Who is Kai Lawrence? The story behind Netflix's true crime documentary The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker

Kai Lawrence is The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker. (Netflix)
Kai Lawrence is The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker. (Netflix)

Netflix is back on top form with another must-see true crime documentary for January, The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker.

It's currently riding high in the streaming ratings - but who is Kai Lawrence, the man the film features?

Who is Kai Lawrence?

Kai Lawrence, now 34 years old, is also known as Caleb Lawrence McGillvary and is a convicted killer from Edmonton, Canada.

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He was a homeless drifter when he found fame in 2013 through a local news report that went viral - but while Lawrence was initially viewed as a hero, things rapidly changed...

What is Kai Lawrence known for?

Hitchhiker Kai Lawrence became known for saving a woman from a violent attack. (Netflix)
Hitchhiker Kai Lawrence became known for saving a woman from a violent attack. (Netflix)

Back in February 2013, anonymous drifter Lawrence became an international internet star for his apparently heroic part in stopping a violent attack.

Lawrence was hitchhiking in Fresno, California and was picked up by Jett Simmons McBride, who he claims told him he was Jesus Christ and that he had once raped a 14 year old.

He says that McBride then deliberately drove his car into a construction area, pinning a man with his car, and then began to attack a woman who was trying to help the victim, prompting Lawrence to step in.

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Local news reporter Jessob Reisbeck happened to meet Lawrence at the scene and recorded a now-infamous interview with him where he explained what had happened.

Reporter Jessob Reisbeck is still in touch with Kai Lawrence. (Netflix)
Reporter Jessob Reisbeck is still in touch with Kai Lawrence. (Netflix)

Memorably, Lawrence began the interview by saying: "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, age, size or anything, you're worthwhile. No one can ever take that away from you."

He then went on to describe the attack and why he had hit McBride with a hatchet, a part of the interview that went viral and was used in memes and songs afterwards.

Lawrence said: "A guy that big can snap a woman's neck like a pencil stick. So I ran up behind him with a hatchet - smash, smash, suh-mash."

Reporters and TV presenters from across the world were keen to track down have-a-go hero Lawrence, including a booker for US chat show host Jimmy Kimmel and a reality TV manager who had worked on Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

Reisbeck, who had formed a bond with Lawrence, managed to track him down again and discovered he was also a talented singer.

He made an appearance on Kimmel's show and signed a reality TV contract for a show that was never made as people became increasingly concerned about his erratic behaviour.

Meanwhile, Lawrence was treated as a hero wherever he travelled with people stopping him to take photos, videos, and congratulate him.

But Lawrence's stardom lasted just three months before it all collapsed around him.

What happened to Kai Lawrence?

Kai Lawrence's story didn't end with his viral video. (Netflix)
Kai Lawrence's story didn't end with his viral video. (Netflix)

By May 2013, Lawrence had been accused of murdering 73-year-old New Jersey attorney Joseph Galfy in his own home.

Galfy was found beaten to death with no signs of a break-in after neighbours raised concerns, and CCTV footage showed him earlier that day at a local train station buying Lawrence a train ticket and hugging him.

Lawrence claims Galfy had approached him in a New York street and offered him a place to stay for the night, but says he was drugged and woke up being sexually assaulted by Galfy.

Kai Lawrence became an unlikely hero in California. (Netflix)
Kai Lawrence became an unlikely hero in California. (Netflix)

He says his arrangements for the next night fell through, so he went back to Galfy's house and attacked him in self defence when he was assaulted again.

But police believe the murder was premeditated and Lawrence was held in prison for five years awaiting trial, before it finally began in April 2019.

He was convicted of murder and sentenced to 57 years in prison, which he tried to appeal but the conviction was upheld in August 2021.

A Netflix documentary about the events of 2013 and Lawrence's life leading up to his fame showed that he is still in touch with reporter Reisbeck.

The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker is currently streaming on Netflix.