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Coffee break proves downfall for hatchet-carrying hitchhiker

May 17, 2013|By Tina Susman

NEW YORK -- The hatchet-wielding hitchhiker known to his legions of Internet fans as Kai craved freedom, but he also craved coffee. 

That helped police catch the one-time Internet sensation, Caleb "Kai" McGillvary, 24, who is suspected of murdering a New Jersey lawyer, officials said Friday as they gave more details about the case.

McGillvary, who gained fame last February after using a hatchet to stop what he said was an attempted murder in Fresno, was being held on $3-million bail after being arrested Thursday evening in Philadelphia.

The prosecutor in Union County, N.J., Theodore J. Romankow, said McGillvary would be brought to New Jersey to face charges he murdered 73-year-old Joseph Galfy Jr. on Sunday night. Romankow said the move could be delayed if McGillvary fought extradition.

It took just a few hours for law enforcement to track McGillvary down after they publicly declared him a suspect in Galfy's murder.

"I would imagine that all the appearances on YouTube didn't help him," Philadelphia Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said shortly after McGillvary's arrest. "He was pretty well known."

Well known enough, in fact, that even after cutting off his shoulder-length wavy hair, several people still recognized McGillvary after police named him as a suspect. Those sightings sent police on a short but intense chase that ended in a Starbucks in central Philadelphia.

Along the way, police used cellphone pings and witness accounts to trace McGillvary's moves, which ranged between New Jersey and Pennsylvania and included at least one night staying with strangers who had no idea McGillvary was in trouble and who hosted him at the request of one of his "fans."

It all ended when a Starbucks worker recognized McGillvary from photographs taken from his Facebook page and aired on local television, Romankow said. The employee alerted a supervisor, who called police.

By the time Philadelphia police got to the Starbucks, McGillvary had left, but he was spotted by police near the Greyhound bus terminal a few minutes later and arrested without incident.

Just about the same time the Philadelphia police were on his trail, detectives in New Jersey were following up on tips from the town of Cherry Hill. Hours earlier, a man there had seen his neighbor with McGillvary, whom he recognized from a tattoo on his neck, Romankow said.  

McGillvary said on his Facebook page Tuesday that he had woken up in a stranger's house after being drugged and raped. Police say McGillvary, a self-proclaimed drifter who often stays with strangers he meets on his travels, had met Galfy in New York City three days earlier and stayed in Galfy's house in suburban Clark, N.J.

Galfy was buried Friday in East Hanover, N.J.  As friends and relatives of Galfy attended a wake in his honor, McGillvary's followers were launching a fund-raising effort to pay for his defense. As of Friday evening, they had cobbled together $176. 

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