Millions of people heard these words and shared the viral video with their friends. This mysterious surfing hitchhiker then vanished as quickly as he appeared, only to reappear on many late night talk shows and fan videos. But 3 months later, he was arrested and charged with killing a prominent New Jersey lawyer… in self defense against a sex assault.
Who is this mysterious hitchhiker? What was with that lawyer who drugged and assaulted him? Why would the investigators destroy evidence, tamper with witnesses, and shut the public out of the trial?
For almost a decade, the public was kept in the dark: until investigative journalist Philip Fairbanks searched for the truth in mountains of government records, witness statements, and hard evidence. At long last, he found the answers to these burning, aching questions…
And they will surprise you.
“Phil is not the kind of journalist who files a story and gets on with his life. That passion and integrity shine through in this book, and generally in the way Phil makes you care about the people he’s covering….
When I read this book, as with so many things Phil has written, I feel that I am in good hands, being carefully guided to the truth.”
~ Alissa Fleck
(Newsweek, SF Gate, Houston Chronicle)
“In his latest book, Philip Fairbanks wields a wealth of laboriously earned evidence and detail, the product of five years of research, to tell a harrowing and heartbreaking tale nobody (until him) deemed worthy of telling, and some would rather remain untold….
In his characteristically engaging style and with a dexterous balance of compassion, curiosity, and analysis, the author walks the reader through a hellish nightmare; one that Kai was born into and in which he continues to exist.”
~ Wendy Painting, PhD
(Author, Aberration in the Heartland of the Real: The Secret Lives of Timothy McVeigh)
I think in part I was drawn to Kai’s character and personality. That and some of his personal experiences and past were things I could identify with. I’ve slept on cardboard on a sidewalk in the rain, been in situations like that. Also the unfairness of the situation just kept weighing on me.
I’m not certain actually. I took some risks I believe with the book. The hardest part for me was taking all these moving pieces and try to construct a narrative you could follow linearly. In doing so though, I also wanted to provide as much context as possible to the point that some might think it’s “too much information.” For instance going into the history of organized crime on the waterfronts of New Jersey, tracing the system of local corruption back to Tammany Hall.
I think I’m most drawn to true crime stories when there is an element of corruption involved. I grew up in a small town where everyone knew that a good old boy network ran things but it was always just understood “well, that’s the way things go.” Accepted with a sort of resignation that things won’t change and there’s no sense in expending any energy towards changing them. I don’t believe that’s the case and that’s what keeps me motivated to work on cases like this.
I’ve done a bit of traveling in the past decade. Was living in California for about 8 months between 2016 and 2017 and from January 2018 to November 2022 I lived in the Philippines. One thing I learned the hard way, don’t ever say you’re a journalist when being checked at customs in any country that struggles with free press issues. I remember mentioning that I was a writer and then being asked to pull out my phone and show examples of what I wrote. I was able to find some work related to medicinal herbs but from then on at customs “I’m a self employed freelancer who works online.”
It’s been about five years since my first article about Caleb McGillivary was published in The Inquisitr. Not long after that, I conducted a series of telephone interviews. I was taken aback by how implausible the inherent corruption was: evident in multiple conflicts of interest; and an apparent cover-up during the investigation, that was allowed to go practically unchallenged from the prosecutor’s mouth to the media. All that ugliness nakedly on display surely should have attracted a frenzy of media interest.
Over the years, a sickening realization came to mind. As far as reporters covering the case, I seem to be one of the “experts” if not “an authority.” Certainly, one of the few, if not only, journalists who took the time to check Kai’s claims and allegations against the evidence at hand. It might be kind of nice being a leading authority on some benign subject. Rare arthropods, maybe? I could dig being a foremost authority on some obscure Flemish Renaissance-era painter’s oeuvre, for sure. The gravity of the situation can be almost overwhelming, though, when your expertise is on a subject about which a human life hangs in the balance.
So, you can imagine my mixed feelings when a production company known for prestige projects approached me with the idea of using some of my work in a film for one of the “Big 3” streaming companies.
I was flattered, of course. Probably the first in a wave of emotions to come up. The thought that Kai’s words, from calls I’d recorded, might achieve a bit of immortality. Even better, the prospect that the film could make a difference. Something like The Thin Blue Line, one of the most important and influential works in the entirety of the corpus of “True Crime.” Like Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, it is a work that somehow manages to both define and transcend the boundaries of “True Crime.”
