September 24, 1939 |
|Other names||The Freeway Killer
The Trash Bag Killer
Span of killings
|1965–March 13, 1977|
|July 1, 1977|
Patrick Wayne Kearney (born September 24, 1939) is an American serial killer who preyed on young men in California during the 1970s. He is sometimes referred to as "The Freeway Killer", a nickname he shares with two other – separate – serial killers, William Bonin and Randy Steven Kraft. Patrick Kearney is possibly among the most prolific serial killers in United States history, claiming possibly as many as 43 victims according to law enforcement.
He was the youngest of three sons and was raised in a reasonably stable family. His early life was not without some trauma, however; as a thin and sickly child, he was often a target for bullies at school. In his teens, he became withdrawn and fantasized about killing people.
Born in East Los Angeles, Kearney also lived in Texas. Kearney moved back to California after a brief marriage ended in divorce, and eventually worked as an engineer for Hughes Aircraft. It was from his experiences in his early years in California that Kearney cultivated his skill as a gay pickup artist. Kearney mostly sought out partners in San Diego and in Tijuana, Mexico, where he used his fluency in Spanish and keen interest in Latin American culture as a basis to connect with potential partners.:108 Kearney claimed to have killed his first victim, a hitch-hiker he picked up and murdered in Orange, California around 1965. He claimed several more victims, mostly transients, before moving to Redondo Beach, near Los Angeles, in 1967 with a younger man named David Hill, who became his lover.
As time passed Hill and Kearney would argue more often and Kearney would go out for long solitary drives in his Volkswagen Beetle or his truck. He would then pick up young male hitchhikers or young men from gay bars and murder them. Kearney was primarily a necrophile and was generally consistent in the manner in which he murdered his victims and disposed of their remains. Standing only 5'5" tall, being of slight build and typically preferring victims of greater stature than himself, Kearney was forced to resort to a system of subduing his victims that was unlikely to fail and create a situation in which he could be in physical danger or risk unwanted exposure to authorities. Kearney was not known to resort to sadism or inflict pain on his victims in the same way that the other "Freeway Killers" did, preferring quickness and efficiency. While Kearney did later confess to having experimented with his victims' bodies out of curiosity, such as cutting open the stomach of one of them, this was done post-mortem and did not result in any physical suffering or resistance.
Kearney committed his first confirmed murder in 1968 while living in Culver City, CA, approximately one year after moving in with David Hill. Identification of the victim was impossible, as Kearney only knew him as "George". Kearney had met George around Christmas time of that year, when Hill had gone to Louisiana and been arrested for vagrancy. As soon as George entered Kearney's duplex, Kearney shot him between the eyes with his pistol. After killing George, Kearney took the body into his bathroom where he dismembered and skinned it with an X-Acto knife.:116,117 After dismembering the remains, Kearney decided to extract the bullet from the victim's head to ensure that it would not be traced to his gun. Afterwards, Kearney buried George's dismembered body behind his garage. Kearney did not kill for over a year following this murder, primarily out of fear that law enforcement would inquire about George's disappearance.
As time passed, Kearney greatly refined his Modus operandi, which enabled him to carry out his crimes much more efficiently and frequently. Starting in 1974, Kearney is estimated to have committed murders on an almost monthly basis. After picking up his victims along the freeway or at gay bars in his Volkswagen or in his truck, Kearney would typically shoot his victims in the temple above the ear without warning with a Derringer .22 pistol in his right hand while steering his car with his left hand and simultaneously monitoring the speed limit to minimize the predictability of the altercation and to avoid exhibiting any unusual behavior to potential witnesses. After murdering his victims, Kearney would leave the bodies slumped upright in the passenger seat and drive to a secluded area to sexually violate them.:116
After copulating with the corpses of his victims, Kearney would usually mutilate and dismember the remains with a hacksaw before disposing of them in various locations such as in canyons, in landfills and along the freeways, usually in industrial trash bags. In some cases, Kearney disposed of the bodies in the desert where the remains could be consumed by carrion-eating animals. Kearney would sometimes drain the victim's blood to eliminate odor and would also sometimes bathe the body parts prior to disposal to minimize the presence of dried blood and eliminate fingerprint evidence. Sometimes, Kearney would beat his victims after they were dead.:117 He perceived beating his dead victims as a cathartic exercise and a means by which he could effectively vent suppressed anger and animosity and acquire a sense of power. Often, the victims resembled people who had bullied him in his childhood.
