Who Is Kai the Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker? Netflix Unpacks How the Viral Meme Sensation Went From Internet Fame to Convicted Murderer

The unhoused surfer was arrested just months after making headlines for a viral TV interview.

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By Sam Silverman • Jan 12, 2023

You may remember Kai the Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker from a viral 2013 interview that turned a homeless surfer into an overnight Internet sensation. He was regarded as a hero, per Esquire, after memorably explaining how he "suh-mashed" a man while hitchhiking to stop the driver from attacking a woman. The clip has garnered over 3 million views since it debuted almost 10 years ago.

Kai appeared on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" posing himself as a good samaritan at the time and even grabbed the attention of producers for a show of his own, but it never came to fruition, per Decider. However, his 15 minutes of fame came to a hard stop when he was arrested for killing a man just two months after going viral.

A documentary exploring the tale, "The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker," was released on Netflix this week and unpacks the issues surrounding the glorification of internet stars.

Here's everything you need to know about the new documentary.

Who Is Kai AKA Caleb Lawrence McGillvary?

Caleb Lawrence McGillvary, known as Kai, was introduced to the world via viral video in February 2013. He was 24 years old at the time and living a nomadic life in the States after growing up in Canada.

When he recorded his viral interview, Kai was hitching a ride to Fresno, Calif.

At the time, Kai told news station KMPH that Jett Simmons McBride picked him up while hitchhiking, and while they were en route, McBride allegedly told the nomad that he raped a 14-year-old girl. Kai then said that McBride hit a pedestrian with the car on purpose.

Once the ride came to a halt after hitting a pedestrian, bystander Tanya Baker ran to help but McBride attacked her. At that point, Kai said he stepped in and stopped the attack by hitting McBride with a hatchet.

"A guy that big can snap a woman's neck like a pencil stick. So I f–king ran up behind him with a hatchet. Smash, smash, SUH-MASH!" Kai recalled in the viral interview.

Kai also shared a positive message to the camera, stating, "No matter what you've done, you deserve respect. Even if you make mistakes, you're loveable."

His remarks garnered viral attention, including an auto-tuned song that garnered 11 million views.

Days later, a KMPH released a follow-up interview with Kai and revealed he may have been more troubled than the world first thought.

According to the report, his past "is darker and more gut-wrenching than you can imagine."

What Happened to the 'Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker?'

Just months after Kai's interview went viral, the nomad was wanted by the police.

A 73-year-old man was found beaten to death in his New Jersey home, according to People, when investigators found evidence in the house connecting Kai to the crime.

Kai was arrested for killing the man, Joseph Galfy, whom he met in Time Square, per Esquire, after migrating from the West Coast to New York City, in May 2013.

Once Kai was found by police at a Philadelphia bus station, he confessed to the murder but claimed it was self-defense after Galfy allegedly sexually assaulted him. He pleaded not guilty to the crime and was held on a $3 million bond after being deemed dangerous, CNN reported at the time.

After spending six year in jail awaiting trial, he was convicted of first degree murder and was sentence to 57 years in prison in 2019.

Where Is Kai Now?

Kai is currently serving his sentence at New Jersey State Prison and isn't eligible for parole until October 27, 2061, according to Decider. He filed to appeal his sentence in 2021 but was denied.

He still claims he's innocent.

Sam Silverman

Entrepreneur Staff

Content Strategy Editor

Sam Silverman is a content strategy editor at Entrepreneur Media. She specializes in search engine optimization (SEO), and her work can be found in The US Sun, Nicki Swift, In Touch Weekly, Life & Style and Health. Her coverage spans from business and tech to entertainment news. Sam is a graduate of Lehigh University and currently resides in NYC. 

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