After a few rounds of emails, a call was set up. Everyone I had dealt with was pleasant and nice, but I couldn’t shake the feeling I was being purposefully put at ease. For what reasons I couldn’t tell. Hell, I couldn’t even tell if I was just being paranoid because of my close connection to the story. Admittedly compounded by the investment of time, work, and emotional energy I’d put into it for some years. They understood that I might be quite attached to the story (specifically to the “materials” they wished me to license for their use). And of course, the more I thought about it, the more worried I was about the misrepresentation of my work or Kai himself and the case.
And to be honest, attached is not the right word for this case, or for another case I’ve been working on for the past few years. The second involved a decades- long running fraud ring connected to multiple murders. I finally managed to get some interest from journalist Alissa Fleck (Newsweek, SF Gate, Houston Chronicle, Huffington Post, Adweek, and others). Apart from her, I’d struggled to get any other reporters or outlets to even take a look. That or being ghosted after some initial interest is shown. The situation is similar to the work of Justine Barron, another noteworthy journalist who pursues cases wherever they lead. Whether or not the major papers are interested in doing due diligence themselves. For whatever reason, there are incredibly important stories that are suppressed, sometimes for years. Just look at how Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, Peter Nygard, and others managed to float along all those years.
With Kai’s case and that of the Texas-based Ponzi ring, I’ve spent years researching and tracking down the truth. In the hopes of holding it to the light. I also got to know the living, breathing humans that exist at the other end of the story. Many of my biggest stories are the smallest ones. For me, success is exposing some injustice or imbalance. Some wrong to be righted. For instance, the honor student nearly expelled over doctor-recommended CBD oil being mistaken for THC oil by an ignorant school administration. The case of a young man selling the herbal plant medicine kratom in Tennessee. A story I covered that would be a turning point in the war for kratom legality in the state. Shortly after the case, the attorney general expressed a formal opinion that the plant was not included in a blanket synthetic drug ban. The couple arrested with kratom in their car. Initially charged with distributing heroin. Their life and small business thrown into disarray as a result. These are stories no one else was telling, or at least not in totality.
In each of those above cases, an eventual positive outcome would be achieved. Even if the only thing I was able to do was to provide some hope to victims of outrageous fortune. To make sure their stories were heard. The result was something I could—and do— take seriously. Something I take pride in. It’s rewarding to have achieved success (by Emerson’s standards anyway) by having made someone breathe a little easier, having made their life a little less hard for the day.
In Kai’s case, the stakes are too high. Not to mention the evidence of corruption is so ample and readily available to just leave it be.
So yes, I suppose that at the very least you could say I was a little “attached” to the story. In my first email back to the production company, I pointed out that I was the sole, or nearly only, source of several salient points of information about the case. That these claims were backed up by evidence released in discovery: crime scene photos, investigative notes, and interviews. They too had read the entirety of the available transcripts, they told me. However, they warned me, that they wouldn’t be “focusing” on the trial or the investigation.
That would be a totally different documentary, they said. My dream of an Errol Morris-style hit film freeing an innocent man were, if not dashed at this point, precariously hanging by a thread like a loose tooth spinning, barely affixed to the gum. So here it was. My Catch-22. My very own Faustian bargain. And though it has been quite a while since I’ve read Goethe, I almost certainly recall there being no section on freeing one’s soul from the grips of Mephistopheles come in the guise of a documentary materials release form. I knew I had no place to tell them what should or should not be in the documentary. That would be, not only in bad taste but a violation of journalistic ethics on my part. That said, I made it clear I would gladly sign over usage rights if they could make sure to include at least a handful of those major facts that point to the cover-up and, dare I say it, yes, a conspiracy that had taken place. It was then made plain and simple to me. The best possible way to get that information, Kai’s side of the story, on the books for them would be to let him speak. Kai had declined involvement with the documentary before they spoke to me, however, and they only used people “directly related” to stories in their documentaries which counted me out.
As it turns out, my fears of potentially making a deal with the devil were unfounded. A producer at the company informed me just as they were going into post-production that they were using other material “to lay out Kai’s defense.” Despite my precautions and concerns, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed after hoping that a tangential connection to a major documentary and my name in the credits might help me get this story the attention it deserves.
No worries, though. The interviews that were licensed for and would have appeared in the documentary were transcribed and will be available online. Links to the recordings on YouTube will be there as well as links to all relevant files, court documents, crime scene photos, and more both in cloud storage and at bit.ly/kaidocs and philfairbanks.com.