Although Kearney primarily preyed on young men, there were known child and adolescent victims. Kearney's youngest victim was Ronald Dean Smith, age 5, who disappeared in Lennox, CA on August 24, 1974. His body was discovered in Riverside County on October 12, 1974. Merle "Hondo" Chance, 8, of Venice, CA vanished on April 6, 1977 while supposedly riding his bicycle in the vicinity of Kearney's place of work. Kearney claims to have smothered the boy, taken his body home overnight and later disposed of the remains in the Angeles National Forest off of Angeles Crest Highway approximately 11 miles north of Altadena, CA. Chance's decomposed remains were discovered on May 26, 1977. Merle Chance was Kearney's last known victim.
On June 16, 1976, Kearney killed Micheal Craig McGhee, 13, of Redondo Beach, CA. Records confirmed that McGhee had a lengthy history of juvenile delinquency. Kearney claimed to have picked up McGhee while hitchhiking from Inglewood Avenue near Lennox to Torrance, CA. According to the police, Kearney had befriended the boy and invited him to attend a camping trip to Lake Elsinore over the course of a weekend. Kearney claimed to have perceived McGhee as a potential threat and shot him without warning after McGhee openly boasted of his criminal exploits and inquired about the presence and location of burglar alarms in Kearney's home. Later, when interviewed by detectives, Kearney implied that he had destroyed the remains, stating "I disposed of the body...You aren't going to find him."
The victim that ultimately led to Kearney's arrest was a young man named John LaMay, 17, whom he killed on Sunday, March 13, 1977. At approximately 5:30 pm on that same day, LaMay had told a neighbor that he was going to Redondo Beach to meet a man he had met at a local gym by the name of Dave. This was in fact David Hill, and Hill had given LaMay the address to Kearney's home. Hill was absent when LaMay arrived, so Kearney invited LaMay in to watch television until Hill returned. Without provocation, Kearney impulsively reached for his .22 Derringer and shot LaMay in the back of the head. Kearney later dismembered and dumped the remains in the desert.
When his killing spree was at its zenith, Kearney's odd tendencies went largely undetected. A local grocery store owner named Jerry Stevens did, however, note that Kearney had an unusual interest in knives, frequently purchasing butcher knives after examining them and inquiring about the quality of the steel. Stevens also described Kearney as "a loner with an eerie sense of quiet about him." Kearney's supervisor at Hughes Aircraft referred to him as a "model worker." 
Capture and imprisonment
LaMay's remains were found on March 18, 1977. Police had actually been to the home of Kearney in the LaMay investigation prior to 8-year-old Merle "Hondo" Chance's kidnapping and murder. The police soon discovered that LaMay had been seen in the company of Kearney and Hill. The two fled to El Paso, Texas, with Kearney resigning from his job. They were persuaded to turn themselves in by their families.
Hill, 36 years old at the time, was eventually cleared of any involvement in his partner's crimes and was released.
Kearney, on the other hand, made a full confession of his crimes, initially admitting to a total of 28 murders, and subsequently to seven more. In order to avoid the death penalty, he agreed to plead guilty. Kearney was charged with 21 counts of murder, and as agreed, he pled guilty and was given twenty-one life sentences. Police are certain that Kearney was responsible for the other seven murders he had admitted, but they did not have the physical evidence to charge him. Kearney is incarcerated at California State Prison, Mule Creek as of October 2014.
- "California Births, 1905-1995". Family Tree Legends. Pearl Street Software. Retrieved 23 April 2013.
- LA Times, July 3, 1977
- "Behavior: Twenty-Eight, and Counting ...". Time. 18 July 1977. Retrieved 19 September 2010.
- McDougal, Dennis (1991). Angel of Darkness: The True Story of Randy Kraft and the Most Heinous Murder Spree. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 978-0446515382.
- The Press-Courier - Dec 22, 1977; pg. 2
- Modesto Bee. 10 January 1978. pp. A–4.
- Daily Breeze (Torrance, CA), July 7, 1996
- The Evening Independent - Jul 6, 1977
- "Items link 2 to trashbag murders". Gadsden Times (AP) (Gadsden, Alabama). 3 July 1977. p. 2. Retrieved 19 September 2010.
- "Suspect said confessed to more "trash-bag" killings". Times Daily (UPI) (Florence, Alabama). 5 January 1978. Retrieved 19 September 2010.