not currently in contact. She also didn’t attend the trial because he asked her not to.
“He is so much more than Kai the hatchet hitchhiker,” his sister said. It’s something she wishes she “could scream at the world sometimes.”
As for the attacker who called himself Jesus Christ? Well, he had his own trial. Jett Simmons McBride faced charges of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, and battery. He was committed to a state mental hospital for a maximum sentence of nine years.
As for Kai, inmate #1222665 at New Jersey State Prison, he spent the past year trying to appeal both his conviction and sentence. A paralegal volunteered her services after seeing his viral video online. An appeal brief was filed in April of 2020. Kai is now 31, and through interviews and messages, he says he spends his time reading, doing yoga, and meditating for hours on end.
He says he’s given time outdoors once every five days. On the Kai the Hitchhiker Legal Support Page, words of support are posted, sending him love, prayers, and sometimes money for his commissary and legal fund. There was even a petition to Netflix to make a documentary about him, hoping that more publicity will help his case.
“The Internet created this whole sensational story, and the real life tragedy got lost,” Galfy’s friend, Robert Ellenport, said. According to Ellenport, his friend’s death didn’t get the attention it deserved because of the broader spectacle.