Kai is at the center of the book, but at the same time the book is about how his case is just one of many examples. That’s the scary part. If his case was some crazy exception that’d be awful still; but what’s so chilling is we know about this case only because he was mistaken for someone who wasn’t well known. Galfy wanted a vagrant, somebody who could be used and discarded, someone with no ties; he chose wrong but even so, they were able to do this.
Now imagine if you don’t have worldwide press coverage of your story.
TWO FATEFUL RIDES
It was a chilly but humid day in Fresno, February 1st, 2013.1 Between the time the frigid, overcast skies broke with sunlight until the day would turn to cold, foggy night several lives would be forever changed. It was the day that Jett Simmons McBride picked up a young “home free” hitchhiker. It was the day that Rayshawn Neely would be nearly crippled. And it was the day that Caleb McGillivary, better known as “Kai the Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker” would become a folk hero to millions across the world. Kai earned his “hatchet-wielding hitchhiker” moniker during that first ride that brought him to the attention of the internet at large. Kai had been picked up by Jett Simmons McBride, a 6-foot-4, nearly 300-pound, 54-yearold man who boasted to Kai about raping a 14-year-old girl in the Virgin Islands just before the chaos he would unleash on that fateful Fresno day. McBride also loudly bragged that he was, in fact, Jesus Christ reincarnated.
* Kai’s legal name is Caleb McGillivary, but some court documents and newspaper stories have his name improperly listed as “McGillvary.”
As a result, he reasoned, he could do anything he wanted. As if to prove his point, he took a sharp turn towards some Pacific Gas & Electric employees doing roadwork outside.
“He’s like, well I’ve come to realize I’m Jesus Christ and I can get away with anything I want to. Watch this, and there’s a whole crew of construction people in front of me and most of them jumped aside and one pinned underneath,” Kai explained in the interview that initially made him a star. “He said ‘I am God. I am Jesus. I was sent here to take all the [racial slurs] to heaven,’” Nick Starkey, one of the PG&E workers on the scene claimed. Neely said he never heard the racial slurs, but something about being the victim of attempted vehicular homicide tends to do a number on one’s memory and focus.
McBride pinned Rayshawn Neely against a vehicle at which point, Kai jumped out to help. McBride also attacked a woman on the scene. Kai shared in his memorable interview how he feared McBride might seriously harm her if he didn’t spring into action. The woman on the scene confirmed that Kai had indeed saved her. As Kai put it, without his fortunate appearance at the scene there would have been “hella lot more bodies.” With Rayshawn dangerously pinned by McBride’s vehicle, Tanya Baker, who was at the scene attempted to help him. At this point, McBride turned on her as well.8
“Like a guy that big can snap a woman’s neck like a pencil stick,” Kai explained why he sprung into action. “So I fucking ran up behind him with a hatchet—smash, smash, suh-mash!”
The interview with Jessob Reisbeck made an instant star out of Kai. Something about the heroic encounter, Kai’s character, and his message of redemption resonated within the public consciousness. “Before I say anything else, I want to say no matter what you’ve done, you deserve respect, even if you make mistakes. You’re lovable and it doesn’t matter your looks, skills, or age, or size or anything. You’re worthwhile… no one can take that away from you.”
February 7, 2013, Jessob Reisbeck caught back up with who he described as a “world-class hero.” Reisbeck, who continues to keep in touch with Kai “found him after 5 or 6 days” to conduct a follow-up interview. Kai’s cheeky humor shined through with portions sounding like an Abbott and Costello bit: “What have you been up to since?” “About 6 foot,” Kai replied. He also admitted he didn’t like the idea of a “stereotypical normal life.” That meant, in part, no 9 to 5 job or smartphone to weigh him down. “Are you aware what you’ve become?” Reisbeck asked. “I’ve seen it.” As for his thoughts on the outpouring of support from all over the country even worldwide, Kai’s response was simply: “Shock and awe.” Asked if he was happy about the exciting new world he’d accidentally entered, his reply was simply, “I’d prefer if I was American, but yeah.”
Jessob asked if there was anything else Kai would like to say to “all of your fans right now, because you do have them around the world.” Kai spurned the hero worship. Instead, he offered another simple, heartfelt message to the many who idolized him since the selfless act. “I do not own you, I do not have you, please do not be obsessed. Thank you, love, respect, I value you.” Within 48 hours of the KMPH interview being released and subsequently going viral, Kai was a household name earning accolades and mentions in media worldwide. Philadelphia magazine called Kai “the hero millennials need” in a February 8th article from 2013.
