The True Story of the Hatchet Backpacker
The new movie of Netflix about a true crime The Ax Backpacker, tells the story of Kai Lawrence, a face you may recognize from a viral meme from almost 10 years ago. In just a few months, Kai went from internet celebrity to being arrested for murder. What actually happened?
The Ax Backpacker tells the story of Kai, a homeless man who went viral in early 2013 for saving the life of a woman by attacking her attacker with an ax and “breaking” his head with it. Kai spoke to a local news crew shortly after the event and the interview went viral, making him an instant celebrity. Kai even appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel show. However, within a few months of being in the limelight, he was arrested for the murder of Joseph Galfy.
According to Netflix, the documentary “chronicles the rise to stardom of a carefree nomad and his intrepid fall that ended with his imprisonment.”
So why was Kai arrested for murder that same year? And where is he now? This is everything you need to know about the hatchet backpacker.
What is the true story of the hatchet backpacker?
In February 2013, Kai the hatchet backpacker allegedly hitchhiked with Jett Simmons McBride. While riding in the car, McBride apparently said some startling things and claimed that it was the second coming of Jesus Christ. During the ride, he collided with a pedestrian on the shoulder and Kai got out of the car to help the individual.
As a woman approached to help Kai and the pedestrian, McBride got out of the car and attempted to attack the woman. Kai then proceeds to take an ax from her bag and attacks McBridge in the head.
After the incident, Kai, whose real name is Caleb Lawrence McGillvary, was interviewed by KMPH, where he explained what happened with a rather eccentric account. The KMPH team uploaded the entire six and a half minute interview to YouTube, and Kai became an overnight sensation.
Memes were created and even a producer of Keeping Up With The Kardashians wanted to create a reality show about him and Justin Bieber’s team contacted him about a musical collaboration.
He later appeared in court as a witness in the McBride case.
Why was Kai arrested for murder?
Three months after becoming an internet celebrity, Kai traveled to New York. Shortly after he was arrested for the murder of lawyer Joseph Galfy, 73 years old. Galfy was found dead in his New Jersey home wearing only socks and underwear. They hit him on the head. During the police investigation they found a piece of paper with Kai’s number and name under a laptop. There was also a train ticket receipt that the police used to locate surveillance camera footage, showing Galfy buying a train ticket from Kai, and the two hugging each other goodbye. Kai was later tracked down at a Philadelphia bus station and confessed to Galfy’s murder.
However, while he admitted to the murder, Kai claimed that it had been in self-defense. Kai claimed that she met Galfy in Times Square, that they both went to an Italian restaurant for dinner, and that Galfy offered Kai to stay at her home in New Jersey.
Kai then stated that he woke up at Galfy’s house, where he believed he had been drugged and sexually assaulted in his sleep. Kai said that she did nothing about it and left the house, hoping to stay with an admirer. However, when the admirer didn’t show up, she called Galfy and asked him to stay at her house.
The second night he stayed over, Kai claimed that he woke up to find Galfy sexually assaulting him, for which he repeatedly hit him on the head with his hands and elbows.
Police said there were several gaps in Kai’s story. There were no signs of a struggle, Kai’s memories of the events had changed and she had been seen on video hugging Galfy and asking her to stay with him again.
Where is Kai Lawrence now?
Following his arrest, Kai was jailed until his trial in 2019. He was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to 57 years in prison.
In 2021 he filed an appeal, but lost the case. Kai remains incarcerated at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.
The Ax Backpacker is now available on Netflix.