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Patrick Wayne Kearney
September 24, 1939
|Other names||The Trash Bag Killer|
|Criminal penalty||Life imprisonment|
Span of crimes
|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 from 1965 to 1977. He is sometimes referred to as "The Freeway Killer", a nickname he shares with two other separate serial killers, William Bonin and Randy Kraft. Kearney may be among the most prolific serial killers in U.S. history, claiming possibly as many as 43 victims according to law enforcement.
Kearney was the oldest 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 In his teens, he became withdrawn and fantasized about killing people.
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 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 hitchhiker he picked up and murdered in Orange, California, around 1962. 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 began to argue more often, and Kearney would go out for long solitary drives in his Volkswagen Beetle or his truck. He would then pick up and kill young male hitchhikers or young men from gay bars. 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 his, Kearney was forced to resort to a system of subduing his victims that was unlikely to fail or create situations which could place him in physical danger or cause unwanted exposure to authorities. He was not known to resort to sadism or inflict pain on his victims as 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 one of their stomachs, he did so post-mortem and did not inflict any physical suffering.
Kearney confessed to having committed his first murder in the spring of 1962. The victim's name is unknown, but he was confirmed to be age nineteen and white. Kearney had convinced the male to take a ride on his motorcycle with him to a secluded area outside of Indio, California. When they arrived, Kearney shot the man in the head and sexually assaulted the body. It is unknown if the body was ever found, but Kearney did indeed confess to committing this murder and two additional ones during 1962. The second victim was the younger cousin of Kearney's first victim, who had witnessed Kearney drive away with the victim.
The first murder that Kearney confessed to and was convicted of occurred in 1967, while he was living in Culver City, approximately one year after moving in with David Hill. The murder took place in Tijuana, where Hill and Kearney were visiting a close friend of Hill. Identification of the victim was impossible, as Kearney only knew him as "George". Kearney shot him between the eyes with his pistol as he slept in the master bedroom of his Tijuana home. After killing George, Kearney took the body into his bathroom, where he first sodomized the body as it lay in the bathtub and afterward proceeded to dismember and skin it with an X-Acto knife.:116,117 Afterward, Kearney decided to extract the bullet from the victim's head to ensure that it would not be traced to his gun, then buried the 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 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.
After copulating with his victims' corpses, Kearney would usually mutilate and dismember the remains with a hacksaw before disposing of them in various locations such as canyons, landfills, and along the freeways, usually in industrial trash bags. In some cases, Kearney disposed of the bodies in the desert, where they 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 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 as well. Kearney's youngest victim was Ronald Dean Smith, age 5, who disappeared in Lennox, California on August 24, 1974. His body was discovered in Riverside County on October 12, 1974. Merle "Hondo" Chance, 8, of Venice, 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. 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. Records confirmed that McGhee had a lengthy history of juvenile delinquency. Kearney claimed to have picked up McGhee, who was hitchhiking from Inglewood Avenue near Lennox to Torrance. 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 who ultimately led to Kearney's arrest was 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 he was going to Redondo Beach to meet a man named Dave, whom he had met at a local gym. This was in fact David Hill, who had given LaMay the address to Kearney's home. Hill was absent when LaMay arrived, so Kearney invited him in to watch television until Hill returned. Without provocation, Kearney impulsively reached for his pistol and shot LaMay in the back of the head. Kearney later dismembered the corpse 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 frequently purchased 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 Kearney's home for the LaMay investigation prior to 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, and Kearney resigned from his job. The fugitives' families persuaded the pair to turn themselves in. Hill, 36 years old at the time, was eventually cleared of any involvement in Kearney's crimes and was released.
Kearney made a full confession, initially admitting to a total of twenty-eight murders and subsequently to seven more. In order to avoid the death penalty, he agreed to plead guilty. Kearney was charged with twenty-one counts of murder, and as agreed, pleaded guilty. He was given twenty-one life sentences. Police are certain that Kearney was responsible for the other seven murders he had admitted to, but lacked 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. Missing or empty
- 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.
- The Trash Bag Murderer (2010) by Tony Stewart