In the next few days, his star would continue to rise as he was featured in Autotune the News. Kai also released a cover of the song “Wagon Wheel.” An IndieGogo page was also set up to get him a new surfboard. The Philly magazine piece marks Kai as emblematic of the millennial generation, especially following the economic upheaval of the 2008 housing bubble which resulted in severe inflation, higher cost of living, and a recession we still haven’t truly escaped.
Just under three weeks out, Kai had his first day in court, perhaps foreshadowing what was to come in just about three months. He had just appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and would now be stealing the show during the preliminary hearing against Jett McBride. Despite some of the urban myths surrounding this story, Kai did not kill McBride. McBride had told his wife that Kai was the “coolest son-of-a-bitch” he had ever met. Even expressing a desire to “adopt” the home free hitchhiker. And spurious claims that Kai may have made up the story of underage rape in the Virgin Islands were refuted by McBride himself admitting the act to police on the scene. Kai’s court appearance inspired laughter and spawned headlines further cementing his place as a beloved character to so many. But by the time Jett Simmons McBride was tried in California, Kai was unable to appear. The lack of one of the primary witnesses in attendance likely altered the disposition of the case according to Scott Baly, McBride’s defense attorney. By January 2014, McBride was found guilty on some, but not all charges. The most serious charges, that of attempted murder, would not go through and even the charges he was found guilty of only resulted in psychiatric confinement for a maximum of 9 years. He was sent up to the famous Atascadero State Hospital rather than prison. Atascadero had been home for a time to the likes of serial killers like Tex Watson, Ed Kemper, and Roy Norris among others.
“I won’t say whether it hurt or helped, it affected everything,” Baly told the press. Admitting that he had hoped for acquittal on all charges. “I think there’s mixed emotions for all of us. I mean certainly, I think the moment not guilty on count one was read there was relief; it was followed shortly by a guilty reading on count two and count three so there’s a different feeling on those charges.”
What we can tell for certain, however, is that if not stopped McBride would have almost certainly wreaked far more havoc. According to the case text of the McBride court proceedings, Jett Simmons McBride was laboring under the delusion that he had uncovered a secret terrorist plot that would target the Super Bowl.
At this point, Jett McBride packed his bags to head down to New Orleans for the Super Bowl where he was convinced a bombing would occur. McBride destroyed his phone and tossed the broken remnants of it in a parking lot and some bushes to evade being tracked by the CIA, FBI, and Department of Defense who he was convinced were following his every step.
Before reaching his destination, McBride started noticing that he was being passed by white utility trucks. These were no ordinary trucks, McBride was convinced. They were, to his mind, evidence of the Illuminati following him, on his trail. Intent on killing him. Quite disturbed mentally at this point, McBride stopped in Bakersfield staying the night at the illustrious Vagabond Inn, a motel where he watched television and had some Scotch to wind down. The next day he got back on the road, then picked up a soon-to-be-famous hitchhiker he saw near the on-ramp to northbound State Route 99 not far from the Vagabond.
The hitchhiker introduced himself as Kai and asked McBride if he was heading as far as Fresno. McBride told him that he would be heading through the area on his way to Tacoma. While staying in Bakersfield, he had received messages from his nephew and Donna, his wife, who he was supposed to pick up at the airport. This unexpected intrusion from reality slightly changed his unhinged “attempt at heroism” at the Super Bowl in New Orleans.
It was once they made it into Fresno’s Tower District that Kai offered to pick up some cannabis. Jett McBride handed him $40 after which Kai disappeared into a convenience store, shortly after emerging with a bag of weed and some rolling papers. Kai rolled the joint as McBride, who was unfamiliar with Fresno, began to drive. McBride describes having a “deep” conversation with Kai and eventually extended his hand to the young hitchhiker, leaning over to hug him. “Depressed and distraught” is how he’s described in the court transcript.
The grown man also began crying over his wife. From this point on, it becomes obvious that the story has been doctored somewhat to make McBride look better. Even though it was admitted that McBride began believing that white utility trucks were agents of the Illuminati, it was McGillivary who supposedly said the electrical workers were planting bombs. Of course, it’s quite likely that this was a narrative cooked up by McBride’s attorney, Scott Baly. Considering Kai wouldn’t be able to defend himself or offer his eye-witness testimony, it was possible to try and pin more blame on him to alleviate the well-earned scorn directed at the alleged rapist with his racist slurs and dangerously unhinged conspiracy theories. Despite the reported flurry of racial slurs aimed toward Neely and other minorities at the scene, McBride’s defense claimed that he was “trying to heal Neely.” The defense claims, contrary to what witnesses on the scene have claimed, that McBride “at no time” made any racial statements or used “racial epithets.”
Neely’s reported response to McBride attempting to “heal” the serious and potentially life-threatening injury he was responsible for was something to the tune of, “Get this fucker off of me.” This, once again, ripped straight from McBride’s trial transcript.
The big bear of a man described the flurry of activity, the desperate attempt to put his rampage to a halt. He “thought he was dying” as he felt a knee on his back, someone grabbing his neck, someone pushing him to the ground, a boot in his face. All he claims to recall is saying, “Get off of me.” Around this time, for whatever reason, McBride began to disrobe. He was now convinced he was not only “filled with the Holy Spirit” and an incarnation of Jesus Christ. He was also playing the role of “witness to the end times” (as per Revelations, the two witnesses who would be killed, stripped, and left in the streets for three and a half days).
If the people attacking him, or rather, attempting to slow or stop his assault, in the real world, were to kill him then “they were going to have to drag his body through the street, naked.” Now McBride has decided he’s not just a witness to the end times, Jesus, and filled with the Holy Spirit. He’s also the prophet Enoch. A direct ancestor of Jesus Christ.
McBride, once he had conferred with defense to set the stories straight for the trial, would have little positive to say about Kai. This despite the fact he had earlier referred to him as the “coolest son-of-a-bitch” he had ever met. He had gone from telling his wife Donna that he wanted to adopt Kai to changing his story to Kai being the one jerking the wheel so the vehicle would crush Neely after Donna reported to him how Kai had explained McBride’s stated aim was to “clean all the n****rs out.”
McBride would eventually admit that it was not Kai who had twisted the wheel to pin Neely but did deny that his attack had anything to do with his race. Neely was, McBride claimed, Illuminati. The disorganized thinking of a schizophrenic or person in the throes of a psychotic break is hard to follow.
Perhaps the racial element and the delusion regarding white utility vehicles being secret Illuminati spies were conflated in McBride’s muddled head. Chicago’s ABC7 Action News spoke with some of the victims of McBride’s rampage. Most expressed a hope to fully recover from their injuries and put the whole nightmare behind them, though at least one expressed concern, hoping that McBride wouldn’t find himself released without consequences for his brutal actions.
One popular misconception that has entered Kai the Hitchhiker lore is that Kai killed the deranged, attempted murderer rather than subduing him with the flat end of his hatchet. It probably didn’t help that during the Jimmy Kimmel appearance, the host jokingly thanked Kai for not killing him. Stephen Colbert, currently the host of The Tonight Show, was starring in The Colbert Report on Comedy Central at the time. On the show, Colbert covers the Kai the Hitchhiker story, joking that he has “highway prejudice of my own: against axe-wielding hitchhikers.”
The story played into an already existing urban myth regarding the mythical ax or hatchet or knife-wielding serial killer hitchhiker. The Union County prosecutor and associate of the alleged rapist Joseph Galfy promoted severely damaging disinformation. That, perhaps, Kai was some nefarious serial killer utilizing the highways as his hunting ground. That same prosecutor, by the way, incidentally or coincidentally stepped down, after 11 years, the same day Kai was arrested. Perfect timing if you’d rather not have your recusal on the record.
Excerpt from Smash, Smash, Smash: The True Story of Kai the Hitchhiker by Philip Fairbanks. Copyright 2023 by Philip Fairbanks. Reproduced with permission from Philip Fairbanks. All rights reserved.
Philip Fairbanks has been a published writer for over 20 years. Most of his writing has been in the field of entertainment reporting and investigative journalism as well as certain academic subjects. He has appeared multiple times in the CUNY graduate paper The Advocate (who published an article by Fairbanks last June), SUNY art journal Afterimage, Ghettoblaster features, interviews and reviews, UK newspaper The Morning Star, UK lit journal White Chimney, Impose, Delusions of Adequacy, and many more print and online publications have published him.
His first book covered issues such as the Epstein scandal, the Finders cult, online grooming and exploitation of children, and the UK grooming epidemic. He felt it was important to write a book on institutional pedophilia that dispels some of the wild disinfo related to Qanon and Pizzagate. Philip is also a voice actor and narrated the audiobook for the first book and is in the process of recording the audiobook for Smash, Smash, Smash.
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